Last week, Israel announced with massive fanfare that it was dispatching a rescue crew to Nepal to assist with earthquake relief efforts. Israeli media touted the news that the Israeli military had deployed some 250 medical personnel, one of the largest teams sent by any country, rescuing as many as 2,000 of their own citizens and setting up a field hospital to treat locals. But foreign media reports soon began questioning the fact that the Israeli personnel had immediately begun organizing an airlift of surrogate babies birthed for Israeli couples, their non-Jewish local mothers left behind. The episode raised serious questions about the priorities guiding the relief effort, undermining its value as a potential public relations strategy.
Israel has been known to seek publicity for its good works abroad in order to deflect attention from the abuses of the occupation at home. And despite the botched messaging, this episode appeared no different. While Israel was busy promoting its efforts to help refugees fleeing a natural disaster in Nepal, it is the original source of the misery of refugees mired in manmade disasters in the West Bank, Gaza and Syria.
Just seventy kilometers south of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, from where its rescue crews took off for Nepal, the Gaza Strip still lies in ruins, the product of the seven-week military assault that destroyed around 10,000 civilian homes and left at least 100,000 homeless. This week, Breaking the Silence, an organization of dissident Israeli soldiers, released testimony from troops involved in that operation describing orders they say created a permissive climate for killing civilians in Gaza. Since the conflict, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), not a single home has been rebuilt. Residents of Gaza languish in rubble largely as a result of the refusal of the Israeli and Egyptian governments to allow rebuilding materials to enter the Hamas-controlled area.
Human Rights Watch executive director, Ken Roth, drew attention to the incongruity of Israel’s assistance to Nepal in light of Gaza’s misery. In a comment on Twitter, he wrote: “Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, to Israel’s north, in Syria, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp has been under siege as fighters from ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra have taken on the Hamas-oriented Bayt Al-Makhdis, while Assad’s forces periodically bombed the camp. Yarmouk was once the largest refugee camp in Syria, a bustling Damascus enclave that was home to as many as 150,000 Palestinians whose families were forced out of Israel in 1948. Today it is the site of an unfathomable human catastrophe. Cut off from water, food, and the most basic resources, it has become, in the words of UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl, “an apocalyptic cityscape, where women have died in childbirth for lack of medicines and children have reportedly starved.”