Thursday, February 12, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Saturday, January 31, 2009
7:00pm - 8:30pm
Place Jacques-Cartier, Old Montreal
Israel Has No Intention of Granting a Palestinian State
Israel, with the unconditional and approving support of the United States, has made it dramatically clear to the entire world over and over again, repeating in action after action that it will accept no viable Palestinian state next to its borders. What will it take for the rest of us to hear? What will it take to end the criminal and complicit silence of the international community?
Let us get one thing perfectly straight. If the wholesale mutilation and degradation of the Gaza Strip is going to continue; if Israel’s will is at one with that of the United States; if the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and all the international legal agencies and organizations spread across the globe are going to continue to sit by like hollow mannequins doing nothing but making repeated “calls” for a “ceasefire” on “both sides”; if the cowardly, obsequious and supine Arab States are going to stand by watching their brethren get slaughtered by the hour while the world’s bullying Superpower eyes them threateningly from Washington lest they say something a little to their disliking; then let us at least tell the truth why this hell on earth is taking place.
The state terror unleashed from the skies and on the ground against the Gaza Strip as we speak has nothing to do with Hamas. It has nothing to do with “Terror”. It has nothing to do with the long-term “security” of the Jewish State or with Hizbullah or Syria or Iran except insofar as it is aggravating the conditions that have led up to this crisis today. It has nothing to do with some conjured-up “war” – a cynical and overused euphemism that amounts to little more the wholesale enslavement of any nation that dares claim its sovereign rights; that dares assert that its resources are its own; that doesn’t want one of the Empire’s obscene military bases sitting on its cherished land.
This crisis has nothing to do with freedom, democracy, justice or peace. It is not about Mahmoud Zahhar or Khalid Mash’al or Ismail Haniyeh. It is not about Hassan Nasrallah or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These are all circumstantial players who have gained a role in the current tempest only now that the situation has been allowed for 61 years to develop into the catastrophe that it is today. The Islamist factor has colored and will continue to color the atmosphere of the crisis; it has enlisted the current leaders and mobilized wide sectors of the world’s population. The primary symbols today are Islamic – the mosques, the Qur’an, the references to the Prophet Muhammad and to Jihad. But these symbols could disappear and the impasse would continue.
There was a time when Fatah and the PFLP held the day; when few Palestinians wanted anything to do with Islamist policies and politics. Such politics have nothing to do with primitive rockets being fired over the border, or smuggling tunnels and black-market weapons; just as Arafat’s Fatah had little to do with stones and suicide bombings. The associations are coincidental; the creations of a given political environment. They are the result of something entirely different than what the lying politicians and their analysts are telling you. They have become part of the landscape of human events in the modern Middle East today; but incidentals wholly as lethal, or as recalcitrant, deadly, angry or incorrigible could just as soon have been in their places.
Strip away the clichés and the vacuous newspeak blaring out across the servile media and its pathetic corps of voluntary state servants in the Western world and what you will find is the naked desire for hegemony; for power over the weak and dominion over the world’s wealth. Worse yet you will find that the selfishness, the hatred and indifference, the racism and bigotry, the egotism and hedonism that we try so hard to cover up with our sophisticated jargon, our refined academic theories and models actually help to guide our basest and ugliest desires. The callousness with which we in indulge in them all are endemic to our very culture; thriving here like flies on a corpse.
Strip away the current symbols and language of the victims of our selfish and devastating whims and you will find the simple, impassioned and unaffected cries of the downtrodden; of the ‘wretched of the earth’ begging you to cease your cold aggression against their children and their homes; their families and their villages; begging you to leave them alone to have their fish and their bread, their oranges, their olives and their thyme; asking you first politely and then with increasing disbelief why you cannot let them live undisturbed on the land of their ancestors; unexploited, free of the fear of expulsion; of ravishment and devastation; free of permits and roadblocks and checkpoints and crossings; of monstrous concrete walls, guard towers, concrete bunkers, and barbed wire; of tanks and prisons and torture and death. Why is life without these policies and instruments of hell impossible?
The answer is because Israel has no intention of allowing a viable, sovereign Palestinian state on its borders. It had no intention of allowing it in 1948 when it grabbed 24 per cent more land than what it was allotted legally, if unfairly, by UN Resolution 181. It had no intention of allowing it throughout the massacres and ploys of the 1950s. It had no intention of allowing two states when it conquered the remaining 22 per cent of historic Palestine in 1967 and reinterpreted UN Security Council Resolution 248 to its own liking despite the overwhelming international consensus stating that Israel would receive full international recognition within secure and recognized borders if it withdrew from the lands it had only recently occupied.
It had no intention of acknowledging Palestinian national rights at the United Nations in 1974, when –alone with the United States—it voted against a two-state solution. It had no intention of allowing a comprehensive peace settlement when Egypt stood ready to deliver but received, and obediently accepted, a separate peace exclusive of the rights of Palestinians and the remaining peoples of the region. It had no intention of working toward a just two-state solution in 1978 or 1982 when it invaded, fire-bombed, blasted and bulldozed Beirut so that it might annex the West Bank without hassle. It had no intention of granting a Palestinian state in 1987 when the first Intifada spread across occupied Palestine, into the Diaspora and the into the spirits of the global dispossessed, or when Israel deliberately aided the newly formed Hamas movement so that it might undermine the strength of the more secular-nationalist factions.
Israel had no intention of granting a Palestinian state at Madrid or at Oslo where the PLO was superseded by the quivering, quisling Palestinian Authority, too many of whose cronies grasped at the wealth and prestige it gave them at the expense of their own kin. As Israel beamed into the world’s satellites and microphones its desire for peace and a two-state solution, it more than doubled the number of illegal Jewish settlements on the ground in the West Bank and around East Jerusalem, annexing them as it built and continues to build a superstructure of bypass roads and highways over the remaining, severed cities and villages of earthly Palestine. It has annexed the Jordan valley, the international border of Jordan, expelling any ‘locals’ inhabiting that land. It speaks with a viper’s tongue over the multiple amputee of Palestine whose head shall soon be severed from its body in the name of justice, peace and security.
Through the home demolitions, the assaults on civil society that attempted to cast Palestinian history and culture into a chasm of oblivion; through the unspeakable destruction of the refugee camp sieges and infrastructure bombardments of the second Intifada, through assassinations and summary executions, past the grandiose farce of disengagement and up to the nullification of free, fair and democratic Palestinian elections Israel has made its view known again and again in the strongest possible language, the language of military might, of threats, intimidation, harassment, defamation and degradation.
Israel, with the unconditional and approving support of the United States, has made it dramatically clear to the entire world over and over and over again, repeating in action after action that it will accept no viable Palestinian state next to its borders. What will it take for the rest of us to hear? What will it take to end the criminal silence of the ‘international community’? What will it take to see past the lies and indoctrination to what is taking place before us day after day in full view of the eyes of the world? The more horrific the actions on the ground, the more insistent are the words of peace. To listen and watch without hearing or seeing allows the indifference, the ignorance and complicity to continue and deepens with each grave our collective shame.
The destruction of Gaza has nothing to do with Hamas. Israel will accept no authority in the Palestinian territories that it does not ultimately control. Any individual, leader, faction or movement that fails to accede to Israel’s demands or that seeks genuine sovereignty and the equality of all nations in the region; any government or popular movement that demands the applicability of international humanitarian law and of the universal declaration of human rights for its own people will be unacceptable for the Jewish State. Those dreaming of one state must be forced to ask themselves what Israel would do to a population of 4 million Palestinians within its borders when it commits on a daily, if not hourly basis, crimes against their collective humanity while they live alongside its borders? What will suddenly make the raison d’etre, the self-proclaimed purpose of Israel’s reason for being change if the Palestinian territories are annexed to it outright?
The lifeblood of the Palestinian National Movement flows through the streets of Gaza today. Every drop that falls waters the soil of vengeance, bitterness and hatred not only in Palestine but across the Middle East and much of the world. We do have a choice over whether or not this should continue. Now is the time to make it.
| Jennifer Loewenstein|
Journalist. Rafah-Madison Sister City Project founder.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
On 29 February last year the BBC's website reported deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai threatening a "holocaust" on Gaza. Headlined "Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust'" the story would undergo nine revisions in the next twelve hours. Before the day was over the headline would read "Gaza militants 'risking disaster.'" (The story has since been revised again with an exculpatory note added soft-pedaling Vilnai's comments). An Israeli official threatening "holocaust" may be unpalatable to those who routinely invoke its specter to deflect criticism from the state's criminal behavior. With the "holocaust" reference redacted, the new headline shifted culpability neatly into the hands of "Gaza militants" instead.
One could argue that the BBC's radical alteration of the story reflects its susceptibility to the kind of inordinate pressure the Israel lobby's well-oiled flak machine is notorious for. However, as will be demonstrated in subsequent examples, this story is exceptional only insofar as it reported accurately in the first place something that could bear negatively on Israel's image. The norm is reflexive self-censorship.
To establish evidence of the BBC's journalistic malpractice one often has to do no more than pick a random sample of news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently on its website. In a time of conflict BBC's coverage invariably tends to the Israeli perspective, and nowhere is this reflected more than in the semantics and framing of its reportage. More so than the quantitative bias -- which was meticulously established by the Glasgow University Media Group in their study "Bad News from Israel" -- it is the qualitative tilt that obscures the reality of the situation. This is often achieved by engendering a false parity by stretching the notion of journalistic balance to encompass power, culpability, and legitimacy as well. The present conflict is no exception.
"Hamas leader killed in air strike," reads last Thursday's headline on the BBC website. Notwithstanding the propriety of extrajudicial murder, there are 14 paragraphs and the obligatory mention of the four dead Israelis before it is revealed that "at least nine other people," including the assassinated leader's family, were killed in the bombing of his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp. The actual number is 16 dead, 11 of them children; 12 more wounded, including five children; 10 houses destroyed, another 12 damaged -- a veritable slaughter. Had a Hamas bombing killed or wounded 28 Israeli citizens including 16 children you'd be sure to see endless coverage -- of the kind the BBC lavished on the disconsolate illegal settlers in 2005 as they were made to relinquish stolen land in Gaza. The BBC's Mike Sergeant, sitting in Jerusalem, would not concern himself with such sentimentality. There is no further mention of Palestinian civilian deaths. Their tragedy was no more than a sanguine message which Sergeant tells us will "be seen as an indication that the Israeli military can target key members of the Hamas leadership."
"Israel braced for Hamas response," blared the ominous headline on next day's front page. With all references to Hamas in its coverage prefixed with "militant" and invariably accompanied by images of blood and debris, the average viewer is very likely to assume the worst. It transpires what the world's fourth most powerful military is bracing itself for is merely a citizen's protest called by Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Further on we learn that Israel has been bombing such "targets" as a mosque and a sleeping family. The BBC's next headline on the same day -- "Gaza facing 'critical emergency'" -- is an improvement. It quotes Maxwell Gaylard, the UN's chief aid coordinator for the territory, highlighting the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis. Following this is a warning from Oxfam that the situation is getting worse by the day: clean water, fuel and food in short supply, hospitals overwhelmed with casualties, raw sewage pouring into the streets.
And then we get "balance."
Israel, we learn, has claimed Gaza has "sufficient food and medicines." It of course ought to be easy to verify which of the competing claims is valid, but that presumably would violate the "usual BBC standards of impartiality." There is also a more mundane reason why the BBC won't present its own findings, but it is tucked away in the very last paragraph of the article. Israel, we learn, "is refusing to let international journalists into Gaza" including no doubt those of the BBC. Ethics of reporting would require that the BBC preface each of its reports with the disclaimer that it has no way of knowing what is going on in Gaza other than through the propaganda handouts of the Israeli military.
The final act of chicanery comes in the shape of a sidebar which lists the number of rockets fired by Palestinians for each day of the conflict. This is particularly odd in an article ostensibly about the consequences of the Israeli blockade and bombing, especially since no similar figures are produced for the number of bombs, missiles and artillery shells rained on Gaza. The source the BBC uses is the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center based in Israel. What it does not mention however is that the "private" think tank is a conveyor belt for Israeli military propaganda which, according to The Washington Post, "has close ties with the country's military leadership and maintains an office at the Defense Ministry." Any Palestinian claim on the other hand would not appear unless enclosed in quotation marks, even if independently verifiable.
The quotation marks are a useful distancing device deployed to show that the characterization may not be one shared by the BBC. This would be understandable if their application were consistent. It isn't. To take one telling example, after the Lebanon war when both Israel and Hizballah were accused by Amnesty International of war crimes only in the case of Israel did the BBC enclose the accusation in quotation marks.
It is through these subtle -- and not so subtle -- manipulations of language that the BBC has shielded its audience from the ugly realities of occupied Palestine. In the BBC's reportage lexicon, Palestinians "die" but Israelis are "killed" (the latter implies agency, the former could have happened of natural causes); Palestinians "provoke," and Israelis "retaliate;" Palestinians make "claims," and Israelis "declare." Moreover, schools, mosques, universities and police stations are part of the "Hamas infrastructure;" militants "clash" with F-16s and Apache helicopters. "Terrorism" is inextricably linked to Palestinians but Israelis merely "defend" themselves -- invariably outside their borders. All debates, irrespective of fact or circumstance, are framed around Israel's "security" -- Palestinian security is irrelevant. If Israel's wall annexing land in the West Bank is mentioned, it is in terms of its "effectiveness." In the odd event that an articulate Palestinian voice represented, the debate is rigged with a set-up video that is meant to put them on the defensive. When all else fails, there is the reliable "both sides" argument -- if reality won't accommodate the image of an even conflict, the BBC figures, language will.
Then there's the framing: Israel's violence is always analyzed in terms of its "objectives;" and Palestinian violence is of necessity "senseless." This is no doubt how it must appear to the average reader since the word "occupation" rarely appears in the BBC's coverage. It hasn't appeared once in the last 20 stories on Gaza on its website. And if occupation is mentioned rarely, then the UN resolutions almost never. The picture is even worse on television, where the Israeli point of view predominates.
While Matan Vilnai's threat of a holocaust is consigned to the memory hole, the statement invented and attributed to the Iranian president about wiping Israel off the map is still in play. It is this double standard which also allowed the BBC to cover the story of a British Jew joining the Israeli military as a human interest story -- which may not be entirely surprising considering the BBC's man in Jerusalem, Tim Franks, is himself a graduate of Habonim Dror, a Zionist youth movement. It is this inhuman devaluation of Palestinian life that allowed the BBC at the peak of the criminal blockade in July 2007 to have two stories up on its website related to the occupied territories, both about animals -- "Israeli paratroopers swoop on pet shop to rescue rare eagles" and "Kidnapped lioness is reunited with her brother in Gaza Zoo."
While the BBC's refusal to by-line its online reports makes it hard to trace stories back to individual journalists, a revealing glimpse of the editorial context in which they work was offered by an article in The Observer by the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen -- a man whose modest analytical skills are matched only by his historical illiteracy. With the BBC workhorse -- "both sides" -- weaved into the very headline, Bowen piles inanity upon cliche. Throughout there is no mention of an occupation. Bowen has been conveniently transported to Sderot -- an Israeli public relations ploy to "embed" journalists within range of Hamas rockets in order to make them report with empathy -- and he is happy to oblige. On the other hand there is no mention of those at the receiving end of Israel's lethal ordinance. He mentions civilian casualties only in the context of the "lot of bad publicity" they get for Israel. On the basis of this evidence, he then concludes "it is probably fair to say that [Israel] does not hit every target it wants, otherwise many more would have died." We then end with speculation on Israel's possible objectives. Despite "both sides," there is no similar scrutiny of Hamas's objectives.
At a conference in London in 2004, a BBC journalist based in the Occupied Palestinian Territories told me that when it comes to Israel the editorial parameters are so narrow that journalists soon learn to adapt their stories in order not to upset the editors. Similarly, editors likewise know not to upset their government-appointed managers. Since the days of Lord Reith, the BBC-founder who assured the establishment to "trust [the BBC] not to be really impartial," on foreign policy the corporation has acted as little more than the propaganda arm of the state (whatever independence it had once enjoyed evaporated with the purge carried out by Tony Blair in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry). Contrary to the prevailing view in the US, where progressives don't tire of comparing it favorably against US media, the BBC's record of coverage in the Middle East is dismal. As media scholar David Miller revealed, during the Iraq war the representation of antiwar voices on the BBC was even lower than on its US counterparts. A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung study found the corporation to have the lowest tolerance for dissent of the media in the five countries it analyzed. Just as its correspondents in Iraq celebrated the fall of Baghdad as a "vindication" of Blair, its man in Washington Matt Frei threw all caution to the wind to exult: "There is no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now in the Middle East, is especially tied up with American military power."
The BBC's partiality in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mere reflection of the close affinity of successive British governments with Israel. Both Blair and his successor Gordon Brown have been members of the Israel Lobby group Labour Friends of Israel. The Foreign Minister David Miliband has kin who are settlers in the West Bank. All three major influence-peddling scandals in the past five years that engulfed the leadership of the ruling New Labour party involved money from wealthy Zionist Jews (all linked to the Labour Friends of Israel). If the BBC is not impartial, then the UK government most certainly is not. The BBC, as is its wont, merely reflects the latter's tilt. This is blatant enough that despite pressure from the Israel lobby, the BBC's own Independent Panel concluded that its coverage of the Palestinian struggle was not "full and fair" and that it presented an "incomplete and in that sense misleading picture."
But the gap between the alternate reality that the BBC inhabits and the reality on the ground witnessed and relayed by independent media is so great today that it has compelled John Pilger to write: "For every BBC voice that strains to equate occupier with occupied, thief with victim, for every swarm of emails from the fanatics of Zion to those who invert the lies and describe the Israeli state's commitment to the destruction of Palestine, the truth is more powerful now than ever."
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of Spinwatch.org. He blogs at Fanonite.org.