Thursday, 29 January 2009

BBC Scotland: the silent men

Yesterday, a four person delegation headed by Stop the War held a meeting with Ken MacQuarrie, Controller of BBC Scotland, Ian Small, Head of Public and Corporate Affairs, and Alistair McLeod, Head of Editorial Compliance, to discuss the BBC's decision not to air the DEC Appeal for Gaza.

My own part in this worthy grouping was primarily motivated by a desire to help our movement keep the issue high-profiled - following our excellent occupation of the BBC - rather than any hope or expectation of serious engagement from Mr MacQuarrie and his colleagues.

As predicted, it was a sham consultation, riddled with prevarications, reiterations and sterile excuses. The most 'earnest' statement was the promise to pass our latest letter to the BBC Trust.

Still, it's always instructive to watch those in service to power act out the sham. Defending the indefensible is actually something of an art form.

MacQuarrie's position was, thus, dutifully made: he fully supports Mark Thompson's decision. And that, when all else was stripped away, was the 'case for'. No rational defence. No personal thoughts. No moral reflection.

MacQuarrie did, of course, repeat Thompson's feeble, and rather insulting, excuse that showing news images of this ongoing conflict while also having those images appear as part of a humanitarian appeal would undermine the BBC's efforts to maintain balance. This rather implies that viewers can't somehow see the difference between the two. We also wondered how the BBC managed to allow the DEC appeals for Darfur, Congo and other places in between those "rolling conflicts" .

Moreover, we asked, did MacQuarrie believe that the DEC-based aid agencies were acting partially in assisting all these suffering people in Gaza? If not, why should the BBC behave any differently in granting them help?

What MacQuarrie can't do - and would have no appetite for, anyway - is to act independently of Thompson in London and screen the DEC Appeal. What he, and his colleagues can, however, do is voice their senior level disapproval of that decision. They could speak out as conscientious directors, alert to the BBC's own Charter which instructs them to recognise and support humanitarian causes. They could also simply speak out as basic human beings concerned to help and protect suffering others.

None of these promptings, made at this meeting, appear remotely on the cards.

MacQuarrie also denied my assertion that BBC staff are working under a virtual atmosphere of intimidation when it comes to speaking out on this and other such issues. One wonders what true understanding of reality he and his fellow executives have in this regard.

But, as I'd already noted, that's not so surprising given the "Alice in Wonderland version of reality the BBC would have us believe". Thus, over 1300 Palestinians lie slaughtered, over 6000 wounded and 1.5 million psychologically injured and the BBC would have us understand that Hamas are the 'militants' while Israel 'responds' in 'defensive' mode.

Although the key aim of our lobby was to push for the DEC Appeal to be shown, nothing of this issue can be understood outwith the BBC's blatant bias by omission, language and context when 'covering' the Palestine-Israel question. So I and others made use of the moment in pointing out instances of journalistic and editorial bias. I told them of my times in the West Bank observing the daily brutality at checkpoints and inside the refugee camps and asked why the viewing public learn so little of all this from the BBC. I related the problems within the BBC's Jerusalem bureau in failing to cover the plight of the al-Kurd family in East Jerusalem, a case reported extensively by Al-jazeera and other international media, yet only given belated attention by the BBC. If all these editors, journalists and directors had been doing their job over so many years of brutal occupation, people would better understand the latest aggression against Gaza.

Mr MacQuarrie seemed somewhat bemused that anyone could criticise the BBC's 'world class' reputation. Mr McLeod, a journalist of 22 years, echoed the point, citing haloed reporters like Jeremy Bowen. How, they wondered, could the BBC be accused of bias having had people like Alan Johnston in Gaza?

The time at hand, alas, didn't allow for a little development of Chomsky's propaganda model and the institutional disincentives to critical output. But I did duly direct them towards Glasgow University Media Group's work, the 2006 study by Loughborough University (commissioned by BBC governors) and multiple Media Lens archives, all carrying clear and documented evidence of the BBC's systematic bias in favour of Israel.

Our able interlocutors made further challenges on gathering licence fee dissent and the failure of Mr MacQuarrie and his colleagues to have full statistical information on the level of public complaints. We tried to pin them down on every technical aspect of the DEC decision, using the BBC's own Charter codes to undermine their case.

Yet, all this remains ancillary to the more fundamental issue of political bias at the BBC. Thus, I invited them to explore what really underlies the politics of this decision: the truth that Britain and the West support Israel, and the BBC follow that same conformist line. That was, predictably, rejected, accompanied by more proclamations on BBC 'impartiality'. My suggestion that there is no such thing, that we all bring value judgements to such situations - as the BBC have clearly done - was likewise refuted.

While pleased to have been part of our lobby group in helping to keep the issue in the media spotlight, this meeting reaffirmed how the BBC and other centres of power use such 'consultation' to enhance their own profile, allowing them to say they've 'listened carefully to our concerns' and will 'take them on board'.

The BBC's decision over the DEC issue confirms the kind of serially complicit organisation we're dealing with here. As viewed at this meeting, the institutional bias is so complete that senior directors are prepared to weather widespread public opposition, including the disgust of many artistic figures, in order to protect established interests. Their silence, I suggested, in putting power and career before human beings is truly shameful.

Mr MacQuarrie had to 'wrap up' the meeting and thanked us for our presentation.

I merely wanted to remind them of this one sole truth:

"The BBC is party to Palestinian suffering."


Monday, 26 January 2009

BBC Scotland occupied

Last night (25 January) saw our inspiring occupation of the BBC in Glasgow in protest at their decision not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal on behalf of Gaza.

We simply managed to walk in to the lobby of this sleek glass building and unfurl our banners, flags and placards before the police arrived in a panic to seal off the main doors. We also let some other late arrivals in through a side door (pictures here).

Spirited chants filled the lobby as staff and police considered what to do. The message was aired loudly that the BBC are complicit in the war crimes against Gaza, and that their decision not to allow the DEC Appeal shows them in their true establishment colours.

After an hour or so, a senior police inspector announced that we had 15 minutes to leave or be arrested. We refused, explaining that this was a peaceful, moral protest in support of the 1.5 million already imprisoned and suffering in Gaza. Glasgow human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar arrived to offer advice and support to the gathering.

Various media outlets, including the Independent, started calling on mobile phones asking for comments, while others arrived outside the locked doors - such publicity being the principal point of the occupation. Yet, ignoring our calls, the BBC had itself still failed to put any of its reporters on the story. The irony hardly needs stating: no need for the BBC to arrive when they're already in the building.

At this point, Tony Benn called to express his support and his words were read out over a mobile to loud cheers. Other calls of support were received from George Galloway, Stop the War and activist groups all around the country.

Eventually, Ian Small, the BBC's Head of Public and Corporate Affairs was brought in to handle the matter, and our group nominated five people - including myself - to speak with him. Mr Small, I think it's fair to say, offers perfect insight into how such people get to be where they are at the BBC.

During our meeting - which we insisted take place in transparent observation of our group rather than the back room he had demanded - Mr Small was reminded of our movement's previous letter passed to him itemising the BBC's brazenly pro-Israel coverage of the Gaza crisis. No formal response to that 9 point statement has yet been received.

We then asked Mr Small to explain the BBC's decision to disallow airtime for the DEC Appeal.

What we got, predictably, was a set of template assurances that 'our concerns would be registered' with BBC Director Helen Boaden et al - a useful moment to relate, in turn, my own experience of this token procedure. While accepting that the BBC 'doesn't always get it right', Mr Small denied my assertion of deep institutional bias, resorting again to standard claims of BBC 'impartiality'. I also reminded him that many staff at all levels of the BBC are outraged by their employer's decision.

Listening to Mr Small uphold the BBC's statement on the DEC Appeal - while declining my request to have him air his own view on the matter - brings home the quite alarming capacities of such people to defend the utterly indefensible.

Our more pertinent demand was that the BBC come and report the protest occurring inside their own building. Mr Small agreed to convey this request to the newsroom, but could not, he said, guarantee that the protest would actually be covered. It would be "unethical", he thought, to try and exert such influence.

A further meeting with senior BBC Scotland directors was secured. But, personally, I see little purpose in sitting in plush-panelled rooms speaking to power in this way. The real point of this action was, and is, to maximise support for Gaza and shame the BBC over its brazenly partial decision.

Having voted to leave the building, our objectives achieved, a number of press outlets - including the BBC - were waiting outside to cover the emerging, cheering crowd.

This action illustrates the real value of direct, peaceful civil disobedience. It also alerts us to the ways in which organisations like the BBC seek to manage dissent through such sham consultation. And it reminds us, in this desperate time for the people of Gaza - and the West Bank - that all these small protests are having a cumulative effect in drawing the world's attention to Israel's barbaric behaviour and the deeply distorted reporting of it.



Some further reporting of the occupation protest from Glasgow Stop the War:

Over 100 people participated in an occupation of the BBC Scotland headquarters on Sunday, demanding that the broadcaster show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza. Occupiers entered the building at 5pm, and despite the police threatening mass arrests to remove everyone within 15 minutes, the occupation remained for almost 4 hours.

The occupation was successful in applying additional pressure on the BBC through extensive national and international media coverage, including front-page coverage in the Metro as well as coverage on CNN and CBS. It was announced live on Channel 4 news as well as on Sky TV. Al-Jazeera Arabic ran a live telephone interview from the occupation, and Press TV will today interview Strathclyde University media expert Professor David Miller. Another Iranian television station rang Stop the War at 4:30am to do an interview, and the story was the third item on their morning news bulletin.

Tony Benn also telephoned the occupation to offer his support, saying 'The decision to occupy the BBC in Glasgow must be understood as a plea for the people of Gaza, who are suffering so much and who need our help to help get the money through'.

A delegation from the occupation was elected to meet with Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs and member of the BBC's Executive Board, who was called in specially to meet with the occupiers. The BBC agreed that it will arrange a meeting with the delegation with Ken McQuarrie, the Controller of the BBC Scotland, and Atholl Duncan, the head of news for BBC Scotland on Wednesday the 28th of January. Glasgow Stop the War Coalition is asking its supporters and those who support humanitarian aid to Gaza to gather outside the BBC on Wednesday at 4.30pm.

Protestors also promised to return unless the DEC appeal is aired. Glasgow Stop the War also called for others to take similar actions around the UK.

All the occupiers decided to leave the building together, and no arrests were made. By that time, television cameras from SKY TV, BBC, and GMTV had arrived, as well as a reporter from the Daily Record. Numerous interviews were also conducted by telephone from inside the occupation.

Videos from inside the occupation at -

Pictures at -

BBC staff protest over gaza aid appeal – 'fury' at the news desk meeting.

Unions protest over BBC and Sky's Gaza appeal ban

Some of the coverage:

The occupation made the front page of the Metro. There is a 2-page spread about the occupation in the Daily Mail, and reports on Page 2 of the Daily Record and p.8 of the Herald amongst many others. News24 have been covering the DEC appeal protests at the BBC Scotland all day today and Glasgow Stop the War Coalition was interviewed in the early hours of Monday morning on Press TV.

We would like to thank the countless number of people from across the world who have telephoned and texted messages of support and solidarity for the action taken at the BBC Scotland HQ.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Israel's atrocities: making the link

Israel has finally allowed selected media into the hell that is Gaza, permitting some survey of the staggering destruction that has accompanied the mass killing spree. The evidence of callous murder and massacres is all around, with almost every humanitarian agency on the ground now calling for immediate investigations of Israeli war crimes.

Yesterday, the BBC and ITN came upon entire villages reduced to rubble. In a rare departure from BBC timidity, reporter Christian Fraser tracked down the father of a little girl discovered lying in an Egyptian hospital bed. Though smiling, she couldn't yet realise that she'll never walk again. When Fraser told the father of his daughter's whereabouts and injuries, he broke down. Later, he tells Fraser how the soldiers had stepped out of their tanks and ordered the family out of their home, shooting dead the little girl's two sisters. He talks of the terror and how
"some of the soldiers were eating chocolate and crisps" while the murder went on.

In another heartbreaking account, ITN's Robert Moore entered Zeitoun and heard the corroborated testimony of a young boy whose father had been executed by Israeli soldiers. After cutting down his defenceless dad, they sprayed the house with bullets, leaving other family members to bleed to death. They even stopped ambulances getting through to the injured. Commenting on everything he'd seen, Moore said that "at a minimum, there needs to be a formal war crimes investigation." In one of his most wicked denials to date, Mark Regev suggested that Moore had been misled by Hamas's "atrocity propaganda".

Other accounts tell of how the Israelis ran over Muslim graves and left calling-card graffiti gloating over Palestinian deaths. "Arabs need to die", said one piece.

Aims and atrocities

Ehud Barak is said to be obsessed by clocks and time. We can now see the full results of his murderous precision. In just twenty three timescaled days, between the festive holidays and Obama's inauguration, Gaza was pulverised. With the world and its media fixated by the Washington event, Israel withdrew its tanks and talked of 'objectives completed'. We're now getting a closer view of just what that really entails.

Yet, while bewildered Gazans pick through the rubble of their homes, lamenting politicians and media still continue the canard that Hamas rockets are mainly to blame for the carnage unleashed by Israel.

After his swearing-in, Obama made courtesy calls to Olmert and Abbas, but still found no words of condemnation for the massacre of over 1300 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians. Reporters may now be revealing some of the gross atrocities on the ground, some may even be talking of "war crimes", but little of this is matched by serious consideration of the 'Hamas threat', Israel's true, murderous motivations or Obama's silence on their crimes.

Contrary to the template language peddled by Regev and repeated ad nauseam by the media, this has never been about Israel's 'security' or 'deterrence'. It was, and is, about the deliberate annihilation of Gaza. As Ben White - going against the Guardian's editorial supplications - bravely wrote, "Israel wanted a humanitarian crisis."

Never, notes White, did the rocket factor seriously figure in Israel's calculations:

"First, to what this war on Gaza is not about: it's not about the rockets. During the truce last year, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was reduced by 97%, with the few projectiles that were fired coming from non-Hamas groups opposed to the agreement. Despite this success in vastly improving the security of Israelis in the south, Israel did everything it could to undermine the calm, and provoke Hamas into a conflict."

Why has this most basic truth been shunned by the media? Why have the BBC and others consistently repeated Israeli objectives as being 'defensive'? Why this compliant service to power when the true aims are all too manifest. As White insists:

"There is, however, no shortage of evidence available that points to rather different Israeli aims. Estimates for the proportion of civilian deaths among the 1,360 Palestinians killed range from more than half to two-thirds. Politicians, diplomats and journalists are by and large shying away from the obvious, namely that Israel has been deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians and the very infrastructure of normal life, in order to – in the best colonial style – teach the natives a lesson."

For White, Israel's killing has been driven by three main aims: firstly, "to humiliate and weaken Hamas" - breaking them as a political force; secondly, "to teach a lesson to the Palestinians in Gaza, and elsewhere, that the only way to avoid the wrath of the Israeli military is to accept Israel's idea of a two-state solution, a generous concession to be gratefully received by Abbas and fellow moderates": and, thirdly, "to further "catastrophise" the territory, reducing the capacity for continued existence to the barest of minimums – perhaps to bring about "an end to the persistence of Gaza's ordinary people in wanting the chance of a peaceful and dignified life"."

Israel's real cumulative objectives, thus, look very different from its claims of security, stability and, perversely, its supposed desire to help Gaza reconstruct. As White concludes:

"Israel seeks to turn the Gaza Strip into a depoliticised humanitarian crisis, always on the brink of catastrophe, always dependent; its population reduced to ration-receiving clients of international aid."

Ben White's analysis is a welcome respite from the standard 'rocket threat' and 'two sides' narrative that pervades the 'moderate' liberal media. It would be useful to see him direct his comments about shy-away journalists to the Guardian itself. But let's not expect too much.

BBC, ITN and other journalists are now confronted by the starkest evidence of Israeli war crimes. Their basic journalistic sensibilities tell them to report what they see. And, as in this case, they have. They, too, are human beings, emotionally affected by such gruesome sights. Yet, while these atrocities are being highlighted, any thought of them being stated as Israel's key objectives remains taboo. The cynical, clock-timing exercise in mass murder is never considered as such. The possibility that Israel actually wants a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza can never be seriously contemplated or explored.

And, yet, as Jonathan Cook, like White, shows, the real aim is devastation:

"None of this will be regretted by Israel. In fact the general devastation, far from being unfortunate collateral damage, has been the offensive’s unstated goal."

Murder, devastation and catastrophe. It's all very obvious, isn't it? It should be to serious journalists. It is to some. Even those in the mainstream. But the darker reality behind Israel's mass violence, the political machinations which inspire it, and the clock-watching zealots who plan and execute it, must all stay safely off-limits, shrouded and avoided, like a terrible, shameful truth.


Friday, 16 January 2009

Glasgow for Gaza: demo outside the BBC

Around 150 caring people stood defiantly outside the BBC HQ in Glasgow last night and proclaimed loudly:

“Occupation is a crime, why not say it on prime time?”

A colourful array of banners and flags accompanied a more sombre presentation of white-clothed baby figures lying in a long row along the BBC steps, a stark reminder of the murdered infants of Gaza.

Predictably, no BBC reporter ventured out of this shiny new glass building to do that most basic thing: report what we were doing. Instead, some stood looking out, while many others, on finishing their workday, walked briskly by, eyes averted. Someone beside me, a recent employee, said that there was a virtual atmosphere of intimidation when it came to staff voicing their opinions on such matters.

And the chant went on:

"Killing children
is a crime, why not say it on prime time?”

Professor David Miller (Strathclyde University) and Nicola Fisher (Co-chair of Glasgow Stop the War Coalition) were permitted to meet with Ian Small, the BBCs Director of Public Affairs, to air the movement's views and hand him a 9 point letter of complaint.

David reported back to the gathering that Mr Small had been attentive and apparently in agreement with some of the points. He has agreed to forward the letter to Helen Boaden, Mark Byford and other senior BBC directors. A detailed reply has also been promised.

As David noted, no one is expecting any radical change of policy. But, of course, that's never the point of such demonstrations. It's all part of a cumulative effort to highlight media complicity in Israel's war crimes.

Later, Peter Murray, Vice President of the BBC's NUJ section, told the gathering how BBC journalists and Palestinians had stood in common support of Alan Johnston during his captivity. Now, he said, an entire population is detained and the BBC turns the other way.

And the chant went on:

"Ethnic cleansing
is a crime, why not say it on prime time?”

Other speakers included ex-Glasgow councillor Alex Mosson, who made a spirited appeal for continued action. My own modest contribution included an appeal to flood the BBC with complaints – and, of course, to read Media Lens.

And the chant went on:

is a crime, why not say it on prime time?”

A last interesting snippet to emerge. After the 10,000 strong demo in Edinburgh on Saturday, the BBC called Stop the War to ask if they could give them some photos of the event, as they didn't have anyone there to get a picture. Says it all, really.


210 children murdered by Israel

Their names

08 Ibtihal Kechko Girl 10
Ahmed Riad Mohammed Al-Sinwar Boy 3
Ahmed Al-Homs Boy 18
Ahmed Rasmi Abu Jazar Boy 16
Ahmed Sameeh Al-Halabi Boy 18
Tamer Hassan Al-Akhrass Boy 5
Hassan Ali Al-Akhrass Boy 3
Haneen Wael Mohammed Daban Girl 15
Khaled Sami Al-Astal Boy 15
alaat Mokhless Bassal Boy 18
Aaed Imad Kheera Boy 14
Abdullah Al-Rayess Boy 17
Odai Hakeem Al-Mansi Boy 4
Allam Nehrou Idriss Boy 18
Ali Marwan Abu Rabih Boy 18
Anan Saber Atiyah Boy 13
Camelia Al-Bardini Girl 10
Lama Talal Hamdan Girl 10
Mohammed Jaber Howeij Boy 17
Nimr Mustafa Amoom Boy 10
29/12/2008 Ismail Talal Hamdan Boy 10
Ahmed Ziad Al-Absi Boy 14
Ahmed Youssef Khello Boy 18
Ikram Anwar Baaloosha Girl 14
Tahrier Anwar Baaloosha Girl 17
Jihad Saleh Ghobn Boy 10
Jawaher Anwar Baaloosha Girl 8
Dina Anwar Baaloosha Girl 7
Samar Anwar Baaloosha Girl 6
Shady Youssef Ghobn Boy 12
Sudqi Ziad Al-Absi Boy 3
Imad Nabeel Abou Khater Boy 16
Lina Anwar Baaloosha Girl 7
Mohammed Basseel Madi Boy 17
Mohammed Jalal Abou Tair Boy 18
Mohammed Ziad Al-Absi Boy 14
Mahmoud Nabeel Ghabayen Boy 15
Moaz Yasser Abou Tair Boy 6
Wissam Akram Eid Girl 14
30/12/2008 Haya Talal Hamdan Girl 8
31/12/2008 Ahmed Kanouh Boy 10
Ameen Al-Zarbatlee Boy 10
Mohammed Nafez Mohaissen Boy 10
Mustafa Abou Ghanimah Boy 16
Yehya Awnee Mohaissen Boy 10
Ossman Bin Zaid Nizar Rayyan Boy 3
Assaad Nizar Rayyan Boy 2
Moaz-Uldeen Allah Al-Nasla Boy 5
Aya Nizar Rayyan Girl 12
Halima Nizar Rayyan Girl 5
Reem Nizar Rayyan Boy 4
Aicha Nizar Rayyan Girl 3
Abdul Rahman Nizar Rayyan Boy 6
Abdul Qader Nizar Rayyan Boy 12
Oyoon Jihad Al-Nasla Girl 16
Mahmoud Mustafa Ashour Boy 13
Maryam Nizar Rayyan Girl 5
01/01/2009 Hamada Ibrahim Mousabbah Boy 10
Zeinab Nizar Rayyan Girl 12
Sujud Mahmoud Al-Derdesawi Girl 10
Abdul Sattar Waleed Al-Astal Boy 12
Abed Rabbo Iyyad Abed Rabbo Al-Astal Boy 10
Ghassan Nizar Rayyan Boy 15
Christine Wadih El-Turk Boy 6
Mohammed Mousabbah Boy 14
Mohammed Iyad Abed Rabbo Al-Astal Boy 13
Mahmoud Samsoom Boy 16
Ahmed Tobail Boy 16
Ahmed Sameeh Al-Kafarneh Boy 17
Hassan Hejjo Boy 14
Rajeh Ziadeh Boy 18
Shareef Abdul Mota Armeelat Boy 15
Mohammed Moussa Al-Silawi Boy 10
Mahmoud Majed Mahmoud Abou Nahel Boy 16
Mohannad Al-Tatnaneeh Boy 18
Hani Mohammed Al-Silawi Boy 10
01/01/2009 Ahmed Al-Meshharawi Boy 16
Ahmed Khodair Sobaih Boy 17
Ahmed Sameeh Al-Kafarneh Boy 18
Asraa Kossai Al-Habash Girl 10
Assad Khaled Al-Meshharawi Boy 17
Asmaa Ibrahim Afana Girl 12
Ismail Abdullah Abou Sneima Boy 4
Akram Ziad Al-Nemr Boy 18
Aya Ziad Al-Nemr Girl 8
Ahmed Mohammed Al-Adham Boy 1
Akram Ziad Al-Nemr Boy 13
Hamza Zuhair Tantish Boy 12
Khalil Mohammed Mokdad Boy 18
Ruba Mohammed Fadl Abou-Rass Girl 13
Ziad Mohammed Salma Abou Sneima Boy 9
Shaza Al-Abed Al-Habash Girl 16
Abed Ziad Al-Nemr Boy 12
Attia Rushdi Al-Khawli Boy 16
Luay Yahya Abou Haleema Boy 17
Mohammed Akram Abou Harbeed Boy 18
Mohammed Abed Berbekh Boy 18
Mohammed Faraj Hassouna Boy 16
Mahmoud Khalil Al-Mashharawi Boy 12
Mahmoud Zahir Tantish Boy 17
Mahmoud Sami Assliya Boy 3
Moussa Youssef Berbekh Boy 16
Wi'am Jamal Al-Kafarneh Girl 2
Wadih Ayman Omar Boy 4
Youssef Abed Berbekh Boy 10
05/01/2009 Ibrahim Rouhee Akl Boy 17
Ibrahim Abdullah Merjan Boy 13
Ahmed Attiyah Al-Semouni Boy 4
Aya Youssef Al-Defdah Girl 13
Aya Al-Sersawi Girl 5
Ahmed Amer Abou Eisha Boy 5
Ameen Attiyah Al-Semouni Boy 4
Hazem Alewa Boy 8
Khalil Mohammed Helless Boy 12
Diana Mosbah Saad Girl 17
Raya Al-Sersawi Girl 5
Rahma Mohammed Al-Semouni Girl 18
Ramadan Ali Felfel Boy 14
Rahaf Ahmed Saeed Al-Azaar Girl 4
Shahad Mohammed Hijjih Girl 3
Arafat Mohammed Abdul Dayem Boy 10
Omar Mahmoud Al-Baradei Boy 12
Ghaydaa Amer Abou Eisha Girl 6
Fathiyya Ayman Al-Dabari Girl 4
Faraj Ammar Al-Helou Boy 2
Moumen Alewah Boy 9
Moumen Mahmoud Talal Alaw Boy 10
Mohammed Amer Abu Eisha Boy 8
Mahmoud Mohammed Abu Kamar Boy 15
Marwan Hein Kodeih Girl 6
Montasser Alewah Boy 12
Naji Nidal Al-Hamlawi Boy 16
Nada Redwan Mardi Girl 5
Hanadi Bassem Khaleefa Girl 13
06/01/2009 Ibrahim Ahmed Maarouf Boy 14
Ahmed Shaher Khodeir Boy 14
Ismail Adnan Hweilah Boy 15
Aseel Moeen Deeb Boy 17
Adam Mamoun Al-Kurdee Boy 3
Alaa Iyad Al-Daya Girl 8
Areej Mohammed Al-Daya Girl 3 months
Amani Mohammed Al-Daya Girl 4
Baraa Ramez Al-Daya Girl 2
Bilal Hamza Obaid Boy 15
Thaer Shaker Karmout Boy 17
Hozaifa Jihad Al-Kahloot Boy 17
Khitam Iyad Al-Daya Girl 9
Rafik Abdul Basset Al-Khodari Boy 15
Raneen Abdullah saleh Girl 12
Zakariya Yahya Al-Taweel Boy 5
Sahar Hatem Dawood Girl 10
Salsabeel Ramez Al-Daya Girl 6 months
Sharafuldeen Iyad Al-Daya Boy 7
Doha Mohammed Al-Daya Girl 5
Ahed Iyad Kodas Boy 15
Abdullah Mohammed Abdullah Boy 10
Issam Sameer Deeb Boy 12
Alaa Ismail Ismail Boy 18
Ali Iyad Al-Daya Boy 10
Imad Abu Askar Boy 18
Filasteen Al-Daya Girl 5
Kamar Mohammed Al-Daya Boy 3
Lina Abdul Menem Hassan Girl 10
Unidentified Boy 9
Unidentified Boy 15
Mohammed Iyad Al-Daya Boy 6
Mohammed Bassem Shakoura Boy 10
Mohammed Bassem Eid Boy 18
Mohammed Deeb Boy 17
Mohammed Eid Boy 18
Mustafa Moeen Deeb Boy 12
Noor Moeen Deeb Boy 2
Youssef Saad Al-Kahloot Boy 17
Youssef Mohammed Al-Daya Boy 1
07/01/2009 Ibrahim Kamal Awaja Boy 9
Ahmed Jaber Howeij Boy 7
Ahmed Fawzi Labad Boy 18
Ayman Al-Bayed Boy 16
Amal Khaled Abed Rabbo Girl 3
Toufic Khaled Al-Khahloot Boy 10
Habeeb Khaled Al-Khahloot Boy 12
Houssam Raed Sobeh Boy 12
Hassan Rateb Semaan Boy 18
Hassan Ata Hassan Azzam Boy 2
Redwan Mohammed Ashoor Boy 10
Suad Khaled Abed Rabbo Girl 6
Samar Khaled Abed Rabbo Girl 2
Abdul Rahman Mohammmed Ashoor Boy 12
Fareed Ata Hassan Azzam Boy 13
Mohammed Khaled Al-Kahloot Boy 15
Mohammed Samir Hijji Boy 16
Mohammed Fareed Al-Maasawabi Boy 16
Mohammed Moeen Deeb Boy 17
Mohammed Nasseem Salama Saba Boy 16
Mahmoud Hameed Boy 17
Hamam Issa Boy 1
08/01/2009 Anas Arif Abou Baraka Boy 7
Ibrahim Akram Abou Dakkka Boy 12
Ibrahim Moeen Jiha Boy 15
Baraa Iyad Shalha Girl 6
Basma Yasser Al-Jeblawi Girl 5
Shahd Saad Abou Haleema Girl 15
Azmi Diab Boy 16
Mohammed Akram Abou Dakka Boy 14
Mohammed Hikmat Abou Haleema Boy 17
Ibrahim Moeen Jiha Boy 15
Matar Saad Abou Haleema Boy 17
09/01/2009 Ahmed Ibrahim Abou Kleik Boy 17
Ismail Ayman Yasseen Boy 18
Alaa Ahmed Jaber Girl 11
Baha-Uldeen Fayez Salha Girl 5
Rana Fayez Salha Girl 12
Rola Fayez Salha Girl 13
Diyaa-Uldeen Fayez Salah Boy 14
Ghanima Sultan Halawa Girl 11
Fatima Raed Jadullah Girl 10
Mohammed Atef Abou Al-Hussna Boy 15

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Six facets of bias: letter to the BBC

The BBC's catalogue of loaded language, selective labels and distorted context on the situation in Gaza is now overwhelming. It's almost superfluous to single out given items, given the consistent pattern of misleading reportage.

Peter Horrocks, head of the BBC's multimedia newsroom, recently claimed that special care is paid to the reporting of Israel-Palestine:
"There is an established contentiousness that might mean the language we use is more precise and we measure it more carefully."

There's also, one strongly suspects, an established understanding at the BBC on how to manage that "contentiousness".

Indeed, this claim of 'added vigilance' is an even more damning, if inadvertent, admission of the BBC's studiously-biased framing. It helps explain, for example, how special care is being taken, at the apex of the BBC, to apply pejorative labels like "militants" when referencing Hamas.

Multiple other examples of such institutionally-crafted language abound. As with the BBC's establishment-friendly reporting of Iraq, forthcoming studies will, one trusts, provide comprehensive illumination of the scale and intensity of its deceit in covering Gaza.

For the moment, I want to highlight six notable facets of bias by omission and false context, all of which - contrary to the BBC's Charter to inform - is serving to mislead and misinform the public over the current attacks on Gaza.

1. Israel is still an occupying force in Gaza.

The withdrawal from Gaza's settlements did not end Israel's illegal containment. Any state imposing land, sea and air restrictions of this severity can be deemed to be acting as an effective occupying force. As UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk stated on 9 January 2008:

"Although Israel has contended that it is no longer an occupying power, due to its withdrawal of its forces from within Gaza, it is widely agreed by international law experts that the continued Israeli control of borders, air space, and territorial waters is of a character as to retain Israel status legally as occupying power."

Why is Israel never referred to in BBC reports on Gaza as an "occupying power"?

2. Israel broke the truce.

It was Israel, not the Palestinians, who broke the truce on November 4 2008 when it entered Gaza and killed six Palestinians. Israel's unilateral violation of the ceasefire - a truce initiated by Hamas - was a calculated act and a central part of the Barak-formulated plan of attack on Gaza. Yet, it's almost never noted or caveated in BBC reports. Can you explain why?

3. Israel is targeting all Palestinians, not just Hamas.

Hamas are a democratically-elected government, mandated by the Palestinians to resist Israeli aggression. It is, thus, grossly misleading to continually cite the situation as a conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It is clear from the massive assault on civilians and civilian infrastructure that this is a campaign of violence against Palestinians, not just a purge on Hamas. Israel's purpose in such a selective portrayal is obvious. Why are the BBC continually amplifying that propaganda?

See: An Eye for an Eyelash, Media Lens:

4. Israel and the West promoted/colluded in the destabilisation of Gaza.

Following Arab efforts to establish a Palestinian national unity government, Israel, the US, EU and other Western allies promoted the Fatah-attempted coup to overthrow Hamas. The siege against Gaza which followed was collective punishment on the people of Gaza for electing Hamas. Why is this critical context consistently missing from BBC analyses?

5. Israel's "war aims" are accepted at face value.

Why do the BBC slavishly report Israel's "war aims", as though the targeting of Hamas is their only goal? Entirely missing from this account is Israel's long-term planning and larger objectives: the collective imprisonment of the Palestinians as part of an ongoing project to humiliate and break them as a people and deny them statehood. As Jonathan Cook notes:
"The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years – a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed."

The BBC's failure to question Israel's current 'war objectives' is part of a more conspicuous absence of historical context. The subject of Zionism and Israel's modus operandi - the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through transfer and apartheid policies - are all, presumably, too "contentious" to note.

Instead, the BBC repeats without question the standard calls from politicians on the need for a ceasefire, as though this would return the situation to a state of peace. The context, in effect, becomes one of satisfying Israel's 'defensive' requirements rather than looking at the fundamental problem of Israel's overall occupation and control of Gaza.

Part of this narrative includes constant repetition of Israel's demands that the tunnels be closed as a precondition of any ceasefire. There's no countervailing view that the Palestinians may be constructing tunnels for the purposes of basic survival in the face of Israel's illegal siege.

Why this consistent omission of context and uncritical presentation of Israeli 'objectives'?

6. The BBC focus disproportionately on Hamas's military capabilities.

Why are Hamas rockets constantly being highlighted in BBC reports (as in Frank Gardner's routine studio pieces) while the massive extent of Israel's arsenal receives scant attention? The BBC's seemingly obsessive coverage of rockets from Gaza is as disproportionate as Israel's own violence against the Palestinian people.

Also, why do the BBC repeat without question Israel's demands that Hamas/the Palestinians disarm, while Israel remains a major arms-laden (and nuclear) state. And where are the detailed features on US and UK weapons supplies to Israel?

As this is a formal complaint, I would like a detailed reply on each of these main points.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley

Friday, 9 January 2009

Regev and Israeli victimhood

Mark Regev, Israeli chief propagandist, has been working hard these past days. The wanton attack on a UN school at Jabaliya, killing over 40 civilians, the shelling of Oxfam ambulance drivers and wounded Palestinians, and the discovery of destitute Palestinian children scavenging beside their dead parents has prompted the UN and Red Cross to issue unprecedented condemnations of Israel. Another investigation has been demanded by the UN after Israel shelled a house known to contain over 100 Palestinian evacuees. 30 people died.

Regev is in a spin, trying to counter the damning charges from these organisations that his country is in gross violation of the Geneva Convention and multiple other international laws.

The defensive line has been predictable, with variations on: 'there's a difficult combat situation'; 'it's the fog of war'; 'we want to work with the Red Cross'; 'we do recognise our international obligations'; 'let's wait and see what comes from our investigations'; 'you can't trust Hamas sources', and so on. The lies, evasion and dissembling are all criminally obvious to any reasonable observer.

Yet, beneath Regev's verbal acrobatics lies a much deeper message of Israel's inhuman intent. S
tanding before the cameras in his privileged suit, Regev's clipped, precise voice is really telling the world that Israel will not be deterred by anyone from murdering Palestinians. This message comes with all the arrogance of the mighty. And it permeates the minds of Israeli soldiers, seemingly oblivious to the carnage they're creating:
"“For us, being cautious means being aggressive,” one told the Haaretz newspaper. “From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground.”...Another soldier, identified as Lt Col Amir, told Israeli TV on Wednesday: “We are very violent. We are not shying away from any method of preventing casualties among our troops.”"
There comes a point where the dominant no longer feel the need to live only by the credo of defensive victimhood. They still espouse it as an emotional device. But the cry of 'the victim' becomes subsumed to a more confident feeling of supremacy, a national articulation of specialness, which, through material advancement and military prowess, bestows on them, so they come to believe, the self-aggrandising power to inflict mass violence on others. They have no regard for international opinion. Their only motivation is self-interest. In short, they don't care.

The official responses and mitigations have to be issued. The 'PR' job has to be done. But Regev's task masks a more disturbing truth: that this state is not fundamentally worried about protecting its 'good image'. On the contrary, it's more concerned that the Palestinians and, indeed, the wider world know that it has the capacity and willingness to mete out mass terror.

Thus, the bombing of schools and hospitals is never a mistake. It's part of a calculated strategy to terrify and break a population. And, as countless attacks on children even before this gruesome episode shows, the murder of innocents is intended as a chilling reminder that 'we don't need the right, when we have the might' to do so.

The Israeli historian Avi Shlaim offers keen insights on this dual malady of Israeli victimhood and promiscuous terrorist.

“As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted - a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, "crying and shooting".”

“This brief review of Israel's record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination.”
Shlaim's depiction of Israel's default victim-pose and rogue state actions suggests the kind of psychosis underlying Regev's defensive and offensive messages.

His efforts in deflecting demands for Israel to be prosecuted for war crimes comes with brazen inversions of the truth. Thus, Regev had the audacity to claim that it was Hamas who had committed a 'war crime' by placing its fighters in the bombed UN school. Not even the comprehensive exposure of this lie elicited a retraction.

Presumably also lost on Regev is Shlaim's other excellent point that Palestinian democracy, resulting in Hamas's election, is actually a rarity in the Middle East - and that consistent Israeli and Western efforts to suffocate it never receive the slightest attention by the BBC and other servile media.

Regev's more frivolous demonisation of Hamas posits Israel acting as a righteous, liberating force:
"Free Gaza is a cool idea, but free them from what? If they want to free Gaza they should take out women who fear for their lives, Christians and gays. We want to free Gaza from this terrible Taliban regime. This terrible Taliban regime is oppressing women, Christians and gays."
Praise be that we still have the moral voice of true Jewish humanitarians to refute these kind of cheap distortions. As Pilger ever-assuringly repeats, Israeli intervention has always, without exception, been about naked self-advancement, a home truth nobly repeated by courageous Jewish voices:
"Every subsequent “war” Israel has waged has had the same objective: the expulsion of the native people and the theft of more and more land. The lie of David and Goliath, of perennial victim, reached its apogee in 1967 when the propaganda became a righteous fury that claimed the Arab states had struck first. Since then, mostly Jewish truth-tellers such as Avi Schlaim, Noam Chomsky, the late Tanya Reinhart, Neve Gordon, Tom Segev, Yuri Avnery, Ilan Pappe and Norman Finklestein have dispatched this and other myths and revealed a state shorn of the humane traditions of Judaism, whose unrelenting militarism is the sum of an expansionist, lawless and racist ideology called zionism. “It seems,” wrote the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe on 2 January, “that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as desperate events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system... Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government , this ideology – in its most consensual and simplistic variety – has allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanise the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide].” "
Speaking up for those who suffer, the true victims, the Palestinians, the broken of Gaza, is a moral imperative. Regev, in stark contrast, speaks a language of cold, hateful indifference to their pain. He is nothing short of a war criminal.

But, speaking on behalf of the victims is never enough. It must be accompanied by practical, concentrated action, perhaps most immediately through a
boycott, divestment and sanction campaign akin to South Africa. As Naomi Klein reaffirms:
"Economic sanctions are the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Surrendering them verges on active complicity."
With Obama's silence, the Senate vote of support for Israel and Washington's Security Council abstention all giving the green light to more Israeli terror, there's never been a more pressing time to actualise the BDS strategy in active, emergency support of Gaza.


Monday, 5 January 2009

Gaza: the BBC and subtext propaganda

When Israel is pounding Palestinian infrastructure in Gaza, one of the standard ways of reporting it is to say things like: “a Hamas-linked police station”, or “a Hamas-run hospital” was attacked. The inference being clear: if even a civic building has some connection to Hamas officials, it becomes a legitimate target.

This is coupled with the consistent media assertion, following the same Israeli message, that Israel is fighting Hamas, not the Palestinians.

Think about this for a moment. Israel is called Israel in these reports. But Palestine is rarely called Palestine. Israel fights Hamas. Israel has a name, the name of a place, a country. Palestine has none. Instead, Hamas – or, the more usual, Hamas militants – are fighting Israel. Never do we hear of the Palestinians or the Palestinian people fighting Israel.

It may seem a semantic point. And it is – a very important one. The constant repetition of 'Hamas' rather than 'Palestinians' robs the latter of their nominal statehood, their character as a community locked together, resisting and responding as a people, NOT a party.

Imagine if the BBC said something like: 'New Labour (rather than Britain) is sending additional forces to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.' That, at least, would be more accurate. But it would be regarded as preposterous by the BBC. Even wars that were never supported by the vast majority of British people cannot be termed anything other than 'British' engagement.

Why, by the same token, should Israel's offensive not be called 'Kadima's bombing and invasion'? Of course, it has the support of Likud and other parties. So, why not term it something like the 'Kadima-Likud war alliance'? Of course, one might object that their actions enjoy the support of most Israelis. Which, as opinion polls indicate, is certainly true. Yet, the actions of the Palestinians in resisting Kadima-Likud aggression is similarly solid. So, why is this described as Hamas action?

The distortion is evident in almost every mainstream media report. References to Israel attacking Hamas, rather than Palestine or the Palestinians, are used almost as a matter of course by journalists. It's an accepted normalisation of media language. And it informs even the supposedly more analytical output of 'critical' reporters like Jeremy Bowen.

Take this piece from Bowen in which he considers the relative fighting capacities of Israel and Hamas, noting how Israel is seeking to avenge itself, reputationally, from the beating it received from Hezbollah in 2006:

“Other factors are at work though. The Israeli army wants to lay the ghost of what is widely seen in Israel as its failure during the Lebanon war of 2006.”

This may be worth noting. But is it really that important a factor besides the much more immediate task of containing and crushing Gaza itself? The more particular Israeli aim here is not just to beat Hamas - as constantly reiterated by the BBC. It's to break the spirit of and, ultimately, annihilate Palestinians.

Hezbollah are then compared and contrasted with Hamas, the implication, again, being that these are both fanatical, non-state, outfits fighting a sovereign country, Israel. Thus, according to Bowen:

“Hamas wants to emulate Hezbollah's performance in 2006.”

Again, it's as if this is about competing military performances – rather than the desperate efforts of a people and its elected government trying its best to resist Israel's barbaric siege.

Such reportage serves to de-personalise the suffering of Palestinians. Alongside the more brazenly-stated and unopposed context that Israel is only acting in self defence (“Israel's justification for what it is doing is the need to protect its citizens in Sderot and the other towns within rocket range of the Gaza Strip.”), this low-lying subtext has a more subliminal impact, serving to instill notions of Palestinians as some kind of vague other; a disparate entity being managed by a coherent, identifiable, sovereign force. It has the suggestive effect of saying: Israel is strong, ordered and under threat, therefore Israelis have much to lose, while Hamas is weak, disordered and a menacing threat, thus the Palestinians can lose even more without too much concern.

Admittedly, Bowen does convey the plight of Gazan civilians, Arab anger and Israel's convenient policy of blaming Hamas:

“For the last 18 months Israel and its allies have agreed to continue isolating Hamas and to allow only the most basic essentials into Gaza. It was a policy which reflected their total rejection of Hamas's ideology and actions. It was easier to stick to that policy than to make serious attempt to address the problems of Gaza, the Palestinians and Israel. ”

Yet, this all feels like token, secondary reflection on what might have been, rather than clear, primary explanation as to why the siege was imposed and the manipulative ways in which Israel has used the 'Hamas threat' to intensify it.

This kind of 'mitigation' often encourages the benign interpretation that journalists like Bowen are really 'balanced' and 'objective' - that, as Bowen has repeatedly claimed, of late, "the BBC cannot take sides". In fact, such output is, arguably, even more deceiving than the openly biased Fox News variety. For it merely secretes all the same falsehoods about Hamas and Israel's 'defensive' project in its loaded language and subtext bias.

Rather than the BBC's fixation, and reporting of Israel's 'grievance', with Hamas, Bowen and his peers might more usefully consult Jonathan Cook's account of how Israel is using Gaza and the West Bank as “laboratories” of repression. Imagine seeing that kind of analysis in a BBC report.


Friday, 2 January 2009

Livni's lies on record

Inside most 'liberal', peace-proclaiming politicians is a career warmonger eagerly waiting to get out.

Step forward Tzipi Livni, the West's great 'peace' candidate, for whom the mass murder of Gazan innocents seems a price worth paying to enhance her electoral prospects.

Livni has just uttered these immortal words, straight from the Madeleine Albright school of political inhumanity:
"There is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce."
Alas, judging by opinion poll evidence, most Israelis appear to share Livni's crass indifference to Palestinian suffering.

Indifference and denial usually go hand-in-hand. Such was the empty psychology, the emotional void, of many Germans while Jews were being slaughtered in the concentration camps.

How bitterly ironic that large parts of the Israeli public, encouraged by their leaders, harbour those kind of mendacious, denialist emotions towards the Palestinians. One is bound to ask: how can this 'civilized' society, with greater reach of the facts, act in such collective denial?

Part of the answer, surely, lies in the deep Zionist indoctrination affecting every layer of Israeli life, a siege psychology that can blind even the more thoughtful citizen to Palestinian suffering.

Another part of the answer lies in the de-personalisation of that inflicted suffering through the proxy actions of the state.

In his fine new book, Disappearing Palestine,
Jonathan Cook talks, in this regard, of the "industrialized" killing that constitutes the Occupation and siege of Gaza, both accurately described as "laboratories" for Israeli experimentation:
"It is my contention that Israel has turned the increasingly confined spaces left to the Palestinians not only into open-air cages but also into laboratories where experiments to encourage Palestinian despair, and ultimately emigration, are being refined...Israel has been able to develop a more aggressive and transparent form of imprisonment for the Palestinians under occupation. It has 'industrialized' Palestinian suffering..." (p 7)
Christopher Gunness, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, adds immediacy to that assessment in describing Israel's ongoing "strangulation" of Gaza:
"The situation is absolutely disastrous. Your viewers must realize that for over a year and a half now, there's been a blockade, strangulation -- if you like -- of Gaza. So, we, as the largest humanitarian agency working on the ground in Gaza have been unable to get the sorts of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid in. So, long, long lists of drugs and other medical supplies which in the U.S. would be considered standard in any hospital, they are just not available in Gaza."
With all the transparent evidence of such killing and deliberate persecution, it comes down, ultimately, to a clear choice. Either Livni is right: there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza - and, thus, no need for a humanitarian truce. Or Gunness is right: Israel is pursuing a wanton "strangulation" in a deliberate effort to intensify a humanitarian crisis.

Take your pick. Condemn Israel without equivocation. Or, as with
Zionist apologists from Obama to One Voice, remain dutifully quiet over the massacre of Gaza.

Whatever one's view, whatever comes to pass, Livni's words are on the record, in the archive, installed in the memories of every Palestinian, noted by millions around the world.

Perhaps, one day, when the 'international community' has its own moral epiphany, we'll hear them repeated as an article of evidence at Nuremberg.