By Stuart Littlewood | 22 January 2010
Its mission statement says: “Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.” However, people are complaining bitterly to the BBC about its pro-Israel stance when reporting on the situation in the Holy Land.
Once renowned as the benchmark for fairness and accuracy, the BBC nowadays is careless with the truth when handling news from the Palestinian territories illegally occupied by Israel – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
We were treated to a prize example earlier this week. The flagship “Today” programme, which goes out weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Radio 4, marked the anniversary of Israel’s blitzkrieg with a feature on the Gaza economy, in which I heard presenters claim at least three times that the purpose of Operation Cast Lead was to stop the rocket attacks across the border.
This is untrue. The rockets stopped months before Israel’s assault with the start of the ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, which held from 19 June until 4 November 2008, when Israel deliberately dashed hopes for peace by staging an armed incursion into Gaza, killing several Hamas men.
Under the ceasefire Israel had undertaken to lift the economic blockade, but didn’t do so. Nevertheless Hamas kept its side of the bargain and fired no rockets.
So 1,400 Gazans, including some 350 women and children, didn’t have to die under Israeli bombardment. All Israel needed to do was extend the truce by keeping the peace and lifting the evil blockade as promised.
But it’s not about rockets, is it? No rockets are launched from the West Bank, yet Israel keeps the West Bank tightly sealed and all movement cruelly restricted under a punitive military and administrative matrix of control.
The death and devastation inflicted on Gaza is really about Israel’s unquenchable lust for land and its criminal desire to subjugate, expel or annihilate the native population.
The BBC also failed to provide accurate context regarding the Israeli township of Sderot, the main target for Hamas rockets. Edward Sturton, reporting from Sderot, didn’t explain how the land on which Sderot stands was once a Palestinian village called Najd, whose residents were ethnically cleansed and put to flight by Jewish terrorists in May 1948. Many of them ended up in refugee camps in Gaza. Sderot is therefore a source of real grievance to the Palestinians.
Under UN Resolution 194 and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the villagers of Najd, along with hundreds of thousands of others who were dispossessed at gunpoint, are entitled to return to their homes but have been denied their rights by Israel.
So, has our “trustworthy” BBC fallen under Zionist influence just like the British government? It certainly gives a disproportionate amount of air-time to pro-Israel figures such as the Israeli ambassador, the regime’s spokesman Mark Regev, the chief rabbi and assorted politicians who wave the flag for Israel, all of whom speak good, clear English. On the rare occasions when the BBC interviews a Palestinian it chooses someone who is unintelligible. I can’t remember when I last heard the Palestinian ambassador, Manuel Hassassian, who speaks excellent English and can put the Palestinian case eloquently.
The BBC also adopts Israel’s language and definitions. Palestinians not Israelis are the militants. Hamas, not the murdering occupiers, are the terrorists. A single captured Israeli soldier is deemed more newsworthy than the 10,000 abducted Palestinians (some of them women and children) rotting in Israeli jails. It is imperative that Israelis not Palestinians feel secure within their borders. Israelis not Palestinians have a right of self-defence.
A few years ago a study of TV news coverage by Glasgow University’s Media Group showed how the BBC and others distorted the Arab-Israeli conflict and misinformed the British public by presenting the Israeli government perspective and featuring mostly pro-Israel politicians. Today the gap between the BBC and its mission pledge to be “independent, impartial and honest” seems just as wide.
Of course, none of this is news to the Palestinians. I make these points only for the benefit of Western readers, especially Britons and Americans who are victims of media bias, and for Israelis who live on a diet of fiction, and for Zionists everywhere who wouldn’t recognize the truth if it fell on them.
Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.
- Israeli poll finds majority in favour of ‘apartheid’ policies (guardian.co.uk)
When a cover-up is exposed, nothing is more telling than the first reactions from those who are involved. Do they maintain their stories and face potentially aggravated consequences? Or do they simply remain silent? In making this choice, they often telegraph the depth of their anxiety and concern.
Last night on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, I focused on the first responses to “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides.’” Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the former commander at Camp America, had sent an email to the Associated Press, the text of which AP confirmed to me, in which he said he would have to get clearance from the Defense Department to speak, but then stated:
This blatant misrepresentation of the truth infuriates me. I don’t know who Sgt. Hickman is, but he is only trying to be a spotlight ranger. He knows nothing about what transpired in Camp 1, or our medical facility. I do, I was there.
This statement merits closer inspection. The first sentence is a classic nondenial denial. It appears on the surface to deny part of the account, but in fact denies nothing. Bumgarner needs to state specifically what allegations he considers inaccurate. His failure to do so is telling.
The second statement is an attempt to frame the conflict in terms of a controversy between Sergeant Hickman and himself, which he leads into by saying he doesn’t even know who Hickman is. That statement is demonstrably false. As we confirmed with Defense Department records, Bumgarner recommended Hickman for a medal (shown below) based on his cool-headed approach to defusing a prison riot on May 18, 2006. Moreover, Hickman was selected as NCO of the Quarter at Guantánamo, a fact the camp commander would certainly have known at the time. In any case, the key points in which Bumgarner figures do not rest on Hickman’s accounts alone—they are corroborated by a series of additional witnesses, as well as by published accounts in which Bumgarner himself is extensively quoted.
The third statement presents Bumgarner with even more serious problems. He denies that Hickman was present or has knowledge of what transpired at Camp 1 and the detainee clinic on the night of June 9. “I was there,” he says. Let’s be very clear about this: Either Bumgarner lied in a formal statement to NCIS, or he lied to AP. In his formal account, Bumgarner addressed this point directly. “On the night of 09JUN06, I was not in the camp,” he writes, “I had spent the evening at Admiral Harris’s house.” (This can be found on pp. 1059-60 of the NCIS evidence file, and can be examined here [PDF, 1.1M] on page 6 of the original document.) This account matches the recollection of other witnesses cited in Admiral Harris’s AR 15-6 statement, especially the statements beginning at p. 118. In all these accounts, Colonel Bumgarner does not arrive at the camp until 12:48 a.m. on the morning of June 10. The operative events of the narrative furnished by the guards occurred between 7:00 p.m. and midnight—long before Bumgarner’s arrival on the scene.
The Justice Department response is also informative. It was confronted with several allegations: that the FBI had been involved in a cover-up from the first days after the deaths, launching a raid designed to intimidate witnesses from speaking openly; that the Justice Department may have made repeated misleading statements to federal judge James Robertson in furtherance of the cover-up; and that the Department claimed to have concluded its investigation into Hickman’s story before contacting witnesses who would have, and did, corroborate it.
The Justice Department had no response to any of these serious allegations. Instead, in a January 18 e-mail, department spokesman Laura Sweeny claimed that two of the witnesses interviewed by the department had misremembered the names of the lawyers present at those meetings. She refused to address any of the other allegations in the article. Instead, she insisted that I note that Justice had “conducted a thorough inquiry into this matter, carefully examined the allegations, found no evidence of wrongdoing and subsequently closed the matter.” And then she said, as she had when I contacted her in reporting the story, that she would not arrange an interview with any of the officials involved in the matter.
This is all classic misdirection, an attempt to make the story not about the crimes at Guantánamo but the minutes of meetings in Baltimore and Columbia. Still, the fact that the Justice Department is unwilling to say who was at these brief interviews speaks volumes. It does not deny that the interviews occurred, nor that the descriptions of the meetings are otherwise accurate, nor even that the lawyers identified were in fact involved in the investigation. It simply insists that the team conducting these interviews not be identified.
Of course, this adamant insistence on official anonymity does nothing to dispel the accusation of cover-up. Just the opposite: it suggests that the lawyers and FBI agents involved quite urgently wish not to have their names associated with it. And who could blame them?
TEHRAN, (PIC)– Speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani on Tuesday expressed his country’s pride to support resistance movements in the region including the Lebanese resistance and the Movement of Hamas, stressing that the resistance became the only option to confront the occupation after the failure of peace projects.
These remarks came during a conference dubbed “Gaza, the symbol of resistance” which was organized by the association for the defense of the Palestinian people and attended by a representative of Hamas and Iranian officials.
According to the reporter of the Palestinian information center (PIC), Larijani stated in his speech that the resistance achieved tangible results in the 33-day war in Lebanon and the war on the Gaza Strip and announced that the Iranian parliament agreed January 19 to be marked annually as “Gaza day.”
The Iranian speaker recalled how the US and some European countries stood by Israel and provided it with all kinds of support and prevented many countries on many occasions from raising the issue of the Israeli military aggression on Gaza in the UN.
“During 22 days, no one talked about human rights and humanity, although we have seen the advent of the new US president who declared that he would make several changes in the policies of America and that he did not accept the practices of his predecessors,” the speaker underscored.
“And during the war, the Zionist entity killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, wounded more than five thousands, murdered large numbers of Palestinian children and turned Gaza into a scorched land, but all this was of no importance to Obama who preferred to be preoccupied with choosing a dog for his daughters,” he added.
Speaking about the visit of US president Barack Obama to Turkey and Egypt, the speaker said, “Obama told the Turkish parliament that he wanted to restore the Muslims’ rights and to adopt a new approach in dealing with them, and then traveled to Cairo and said there he knew about Islam and wanted to restore Palestinian rights, but it was shameful that he did nothing during this period, while Gaza is still besieged.”
By Ira Chernus, January 21, 2010
A report released by the United Nations last year says that Israeli settlers, angered over the destruction of Jewish outposts, could exact revenge on up to a quarter million Palestinians in the West Bank.
It’s not just vague speculation. The report, issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territory, names 22 specific Palestinian communities, with a total population of 75,900, that are “highly vulnerable” to revenge attacks, and another 59, with about 175,000 residents, that are “moderately vulnerable.” It also names numerous road segments and junctions where Palestinians are especially at risk.
The people who wrote this report have obviously been there, observed carefully, and know what they are talking about.
They’ve also listened to the Jewish settlers, who boast openly of their so-called “price tag” policy, by which they exact a “price” from Palestinians in response not just to terror attacks, but also to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) actions to evacuate unauthorized outposts. Of course, since they are more or less helpless against the IDF soldiers, the settlers intend to make Palestinians pay the price.
But the UN report stresses that the IDF is hardly the good guy here: “The main concern is the frequent failure of the Israeli security forces to intervene and stop settler attacks in real time, including the failure to arrest suspected settlers on the spot. … Among the main reasons behind this failure is the ambiguous message delivered by the government of Israel and the IDF top officials to the security forces in the field regarding their authority and responsibility to enforce the law on Israeli settlers.”
“Ambiguous” means that the IDF officially tells its soldiers to enforce the law, even when it means safeguarding Palestinian life. But when Israeli soldiers ignore that instruction, letting Palestinians suffer, the guilty Israelis virtually never suffer any consequences themselves. It’s the Israeli version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So the Israeli government, the occupying force ultimately responsible for the West Bank Palestinians’ security, is on notice that it’s facing a real risk of disaster. And it’s no longer a secret in Israel, where the nation’s top newspaper, Ha’aretz, has just made the UN report public.
So far, though, there is no indication that Israeli leaders have taken any steps to head off these revenge attacks. It’s certainly not being treated as a major issue in the Israeli press.
No, the Israelis have other worries on their minds. Right now, the hot new source of anxiety in Israel is an imagined worldwide conspiracy of anti-Semites bent on “delegitimization” – attacking the right of the Jewish state to exist. For many Israeli officials, it seems, this supposed conspiracy is all too real and all too dangerous. Soon they may be on full-scale alert, mobilizing their nation and its supporters to name this threat their “new battlefield,” make it a top priority, and fight back hard.
“Reut was established to serve Israeli government agencies and decisionmakers … from top-ranking politicians to government professionals,” its Web site explains – all at no charge, and no matter which party controls the government. When the current opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, was in the government as foreign minister, one of her advisers praised Reut: “They are very influential and highly respected. … Their alerts sometimes save the day.”
Now Reut is sounding the alert about the “new battlefield,” in a new report that’s been well-covered in the Israeli press. Here’s how Reut founder and president Gidi Grinstein explains it: “Turning Israel into a pariah state is central to its adversaries’ efforts. Israel is a geopolitical island. Its survival and prosperity depend on its relations with the world in trade, science, arts, and culture – all of which rely on its legitimacy. When the latter is compromised, the former may be severed, with harsh political, social, and economic consequences.”
The attack is being directed, Reut claims, from “hubs of delegitimization” – places like London, Toronto, Brussels, Madrid, and Berkeley that are hotbeds of anti-Israel criticism fueled by anti-Semitism.
One piece of this picture – and one piece only – is accurate enough. Worldwide criticism of Israel’s harsh occupation policies is growing rapidly, even among Jews, as well as millions of non-Jews whose moral credentials are spotless. That means the simplistic old charge that all critics of Israel are anti-Semitic is no longer plausible, even as a PR tactic.
So the sophisticated think-tankers at Reut have dreamed up a new way to try to make the stale charge of anti-Semitism stick. Now, it turns out, there is a crucial distinction we must all learn to make. “Soft critics” (including human rights groups like Oxfam) condemn Israeli policy but not necessarily the state’s legitimacy, and that’s apparently OK. Israel’s real enemies are the “hard-core delegitimizers,” fueled by anti-Semitic hatred, who are out to destroy the Jews.
The problem, Reut warns in good McCarthyite fashion, is that the “soft critics” are dupes of the “hard-core” anti-Semites, who want to use the “softies” to blur the difference between criticizing Israeli policy and denying Israel’s basic legitimacy. Reut calls for an all-out effort by Israel’s defenders to drive a wedge between the soft and hard-core critics.
That’s just part of the larger strategy described by Grinstein: “In every major country, Israel and its supporters must develop and sustain personal connections with the entire elite in business, politics, arts and culture, science, and academia.”
For example, a Reut blogger recently wrote, “Promoting Israel studies on campus [in the U.S.] and ‘branding Israel’ – a strategy aimed at associating Israel with positive characteristics unrelated to the Arab-Israeli conflict – are central to improving Israel’s international standing and countering delegitimacy.”
All this might be just a tempest in a think-tank teapot. But it seems that Reut’s claim of influence on the Israeli government is well-founded, at least in this case. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon recently told a group of diplomats in Jerusalem that Israel’s foes now rely mainly on tactics like boycotts and economic and legal sanctions to delegitimize Israel.
Ayalon dubbed it “lawfare” – and apparently the name is catching on. Britain’s attorney general, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, just gave a lecture at the law school of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. The title: “Lawfare: Time for Rules of Engagement?”
But Ayalon took Reut’s intellectual fantasy one crucial step further, into the very real and violent world of the Israel-Palestine conflict, when he charged that the whole “lawfare” campaign is being directed by the Palestinian Authority. Since Palestinian violence has declined so precipitously, Ayalon would have us believe, the Palestinians are taking the struggle to a new phase, centered on the global battlefield of “delegitimizing Israel.”
It all makes a neat package – much too neat, in fact. Rather than responding to the moderating trends in both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas with any concessions of their own, these Israeli leaders would rather find a new way to go on portraying Israel as the innocent victim of irrational hatreds, which can never be mollified at any negotiating table.
Ayalon made the punch line of his argument clear enough: The so-called lawfare will “directly damage our relations with the Palestinians and any possibility of a smooth and viable political process.” So, the whole fanciful notion of a Palestinian-directed global campaign becomes another excuse to avoid serious peace talks with the Palestinians.
Ayalon certainly does not speak for all Israelis. He’s a darling of the political Right. But lately some right-wing ideas have had a nasty way of moving toward the center of Israeli politics.
Most disturbingly, this idea may also be picked up by Israel’s military professionals. Ayalon’s view was repeated almost verbatim by Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin in his latest testimony to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “The Palestinian Authority is encouraging the international arena to challenge Israel’s legitimacy and its activities,” he told the lawmakers. “The fact that Israel is no longer suffering from terror or from an immediate military threat has made it easier for the international community to accept claims against Israel’s security activities.”
Military officers have always been the most respected voices in Israel when it comes to issues of war and national security. If others repeat Yadlin’s claims, the “new battlefield” theory could easily become the common wisdom among Israeli Jews. And the Reut Institute’s subtle distinction between “soft” and “hard-core” critics of Israel is likely to get lost, as the right-wingers tout the other side of the Reut coin: the nonsensical but often repeated view that all the critics are ultimately driven by anti-Semitism.
That would be a disaster for Israel’s security, which can be improved only by negotiations leading to guaranteed security not only for Israel but for an independent, viable Palestinian state. The fundamental roadblock to peace and security for both sides is the persistent sense of fear and victimization that is the bedrock of political culture for Israeli Jews and for Israel’s apologists around the world.
The rising popularity of the “new battlefield” theory shows how far they will go to hold on to their fear and victimization – to see anti-Semitism, rather than the occupation, as the source of all their woes – and to avoid making the compromises that could open the path to peace.