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.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said John,
I saw Corbin's piece and agree with all your points. It's as if nobody dares to attack the sacred cows of these aweful people for fear of, 'We won't march into the gas ovens next time', or 'Anti Semite!' etc. These cruel ethnic cleansing apartheid practising despots always use such Holocaust reminders to convince others, but mainly themselves, that what they are doing is totally justifiable.
There will probably be a price to pay one day but sadly it will not be paid by those who are currently fomenting the problems. It is so sad because there are many really concerned Jews and Israelis who see only too well the problems that will come from the racist activities of the Fascist state of Nazirael and the United States of Amnesia.