By Stuart Littlewood
Recent scandals calling into question the news-handling skills of Britain’s national broadcaster don’t seem to have improved matters.
After being treated last night to footage of the slaying of Ahmed Jabari, the military leader of Hamas, by an Israeli assassin flying a drone from his armchair and violating Palestinian airspace, I woke this morning to the kind of crass reporting that has sadly become all too common at the BBC.
Its flagship news programme ‘Today’ ran a particularly idiotic item about Israel’s unleashing of its latest offensive on Gaza and featured an ‘interview’ by John Humphrys with the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Daniel Taub. This latest escalation of violence, called Operation Pillar of Defence, had resulted in the killing of 12 Palestinians, including 5 civilians – 3 children, a pregnant woman and a 16 year old boy – and the wounding of dozens more, while 3 Israelis were killed. (By the publishing of the article the death toll has increased to 45 and the wounding of over 400, most of them are civilians.)
Taub, the representative of a brutal occupying power, spoke of 800 missiles fired from Gaza since the beginning of the year but was not questioned about the number of rockets, bombs and tank shells delivered by Israel’s high-tech military into the packed humanity of Gaza in the same period.
Taub wanted Israeli citizens to live in peace and quiet but wasn’t asked why Palestinian citizens are not allowed to do the same.
Taub said over 1 million Israelis have to run for bomb shelters and their kids can’t go to school for fear of Gaza’s rockets, and any country in that situation would feel the need to respond. He wasn’t reminded that Gaza’s citizens also live in fear of daily Israeli air-strikes, have nowhere to run because the siege makes their tiny enclave a prison, and their schools are still so damaged from Israel’s infamous Operation Cast Lead nearly 4 years ago that they have to teach double shifts.
Taub declared that sitting and doing nothing was not an option for the Israelis. Its citizens, he said, were “exercising astonishing restraint”. He wasn’t asked how restrained Palestinians were expected to be after 64 years of cruel occupation and abuse and now under daily attack from air and sea and strangulated by a 6-year siege?
Taub claimed that 7 years ago Israel withdrew from every inch of Gaza to try to create a peaceful situation. Humphrys failed to point out that Israel still occupies Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters and airwaves and has maintained a vicious and illegal blockade since 2006 when democratically elected Hamas enforced their right to rule. Nor did he remind Taub that the West Bank remains illegally occupied and tightly sealed even though no rockets are fired from there. He could have suggested – but didn’t – that if rockets were such an issue and Israel was so concerned about the safety of its citizens, all Israel had to do was respect international and humanitarian law, end its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and halt its illegal blockade of Gaza.
The BBC gave Taub a free ride. After providing the Israeli ambassador with a comfy platform from which to broadcast his distorted views, why wasn’t the other side given a chance? Where was the Palestinian ambassador, Manuel Hassassian, to refute Israel’s propaganda lies? Was he indisposed, on holiday, in hiding or just “not available for comment”? Or does the BBC’s news agenda not permit even-handedness?
I imagine John Humphrys reads from a script and has little choice over what he says.
True, he landed a couple of good punches. But despite his reputation as a tough interviewer the programme succeeded in relaying and amplifying the Israeli propaganda narrative. For this I blame the researchers and editors and the Head of News who, it seems to me, need to go back to journalism school and brush up on the basics.
A press release from the Palestinian Mission, just arrived as I write, says that the execution of Jabari was followed by over 100 aerial, ground and sea attacks by Israel throughout the Gaza strip. In the last few days the Israeli Occupation Forces have targeted more than 100 sites in the Gaza Strip.
Hassassian urges the UK government to intervene immediately to stop Israel’s policy of collective punishment, including the killing and injury of innocent civilians, and the continued oppression of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and siege. “The UK government must back its support for the two state solution with actions”.
Hanan Ashrawi, a much-respected PLO executive member, issued a statement that Israel’s military campaign was a “blatant provocation in violation of international and humanitarian law” and called on the EU, the Quartet and the international community to adopt “serious measures”.
Not that these pleas will be heard. Israel’s devoted friend in the Foreign Office, William Hague, says it’s Hamas’s fault: “Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis. I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups. This creates an intolerable situation for Israeli civilians in southern Israel, who have the right to live without fear of attack from Gaza.” As usual, he says nothing about Palestinians’ right to live in peace and freedom, or their right to self-defence, or the non-stop assaults by air and sea by Israel.
The conclusion I take away from this fiasco is that Palestinians must die in large numbers so that the psychopath Netanyuahu can win more votes in the coming Israeli election. And elements of the British establishment, including our national broadcaster, seem happy to smooth the way for him.
– Stuart Littlewood contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.