Haifa 2: “Something was missing from the BBC news bulletins”

October 07, 2003

[This is one of three dispatches I am sending today]


1. "Beebwatch" (Daily Telegraph, October 7, 2003)
2. "Bombs that kill peace" (Letters page, Guardian, October 7, 2003)
3. "Is it fair to say that Israel is the only and worst violator in the world today?"

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three items from today and yesterday's British press, critical of the BBC and of Palestinian suicide bombings.

1. "Beebwatch" (The Daily Telegraph, October 7, 2003): "Something was missing from the BBC news bulletins on Saturday night following the atrocious suicide killing in Haifa: any direct reference to terrorism or terrorists. Jeremy Cooke's report from the scene, broadcast on the BBC1 evening news and News 24, followed the corporation's apparent policy of describing such outrages merely as "attacks". Nor did we hear the word "murder". Cooke's first words to camera were that the incident was "certain to provoke an Israeli response", as if Israel's retaliation was the real story.

"There was only a tiny snatch of comment from an onlooker and none from a family member. Footage of an Israeli minister, Danny Naveh, attacking Arafat, was prefaced by a health warning: Naveh "was on hand to point the predictable finger of blame". (BBC correspondents rarely underline the predictability of Palestinians blaming Israel and America.) The nearest Cooke came to mentioning terrorism was in a live exchange on News 24: he said that the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, wanted to crack down "on what he called the leaders of the terror movement".

"A search of the BBC website reveals that Palestinian "terrorists" are nearly always awarded quotation marks, unlike, say, the perpetrators of September 11. Why? BBC guidelines state: "The word 'terrorist' can appear judgmental in parts of the world where there is no clear consensus about the legitimacy of militant political groups." Another point is worth noting. BBC reports of suicide bombings typically mention the death of the killer before that of his or her victims ("A woman suicide bomber has killed herself and 19 other people"). Likewise, after an Islamic Jihad terrorist murdered two people at a Jewish New Year meal, one of them a seven-month-old baby, the BBC headline read: "Three dead in West Bank attack."

2. "Bombs that kill peace" (Letters page, The Guardian, October 7, 2003). In an unusual move, this Palestinian letter writer to The Guardian criticizes Palestinian society for "creating different categories of people, some of which [Israeli Jews] are less human than others," and speaks out against suicide bombings. (The full letter is attached below.)

3. Leading columnist for the Independent newspaper, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, has in the past used the Holocaust against Israel. For example, she wrote on April 15, 2002: "I would suggest that Ariel Sharon should be tried for crimes against humanity... and be damned for so debasing the profoundly important legacy of the Holocaust, which was meant to stop forever nations turning themselves into ethnic killing machines."

In the aftermath of the Haifa attack, she seems to have modified her position. In yesterday's Independent (October 6, 2003), she writes: "But is it fair to say that Israel is the only and worst violator in the world today? I don't think so. If we want to stay on the moral high ground, surely we should also be holding Russia to account, and Burma's deadly military government, and India (where the Hindu Fundamentalist government is openly anti-Muslim and discriminatory, refusing to bring to justice those who kill to ethnically cleanse their country of Muslims), and Syria and Lebanon where Palestinian refugees are treated like vermin and have been for decades, and Pakistan which is doing nothing to protect Christians against inhumane treatment and attacks. So here I am today, forthright critic of the US and Israeli governments, having to remind people and myself that these aren't the only bad guys on our planet."



Bombs that kill peace
The Guardian
October 7, 2003

Kudos for your fair and insightful leader (October 6). Indeed, suicide bombings do "grave disservice to the Palestinian cause". As a Palestinian, however, what is even more worrying is the damage that such actions inflict on the Palestinians' perception of the Israelis and of themselves.

The killing of Israeli civilians in Haifa or west Jerusalem is being justified by the same groups that claim to be acting in the name of Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression in Gaza and east Jerusalem. Yet, once a society creates different categories of people, some of which are less human than others, it can never hope that the process will not eventually extend to its own ranks. That Zionism dehumanised the Palestinians as a prelude to expelling them, or to justify placing them under a ruthless military occupation, is not an excuse for the victims to lose sight of the necessary moral dimensions to their struggle.

Palestinians will achieve justice and equality only if they succeed in winning a majority of the Israeli public to their cause. Movements like Hamas and Jihad owe it to their people to explain how the suicide bombings - and their declared general goal of using armed struggle to dismantle the Israeli state - are helping in that regard. There has never been a time when it was so urgent for the Palestinians to have a coherent and rational debate about their aims and methods. At the heart of such debate should be a recognition of, and an appeal to, the humanity of the enemy, even while burying the victims of its cruelty daily.

Dr Ala Khazendar

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