Are Reuters journalists transporting grenades for Palestinian terrorists?

May 31, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

Last week, the Israeli army arrested Reuters photographer Suhaib Jadallah Salem in the Gaza Strip, after a hand grenade was found in his car. Last month, a Reuters’ cameraman was arrested in the West Bank, after Israel said he was “directly connected to enemy terrorist activities.”

These incidents raise serious questions about the journalistic integrity of the reports issued by the Reuters news agency, which (with AP) almost every western news outlet relies on for their primary news feed from the Palestinian-controlled territories. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a reporters’ rights organization based in New York, has described the arrests by Israel as an “unacceptable infringement of press freedom”.

Reuters’ own report on the matter, entitled “Israel detains second Reuters journalist,” omits to mention the grenade found in their photographer’s car. I attach that report near the end of this dispatch.


Before that, I attach:

(1) “Why I won’t talk to the BBC” by Douglas Davis.

The London correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, writing in the British weekly magazine The Spectator, explains why he turned down a request to join a BBC radio debate entitled “Is Israel a morally repugnant society?”

(Davis has been a frequent commentator on Middle East affairs for the BBC during the last few years. He is also a subscriber to this email list. The international arm of BBC radio the world service has the world’s largest audience of any radio, TV or newspaper network.)

(2) “Jewish woman suspected of aiding Rishon suicide bomber” (Ha’aretz, May 31, 2002).

A Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union, who is married to a Palestinian, is suspected of aiding the terrorist who committed last Wednesday’s suicide bombing in Rishon Lezion, which killed two people both Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and injured 51. (See corrected update to this story at the end of this dispatch.)

(3) “Sakharov mural in Moscow vandalized with anti-Semitic comments” (AP, May 31, 2002).

Anti-Semitic and obscene slogans have been spray-painted over a mural of the Soviet dissident and Nobel peace laureate Andrei Sakharov, who was not Jewish.

(4) “Syria to take over rotating UN Security Council presidency” (Reuters, May 31, 2002).

(5) “Syria supplying Katyusha rockets directly to Hizbullah” (Ha’aretz, May 31, 2002).

-- Tom Gross



"Why I won't talk to the BBC"
By Douglas Davis
The Spectator
May 25, 2002

Would I, asked the BBC researcher who called from Radio Five Live last week, be available to appear on the Nicky Campbell programme the following morning?

'It should be very interesting,' she said, warming to her sales pitch.? 'We want to discuss whether Israel is a morally repugnant society.'?

'Thanks, but no thanks.'

'You sure?' she asked, disbelief mingled with impatience.

'Absolutely positive. Absolutely,' I replied, to avoid any possible confusion.

A moment's silence, then icily, 'OK,' and the line went dead.

The BBC, in my experience, has always been critical of Israel. At times, its coverage has made me feel somewhat queasy; on occasion, I have thought it downright unfair. But, as an Israeli and a journalist, I have defended its right to take a critical view of Israel, even an extremely critical one. After all, no one could accuse the Israeli media of being tame. And besides, I have always subscribed to the cock-up rather than to the conspiracy theory when it came to BBC coverage of the Middle East.

I argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict, anchored in a heady mixture of religious, territorial, political, social, economic and historical issues, presented an eye-crossing challenge to even the reasonably well-informed observer, let alone to the neophyte from London intent on establishing a reputation in one of the world's media hotspots.

All that changed on 11 September. Even as the Twin Towers came crashing down, the BBC was interviewing Arab studio analysts who solemnly intoned that it was racist to assume that Arabs or even Muslims were responsible. More likely, they said, it was Mossad, because such an event 'played into Israeli hands.'

But, even if Arabs and Muslims had flown those planes, they said, was it not obvious that America itself was the real culprit? After all, it was America that was pursuing a pro-Israel foreign policy, dictated by the Jewish lobby; it was America that was ignoring the occupation and turning a blind eye to the settlements; it was America that was contemptuous of Arab sensibilities. Could anyone blame the Arabs for wanting to vent their humiliation, frustration and rage at this one-sided American foreign policy?

Apparently not. At least not at the BBC, which could not get enough of it. As I followed events, I felt increasingly as though the rest of the world or at least that part of it which was inhabited by the BBC had gone stark, staring mad. Disbelief, it seemed, was suspended at Television Centre as logic was turned on its head and victim became perpetrator. But far more shocking than the repeated ventilation of these bizarre views was the fact that they went virtually unchallenged by the BBC's usually robust interviewers.

Forget the apparently inconsequential fact that Israel only a few months earlier had offered to disgorge 97 per cent of the West Bank, grant the Palestinians a share in Jerusalem, permit a limited return of the refugees and recognise an independent Palestinian state (which no previous ruler in the area had ever done). Forget all that. In the Newspeak of the BBC, there was a direct, causal link between the attack on America and the occupation of the West Bank.

Did the BBC, which reaches into virtually every British living-room, take a conscious policy decision to allow this arrant nonsense to become an established fact on its airwaves? I doubt it. Rather, I believe that the profound anti-Israel bias and now I am convinced that it does exist has, over the years, become ingrained in the BBC's corporate culture. Combine that with a massive dose of anti-Americanism and you have a combustible cocktail.

It is outside the range of my expertise to explain the behaviour of the BBC in this matter. On the face of it, one might have expected a respected British institution to feel a sense of affinity with Israel a Western, democratic state that shares common values, ideals and aspirations in a region where antidemocratic, despotic and corrupt regimes are the norm.

Perhaps a clinical psychiatrist could offer a cogent explanation of the causes and consequences of the BBC's extraordinary conduct. Or perhaps the answer is far simpler: a reflex reaction of the grown-up, new-Left radicals from the Sixties who now occupy executive positions in the great offices of state.

Could such a collective mindset, permeated with post-colonial guilt, have animated the director-general Greg Dyke to declare that the BBC was 'hideously white'? Could it have animated the Foreign Office minister Peter Hain to advocate, in a previous incarnation, the violent destruction of Israel and label Israelis 'greedy oppressors'?

If there is a disparity between the time given to Arab and Israeli commentators on the BBC, I must take some of the blame. Over the past five years or so, I have been a frequent commentator on Middle East affairs. Since 11 September, however, I have refused all invitations to appear on BBC radio or television. The reason is not that I wish to avoid a debate, but rather that I believe that the BBC has crossed a dangerous threshold.

In my judgment, the volume and intensity of this unchallenged diatribe has now transcended mere criticism of Israel. Hatred is in the air. Wittingly or not, I am convinced that the BBC has become the principal agent for reinfecting British society with the virus of anti-Semitism. And that is a game I am not willing to play, even if, as one BBC researcher recently assured me, my interview fee far exceeded that of my Arab opposite numbers (an outrageously racist point that I, a third-generation refugee and an exile from apartheid South Africa, found difficult to appreciate fully).

I am neither an apologist for the Israeli government nor a defender of its policies. I have been perfectly capable of taking a critical view of Israel when appearing on the BBC, whether it was the Israel of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak or Ariel Sharon. And I am not afraid of informed criticism from others. On the contrary, I believe that criticism is essential to the health of the democratic process (although I was always perplexed that Arab guests were treated with a kind of paternalism that never permitted hard questions).

I have a problem with the BBC's propensity to select and spin the news in order to reduce a highly complex conflict to a monochromatic, single-dimensional comic cut-out, whose well-worn script features a relentlessly brutal, demonically evil Ariel Sharon and a plucky, bumbling, misunderstood Yasser Arafat, the benign Father of Palestine in need of a little TLC (plus $50 million a month) from the West.

But it was not just the lamentable standards of journalism. I parted company with the BBC over its hysterical advocacy of the most extreme Palestinian positions; an advocacy that has now transmogrified into a distorting hatred of a criminal Israel and, by extension, into a burgeoning hatred of Jews closer to home.

It is astonishing that little more than half a century after the Holocaust, the BBC, guardian of liberalism and political correctness, should provide the fertile seedbed for the return of 'respectable' anti-Semitism that finds expression not only in the smart salons of London but also, according to the experts who monitor such phenomena, across the entire political spectrum, uniting the far-Left with the Centre and far-Right.

It is astonishing, too, though perhaps no longer so surprising, that the Oxford poet Tom Paulin should continue to star on the BBC Newsnight's Late Review, despite his clarion call, published in the Cairo-based al-Ahram, to kill Jewish settlers. One can only guess at the BBC's reaction if his remarks had been directed at Bradford Asians rather than at Israeli Jews.

I still receive a couple of calls a week from producers and researchers at the BBC, but they should know by now that I am no longer a candidate to make up the numbers in order to allow them to justify the injection of yet more poison into the national bloodstream.

Nor, as Nicky Campbell's researcher so sweetly asked, am I prepared to defend the legitimacy of Israel's existence and, effectively, the legitimacy of my own existence as an Israeli and as a Jew. To that I say, 'Get stuffed.'

(Douglas Davis is the London correspondent of the Jerusalem Post.)



Jewish woman suspected of aiding Rishon suicide bomber
May 31, 2002

A Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union is suspected of aiding the terrorist who committed last Wednesday's suicide bombing in Rishon Lezion, which killed two people and injured 51.

On May 23, the day after the attack, the Shin Bet security service arrested Marina Pinsky, 26, who immigrated from Russia 11 years ago, along with her Palestinian husband, Ibrahim Sarahna, 33, of the Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem. The gag order on the arrest was lifted only yesterday.

Under interrogation, the two confessed to helping the terrorist, Issa Abed-Raba Badir, and revealed new details about the attack. They said that Ahmed Mugrabi, a senior Tanzim leader who had long been on Israel's wanted list, recruited Sarahna to bring terrorists into Israel, taking advantage of the freedom of movement he enjoys as the husband of an Israeli. Sarahna agreed in the full knowledge that his passengers planned to carry out attacks, but Pinsky said she discovered their purpose only after the fact.

Sarahna told interrogators that there were supposed to be two bombers in the Rishon attack, and he ferried them both from Bethlehem in a stolen car. He said he was the one who suggested Rishon as a good place for the attack, and drew the perpetrators a map of the area to help them.

On the day of the attack, Sarahna and Pinsky dropped 17-year-old Badir off at the site, but the second bomber, Arin Ahmed, 20, got cold feet, so they took her back to Bethlehem instead. Under the original plan, Badir was to blow himself up first, and Ahmed was supposed to wait until the rescue crews arrived to set off her bomb. Pinsky said it was only when Ahmed refused to go through with the attack that she learned what had been planned.

Sarahna also told his interrogators that he hid a second explosive belt, the one Ahmed was to use, in Rishon and showed them where it was.

Pinsky and Sarahna, who maintained residences in both Bat Yam and Deheishe, stayed in the territories overnight and returned to Israel the next day, at which point they were arrested by the Shin Bet, which had been following them. Their infant daughter, who was with them in the Bat Yam mall where the arrest took place, was taken to Sarahna's relatives in Deheishe. The mall was evacuated during the operation, but police told storeowners they were pursuing a woman who had kidnapped a baby.

Sarahna also gave his interrogators many details of the Tanzim organization led by Mugrabi and his brother Ali, both of whom were then arrested last weekend. Mahmoud Sarahna, a relative of Ibrahim's, was also arrested, and told interrogators that he prepared Badir for the attack, even dying his hair blond so he would not look suspicious.



Sakharov mural in Moscow vandalized with anti-Semitic comments
The Associated Press
May 31, 2002

Anti-Semitic and obscene slogans were spray-painted over a mural of Soviet dissident and Nobel peace laureate Andrei Sakharov at a Moscow human rights museum, its director said Friday.

The 5-meter (16-foot) wide and 3-meter (10-foot) high mural, in a square outside the Sakharov Museum, was vandalized overnight, director Yuri Samodurov said. "It was very alarming to discover," he said.

He speculated that it could have been damaged by teen-agers or could have been "an order" from the authorities because of the museum's outspoken political views.

The museum carried a large banner demanding an end to the Russian military's war in Chechnya that prompted criticism from city officials. "It is a position that irritates the authorities," he said.

Police were investigating, he said. The mural's artist was to study the damage Saturday to determine whether it can be restored. "If not, we will be forced to take it down," Samodurov said.

Sakharov, a physicist and father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, later became an eloquent critic of the Communist regime and was banished to the city of Nizhny Novgorod in 1979. Released by reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, Sakharov helped spearhead the democracy movement in the waning days of the Communist regime before he died in 1989.

Sakharov's widow, former dissident Yelena Bonner, said on Echo of Moscow radio of the vandalism: "It is very dangerous that many such things can come back in Russia."



Syria to take over rotating UN Security Council presidency
May 31, 2002

Syria, which has been using its perch in the Security Council to keep a spotlight on IDF operations against Palestinians, assumes the council's rotating presidency on Saturday for the first time since 1970.

Damascus, which began a two-year term on the 15-nation body in January, will run the council for the month of June before turning it over to Britain on July 1.

The council's only Arab member this year, Syria has used its seat over the past five months to keep the heat on Israel over its army's incursions into West Bank towns after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel.

Its ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, on behalf of the Palestinians and Arab states, has pushed hard for a string of Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli actions as war crimes, massacres or atrocities. At times, his proposals were more radical than Palestinians and other Arab diplomats wanted.

Due at least in part to his efforts, the council has approved several resolutions critical of Israel in the past few months, but only after they were extensively rewritten to tone down the language and avoid a veto from the United States, Israel's closest ally.

Regular monthly closed-door briefings on the Middle East, a practice begun at Syria's request, would continue, he said.

Also in line with tradition, Syria's foreign minister, Farouq al-Shara, was expected in New York to lead some council sessions for part of the month, Mekdad said.

The Security Council decisions on international peace and security can be legally binding on all 189 U.N. members.



Report: Syria supplying Katyusha rockets directly to Hizbullah
May 31, 2002

In recent weeks Syria has been manufacturing and supplying weapons, including Katyusha rockets, directly to the militant Hizbullah organization in southern Lebanon, Channel One television reported Friday evening.

According to the report, the Syrians had been supplying Hizbullah with weapons from Iran, but these weapons did not include long-range Katyusha rockets. In recent weeks, however, Syria has begun supplying Hizbullah with Syrian-made Katyusha rockets with a range of 60-70 kilometers.

The report did not specify the amount of weapons supplied.

Ha'aretz reported in April that Israel believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad has changed his position toward Hizbullah possibly on the assumption that Israel cannot afford a flare-up in the north.

This was in contrast to Syria's policy following the September 11 attacks in the U.S., when Damascus reined in Hizbullah and changed the weapons transportation routes to the organization so that the weapons no longer traveled through Syria.

Since the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hizbullah has operated in the Shaba Farms area on a regular basis.



Israel detains second Reuters journalist
May 23, 2002

Israeli troops have arrested a Reuters photographer, the second Palestinian journalist working for the international news organisation to be held without charge in recent weeks.

Soldiers stopped Suhaib Jadallah Salem, 22, at a checkpoint in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening as he was travelling in a Reuters vehicle towards the southern border town of Rafah.

The driver of the vehicle and at least one other passenger travelling in it were also held, witnesses said.

The Israeli army has not given Reuters an official explanation for the arrests. Its spokesmen did not return phone calls on the case on Thursday.

Salem was heading towards Egypt for a flight to join the Reuters team of photographers covering the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

Palestinian security officials advised journalists last week that Israeli military forces required at least three passengers in vehicles on Gaza's main road to deter lone suicide bombers.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank demanded that Israel either release Salem or produce details of evidence against him.


Salem's arrest came as Jussry al-Jamal, a Reuters cameraman, started a fourth week in an Israeli jail.

Jamal, 23, was one of several Palestinian journalists arrested during a military offensive in the West Bank last month. Troops detained him as he filmed outside a hospital.

The legal adviser at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said in a letter to Reuters on Thursday that Jamal was "directly connected to enemy terrorist activities which have no connection to his job as a journalist" but did not elaborate.

Israeli authorities have not responded to repeated requests from Reuters for evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Shulamit Barnea, the legal adviser in Sharon's office, said she had no more information beyond what was in the letter.

Lawyers have been unable to obtain permission to see Jamal in prison or to communicate with him.

"It is unacceptable that journalists going about their professional duty are arrested and held without charge or access to a lawyer," Linnebank said.

"The longer the detention of Jussry goes on without any evidence being produced or information about his whereabouts given, the stronger the impression becomes that this case has nothing to do with a legitimate investigation but rather is an attempt to intimidate our staff and obstruct the work of the press."

Israel has ignored protests by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a reporters' rights organisation based in New York, and Reporters Without Borders, another international watchdog based in Paris.

The CPJ has described the arrests of Jamal and several other journalists including Hussam Abu Alan, a Palestinian photographer employed by French news agency Agence France Presse, as an "unacceptable infringement of press freedom".


It turned out that the woman who helped the Palestinian suicide bomber is a Christian from Russia, who was working as a prostitute in Israel, and used the fake ID of an Israeli Jewish woman Tom Gross

Mistaken identity in suicide bombing
By Steve Weizman
Associated Press Writer
June 1, 2002

Israeli authorities said Saturday that they erroneously identified a woman arrested in a suicide bombing.

The woman in custody is Irena Plitzik, a Ukrainian Christian, not Marina Pinsky, an Israeli Jew, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said.

The confusion stemmed from the fact that Plitzik was carrying a forged identity card in Pinsky's name and that both women have Palestinian husbands by the same name, Ibrahim Sarachne, the office said.

Further, Plitzik's husband, who allegedly drove the bomber to his destination, is cousin to Pinsky's husband, the office said.

Many Israelis were shocked to hear that an Israeli Jew was involved in the May 22 attack, which killed two Israelis and wounded 51 in the city of Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv.

Israeli television said Pinsky alerted authorities to the mistake after seeing her name in Israeli newspapers Friday, a day after authorities wrongly identified the woman in custody.

Israeli authorities say Plitzik's fake I.D. and the Israeli-licensed car, driven by her husband, helped them pass Israeli security checkpoints, allowing them to leave the West Bank and enter Israel. The couple allegedly gave rides to two young Palestinians who planned to carry out a double suicide bombing.

But only one of the bombers, 16-year-old Issa Bdeir, blew himself up. The other, a 20-year-old Palestinian woman identified as Arin Ahmed, backed out.

Plitzik told Israeli interrogators she did not know of the planned bombing in advance, according to previous statements from Sharon's office.

After Israeli security officials interrogated the couple, they swooped on Bethlehem's Dheisheh refugee camp and captured the alleged planners of the bombing, all members of a militant group affiliated to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, according to the prime minister's office.

The group included a militant long sought by Israel, Ahmed Mughrabi, and a man who dyed the hair blond on the 16-year-old attacker so he would look more like an Israeli teen-ager, the statement said. Ahmed, the woman who backed out of the bombing, was also arrested, in Beit Sahour, a village next to Bethlehem.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.