BBC Israel headlines – inconsistency or bias?

I’m beginning to wonder whether the BBC is biased or just plain incompetent with its headlines about Israel.

The latest Six Palestinians killed in West Bank, Gaza attacks suggests what, do you think?

Israeli troops have killed six Palestinians – three in the Gaza Strip and three in the West Bank.

The Israeli military said three Palestinians suspected of trying to infiltrate from Gaza were killed in an air strike near the Erez crossing…..

Separately, Israeli forces said they had killed three men – who were suspected of killing a Jewish settler – in the West Bank city of Nablus

So the Palestinians were either attempting to enter Israel on a mission to attack Israelis

Palestinian sources in Nablus say two of those killed were militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs

or they were being arrested in response to a murder. Yet the headline suggests thee deaths were somehow indiscriminate and the ‘attacks’ assigned to Israel not the Palestinians who perpetrated or were intent on perpetrating an attack.

Look at the difference in reporting the attack on a US plane approaching Detroit on a flight from the Netherlands:

US plane attack suspect quizzed after ‘terror attempt’

Ah, that word ‘terror’ – disallowed when reporting attacks on Israel but acceptable elsewhere. No militants, insurgents or freedom fighters here, but an Al Qaeda ‘act of terrorism’. No doubt this would have been perfectly acceptable to report as ‘a militant operation’ had it been on a plane approaching Ben Gurion. But the BBC recognise Al Qaeda as terrorists because they have attacked Britain but AlAqsa and Hamas are always ‘militants’.

Go figure.

Gaza blockade? What blockade?

The BBC has reported that aid agencies, especially Oxfam, have ‘strongly criticised the international community’ for not bringing pressure on Israel to end Israel’s ‘blockade’ of Gaza.

This notion that there is a ‘blockade’ is typical of the loose, inaccurate and often deliberately misleading use of language which is often evident where Israel is concerned. It is, essentially, a lie; and a lie intended to damage and demonise Israel. It is language which totally ignores the fact of Hamas and its genocidal hatred of Israel. It is language which denies the reality of Hamas’s ongoing war against Israel and the Jewish people; not a war to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but a war to destroy Israel utterly.

In a war, much of which is fought on the international stage, loose use of language is a tool of that aggression: ‘blockade, ghetto’, ‘genocide’, ‘war crime’ and ‘collective punishment’ are all emotive terms which are associated with evil regimes, especially the Nazis, and have precise meaning. When they are bandied about by ‘aid agencies’ such as Oxfam, that agency reveals itself as biased because it uses the language of hate.

‘Blockade’ : this is how my Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it:

Shutting-up, total or on land or sea side, of a place by hostile forces in order to starve it into surrender or prevent egress and ingress

(my emphasis)

Yet Oxfam knows full well that there is an endless stream of food into Gaza. No-one is starving in Gaza and there is no intention by the Israelis to cause starvation. Ingress and egress are restricted and difficult but shouldn’t they be given the history of suicide attacks emanating from Gaza in the past and the ongoing hostilities?

But the BBC goes along with this use of language: “Israel imposed a tightened blockade after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power two-and-a-half years ago”. No, it’s not a blockade, it is a restriction on certain goods and materials which can be used against Israel.

What Oxfam is saying is that Israel should no longer prevent any goods coming into Gaza for the purpose of building even though these materials have been used in the past not to rebuild but to make weaponry.

Israel is still providing food, medicine, and electricity into Gaza. This does not sound like a ‘blockade’ to me.

The situation in Gaza is not good, but then its government is still in a state of belligerence with Israel. A government its people voted to power. And this leads to the second and even worse use of loose language; Oxfam accuses Israel of ‘collective punishment’, a term associated with the indiscriminate punishment of a civilian population for the actions of its army or combatants.

Let’s look at the legal definition.

The term ‘collective punishment’ derives from the 1949 Geneva Convention.

By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and World War II. In the First World War, Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to “intimidatory measures to terrorize the population” in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices “strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice.”

I admit to using a Wikipedia article for this description.

If the UNWRA or other international bodies could guarantee that certain materials entering the Gaza strip would not fall into the hands of Hamas to be used as weapons against Israel, then Israel would relax the sanctions. In fact, this is already taking place, for example, this article in Ha’aretz on 29th July 2009 which informs us that for the first time since Operation Cast Lead:

Israel plans to transfer several hundred tons of cement and other construction materials, including metal pipes, into the Gaza Strip to facilitate reconstruction…

The transfer of materials is part of the implementation of a United Nations plan devised by UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, who has submitted to Israel a list of 10 UN-sponsored construction projects in Gaza.

Amos Gilad, the coordinator of Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip, authorized the UN construction plan several weeks ago. The cement will be transferred for use solely in the approved projects and will not be handed over to Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Among the construction projects are the reconstruction of Gaza’s largest flour mill and the refurbishing of a sewage treatment plant.

So ‘collective punishment’? ‘Collective inconvenience’, perhaps. How would you go about limiting the damage a neighbour could inflict on you? Hamas is embedded within the fabric of Gaza. how can you limit Hamas without there being  a price to pay for the population; a population which supported and voted in Hamas. How much sympathy did the world have for the German people in the 1940’s because they voted in and supported the policies of the Nazis? If I recall Britain and the United States flattened Dresden deliberately to kill and intimidate – a war crime by 1949.

It is perfectly acceptable for Oxfam  and anyone else to criticise Israel for specifics where it could do more without risking its own population, but to colour the argument with blanket terms that only demonise and not to mention the actual truth on the ground is biased. If you set out with an agenda then you will easily find hardship in Gaza – they just fought a war.  And what about Egypt which is currently building a deep, metal barrier at Rafah. The aid agencies have nothing to say about the restrictions the Egyptians place on Gaza even though they control one third of the border.

The BBC are as inaccurate as ever. In the cited article there is a map of the crossing points into Gaza and below it three links with the text:

That word ‘blockade’ and very negative connotations in these headlines. But of the three articles two are from November 2008, over a year ago, and the third from June 2009.

But let me just report what the EU’s Middle East envoy said in the European parliament on November 24th 2009:

  • There is no shortage of equipment or cement for construction in Gaza, and Hamas is controlling the resources.
  • Hamas dismissed employees of the systems and appointed its own people, and that is the reason that there is no construction in Gaza.
  • The prevailing economy in Gaza is not an official economy but rather an economy of tunnels; there are no shortages in Gaza, but there is a problem of unemployment, primarily for civilians who are not close to Hamas and have no buying power.

(my emphasis)

This from the EU!

We don’t hear this from Oxfam! who just fall for the political propaganda handed to them by Hamas. They see but they do not investigate. They draw conclusion based on their own prejudices.

Mosque attack shames Israelis and endangers Jews everywhere

Koran (Reuters) I have always determined that this blog is not propaganda but tells the truth even when it hurts.

Last Friday a mosque in the West Bank town of Yasuf was vandalised; a library of holy books was set on fire and graffiti in Hebrew was written on he floor of the mosque. Apparently these graffiti were of a racist nature. In addition there was mention of “price tag” which is the extreme Jewish right-wing settler strategy to make the Israeli government pay for every concession it makes with regard to settlements, most notably the recent settlement freeze announced by the Netanyahu government in response to US pressure and as a statement of Israel’s genuinely seeking a return to the negotiating table.

I condemn this attack completely and without reservation. It is morally inexcusable; to set fire to any building to promote any cause is irresponsible in the extreme and potentially a risk to life; it goes against Jewish law to make unjustified attacks against any holy site and, therefore, the perpetrators are breaking their own moral code.

But such an act goes beyond just moral turpitude. It blackens the name of Israeli Jews and endangers the life of Jews everywhere who may be subject to retaliation. It does what it sets out to do: risk any peace initiative, cause more fear and hatred in the hearts of Palestinians. It also provides an excuse for future violence and gives fuel to those who want to label and libel all Israelis and Jews for the actions of a few.

The Jerusalem Post reported some reactions which are instructive:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the attack. In a statement issued by his office, Barak said he viewed the attack with grave severity and called it “an act of extremism designed to hurt any attempt by the government to make progress” toward renewing peace talks with the Palestinians. Barak said he had instructed the defense establishment to find those responsible as quickly as possible…..

Kadima and opposition leader Tzipi Livni [said] that the vandalism was a “severe, despicable act of provocation” and stress[ed] that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

“While a human rights march goes on in Tel Aviv, in Samaria extremist elements set fire to a mosque,” she said during a Herzliya speech on Friday afternoon. “We must turn to introspection and contend with what is happening within Israeli society.”…..

Danny Dayan, head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said in response to the incident that he hoped police would find those responsible. “Whoever did this is not helping the settlements,” Dayan said. “This is a wrong and foolish act.”

In contrast, right wing activists and politicians pointedly refused to condemn the act and blamed the government – a sad reflection on some elements in Israeli society.

But let us, nevertheless, reflect briefly; as despicable as this attack was, such attacks against holy sites are rare; no-one was injured although in scuffles with police afterwards there were minor injuries; the building was not destroyed. None of this is an excuse or mitigation but I am suggesting that the intent here was more against Israeli government policy than against the Palestinians, but I’m aware that such niceties may be lost of many.

Sometimes positives come from such heinous acts. Ha’aretz also reports:

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger on Monday visited the West Bank village of Yasuf, where days earlier a mosque was torched allegedly at the hand of settlers angry over the 10-month construction freeze.

“I came here to expression my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people,” Metzger told the residents after he was escorted into the village under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian police. “This is how the Holocaust began, the tragedy of the Jewish people of Europe.” …..

On Sunday, a delegation of Israelis from the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion brought copies of the Koran to villagers to replace those destroyed in the attack.

The group, led by peace activist Rabbi Menachem Froman, met the village elders at a nearby checkpoint after being held up for several hours by the IDF.

“Our going to the village can bring about a resolution of the conflict,” said Froman, of the southern West Bank settlement of Tekoa.

“The people who spread hate in the region are those who invented the method of ‘price tag.’ They should be cast out of here,” Froman said, referring to the term used by right-wing activists for actions opposing anti-settlement moves by the government.

“We want to create new conditions between Jews and Arabs. Arson in a mosque is an attempt to sow hatred between Jews and Arabs. Jewish law also prohibits damaging a holy place.” Froman said.

At the end of the meeting, Froman presented a Koran to the village leader, Munir, who thanked the delegation for “coming here to identify with us against violence.”

Whatever your views on settlements, this at least shows that the perpetrators of the crime are a minority, a dangerous minority, and Israel must act against them to protect Palestinians and also prevent an escalation.

So far the response from the Palestinians is muted which is a positive sign – but things can change quickly.

There is also a clear danger here for Israeli with the tactic of “price tag” creating an internal problem for Israel which will be exploited by those who want to bash Israel and cause a potentially dangerous fault-line in Israeli society. The fault-line has existed for a long time but could now become seismically active.

Israel builds the future Palestinian State

No doubt you have heard in the news and media many negative things about Israel and its relations with the Palestinians.

You have heard about Gaza and Operation Cast Lead; you have heard about Gaza being a new Warsaw Ghetto; you heard about blockades and “humanitarian disasters”‘ that require aid convoys to travel overland from Europe across North Africa and then enter Palestine via Israel; you have heard of apartheid operating on the West Bank; you have heard illegal settlements and the “ethnic cleansing” of East Jerusalem; you heard about boycotts and UN resolutions; you have heard of the Goldstone Report.

Now hear this.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just released its periodic update on “The economic situation in the Palestinian Authority and Israeli relief measures”.

The headline of this document states that a double-digit growth rate might be reached by the end of 2009 in the Palestinian Authority area of the West Bank. And it appears that this rate, in a world economic crisis, has been achieved because of unprecedented assistance from Israel.

Here are some highlights:

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the Washington Post that 2009 (October) had seen a growth rate of 8% “If not even more”.

Now here’s a surprise for you. Israel collected tax on behalf of he PA to the tune of NIS 330 million in November compared to NIS 293 million in October.

Now here’s another surprise for you blocade-niks: Israel transfer NIS 50 million every month to Gaza to pay the salaries of PA employees and as much as $13.5 to UNWRA employees who are not only Palestinian but many of whom have a close association (to put it coyly) with Hamas. (I’m worried. This does not sound like a genocidal policy to me. What’s going on?)

Some bad news. The PA still has a $200 million budget deficit and it would be more were it not for $200 million from the Saudis. Come on Arab world! The Israelis are doing more than you are to help the Palestinians. Where’s Dubai when you need them? Oh yes, forgot, sorry.

“The Israeli government decided to establish a ministerial committee headed by the prime minister to examine and promote economic measures that will lead to further economic growth in the West Bank. A regional cooperation minister will be appointed, whose ministry will be in charge of coordinating and advancing the above matters.”

So more evidence of an Israeli policy to improve the condition of Palestinians, and it goes pretty much unreported in the West where only negativity is news.

There is a Joint Economic Committee to boot. This is sounding very much like what one would like to see were there two states with very close ties and mutual interests.

Almost 50,000 Palestinians were given work permits in Israel and West Bank ‘settlements’. In fact there are are huge number of Palestinians working in Israel and  in Israeli businesses in the West Bank. The report states that 14% of the workforce is employed by Israel in the West Bank. Are you listening boycott-niks?

Unemployment in the West Bank is still unacceptably high although it has dropped from 19% in 2009 to 16.4% in the second quarter of 2009. In Gaza it dropped from 45.5% to 36% which is a startling statistic. If things are so much better in the Hamas-free West Bank why not Gaza? Nothing to do with Hamas, by any chance?

The Palestinians themselves have said there was a six-fold increase in foreign investment in the West Bank because of the improving security situation compared to last year. Six-fold!!

A new city – Rawabi – is planned and Ramallah “has become an unprecedentedly bustling and flourishing West Bank city of cafes and restaurants“.

Power plants, sewage works, road networks, industrial zones all progress apace funded by the French and the EU with technical assistance from the Israelis.

Commerce between Israel and Palestine have risen steeply both ways.

In the first half of 2007 about 81,000 trucks passed from Israel to the West Bank. In the second half of 2008 this had reached 189,000 – more than doubled in two years.

A new Cell phone company. Gasoline consumption up 29% and a 93% increase in tourism to Bethlehem! and a 42% increase in hotel stays.

Once again I am worried. This does not sound like apartheid South Africa to me. Someone has been telling fibs.

There has been a huge reduction in checkpoints and roadblocks due to improved security. These reductions have led to much greater freedom of movement within the West Bank and for Israeli Arabs who want to visit the West Bank. These roadblocks have always been seen as an instrument of Israeli oppression and not a security measure. Surely if Israel is so willing to remove these obstacles (and there is a long way to go, not least of all the security barrier), does not this tell you something about Israel that you may not have been aware of?

And now for Gaza.

Before, during and after Operation Cast Lead, Israel facilitated the entrance of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. Israel ensured the orderly operation of the electricity, communications and water infrastructures, including bringing in equipment and repair teams to repair water and sewer facilities during the operation, and to repair turbines and parts of the Gaza power station after the operation. This included a two-month stay by a Siemens team, which conducted repairs and maintenance work at the power station.

The report makes clear that essential supplies are getting through but there is still an issue with building materials, but even that is being negotiated with the UN.

Marc Otte, European Union emissary to the Middle East, stated the following to the working group for Middle East affairs in the European Parliament, on November 24:

  • There has been an economic improvement in the West Bank, primarily due to removal of the checkpoints.
  • There is no shortage of equipment or cement for construction in Gaza, and Hamas is controlling the resources.
  • Hamas dismissed employees of the systems and appointed its own people, and that is the reason that there is no construction in Gaza.
  • The prevailing economy in Gaza is not an official economy but rather an economy of tunnels; there are no shortages in Gaza, but there is a problem of unemployment, primarily for civilians who are not close to Hamas and have no buying power.

The security fence has proven its effectiveness in the fight against terrorism.

So there you have it. The more peaceable, the better off you are likely to be economically. This does not sound like the Israel I read about in the press.

I’m worried.

Gaza like the Warsaw Ghetto?

So many times we hear ‘anti-Zionists’ comparing Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto.

This comparison is not based on any historical accuracy or any understanding of the true horrors of the Warsaw ghetto or even conditions in Gaza, it is designed to defame Israel. If repeated often enough, it will be believed.

Let’s assume that you, dear reader, have a full knowledge of the history and purpose of the Warsaw Ghetto and the denouement leading to its liquidation and total destruction.

Now look at this press release from the Israeli Minister of Defense concerning an outbreak of Swine flu in the Gaza strip.

Israel has already transferred 10,000 doses of vaccine and continues to monitor the situation

In light of recent cases of swine flue in the Gaza Strip, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Office (DCL) are working with the Palestinian Civil Committee in Gaza (associated with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority) to prevent further cases.

During the course of day, the passage of a sick person was facilitated and, upon examination, the individual’s illness was found to be swine flu.  Similarly, four other ill persons who also showed signs of swine flu also crossed.

The Gaza DCL is in continuous contact with health officials from the Palestinian Civil Committee in Gaza and as such is able to create up-to-date situation assessments regarding swine flue.  Meetings are held with high frequency and in accordance with reports from Gaza.

As of now, approximately 10,000 doses of vaccine against swine flu have been transferred to the Gaza Strip via Israel, which remains ready to receive further requests.

Since the beginning of 2009, approximately 8,000 Gazan patients and their loved ones have entered Israel for medical reasons.

Gaza DCL Commander Col. Moshe Levi said: “The Gaza DCL is making great efforts on all levels and through all channels to assist the non-combatant Palestinian population from the Gaza Strip, with an emphasis on the field of health.  This is part of our overall humanitarian effort vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip.”

I hope you noticed the similarity between Israel and Nazi Germany here?

“8000 Gazan(s).. AND their loved ones have entered Israel for medical reasons.” (my emphasis). How many sick Jews were allowed to leave the Warsaw Ghetto to travel to Polish or German hospitals? Answer. Zero.

How many vaccines against typhus and other diseases rampant in the ghetto were sent in by the Germans? Zero.

Gaza may not be the French Riviera but it’s certainly no Warsaw Ghetto either and to say so is a lie.

Unlike the Jews in Warsaw who were rounded up, ghettoised and had evil visited upon them, Gazans, who voted for Hamas and supported their continuous bombardment of Southern Israel might consider why Cast Lead was visited upon THEM. They might also consider which of the protagonists is acting like Nazis.

Palestinian Right of Return – what does it really mean?

Ami Isseroff has written an important article which argues strongly that the Palestinian Right of Return is always going to be a blockage to any peace negotiations because it is an uncompromising view that all Palestinians and their descendants across three generations should have the right to return to their homes in Israel as part of a final peace deal.

The so-called Right of Return, should it ever be implemented, would clearly mean or strongly threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish state because the demographics would be firmly tilted toward an eventual Palestinian majority or at the very least a very large minority. And this is precisely the intention of a no-compromise stance on this putative right; the Palestinian leadership knows full well that Israel will never agree to it and can use this refusal to further demonise Israel by claiming it breaches UN Resolution 194 (which is a misrepresentation of 194 and that’s another story and I recommend the discussion here).

But let’s for a moment dwell on the practicalities of allowing a couple of million ‘returnees’ into Israel:

  • How does the original UN Partition Plan ideal and the idea of a two-state solution square with a policy which will effectively lead to three majority Palestinian states: Jordan, Palestine and Israel?
  • How will a claim for former residency be proved?
  • What if the original property no longer exists?
  • How can Israel ensure that those ‘returning’ are not inimical to the State of Israel?
  • What is the effect of such an influx on the Israel economy and all its citizens?
  • If compensation is offered will Jews and their descendants expelled from Arab lands in 1947-8 just for being Jews be compensated similarly?
  • Would Jews expelled from East Jerusalem in 1947 and Hebron in 1929 after the massacre be likewise allowed to return to their homes and remain unmolested?

In Ami Isseroff’s article he demonstrates that the majority of Palestinians see the Right of Return as not negotiable.  Not just the leadership, but ordinary Palestinians hold this view. So the idea of a two-state solution is not even viable if half of that solution want to be a majority in both states.

Perhaps the greatest irony could be that Palestinians cling to the Right of Return because they actually DO want to live in Israel like almost 2 million other Palestinians because it would give them a better life. There is already strong evidence that Arab East Jerusalemites do not want to be part of a Palestinian state because the benefits they receive in Israel trump any nationalist ideals.

Facts and realities on the ground are always more complex than newspaper headlines and political soundbites would lead us to believe.

Of Minarets and Baronesses

This may be a little off topic for my blog but there were two stories yesterday relating to very different aspects of Islam in Europe.

The first was the vote In Switzerland, to ban the construction of minarets for existing and future mosques.
This story raises several issues such as religious freedom, tolerance and multi-culturalism among them. But what struck me about the YES campaign was its disgusting poster which showed the Swiss flag pierced by minarets and featuring a woman in a black abaya and niqab.

Swiss Poster in favour of Minaret ban
Swiss Poster in favour of Minaret ban

This immediately reminded me of many anti-Semitic images in the UK press over the years with Stars of David overlaying the UK flag, cartoons which are blood-libellous etc.

Clearly this image is intended to evoke an emotion and that emotion is fear.

Just imagine if this were some anti-Jewish legislation depicting a man with black garb, a beard and a hook-nose.

Islamophobic images should not be part of the European dialogue. If minarets are seen as a political statement of aggressive Islam then the debate should be a little more nuanced, to say the least.  Some cantons did not use this poster, it should be noted and the organisers then issued a ‘censure‘ poster, clearly claiming that the banning of an offensive poster was somehow  a form of censorship.

Perhaps Switzerland benefits by being outside the EU so it can introduce legislation that would gain little purchase within.

The point of the ban is clear: the Swiss have voted to suppress the overt symbolism of the spread of Islam in their country. However, their own symbolism is offensive and subverts a valid debate. It should also be noted that that Christian and Jewish community leaders in Switzerland joined with the Muslim community in expressing anger about the campaign as an attack on religious freedom.

The second incident was the ‘egging’ of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Tory peer, in Luton as she visited a neighbourhood with a large Muslim community. Warsi was surrounded by very aggressive Muslim men and the echoes of stonings of women in some Islamic countries was obvious. The argument of her attackers was that Warsi is not a proper Muslim and not fit to represent their community because she supports the war in Afghanistan and the killing of Muslims (they don’t seem to object to Muslims killing Muslims in Iraq or Gaza, for example, with quite the same vehemence, apparently) and she does not support Sharia. To her credit, Warsi confronted her attackers and tried to debate with them, but they shouted her down and would not engage. Later Warsi compared them to British National Party supporters and said they brought Islam into disrepute.

I was very angry to see a senior politician attacked in this way and shown such disrespect. She is a very brave woman and her attackers are bigoted cowards.

Whether in Switzerland or Luton a bigot is a bigot regardless of faith or race or nationality. The fact that Sayeeda Warsi is Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion is ironic. I’d like to see a statement from the Muslim Council of Britain condemning this incident – there is no mention that I can find on their website although the Swiss minaret vote is condemned.