Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Exchange with Paul Wood, BBC Middle East Correspondent

Dear Paul Wood
(and Steve Herrmann)

I note with interest the concluding line in this latest BBC report on Palestine-Israel:

"The last thing the US wants is for this to turn into some sort of problem that would encourage Israel's enemies there, our correspondent adds."

It's a neat summation of the safe worldview expected of senior BBC correspondents, like yourself.

The problem, as heavily implied, lies with "Israel's enemies", and the apparent necessity of controlling their 'dark threats', never one of Israeli aggression itself or/and sustained American support for it.

This "our correspondent says" line is the key deferral and protective mechanism through which the BBC is able to filter its institutional bias while claiming to uphold the values of 'objective', 'analytical' reporting.

The message it conveys to the viewer is one of US neutrality and Israeli defensiveness, a distorted and sanitised version of the truth which only further impedes any serious understanding and just resolution of the issues.

Your 'analysis' refers to the apparent tensions between Obama and Netanyahu over the house expansion issue. Might you also find room in such reports for exploring the long-standing US-Israel alliance that's helped to prolong this illegal occupation and the dangerous insecurity their joint military agenda, notably towards Iran, brings to the region?


John Hilley


Dear John, it's not my world view; it's the Americans, which I was explaining in a World TV two-way, later transcribed for Online.

As you say, the US-Israeli special relationship is important. But the tensions aren't 'apparent', they're real. The US vice president was severely embarrassed while he was here by the Ramat Shlomo announcement. And both he and General Petraeus have said that American lives are on the line (in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere) because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict festers on.

So we do have a lot of discussion on the BBC's airwaves of Israel's relationship with the US. But to adopt the tone and the terms you suggest would not be consistent with our obligation to be impartial in our reporting.


Paul Wood
BBC Middle East correspondent


Dear Paul

Thanks for replying. It's much appreciated.

You say "the tensions aren't 'apparent', they're real. The US vice president was severely embarrassed while he was here by the Ramat Shlomo announcement."

But isn't this just amplifying elite presentation of the issues rather than dealing with the core problems underlying them? BBC reports, like other media, are awash with 'examinations' of the 'timing' of Biden's visit. Yes, Netanyahu's reponse was a timely reminder of Israel's determination to continue on its expansionist track. So, why not introduce, at this point, some analysis of Washington's own responsibility for that situation, notably its massive annual aid package to Israel, much of it tied up in reciprocal military contracts helping to maintain West Bank control and the siege of Gaza?

You say:

"But to adopt the tone and the terms you suggest would not be consistent with our obligation to be impartial in our reporting."

I'm not asking that you adopt my "tone" and "terms". All that's being asked for here is some balanced presentation, that which includes informed reference to America's massive financial and political backing of Israel and the ways in which refusal to pull that aid is serving to maintain the occupation, negating pressure for Israel to negotiate and, to follow the Petraeus line of argument, creating more instability in the region.

As for the claim to being "impartial", have a look at this latest piece of damning research on BBC coverage of the issues:

Please note that, as with all my past correspondence with the BBC, this and any further exchanges will be posted at Media Lens.




Here's a most illuminating interview with Norman Finkelstein, explaining in clear, concise words the real problem with US-Israeli relations, citing, in particular, the disastrous, destabilising impact of Washington's continuing financial aid/military support and the gross violations of international law being carried out by both America and Israel. If only Paul Wood and his fellow BBC correspondents were willing to convey a fraction of this vital information in such reports.

Norman Finkelstein Responds to Clinton, Netanyahu AIPAC Comments


Monday, 22 March 2010

To Jeremy Bowen on West Bank killings

Dear Jeremy

In recent days, the Israeli army have killed four Palestinians around Nablus, two of them 16 year old boys, Mohammad Qadus and Useid Qadus. In the latter case, an x-ray pathology film clearly shows a live round embedded in the boy's skull, a decisive refutation of Israeli army claims that it was only firing rubber-coated bullets.

I'd like to ask you, as a senior journalist in the region, whether the BBC's coverage of these killings is sufficiently detailed and prominent across its various news outlets? And, would the killing of two 16 year old Israeli kids with live rounds have merited the same abbreviated response?

Surely, as an observant reporter, you can see the vast discrepancies between localised reporting such as Maan's and the BBC's token output?

What's your honest opinion of the quality between this report from AlJazeera and the BBC's? Is there, for instance, sufficient mention of Israel's "illegal" presence and conduct, as included in the AlJazeera coverage?

Don't you agree, also, that these killings should be reported as central context in the BBC's analysis of the 'peace process' and Netanyahu's continued efforts to undermine any proto-negotiations?

I look forward to your reply.


John Hilley


Here's what passes for BBC coverage, a tail-ended mention of the killings with slavish reiteration of the Israeli version and no attempt to investigate the matter further:

Mr Netanyahu is to travel to Washington on Sunday, where he is expected to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and possibly President Barack Obama.

Also on Sunday, the Israel army said soldiers shot dead two Palestinians who tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint in the West Bank.

The soldier was on a routine patrol near a security crossing southeast of Nablus.

The deaths bring to four the number of Palestinians killed in the past two days in the occupied West Bank.

A Palestinian teenager was shot dead during clashes near Nablus on Saturday. A second person shot on Saturday died of his injuries on Sunday, West Bank medical officials said.

The army said no live bullets were fired, only tear gas and rubber bullets."

As ever, Palestinian blood is of passing interest to the BBC. Palestinian life is cheap, the ruthless murder of young civilians a statistical aside to the robotic coverage of high diplomatic posturing.




To BBC World Service

(Sent 23 March 2010)

Dear Editor

Please could you comment on this just-released research paper revealing multiple instances of systemic BBC bias and lack of objectivity in its Arabic news coverage of Palestine-Israel.

Alongside much other academic evidence of pro-Israeli reportage, do you really believe that BBC claims to impartial and balanced output stand up to serious scrutiny?

Yours sincerely

John Hilley


A further note:

On the diplomat expulsion issue, Jeremy Bowen says:

"Britain's relations with Israel have been difficult for some time."

"And late last year the former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni - now Israel's opposition leader - was forced to cancel a trip to Britain at short notice after a warrant was issued for her arrest on war crimes charges."
What Bowen fails to mention is that Brown, Miliband and other senior Labour Friends of Israel figures have been doing everything in their power to change the law on behalf of Livni and her war-crime cronies - notably, by taking away magistrates' arrest warrants and making it a police/CPS only - that is, a political - decision).

The expulsion itself is a necessary gesture. Some 'rebuke' had to be made given the damning police/intelligence report which landed on the Foreign Office's desk. Yet, besides such token action, where's the proportionality of response? Miliband might see the passport cloning as "an outrage" and "intolerable". But he has no such words in his sanctimonious vocabulary to condemn Israel over the state murder of Palestinian teenagers.

Alas, Jeremy Bowen has no useful words, either, in his reports to help highlight such hypocrisy.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

My Name is Rachel Corrie, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

A deeply absorbing study of this young woman's personal complexities, artistic depths and burning desire to help end the cruel injustices visited upon the Palestinian people.

A profoundly political statement infused with compassionate conviction and loving concern for suffering others.

Actress Mairi Phillips brings to director Ros Philips's intimately-crafted set a moving, eloquent and beautifully-delivered account of Rachel's short-life journey, from child idealist to determined activist.

Handling an exquisitely nuanced narrative with great assurance, Phillips gives sincere and fascinating vent to Rachel's fragile fears and apprehensions as well as her courageous commitment and passionate resolve.

The performance conveys the very essence of Rachel's proactive politics, driven by a relentless effort to comprehend how such atrocities can be tolerated and ignored by the 'civilized' Western powers.

Through Rachel's vividly-detailed diary, we also get a powerful sense of the Palestinians' own stoic humanity, illustrated by their kind, selfless caring for Rachel and in their simple longing to live in peace.

In a further illuminating correspondence, she answers her mother's lingering discomfort with Palestinian violence, resulting in Rachel's mature analysis of why a people can be pushed to such desperate forms of retaliation.

Indeed, as with Rachel's peaceful presence in front of the giant bulldozer that cut her down, she wonders why Palestinian responses to the world's fourth most powerful army remain so courageously passive.

Her words also register, in more implicit form, what Israel itself knows and fears: that even the mightiest array of military, political and psychological oppression can never crush that spirit of resistance.

It's a fine theatrical indictment, made all the more timely by the Corrie family's current legal suit against Israel. As with their consistent efforts to stop the case coming to court, Israel and its protectors have done all they can to castigate and block the play around the world.

With the Corries and witnesses to Rachel's killing finally permitted their day in court, this remarkable production is helping audiences to understand the ruthless capacities of the Israeli state and the tragic consequences for those, like Rachel, prepared to stand in its way.