“Possibly the most maligned country on the planet is in the news again”

March 16, 2006


1. An “unforgivable crime”
2. “Just what has the world got against Israel?”
3. The BBC office was spared
4. New BBC Jerusalem bureau chief
5. Privileges of the Jericho six: Cigars, birds, and personal servants
6. “Time we started to stick up for Israel” (By Virginia Blackburn, Daily Express, March 16, 2006)
7. “Orwell meets Israel” (By Daniel Johnson, New York Sun, March 16, 2006)

[Note by Tom Gross]


Israel has been widely condemned for its raid to recapture Ahmed Saadat and five other Palestinian terrorists in a jail in Jericho on Tuesday. Among those slamming Israel are the European Union, Russia and many journalists.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of an “unforgivable crime”. At the UN, a draft statement by Qatari ambassador, Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, representing Arab nations, condemned “Israel’s violent incursion”.


To provide an alternative to the torrent of (often ill-informed) criticism in much of the media, I attach two very different pieces below. Both strongly defend Israel’s actions. Virginia Blackburn, writing in the (London) Daily Express, asks: “Does the world thank Israel for capturing a known terrorist and bringing him to justice? No, it does not. Instead, you’d have thought Israel itself was in the wrong… Just what has the world got against Israel? … They take out their disgusting little prejudices by blaming Israel for all the world’s problems.”

Daniel Johnson, who is a longtime subscriber to this email list, writes in The New York Sun: “We pay the Palestinians a fortune, and they repay us with violence. But it is always Israel that is guilty.”


Wrongly believing that the British government colluded with Israel on Tuesday, Palestinian militants attacked many British targets. Among these, the offices of the British Council were burned down, and an HSBC bank was ransacked. In their usual intimidatory way, they also targeted journalists, briefly seizing two French reporters and a South Korean one. Armed gunmen also raided the offices of the German TV station ARD, shooting in the air. But what is interesting is that the BBC is housed in the same building as ARD in Gaza, and yet the Palestinian militant groups – who are much better organized and more sophisticated in their choice of targets than some in the media would have us believe – deliberately did not enter the BBC offices.

It seems that even on a day of widespread attacks on western targets in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian gunmen know who their friends are.


The BBC is the world’s biggest TV and radio network, and its Jerusalem bureau is one of its biggest, if not the biggest, so obsessed is this largely public-funded corporation in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To replace its notoriously anti-Israeli correspondents Orla Guerin and Barbara Plett – Guerin was accused by Natan Sharansky of “setting a new standard for biased journalism” and Plett infamously cried for Yasser Arafat as he left Ramallah to seek medical treatment – the BBC has chosen another Arabist as its new Jerusalem bureau chief, Caroline Hawley.

Earlier this week, the Guardian ran a piece on Hawley to mark the occasion. The Guardian notes: “The daughter of a senior diplomat, Hawley was born in Nigeria in 1967. She lived in Oman as a child and ‘romantic memories of camels in deserts and starry nights’ [Hawley’s words] inspired her to study Arabic and Islamic studies at Oxford University.”

Judging by the points Daniel Johnson makes in his article (attached below), and by the BBC’s reports on the situation in Jericho and Gaza on Tuesday, it seems that Israel is not going to suddenly start being treated fairly by the BBC.


One of the few newspapers to give Israel a fair press today is The Times of London, which outlines just what kind of “jail conditions” the Palestinian Authority subjected the Jericho Six to during their period of supposed punishment for murder and other crimes:

* They had mobile phones and computers; Shobaki (one of the senior terrorists wanted by Israel) ordered the US and British monitors’ phone jammers to be turned off
* They had up to 90 visitors a week and used other prisoners “as domestic staff”
* Saadat kept birds and had a big book collection
* Inmates and guards referred to Shobaki as “brigadier”. He smoked up to five Cuban cigars a day
* US and British Monitors complained that Saadat, Shobaki and the four other “special” prisoners were given the run of the compound by Palestinian guards
* They were not “locked down” at night


I recommend reading both articles attached below in full.

-- Tom Gross



Time we started to stick up for Israel
By Virginia Blackburn
Daily Express (London)
March 16, 2006

Just what has the world got against Israel? Possibly the most maligned country on the planet is in the news again: this time round it’s being castigated for the capture of Ahmed Saadat. Saadat, a Palestinian terrorist who is accused of ordering the assassination of the Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001, was being held in a Palestinian prison in Jericho.

Even before the election of the Hamas government, concerns were being voiced over the security of the jail. Under the new government and the new president, Mahmoud Abbas, it looked almost certain that he would be set free. So Israel was forced to storm the prison and capture Saadat, who will now face trial.

But does the world thank Israel for capturing a known terrorist and bringing him to justice? No, it does not. Instead, you’d have thought Israel itself was in the wrong.

There’s the usual tutting about heavy handedness and upsetting the rest of the Middle East, much of which, if truth be told, wants to see not only Israel but also the West smashed to smithereens.

Not that you would gather that listening to some people, especially those on the Left: in their eyes, nothing Israel does can ever be right. In a moment of ever greater than usual stupidity, [senior British politician] Clare Short once compared Israel to Saudi Arabia on human rights grounds. As a woman, in which of the two countries do you think she’d prefer to live?

Why do people think like this? Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only true friend of the West. Some of the Arab states may present themselves as Western allies but that is only because they want Western money for their oil.

Saudi Arabia may have strong trading links with the UK and the US but it’s an open secret that massively anti-Western propaganda is rife in that country. If you doubt this, remember that the majority of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis, as is Osama Bin Laden. Some friends to the west.

Yet Saudi Arabia doesn’t get an ounce of the vitriol directed towards it that Israel has to take. Israel has had to deal with suicide bombers for years now and has been routinely denounced for its reaction – yet look what happens on the one and only occasion Britain has had to deal with suicide bombers to date: an innocent man is shot dead.

The police have rightly been castigated for this but can you imagine living in a country where suicide bombers are a part of the fabric of daily life? Can you imagine the fear and mistrust this must breed among people who, every day, must mingle with potential murderers in the street?

This is what Israel has had to deal with and have we been sympathetic? Have we hell. The left even sided with the bombers until they got active on these shores, too.

The reason for this appalling attitude, alas, is because Israel is a Jewish state. Anti-Semitism is as strong as it ever has been: it’s just that, after the events of 60 years ago, most anti-Semites have been shamed into shutting up. So they take out their disgusting little prejudices by blaming Israel for all the world’s problems instead.

They should wise up. Israel has, more than once, saved our ungrateful necks. It is Israel that stopped Iraq from becoming a nuclear power by bombing its armaments factories, and the way things are going, it looks as if it may do the same to Iran, too.

And will it be praised by a world it has made safer? You guess.



Orwell Meets Israel
By Daniel Johnson
The New York Sun
March 16, 2006

“We are all guilty!” This was the perennial cry of a fictional comic character, the sociologist Dr. Heinz Kiosk, in the long-running Peter Simple column of the London Daily Telegraph written by the great humorist Michael Wharton, who died last month. Well, the Heinz Kiosks have been in overdrive since Tuesday’s dramatic events in Jericho.

The capture there of Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and five other PFLP terrorists will go down in history as one of Israel’s most remarkable military operations, comparable to the Entebbe raid or the abduction of Eichmann.

The jail in Jericho where the terrorists were being held had become a fortress in the 15 minutes that elapsed between the departure of British and American monitors and the arrival of Israeli forces to besiege the compound. In the absence of a Joshua, the walls of Jericho did not come tumbling down. They had to be blasted, not with trumpets, but with tanks. In fact, it took another 12 hours before Saadat and his men, who had been armed by their jailers, surrendered. Under the circumstances, it is astonishing that only one prisoner and one guard were killed – proof that Israel wanted their quarries alive, to stand trial.

To judge from the Heinz Kiosks at the BBC, however, you would think that Israel, the United States, and Britain were entirely to blame for the violence that erupted across the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday. Palestinians burned down offices of the British and US cultural missions, as well as the European Commission, in Gaza City and Ramallah, kidnapped Westerners at random, and threatened further reprisals.

The British network’s leading anchorman, Jeremy Paxman, interviewing the former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, in his usual aggressive style, was visibly astonished that a leftist Israeli in the midst of an election campaign would offer warm support to a right-of-center government. Mr. Paxman apparently couldn’t get his head round the idea that Israel had acted within its rights, because the Palestinians had never kept to their side of the agreement, and could not sit idly by while the assassins of their cabinet minister were set free to strike again.

But surely the British and Americans were to blame for withdrawing their monitors from the prison? That, after all, was the view of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who rushed back from a European trip to deal with the crisis, blaming everyone except himself. He accused the British and Americans of keeping him in the dark and of “colluding” with the Israelis, and insisted that there had been no question of Saadat’s imminent release.

Yet, as quickly emerged, Mr. Abbas (usually known by his nom de guerre Abu Mazen) had been given numerous warnings that conditions at the jail in Jericho would force an Anglo-American pullout, with the wholly predictable consequence that Israeli forces would speedily move in to snatch Saadat.

The BBC decided to believe Mr. Abbas, the man who had overall responsibility for security in the Palestinian territories, rather than their own foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who told the House of Commons that Britain had not colluded with Israel, but had pulled out its monitors because their safety could not be guaranteed under a Hamas regime. He released a March 8 letter received from the British consul-general in Jerusalem, which stated: “The pending handover of governmental power to a political party [Hamas] that has repeatedly called for the release of the Jericho detainees also calls into question the political sustainability of the monitoring mission.”

The former leader of the Conservative Party in the European Parliament, Edward Macmillan-Scott, blamed Britain, the U.S., and Israel on the BBC’s flagship “Today” program yesterday, declaring that it was a scandal that the Palestinian president had been prevented from addressing the European Parliament. Not a word of condemnation from Mr. Macmillan-Scott for the terrorists or rioters, let alone the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority It did not seem to occur to this Tory Eurocrat that Mr. Abbas ought never to have been joining the Brussels gravy train at all, while a crisis was brewing in his own back yard.

But of course it is no surprise that Mr. Abbas was on his way to Brussels: The European Union, whose flag and offices were burned on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank this week, is the biggest paymaster of the Palestinian Authority. It contributes well over $500 million a year. The election of Hamas has brought no cessation of that income stream, much of which ends up in the pockets either of corrupt officials or of terrorist organizations. Yet it is clear from this week’s riots that the Palestinian “street” is as hostile to Europe as it is to the United States. Nor does Mr. Abbas seem very grateful, either.

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that Israel is not treated as an ally in the war on terror by the British media, when even the United States is depicted so badly. This week I heard a Foreign Office minister, Kim Howell, on a visit to Iraq denouncing the “swivel-eyed right-wing American intellectuals” who had caused all the trouble in the Middle East. He had in mind George Will, but I am proud to think that most of my American friends would fit that description. Maybe “swivel-eyed” will become a badge of honor for trans-Atlantic neoconservatives, rather as the British Expeditionary Force in France adopted the German Kaiser’s insult and called themselves the “Old Contemptibles.”

Actually, the Israelis do give the British plenty of help in fighting terrorists. Over recent years, for example, they have trained police officers from Scotland Yard in dealing with suicide bombers. The trouble was that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, chose to ignore the Israeli experts, whose policy is never to shoot a suspect unless they have first-hand evidence that he or she is carrying explosives or weapons.

Immediately after the London bombings last July, the London police shot dead a man on the subway whom they had identified as a suspect, but who was not carrying anything suspicious. He turned out to be an innocent Brazilian plumber. Sir Ian’s decision to ignore the Israeli advice caused a huge scandal that may yet cost him his job. Yet, funnily enough, it is the Israelis who are always depicted as trigger-happy. We pay the Palestinians a fortune, and they repay us with violence. But it is always Israel that is guilty. As Orwell might have put it: We are all guilty – but some are more guilty than others.

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