Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Panorama showing face in East Jerusalem

Panorama has just shown its 'hard-hitting' account of Palestinian suffering around East Jerusalem (A Walk in the Park, BBC 1, 18 January, 2010).

By the BBC's usual woeful standards, Israel came out pretty badly. How, one might ask, could it appear otherwise, even to this most tepid of news organisations, given the glaringly obvious extent of Israel's ruthless conduct?

But not so badly that we got a truly comprehensive picture of the ethnic cleansing going on. Indeed, Jane Corbin never dared explore that term - as stated in the film by one Palestinian man, Jawad Sayam - or the associated word “apartheid” to describe the kind of systematic oppression and exclusion being carried out by the Israeli state.

Forty more Palestinian homes are due for demolition this year, Corbin tells us at the start of the film. “That's because the municipal government has a budget it has to use up for demolitions.” No, actually, it's because the Israeli state, and its municipal enforcer, are intent on eradicating Palestinians from the land – continued ethnic cleansing, in more plain and honest words. Why not simply say so?

At no point did Corbin seriously challenge the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, and other settler ideologists in the film. Think what someone like John Pilger might have said in his calm, probing way to Barkat's posturing claims that Jews should be free to live in an undivided city.

Likewise, there was no direct challenge to the interviewed settler family about the actual illegality of their presence. As they were being escorted around by government-funded armed guards, all we got from Corbin was some weak, assumed comment about the atmosphere between them and their Palestinian neighbours not being "very warm".

We did see graphic images of Israeli brutality and mapped illustrations of the land grab, alongside moving and articulate expressions from the Hanouns and other Palestinian families. The Israeli lawyer Danny Seidemann's evidence, explaining Israel's mendacious "facts on the ground" agenda, was also exemplary, serving to show the courageous resistance of many concerned Jews to Zionist propaganda.

Yet, herein lay an essential problem in Corbin's report: it never actually mentioned or contextualised that unremitting spectre of Zionist control, occupation and expansion. The term "Zionist" is also, seemingly, far too hot for the BBC to countenance, no doubt because of its deeper, 'troubling' implications about Israel's formative ethnic cleansing and the continued application of this state-centred doctrine.

Some Zionist utterings may, of course, need little side commentary. Reasonable viewers should have been able to see Arieh King, head of the Israeli Land Fund, for the cruel evicting zealot that he is. But, again, where was the direct challenge from Corbin other than to ask if he's just helping to create hostility: "Aren't you worried about the tension you're causing by buying up these Jewish properties in a predominantly Arab area?"

As "Arieh" serves eviction notices on Arab homes, Corbin does link his protection by Israeli soldiers with the Israeli state's plan to control more land, but can only conclude that Palestinians are being "squeezed out" of Jerusalem rather than being ethnically cleansed. The term "transfer" is, likewise, never considered. The language throughout is carefully neutralised.

While Corbin's report does provide a useful illumination of the Israeli state's stealthy manoeuvring, it is always cautiously tempered by 'balanced' BBC mitigation. Thus, "tension in Silwan is growing, and both sides are suffering," Corbin declares.

The following account of Ahmed Qaareen being shot by an Israeli is harrowing, his young son's pitiful crying serving to demonstrate the sense of Palestinian despair. Yet, it's a forewarning, so we're told, of the inflammatory possibilities to come. Where, one wonders, has Corbin and her peers been these past years, other than viewing the 'conflict' from inside the BBC's privileged West Jerusalem offices.

Coming back into the Old City, Corbin states that Israeli police superintendent, Ofer Shomer, "has one of the hardest police jobs in the world." This coy line is a brazen circumvention of the Israeli state's oppressive control over the holy sites. Corbin stood silently by, allowing Shomer to blame Muslims for the recent riots at the Al Aqsa mosque, failing to ask about the constant incitement of Jewish fundamentalists and how Palestinians are routinely prevented from entering this part of the city to visit and pray.

Walking along the "separation barrier", as Corbin dutifully calls it, there's no explanation that the Wall was declared illegal in 2004 by the International Court. Again, Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and construction of the wall, as defined under international law, was never broadened out to show that it's just part of the wider occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza. Indeed, Gaza is never once mentioned in the film. Here would have been an obvious point to cite the numerous conclusions of key figures like UN Rapporteur Richard Falk and the landmark Goldstone report.

Doron Spielman, from the Elad settler organisation, gave further vent to the claim that Israel is "the sovereign entity" and that he's proud he can enable more Jewish people to live here. Taking Corbin around the excavations under Silwan, Spielman conjures up the ancestral spirits: "You close your eyes, you sit on one of these stones, you walk through this place with a bible and you literally see the people from the bible jumping out of the pages at you."

In response to Spielman's pretexts and 'literal apparitions', Corbin can only muster a feeble question about putting Jewish history before Arab history, rather than accusing him and his state sponsors of using archaelogy - and biblical ghosts - to advance the ethnic cleansing process.

Corbin did briefly reference Israel's efforts to link the Old City with its outlying East Jerusalem settlements, thereby cutting off the West Bank from Palestinians in East Jerusalem, yet still managed to portray Jerusalem as an enclave-type conflict bearing little relation to Israel's wider oppressions.

Nor, through all of this film, was there the slightest reference to US/UK backing for Israel and the West's complicity in permitting this apartheid process to continue. Typical of BBC foreign affairs output, it was framed as a conflict between two warring parties, the standard two sides narrative, with no mention of Obama's supplications, appeasements and refusal to wield the necessary pressure on Israel.

The BBC will, no doubt, proclaim this as evidence of fearless, flagship journalism. In fact, Corbin's was the safest pair of hands the BBC could find to deliver the message of "powderkeg" Jerusalem, as opposed to apartheid Jerusalem.

As ever, the problem running through such BBC presentation is the pretend tone of "impartiality" and "objectivity", conveniently disabling any more pressing investigation and exposure of the gross injustice going on. Serious, honest journalism is not about giving 'fair' time and voice to 'each side'. It's about journalists' willingness to speak critically to power, particularly when it's obvious to those journalists that power is wielding the big, brutal stick against the powerless.

It's instructive to note that the BBC are only just now shining a little attention on the plight of those being evicted and forced to watch their homes being torn down in East Jerusalem.
Corbin's film also looks like a tokenised 'top-journo-visits' reportage attempting to raise the BBC's lowly reputation as a serious media player in the region.Which begs the question: where was the reporting of the al-Kurd family's removal in 2008, resulting in Mr al-Kurd's death, and the concentrated legal, political and military enforcements used to facilitate settler occupation in places like Sheikh Jarrah?

We'll, no doubt, get another cursory half hour review of the issues in a year or so, the BBC having dispensed its 'Reithian duties' for now. This film did cast a certain accusatory light, and it's always helpful to get further exposure of the issues. Yet, the limited extent of such output is still an appalling abrogation by the BBC, particularly when one considers the centrality of the Palestinian case with its vital ramifications for the Middle East and beyond.


Saturday, 9 January 2010

Scottish trade visit to Israel: an exchange with SDI

Scottish Development International are planning a trade mission to Israel (10 - 15 January 2010). The news will come as cold comfort to struggling Palestinians, particularly those enduring primitive hardships inside Gaza. It will also disgust many people here in Scotland, averse to the notion that trade with an apartheid state should come before humanitarian support for an occupied and brutalised people.

I wrote to SDI requesting an explanation.

Dear Elaine Philip

I've been reading the web page regarding SDI's planned visit to Israel.

I find it deeply disturbing that a Scottish government-backed body could even countenance such a 'mission' when Israel continues its illegal occupation and Gaza lies in ruins, its 1.5 million people victim to a merciless economic and humanitarian siege.

The First Minister and many of his government have proclaimed their open support and sympathy for suffering Palestinians, condemning Israel's occupation and the mass murder of over 1400 Gazans this time last year. The SDI's visit goes against the very grain of that humanitarian position.

You will also be aware of the recent Goldstone report (ratified by the UN General Assembly) into these events, concluding that there's an overwhelming case to indict Israel for war crimes.

Following its own exhaustive visit to Palestine and Israel, the STUC has also formally endorsed the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) policy, convinced of the need to counter Israel's apartheid treatment of Palestinians.

I note the SDI's ambitions to develop trade links with Israel's "life sciences" sector. That's a dark, ugly irony given the Israeli state's massive concentration on death sciences; a military-R&D-driven economy that's using Gaza as a human laboratory to deploy new lethal weaponry, including the illegal use of white phosphorous on innocent civilians in Gaza.

All this has been forensically recorded in the Goldstone document, as well as Amnesty International and International Red Cross on-the-ground reports.

For all these reasons, any proposed SDI trade relations with Israel is to be utterly condemned. I'm sure many Scottish people would be appalled to learn that they are paying for such a delegation.

In the name of humanity, please give your most urgent consideration to Israel's criminal violations of international law and cancel the visit.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign


Dear John

I acknowledge receipt of your email. I will ensure your comments, together with others received both for and against the planned trade mission, are passed to relevant members of staff.




Dear Elaine

Thanks for your reply. The main point of my mail, aside from stating our objections to the visit, was to elicit a specific explanatory response. I'd be pleased if you could ensure this is forthcoming.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign


Dear Mr Hilley

Thank you for your message about the trade mission to Israel arranged by Scottish Development International (SDI) as part of its planned programme of trade missions overseas.

This mission is being organised in partnership with UK Trade and Investment. Its purpose is consistent with all international work undertaken by SDI, which is to assist Scottish companies in developing links to secure new investment and jobs into Scotland by increasing their overseas markets. The Scottish Government and SDI supports a number of trade related missions to the Middle East. For example, last October SDI visited the United Arab Emirates.

with best regards

Anne MacColl
Scottish Development International


Dear Anne

Thanks for responding.

With respect, that's a complete evasion of the questions I put to SDI regarding the moral and legal standing of this visit. It's further lamentable that you attempt to legitimise SDI's involvement through association with UK-level trade and investment bodies. The complicit promotions of an Israel-friendly British government suggests no similar onus on their Scottish counterparts.

While your delegation prepares to be feted in Tel Aviv, the people of Gaza are, again, being bombed and murdered by Israeli forces. Israel continues to block basic food, medicines and essential fuel supplies from crossing any of Gaza's entry points. Despite new UK trading standard directives, illegal Israeli settlements are labelling produce for export as 'West Bank', further strangling what passes for a Palestinian 'economy'. Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni, senior Israeli army officers and other planners of the Cast Lead attacks have cancelled visits to the UK fearing arrest over war crimes. Is this really an appropriate state to be conducting favourable trade links with?

Moreover, your assertion that the Scottish Government supports various Middle East trade missions takes no account of that same government's recorded denunciations of Israel's illegal occupation and criminality in Gaza.

Have you stopped to consider that in cultivating Israel in order "to secure new investment and jobs into Scotland", the SDI is helping to legitimise its occupation-based economy, thus prolonging the political impasse and giving a green light to more Palestinian suffering? Are these supposed trade openings for Scottish companies more important than human lives and the growing global effort to make Israel abide by UN resolutions and international law?

Again, I request your specific consideration of the following with regard to SDI's visit:

The Goldstone report's conclusions on Israel's pre-planned attack on Gaza and its illegal economic siege.

The STUC's BDS policy, based on an extensive study of Israel's military, economic and human rights violations.

The evidence of Israeli apartheid, as presented by UN Rapporteur Richard Falk and other notable international figures.

I look forward to your more considered response on these matters.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign

A further exchange (11 January 2010):

Dear Mr Hilley

thanks for your return message.

In addition to my comments from my message to you on Friday, the position from the Scottish Government position regarding the situation in Gaza is very clear and the Deputy First Minister announced a package of humanitarian aid last year. The Scottish Ministers strongly believe that, in the longer term, only engagement and dialogue leading to a two state solution, based on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the need for a safe and secure Israel and Palestine, can form the basis of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

best regards

Anne MacColl
EMEA Operations DIrector, Scottish Development International

Dear Anne

Thanks for your further response.

Yes, I'm very aware of the humanitarian package and some Scottish ministers' concerns. But why should this be presented as some kind of mitigating argument for the SDI's trade visit?

The desire for "engagement and dialogue" is all very noble, but these 'well-intentioned' calls mean precisely nothing to a state zealously intent on maintaining its illegal occupation, murderous attacks and apartheid persecutions. How convenient to hide the imperatives of business and profit behind such ersatz peace talk.

The actual point of trade-related action - as with trade sanctions against South Africa - is to help push the principal aggressor party towards that very position of serious, engaged dialogue. Continuing to build and normalise trade and political relations only serves to legitimise the aggressor's behaviour, further negating any prospect of a just negotiation. The SDI is, thus, serving to intensify the problem, not diminish it.

The "need for a safe and secure Israel and Palestine" also falls into that same 'two sides to blame' cliche-speak so redolent of 'sensible business'. And it's always telling to see Israel's 'safety and security' noted first in such sentences.

There wiil be no just and durable peace in the Middle East until Israel's mass criminality is seriously challenged and checked by the 'respectable international community' of which SDI apparently forms a part. In its determination to forge closer ties with Israel, the SDI is, in effect, a complicit party to ongoing Palestinian suffering.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
For Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign

Scottish Parliamentary motion proposed by Sandra White (SNP) MSP:

S3M-05463 Sandra White (Glasgow) (Scottish National Party): Scottish Development International Trade Mission to Israel— That the Parliament notes with concern the proposed trade mission on 10 to 15 January 2010 organised by Scottish Development International (SDI) to Israel, a state that is currently in contravention of numerous United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and stands accused of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the Gaza conflict, amounting to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity; notes that this trade mission was postponed in January 2009 after advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the wake of Israel’s December 2008 offensive, and, while welcoming the Scottish Government’s clear position on the situation in Gaza and the substantial package of humanitarian aid announced last year by the Deputy First Minister, urges SDI to reconsider its current stance while Israel continues to flout international law and stands accused of possible crimes against humanity.

Supported by: Patrick Harvie, Hugh O'Donnell, Bill Kidd, Christine Grahame, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Robin Harper, Dr Bill Wilson, Aileen Campbell, Mike Pringle, Elaine Smith, Hugh Henry, Angela Constance, Anne McLaughlin

Lodged on Thursday, January 07, 2010; Current