Gaza,  Israel

Water in Gaza: Oxfam, Electronic Intifada and Israel

Recently the Electronic Intifada posted an article describing how:

Israel has blocked the international development organization Oxfam from bringing vital equipment into the Gaza Strip to help make drinking water safe.

The main source for this story is Ben Phillips, Oxfam’s Campaigns and Policy Director.  He is quoted asserting, on Twitter, that:

“The blockade on Gaza prevented Oxfam’s public health programme bringing in a chlorometer to help get right chlorine levels to clean water,”

and claiming that Oxfam:

“made an application [to Israel] to import” the equipment, but “[A]fter 8 months without agreement we had to use less effective processes instead.”

I shouldn’t think many readers are fans of Electronic Intifada, but, to be fair, this seemed to be a fairly low key piece of reporting which also noted the role played by Egypt in the difficulties facing the people of Gaza.

However the story was not all it seemed – for it turns out that it wasn’t Israel’s fault after all.  Here is the full text of Electronic Intifada’s own correction:

A story The Electronic Intifada published yesterday citing a senior official from Oxfam saying that Israel had prevented water disinfection equipment from entering Gaza was incorrect.

The Electronic Intifada received the following email today from Alun McDonald, Media and Communications Officer for Oxfam, explaining the error:

Thanks for continuing to raise the extremely important issue of water shortages in Gaza. However, the tweet from an Oxfam staff member which was included in the post was incorrect.

Ben was visiting Gaza and there was a mistranslation or misunderstanding in one of his meetings with local communities. In this particular case the delay in receiving the chlorometre was in fact due to delays in with the manufacturer and third party supplier, rather than a delay in bringing it from Israel or caused by the blockade.

I’m sincerely sorry for the mistake and confusion. I’d be grateful if we could issue a correction to the story

The shortage of safe water in Gaza is an extremely real and serious issue, and Oxfam continues to campaign for an end to the blockade, which we believe is in violation of international law and has devastated the lives of people in Gaza and severely restricted the movement of goods and people. However, in this case the delay in receiving equipment was not due to the blockade.

Looking back at Ben Phillips’ tweets, quoted above, they seem quite definite and detailed about the issue.  But once you’ve looked at his whole timeline it’s no surprise to learn that he jumped to a conclusion about the delay which reflected badly on Israel.

Although Electronic Intifada did the right thing on this occasion, and printed a clear correction rather than leave up the inaccurate story or silently delete it, the damage had already been done. Many sites have pounced on the story – but not the correction. This one has souped it up with an antisemitic trope for good measure.

I think Marcus Dysch is correct to draw a distinction between Oxfam and War on Want here, and of course Oxfam did actively seek to correct the error.  However this latest cock up won’t exactly reassure those wondering whether Oxfam is a charity they should support, particularly given Ben Phillips’ senior role and his failure to deal as appropriately with his mistake as a very partisan, political blog.  (He simply seems to have deleted the misleading tweets.)

Hat Tip: Tom Doran

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