J’Accuse the Sunday Times of fabulist journalism : Israel’s alleged attack on Sudanese arms factory

Earlier this week there were reports from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, of explosions at an arms factory in the outskirts of the city.

It was not long before the Sudanese were accusing Israel of bombing the facility. Israel remained mum.

In the past Israel has been accused of firing on a convoy carrying arms across Sudan to be delivered ultimately to Hamas in Gaza and behind this arms route is none other than Iran.

It would be entirely feasible for Israel to undertake such an operation. By supplying sophisticated weapons to a terrorist group bent on the destruction of Israel, Sudan is fair game.

However, there is little hard evidence. Iran claims to have discovered remnants of Israeli munitions at the factory site.

Most news outlets ask the question: ‘Did Israel bomb Sudan?’. This is a valid question to ask.

Some, though, have blatant headlines which claim this to be a fact. It cannot be a fact until there is independent evidence or an admission. Anything else is speculation. It may be well-founded, it may even be blindingly obvious who did it, but it is not journalistic fact.

Uzi Mahnaimi, an Israeli reporter for the Sunday Times, along with colleague Flora Bagenal in Nairobi (yes, you may well ask ‘ who?’) appear to have detailed information about the attack. For them there is no question, no journalistic caution about accusing Israel. They have every detail of this covert operation.

Problem is, they do not reference one source or one shred of evidence. The whole story reads very suspiciously. You can tell when journalists are making it up.

The online article is behind a paywall. The whole article is strongly editorialised including the headline: “Israeli jets bomb Sudan missile site in dry run for Iran attack” (or in the paper edition: Israel hits missile site in dry run for Iran’) so that we can draw the conclusion, if we are stupid enough, that Israel chose to bomb Sudan not because it was defending itself from an arms production and smuggling route originating in Iran but because it fancied having a practice run for a future putative bombing of that country.

Not only are our correspondents certain that Israel is to blame but the ST even gives us exciting comic-book graphics of the incident and the numbers and types of aircraft involved and the route the planes took, how they were refuelled and how the Sudanese air-traffic control and radar system was jammed.

The piece ends in American action movie style with Israel’s chief of defence staff (who Uzi knows was actually taking part in the mission, of course) calling Prime Minister Netanyahu at home with the words, ‘”All went well, … the guys are on their way home’”.

Now how the heck would he know that? Has he bugged Netanyahu’s phone? It’s ridiculous and also the main giveaway that this is pure fantasy masquerading as journalism.

It’s not the first time Uzi has been caught with his journalistic pants down; here is the Wikipedia entry (redacted to remove references to numbered notes and other links) about Israel’s supposed, but now proven to be a hoax, ‘ethnic bomb’.

In November 1998, The Sunday Times reported that Israel was attempting to build an “ethno-bomb” containing a biological agent that could specifically target genetic traits present amongst Arab populations. Wired News also reported the story, as did Foreign Report.

The article was quickly denounced as a hoax. Microbiologists and geneticists were skeptical towards the scientific plausibility of such a biological agent. The New York Post, describing the claims as “blood libel”, reported that the likely source for the story was a work of science fiction by Israeli academic Doron Stanitsky. Stanitsky had sent his completely fictional work about such a weapon to Israeli newspapers two years before. The article also noted the views of genetic researchers who claimed the idea as “wholly fantastical”, with others claiming that the weapon was theoretically possible.

A planned second installment of the article never appeared, and no sources were ever identified. Neither of the authors of the Sunday Times story, Uzi Mahnaimi and Marie Colvin, have spoken publicly on the matter.

It seems that Uzi has a record of shoddy journalism and, on the ethnic bomb story, he and his late colleague, Marie Colvin, no friend of Israel, were more than ready to publish unfounded trash simply because maligning Israel was involved.

Mahnaimi is well known for producing exclusives about Israel to the attention of Sunday Times readers.

I wonder where his sources are?

Another low for the BBC News website

Since the beginning of the week dozens of rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel in a significant ramping up of the usual barely (if at all) reported regular barrage that penetrates southern Israeli cities towns and rural communities. On Tuesday an IDF officer was critically wounded in attack near the Gaza border.

On Twitter and in Israeli newspapers and other online media and websites this barrage was big news. Israel employed its Iron Dome defence system which is only partially effective in protecting large conurbations far enough away from launch sites. Typically Israelis have 15 seconds to get to shelters once the sirens sound.

Then two farm workers near Kissufim were badly injured by rocket fire.

On the BBC and its website what was the reaction for at least two days? We are talking about the world’s most respected news service, allegedly.

Nothing. Zip, Nada. Goor nisht.

I and friends online came to the conclusion that the BBC would not report this until Israel responded and that the headline would imply that Israel was the aggressor.

Sure enough, yesterday, Israel did respond and the BBC’s own response was immediate; there it was on the website’s World and Middle East pages with “Militants killed in Gaza strike’.

BBCWatch have been assiduously reporting this timeline and you can see their reports at BBCwatch.org

That report seems to have disappeared (actually buried and changed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20054554) and been replaced with a more balanced one ‘Israel and Hamas ‘negotiate unofficial truce’ in Gaza’

I’m sure the original is somewhere in the BBC archive but I would hazard a guess they had several complaints about it and updated it. This is typical. A piece appears with a headline reversing cause and effect; the body of the piece often contradicts the headline and draws some moral equivalence between unprovoked attacks on civilian targets by Hamas or Gaza-based ‘militants’ and Israel’s response to prevent further attacks by targeting those about to fire or those who it knows have already done so.

Today we now have two very different pieces from the BBC. The one about the truce at last puts the horse before the cart:

Five have been injured in Israel since rocket attacks began on Monday.

Israel retaliated with air strikes on Gaza City, killing at least six militants.

…..

On Wednesday, more than 70 rockets were launched into southern Israel, injuring five people, two critically, according to the Israeli military.

In response, Israeli aircraft and tanks targeted rocket-launching sites in northern Gaza.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, confirmed it had been involved in firing dozens of rockets and mortars into Israel.

In a statement, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades and a smaller Gaza-based militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), said: “These holy missions come in response to the repeated, continuous crimes of the enemy against our people.”

But should we not have a headline at some point during this timeline which says ‘Five Israelis critically injured by rockets from Gaza‘ or ‘Israel responds to escalation of attacks in the South‘?

I’m sure we could all write a better, more balanced headline than the ones being spewed out from the BBC Mid-East  desk.

Now, if you have any doubts about the level of moral degradation that the BBC’s reporting of this conflict has now reached you only have to look at the report by Jon Donnison who appears to be following in the illustrious footsteps of Jeremy Bowen and Barbara Plett reaching new heights of ignorance and moral bankruptcy.

Please be careful. This reports contains graphic examples of the BBC’s egregious attempts at what it calls ‘balance’ but is simply either bias, stupidity or moral decrepitude. (There was, apparently, an even worse report by Donnison last night which I have not been able to source yet)

Here’s the link in all its emetic glory. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20073219

The text below the video:

Mourners in the Gaza Strip have buried four Palestinian militants killed in Israeli air strikes over the past two days.

Israel said the militants were hit as they prepared to fire rockets into southern Israel.

It says at least 60 rockets and mortar shells have landed on its territory, seriously injuring three people. Schools have been closed on both sides of the border for fear of more attacks. 

Ah – ‘Israel said’ – in other words we should not believe the Israelis but swallow whole anything emanating from terrorist-occupied Gaza.

And ‘schools have been closed both sides of the border‘ just to emphasise that same old moral equivalence. If schools have been closed in Gaza then it’s a precaution not normally offered to its children when rockets are launched from them.  Or maybe it’s a good idea to close these schools to demonstrate to the BBC in particular how they protect their children. Or maybe Eid has something to do with it?

In the report Donnison does not show us hundreds of thousands of Israelis cowering in bomb shelters but the funeral of ‘militants’ killed by Israeli air strikes, and quoties Hamas. He leaves out the fact that this was after dozens of rockets hit Israel. We see mourning relatives and Gazans taking cover but absolutely nothing about Israelis.

These reports do tell us what actually happened if you care to decipher the text and remove the veneer of ‘balance’ but it certainly takes a strong solvent and an even stronger stomach.

 

Life: predictably unpredictable

So there I was watching my first child exit his mother’s birth canal in a hospital in Manchester.

Fast forward almost 27 years and I am sitting with my wife in Northern Israel watching that same child receive his beret on completion of his basic training in the IDF.

Roll back again to 1985. No, roll back to 1975.

I am sitting in a House for Jewish students in Liverpool playing chess at the beginning of my second year at University. New arrivals. A young woman with black hair in a fringe peers round the door of the lounge and says ‘hello’ and gives her name. I look up, mutter something, and return to my Ruy Lopez.

Now I know the whole story of how I got from moving my bishop to Knight 5 to the moment an officer rams a beret on my son’s head and I turn to my wife and we are both crying buckets. Not buckets of fear and anticipation, but of pride and a certain bewilderment.

For a few minutes we are Israelis. There are several hundred people pressed up behind us; parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. We are right at the front, a few feet from the action.

We stand for the Hatikvah, the national anthem. I manage the first two stanzas, then I am consumed with an indescribable sensation and my voice breaks. I fight back tears. I compose myself. I manage the last couple of stanzas with gusto.

To be a free people in our own land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem

The ceremony ends.

Fast rewind 30 years.

During the 1980s I wasn’t much interested in Israel, or Jewish history, or, indeed, Judaism. Every attack on Israel was keenly felt, however. I was not Israel-neutral but I didn’t much like what was happening to Palestinians on the West Bank, I didn’t like settlements and I found not one Israeli leader that I could identify with. Those views still persist but I can now at least contextualise them.

Truth be told, although I believed in Israel’s right to exist and Jewish self-determination, I didn’t much like Israelis and I simply determined not to go their country until Israeli government policy changed.

I was a bit of a lefty. I still am someone with instinctive left-leaning views. I somehow have an urge to apologise for that. But I’ll demur. For now.

So what changed?

I educated myself. I read history. I learned. I abjured simplistic views of the conflict.

I eventually made my first trip in 1999 and all my preconceptions about arrogant Israelis were confirmed. I did not like the country.

Then, after more visits, I came to understand the culture better and I began to accept the rudeness, the bad driving and the chutzpah. I began the process of understanding that these few million insufferable Orientals were guaranteeing my escape route from future persecution. They were creating a new/old culture so complex and rich and controversial and noisy and wonderful – and against such incredible odds.

I eventually became comfortable not just with my Jewish identity but I came to understand that Israel is really a modern paradigm for the last 2000 years of Jewish history; always under attack, always threatened. Which other people live in constant fear that sooner or later they really will be wiped off the map?

Despite the vicissitudes of this existence over the millennia, and maybe because of it, the Jewish people have not just found ways to survive but also thrive, quite often achieving high levels of literacy, wealth and, where allowed, social status. They always achieved this despite frequent periods of persecution, expulsion and confiscation.

Israel has, since the days of the yishuv, the pre-state political entity, continued on this same path of achievement. But the difference is that with independence and self-determination Jews can, at last, defend themselves from the dark forces that persist in trying to destroy us.

So that indescribable feeling I experienced, which I mentioned before, that I felt as I watched my son receive his beret was due to all this history, all this collective experience, all the pride in his achievement and that of the young men we met that day. Pride in myself. Pride in my people. Secure in the belief and knowledge that, despite its imperfections, its internal problems, external aggression, existential threats, lies, propaganda and undiluted hatred, the despised country of a despised people was at its core strong, moral, determined and righteous.

And mixed with all these emotions was that bewilderment from the realisation that my wife and I were responsible. We were not here by chance. We had truly changed the world as all of us do. The accident of our meeting all those years ago resonates throughout our lives and the lives of our children. Of course, the same is true for our parents and their parents and back through the years and the decades and centuries. Each small act or decision or coincidence leads to everything we and those following us experience for good or ill.

So do not believe that you are not important. We all change the world, the present and the future every day. What we can never do is to predict where these choices will one day lead. We can only strive and hope they are mainly for the better.

Hamas reduces trade with Israel; Israel gives Gazan children free medical treatment

News this week that Hamas has halved the import of Israeli fruit, because to buy from Israel is to buy from the enemy. This move is part of the ‘resistance’. Only apples and bananas are now allowed in by Hamas. They want to cultivate their own fruit industry.

This is fine. It’s a great idea to be self-sufficient. But they are not so yet. In the meantime their own people will suffer price hikes and, presumably, as a result, many will go without this essential and important part of their diet.

Hang on a minute. Are we not being constantly told that it is Israel that is causing malnutrition because of the ‘blockade’? Is Israel not to blame for the black market in goods including foodstuffs?

But here we have Hamas punishing its own people for ideological reasons.
Of course, it will still be Israel’s fault. After all, were there no Zionist entity there would be no need for resistance and the benighted Gazans would have all the oranges and limes they could eat.

It is a shame that the Gazan authorities failed to stop the looting of millions of dollars worth of greenhouses which were actually purchased by American Jews from former Jewish settlers in Gaza. These American Jews then donated the greenhouses to the Palestinians of Gaza. They were all but destroyed in a matter of days in 2005.

And what do we now hear? Another flotilla is on its way from Europe in a further attempt to break the blockade and to keep Gaza in the news whilst Syria burns. Will they be bring fruit (not apples and bananas as they are clearly not yet ideologically tainted enough for Hamas to ban their import from Israel).

Is it not utterly extraordinary that Hamas imports anything at all from the evil Zionist entity? Is it not utterly extraordinary that the genocidal Zionist entity would want to feed the people it is trying to commit genocide against? Those Jews, eh. Anything to make a quick shekel.

But those genocidal Jews are really being outrageously cynical and hypocritical. They are actually saving the lives of Gazan children – for free! Is there no end to the lengths the Jews will go to whitewash their many crimes.

Mohamed and Hadeel (both 12), Hadeel’s brother Ahmad (15) and six-month-old Lian all suffer from kidney insufficiency and have been hospitalized for several months at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. They have been receiving lifesaving therapy while awaiting kidney transplants.

Image by Pioter Fliter courtesy of Rambam Medical Center

Mahdi Tarabia, head nurse of the Pediatric Nephrology Unit, explained that the treatment they need, peritoneal dialysis, is not available in the West Bank and Gaza, so medical authorities from these areas cooperate with Rambam to save children’s lives.

“The hemodialysis treatment that these children were given before their arrival at Rambam was associated with medical complications, resulting in a worsening of their condition and many hospitalizations,” he explained.

As opposed to hemodiaysis, where the blood is cleansed via an artificial kidney over the course of several hours a few times per week, in peritoneal dialysis the treatment is given through the abdomen overnight, not interfering with the child’s daytime activities. Each of the young patients’ families has been trained by Rambam’s staff to administer peritoneal dialysis.

The families received the equipment required for this treatment, and the solution used with it, from Teva Pharmaceuticals. The company will arrange to have supplies conveyed through the Erez checkpoint at the border of Israel and Gaza.

The three schoolchildren are soon due to be sent home, while the recently arrived baby still needs time to be stabilized.

Sometimes things are not quite as black and white the Palestinians and the media would like them to be.

Jerusalem and the story of two memorials

I’m in Jerusalem this week. You can write as much as you like about a place, but here’s no substitute for actually being there and imbibing the culture and the atmosphere first hand.

I’ve been here many times now. Today, however, I noticed two contrasting memorials as I walked back from the Old City to where I am staying off Emek Refaim.

I’ve seen them both on several occasions but for some reason, this time, something resonated.

The first is a plaque outside the King David Hotel which commemorates the attack on that hotel during the British Mandate. The plaque is at pains to tell us how many warnings were given by the Irgun to various bodies asking them to evacuate the building. The target was the central offices of the British Mandate authorities in July 1946.

This same plaque expresses the regret of the Irgun that these warnings were ignored and 92 people died.

Something is not right with that expression of regret.

As you enter Emek Refaim you cannot fail to miss a stone memorial for the eight people who died on a 14a bus as it was leaving the German Colony during the second Intifada in 2004. The suicide bomber was, of course, a Palestinian terrorist who gave no warning except, presumably, a final shout of Allah HuAkbar as he detonated he bomb.

Let’s, go back to the King David Hotel memorial. This plaque is telling us that the Irgun, and by implication, the Israeli people are very sorry that 92 people died, but it really wasn’t their fault because they did warn you and if you didn’t listen to that warning or believe it, then that was your problem. We regret the loss of life BUT ….

Well, sorry, there can be no ‘buts’. Terrorism is terrorism. Now I know such a view may not be popular among some supporters of Israel who will claim that the Irgun ‘had to do it’, ‘we were fighting for our state’, ‘we had to drive the British pro-arab mandate authorities out’ etc. etc.

Now imagine that the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had given warnings that were ignored by the US authorities. Suppose the planes were empty, except for terrorist pilots. Suppose that thousands of people were killed because the New York and Washington authorities had not heeded the warnings and evacuated the Pentagon and downtown New York.

Who would be to blame for these deaths? The municipal authorities or the terrorists?

So who was to blame for the King David Hotel bomb? The Irgun or the Mandate authorities?

You can argue all you want how much worse Palestinian terrorism is than Jewish terrorism of the 1940s, and I would agree, but it is still terrorism. I think it is time Israelis and the Israeli government acknowledged this and apologise for it rather than sanitise the worse excesses of the Irgun, Stern Gang and others. Not only is it morally right to do so but it avoids accusations of hypocrisy when it comes to terrorism and the glorification of terrorists.

It is always dangerous to judge the past by the standards of today, but very often the passage of time gives us a much clearer vision, even a clearer moral vision of past events. Much has been written about the bombing and much historical analysis about the ‘warnings’ has been written. I take the simplistic view: the British were not the Nazis, they were not an evil regime. The bomb was a crime – no excuses. This has always been my view.

When I was very young and saw the film Exodus these Jewish Freedom fighters became glamorous heroes of the Jewish people. This view became somewhat modified over time until I formed a completely contrary view.

None of this has ever changed my conviction of the rights of and the necessity for a Jewish State, but all decent states have to be cognisant of the crimes of the past committed in its name even before that state was actually formed. I will not be fully comfortable until that cognisance and that acknowledgement are made.

It goes without saying, but I will, nevertheless, say it, that it is unlikely that Palestinians will ever make a single apology for any act of terrorism. But their attitude has absolutely no bearing on the obligations of Israel. I mention it as a knee-jerk attempt to mitigate by comparison and thus I contradict myself.

What a terrible irredeemable Zionist I am.