NBC Sees Gaza as 'Prison Sentence Imposed by Israel,' Ignores Reports of Food Abundance

Catching up on an item from last week on the Tuesday, June 8, NBC Nightly News, correspondent Tom Aspell portrayed the residents of Gaza as living through a life prison sentence imposed by Israel: "Israel's blockade on Gaza isn't just about preventing goods from getting in, it's about preventing 1.5 million Palestinians from getting out. It sentences them to life inside a 140-square-mile prison." Anchor Brian Williams set up the piece: "We are back now with a rare look inside a place 1.5 million people call home. The Israelis call it a hotbed of terrorism, but the people who live there say they are prisoners of poverty and misery."

As Aspell asserted that dire conditions exist for those in Gaza, he barely mentioned reports to the contrary, and placed the burden of blame squarely on Israel as, even though Egypt actively takes part in the blockade, the NBC correspondent only indirectly alluded to Egypt’s participation as he mentioned that tunnels that lead from Egypt to Gaza are illegal, and related that "some supplies" are "smuggled through hundreds of illegal tunnels under the border from Egypt." But last February, FNC’s Mike Tobin devoted a report to the construction of underground walls by Egypt in an attempt to keep up its end of the blockade by closing off the tunnels: "With each elongated piece of steel Egyptians drive 20 yards into the ground down to the water table, they get closer to completing the iron curtain which will close Gaza's smuggling tunnels. When construction began a month ago, Palestinians in the Gaza strip rioted killing an Egyptian soldier."

And while the Israel Foreign Ministry’s Web site recounts statistics on the amount of basic supplies that are transported into Gaza over land from Israel on a regular basis, Aspell only briefly relayed the Israeli contention that "Israel says there's no humanitarian crisis," and only vaguely related that "some food and medicine is allowed in," adding that "the United Nations says conditions have never been worse."

While Aspell’s report left the impression that there is not enough food in Gaza, in the June 3 Washington Post article, "Getting What They Need to Live, But Not Thrive," Janine Zacharia reports that food is plentiful in Gaza, and that people’s complaints have more to do with unemployment, limited travel abilities, and the inability to repair infrastructure:

Gazans lament where they can’t go more than what they can’t buy. ... Once an exporter of fruits and other goods, Gaza has been turned into a mini-welfare state with a broken economy where food and daily goods are plentiful, but where 80 percent of the population depends on charity.

She continued:

If you walk down Gaza City's main thoroughfare – Salah al-Din Street – grocery stores are stocked wall-to-wall with everything from fresh Israeli yogurts and hummus to Cocoa Puffs smuggled in from Egypt. Pharmacies look as well-supplied as a typical Rite Aid in the United States. ... Gazans readily admit they are not going hungry. But that, they say, is the wrong benchmark for assessing their quality of life. While Gaza has long been poor, the economy has completely crumbled over the past three years.

Aspell’s claim that "Israel won’t let cement into Gaza," is also contradicted by Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Web site:

Building for the future: Infrastructure and economic aid

Building materials

While the import of cement and iron has been restricted into Gaza since these are used by the Hamas to cast rockets and bunkers, monitored imports of truckloads of cement, iron, and building supplies such as wood and windows are regularly coordinated with international parties. Already in the first quarter of 2010, 23 tons of iron and 25 tons of cement were transferred to the Gaza Strip.

On 13 May 2010, Israel allowed approximately 39 tons of building material into Gaza to help rebuild a damaged hospital. The construction material for al Quds hospital was transferred after safeguards in place and French assurances ensured that the construction material would not be diverted elsewhere.

On 24 May 2010 Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to 97 trucks loaded with aid and goods, including six trucks holding 250 tons of cement and one truck loaded with five tons of iron for projects executed and operated by UNRWA.

Below is a complete transcript of the relevant story from the Tuesday, June 8, NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: We are back now with a rare look inside a place 1.5 million people call home. The Israelis call it a hotbed of terrorism, but the people who live there say they are prisoners of poverty and misery. It's the Gaza Strip, and it's once again gotten the world's attention after that raid on a ship trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza to deliver what many say was food and basic supplies. The Israelis say some of those supplies could have been used as weapons. Israel tonight is still saying no to a UN investigation into the raid, but tonight our own Tom Aspell has a report from behind the blockade.

TOM ASPELL: This is what you see when you cross the border from Israel into Gaza, children desperately scrambling for pebbles, pebbles to be ground into cement. Israel won't let cement into Gaza. It says the cement would be used for tunnels to smuggle weapons. So thousands of homes destroyed in the 2009 offensive can't be rebuilt. Some supplies, like groceries and even animals, are smuggled through hundreds of illegal tunnels under the border from Egypt. Israel says there's no humanitarian crisis. Some food and medicine is allowed in, but the United Nations says conditions have never been worse.

CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS, UNRWA SPOKESMAN: Eighty percent aid dependency, 44 percent unemployment. Deep poverty tripling in the last year.

ASPELL: Deep poverty and also despair. Eighty percent of Gazans, like Rushti Abotawela, get their food from the UN. Born deaf, he has no chance of getting a job here. He and his family, two of them also deaf, live on $70 a month from the Palestinian government. Israel's blockade on Gaza isn't just about preventing goods from getting in, it's about preventing 1.5 million Palestinians from getting out. It sentences them to life inside a 140-square-mile prison. Life here is a struggle from birth. In Gaza's Schiffer Hospital, the best around, there isn't enough special formula for premature babies, not even enough incubators. So this baby is only one hour old, but there's no place for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. (LOOKS TO ANOTHER MAN AND SAYS SOMETHING UNCLEAR)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE VOICE: No place.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No place.

ASPELL: Fifty percent of Gazans are children under 15. Mental health experts say 95 percent of all children in Gaza suffer from trauma and stress.

DR. AHMED ABU TAWAHEENA, GAZA MENTAL HEALTH COMMUNITY DIRECTOR: Most important one of them is their violent behavior, aggressive behavior among school students, for example.

ASPELL: Eight-year-old Mahmud Kalil has turned to music to erase memories of bombs and missiles during the 2009 offensive when he spent a month hiding in a basement. Mahmud had extreme mood swings, either laughing or crying constantly. His mother, Anwan, says music therapy now keeps him calm. Music may also be his escape. Given the chance, Mahmud says he'd like to pack up his instrument and leave here forever. Tom Aspell, NBC News, Gaza.