The killing by Palestinian militants of two Israeli soldiers and the
capture of a third from an army post close to the Gaza Strip set the scene for
Israeli “reprisals” and “retaliation”, according to
the reports of BBC correspondents in Israel and Gaza at the weekend.
The attack by the Palestinians, who sneaked through tunnels under the electronic
fence surrounding Gaza, marked a “major escalation in cross-border tension”
(Alan Johnston) that threatened to overturn “a week of progress on two
fronts” (John Lyon): namely, the recent talks between Israeli prime minister
Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, and between rival
Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas.
Thus, according to the BBC’s analysis, this attack ends the immediate
chances for “peace” negotiations and provides the context for the
next round of the conflict between the Israeli army and the Palestinians of
Gaza. We are left to infer that all the suffering the army inflicts in the coming
days and weeks should be attributed to this moment of “escalation”
by the Palestinians.
We can ignore the weeks of shelling by the Israeli army of Gaza, the firing
of hundreds of missiles into the crowded Strip that have destroyed Palestinian
lives and property, while spreading terror among the civilian population and
deepening the psychological trauma suffered by a generation of children.
We can ignore the deaths of more than 30 civilians, and dozens of horrific injuries,
in the past few weeks at the hands of the Israeli military, including three
children hit in a botched air strike last week, and a heavily pregnant woman
and her doctor brother killed a day later as a missile slammed into the room
where they were eating dinner.
We can ignore the blockade of Gaza’s “borders” by the Israeli
army for months on end, which has prevented Palestinians in the Strip from trading
goods at crossing points with Israel and from receiving vital supplies of food
and medicines. As a captive population besieged by Israeli soldiers, Gazans
are facing a humanitarian catastrophe sanctioned by Israeli government policy
and implemented by the Israeli army.
We can ignore Israel’s bullying of the international community to connive
in the starving of the Hamas-led government of funds and diplomatic room for
manoeuvre, thereby preventing the elected Palestinian leadership from running
Gaza. So desperate is the situation there that Hamas officials are being forced
to smuggle in millions of dollars of cash stuffed in suitcases to pay salaries.
And finally we can ignore the violation of Palestinian territory by Israeli
commandos who infiltrated Gaza a day before the Palestinian attack to kidnap
two Palestinians Israel claims are terrorists. They have been “disappeared”,
doubtless to be be held in administrative detention, where they can denied access
to lawyers, the courts and, of course, justice.
None of this provides the context for the Palestinian attack on the army post
-- any more than, in the BBC’s worldview, do the previous four decades
of occupation. None is apparently relevant to understanding the Palestinian
attack, or for judging the legitimacy of Israel’s imminent military “reprisals”.
In short, according to the BBC, we can ignore Israel’s long-standing policy
of unilateralism -- a refusal to negotiate meaningfully with the Palestinians,
either the old guard of Fatah or the new one of Hamas -- with its resort to
a strategy of collective punishment of Gaza’s population to make it submit
to the continuing occupation.
In the skewed moral and news priorities of the BBC, the killing of two Israeli
soldiers by Palestinian militants -- the “escalation” -- provides
a justification for “fierce retaliation” against Gaza, with the
inevitable toll on Palestinian civilians and militants alike. The earlier killing
of tens of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military, however, is not presented
as justification for yesterday’s Palestinian retaliation against the army.
In other words, on the scale of moral outrage the BBC ranks the deaths
of Israeli soldiers enforcing an illegal occupation far above those of Palestinian
civilians enduring the illegal occupation.
There is another notable asymmetry in the BBC’s assessment of the “escalation”.
Participation by the military wing of Hamas in the attack is evidence, suggest
the reporters, of the role of the Palestinian leadership in “escalating
tension”. But the killing by the Israeli army of a Palestinian family
of seven on a Gaza beach on June 9, and many more civilians since, was apparently
not an “escalation”, even though it provoked Hamas to renounce a
ceasefire it had maintained for 16 months in the face of continuous Israeli
So how is the ordinary viewer to make sense of these events -- the endless “cycle
of violence” -- with the BBC as guide. (And the BBC is no worse, and possibly
better, than most of other Western broadcasters. At least its reporter Alan
Johnston is based in Gaza.)
Not only do its reporters exhibit the biases associated with its institutional
racism -- as an organisation, the BBC chooses to identify with Israeli concerns
before Palestinian ones -- but they then compound this distortion by repeating
uncritically Israel’s own misrepresentation of events.
The reporters, like so many of their colleagues, fall into the trap of presenting
the conflict through the eyes of the Israeli government, the same government
whose prime minister, Ehud Olmert, last week proudly displayed his ethnic chauvinism
by setting the suffering of the Jewish residents of Sderot, who face a mostly
non-lethal smattering of Palestinian home-made Qassam rockets, far above the
rising death toll of Gaza’s civilians from the army’s constant aerial
and artillery bombardment. “I am sorry with all my heart for the residents
of Gaza,” Olmert said, “but the lives and well-being of Sderot’s
residents are more important than those of Gaza residents.” In other words,
a potential threat to a single Jew is more important than the deaths of dozens
of Palestinian innocents.
Thus we learn without comment from the BBC that Olmert has denounced the killing
of the two soldiers as “terrorism”, even though the word cannot
describe an attack by an occupied people on an occupying army. How is it possible
for a few men with light arms to terrorise one of the most powerful armies in
the world? What next: are we to listen sympathetically to claims by the US that
its soldiers are being “terrorised” by Iraqi insurgents?
The defence that the BBC is simply reporting Israel’s position does not
stand up to scrutiny. Is it even conceivable that we might hear a BBC reporter
neutrally repeat a Hamas statement that the Israeli army is terrorising Palestinians
by reckless shelling civilians in Gaza, even though the word’s usage in
this case would better satisfy the dictionary definition? The shells most certainly
do spread terror among Gaza’s civilian population.
We hear too without comment that Olmert is holding both Hamas and the Palestinian
president Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the attack. The BBC dutifullly repeats
Israeli claims that Abbas has the resources to fight “terror” even
as the money to pay Palestinian security forces is held by foreign banks unwilling,
at Israeli and American behest, to hand it over, and as Hamas and Abbas are
locked in battle for control of the Palestinians’ shrinking government.
Does common sense not recoil from the suggestion that both Hamas and Abbas can
be equally blamed for the attack when the two are bitter rivals for power? Or
that either can be held accountable when Israel has refused to negotiate with
them or treat them as the genuine representatives of the Palestinian people?
Again, would the BBC report with due solemnity claims by the Palestinians that
they hold Olmert and Peretz personally guilty for the civilian deaths in Gaza
over the past fortnight, even though in an enlightened world both should be
standing trial for war crimes?
Instead, however implausible the Israeli version of reality, the BBC happily
sows confusion on behalf of the Israeli army. Like other broadcasters, it credulously
reports preposterous arguments seeking to exonerate the Israeli army of responsibility
for the shelling of the beach in Gaza that killed a Palestinian family of seven.
It treats as equally credible the army’s belated version in which Palestinian
militants are said to have laid a single mine at a favourite seaside picnic
spot in the futile hope of preventing the Israeli navy landing along the Strip’s
miles of coastline. (In consequence, the BBC excludes the seven dead and dozens
of Palestinian injured in that Israeli attack from its list of recent civilian
casualties in Gaza).
And both BBC reporters note gravely Israel’s concerns that this is the
first time Palestinian militants have broken out of the fenced-off Strip since
Israel withdrew from Gaza nearly a year ago. Somehow the fact that the Palestinians
have briefly escaped from their cage appears to make the attack all the more
shocking not only for Israel but for the two reporters.
This attack in Israel, they tell us, is the most serious to date, with the implication
that it is therefore illegitimate and part of the same “escalation”.
Even ignoring the fact that this attack was against Israeli soldiers besieging,
imprisoning and shelling the Palestinians of Gaza, does the BBC not to pause
to consider the double standard it is applying?
Was the Israeli army’s incursion into Gaza a day earlier to capture two
alleged Palestinian militants not an equal escalation? Was it not an equal violation
of Palestinian sovereignty? Of course not. The BBC knows, as do the rest of
us, that the army never really left Gaza and the occupation never really ended.
But you won’t hear that from any of its reporters.