The COVID-19 global pandemic has become another opportunity for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to demonize Israel over its Gaza policy. Since the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, if not before, NGOs have promoted the myth that Israel is legally responsible for healthcare and other humanitarian needs in Gaza. The campaigns have a consistent histrionic dimension, such as the ubiquitous “open air prison” canard, and cynically erase the use of aid by Hamas to build terror infrastructure.
Highlighting reflexive and exploitative agendas, the NGOs’ statements on corona and Gaza began before there were any reported cases, and continue despite the relatively low level of infection there. They blame Israel, exclusively, for Gaza’s lack of medical infrastructure, as well as for the future spread of the virus in Gaza. NGO posts and press releases echo statements made by Hamas officials, who seek to deflect their own central roles in failing to build a functioning society. NGOs also repeat the “open air prison” slogan, ignoring the irony that corona arrived in Gaza via students returning from Pakistan, and that at a time of global lockdown, open borders and erasure of movement restrictions will greatly exacerbate the health crisis.
Such NGO campaigns preemptively, maliciously, and ideologically blame Israel. Reminiscent of medieval blood libels, they attribute blame for non-Jewish deaths and ascribe nefarious motives to the Jewish state. The fact that the virus is spreading around the world at alarming rates, and has overwhelmed health capacity in numerous countries, is deliberately ignored in order to promote this NGO demonization.
One blatantly false NGO allegation is that Israel prevents the entry of essential medical products into Gaza. In reality, the Israeli government has continued to coordinate the provision of humanitarian aid, to Gaza; the only “dual-use,” and hence limited, device is the X-ray machine. The UN has praised such coordination efforts as “excellent” and has recognized Israel’s provision of “swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for COVID-19 testing, and Personal Protective Equipment to protect health workers.” Another frequently-repeated myth is that Israel’s responsibility stems from the ongoing “occupation of Gaza,” despite the total disengagement in 2005; none of the NGOs suggests Israel should reconquer Gaza to fulfill its supposed international legal obligation to guarantee health care.
More broadly, for the past nearly 20 years, billions of dollars in humanitarian aid has poured into Gaza. In 2016-2019, UNRWA alone projects to spend approximately $1 billion in aid to Gaza. Since 2015, OCHA-oPt has provided another $25.9 to Gaza, with $6.7 million provided specifically to the “Health Cluster.” Hamas itself has an annual budget of around $700 million, including approximately $100 million for terror infrastructure and $40 million of that sum on digging cross-border infiltration tunnels.
Ignoring the clear evidence, these NGOs deny the agency of Hamas or other Palestinian actors in this prioritization of tunnels, rockets, and violent marches along the Gaza border over health infrastructure. In parallel, these propaganda campaigns delegitimize Israeli policies aimed at prevent weapons smuggling and abuse of “dual-use” items.
In other words, NGO campaigns on COVID-19 are simply a rebranding of the past 20 years of NGO anti-Israel hatred, repackaged to exploit the current global pandemic.
Prominent NGO Examples (including funders):
Funding: In fiscal year 2017-2018, total revenue was $92.1 million; total expenses were $81.6 million. Funding is not fully transparent, with the HRW website only listing some organizations that provide “partnership and support” including: Open Society Institute, Ford Foundation, the Oak Foundation, among others.
- HRW Executive Director Ken Roth tweeted, “Coronavirus quarantine versus Israeli siege: Gazans ask, what’s 14 days of isolation when they’ve had 14 years of it” (March 29).
- Roth tweeted, “The coronavirus will test the wisdom of Israel’s policies for crippling the economy and health systems of Gaza and the West Bank. As the occupying power (for Gaza, too, given Israel’s severe restrictions on movement), Israel is responsible for health care.” (March 15).
- In a tweet, Omar Shakir alleged that “Israel has caged 2 million ppl in 25by7 mile (40by11 KM) enclave & sharply restricted entry of goods for 13 yrs, decimating Gaza’s health sector. Real risk of a calamity. Closure must end.” Shakir ignores Hamas’ corruption, abuse of aid, and decision to devote resources to terror instead of building medical infrastructure. (March 25).
Funding: In 2018, total income was NIS 5.1 million; total expenses were NIS 5.1 million. Donors include: Ireland (Irish Aid), Finland (Embassy of Finland in Tel Aviv), Switzerland, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Open Society Foundation, Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Trocaire (Ireland), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), and UNDP.
- Gisha retweeted a video by AJ+ with the caption, “Palestinians in Gaza are trying to prepare for the novel coronavirus outbreak. But the Israeli blockade is making it much harder.” (March 14)
- Gisha Executive Director Tanya Harry tweeted, “Thankfully no known cases for now, but an outbreak could be devastating. I’m outraged that my govt imposed measures to deliberately bring Gaza to this point. When this ends, a reversal in policy is the only moral response…” (March 12)
- Gisha published an article, “Crossings update: Israel to impose extensive travel restrictions at Erez crossing over Coronavirus concerns,” belittling Israel’s policy of restricting access to its borders, including Gaza’s, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. (March 11)
Funding: In 2018, IfNotNow received funding from the Foundation for Middle East Peace, including a June 18 “rapid response grant … to support groups leading non-violent protests, documenting abuses and highlighting international law, organizing events, and inserting authentic Palestinian voices into mainstream American media coverage.” In 2017, IfNotNow was granted $20,000 from Rockefeller Brothers Fund for general support.
- IfNotNow tweeted, “Israel’s brutal occupation makes this pandemic especially dangerous for Palestinians: restrictions on Gazans’ movement, a lack of essential supplies (including medicine), and high density confinement increases the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza.” (March 13)
Funding: JVP’s funding sources are not transparent, and its website carries no information on its donors. Limited financial information on JVP is only available through public IRS documents (990s) and databases, which report a total revenue of $2,531,296 in FY 15-16, $2,596,654 in FY 14-15, and $1,424,461 in FY 13-14.
- Created a petition to “Tell Congress: End the Gaza blockade” because “COVID-19 is uniquely threatening to Palestinians in Gaza.”
- Tweeted “Israel’s 13-year blockade has suffocated Gaza’s healthcare system. In the midst of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza only have 2,900 hospital beds and 60 ventilators. Israel must #EndTheGazaBlockade #SpreadSolidarity”
- JVP hosted a “virtual rally” titled “End the Blockade on Gaza” to “#SpreadSolidarityForGaza.” According to JVP, “During the rally, participants made signs and shared out a petition calling on U.S. Congress to tell Israel to end the blockade now. Over 15,000 have people signed the petition. A teach-in was also held to encourage all American participants to call their members of Congress and demand that they take action to end the blockade on Gaza.” Speakers included known anti-Israel and antisemitic activists, including Linda Sarsour, as well as individuals from the delegitimization NGOs Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). (March 30).
- In a tweet promoting one of its articles, B’Tselem blamed whatever potential spread of the coronavirus in Gaza on Israel, ignoring years of misappropriation of humanitarian aid by Hamas for terror. The tweet states, “COVID-19 in Gaza? After more than a decade of Israeli blockade – Israel will not be able to deflect the blame if this nightmare scenario turns into a reality that it created and made no effort to prevent.
- In a press release, “Israeli-made nightmare scenario: COVID-19 in Gaza,” B’Tselem falsely (on multiple accounts) alleged that “The Gaza Strip is now in the throes of a humanitarian disaster – created entirely by Israel.” (March 23).
As quoted in an article, “Doctors Warn of Gaza Strip’s Collapse After First Coronavirus Cases Surface” published in Haaretz, PHR-I claimed that the management of the COVID-19 response in Gaza is dependent on Israel and its cooperation with Hamas entities. The PHR-I official falsely stated, “In light of the ongoing siege, Israel is responsible by virtue of international law to provide the required means to the Health Ministry in Gaza.” (March 23).
Funding: In 2018-2019, AFSC was granted $75,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for its “Israel Program.” Other 2018 donors include Switzerland, United States (United States Institute of Peace), Bread for the World-EED (Germany), Misereor (Germany), and the United Nations.
- AFSC’s Jehad Abusalim published an article in +972 Magazine titled “Israel’s caging of Gaza is a recipe or coronavirus disaster.” The article claims that “The pandemic’s arrival threatens to make Gaza even more unlivable under Israeli siege” (March 22).
- Amnesty UK posted a short video singling out Israel as being solely responsible for Gaza’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amnesty denies Hamas and other actors’ agency for diverting resources to weapons, tunnels, and terror, instead of public infrastructure. (March 28).
European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
Funding: Donors include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, as well as private foundations such as Soros’ Open Society Foundation, Robert Bosch Stiftung, and Skoll Global Threats Fund.