On Yom Kippur, British TV screens a particularly harsh attack on Israel

September 18, 2002


1. "Ferocious anti-Israel propaganda packed with lies"
2. Even Yasser Arafat doesn't go so far as Pilger
3. The Gloria Hunniford chat show
4. "Best not to clog up the airwaves with a lot of whining Jews"
5. "No newspaper in the UK mentioned it"
6. Fisk: why are Palestinian dead not part of 9/11 commemorations?
7. "Israel's Routine Terrorism" (By John Pilger, Mirror, September 16, 2002)
8. "America's case for war is built on blindness, hypocrisy and lies" (By Robert Fisk, Independent, September 15, 2002)


[Note by Tom Gross]

Britain's most popular television channel, ITV1, is being criticized for airing a program which has been described as "ferociously anti-Israel propaganda packed with lies." British Jews were angry not only with the content of the program but with its timing, falling on Yom Kippur. In a reference to Iraq, the program was titled "Palestine is still the Issue".

The concluding comments of Pilger's program, made by Carlton Television for ITV, were: The world stood silent when the Holocaust was committed against the Jews will they stay silent again?'


To accompany the documentary, its maker, John Pilger, published an article in The Mirror, one of Europe's highest selling dailies, which has several million readers. I attach that article below.

Typical of many European media pieces on the Middle East, Pilger's commentary (headlined: "Israel's routine terrorism" and attached below) is riddled with the most basic factual errors. There is barely a statistic or fact given in his article which is correct. And even Yasser Arafat doesn't go so far in some of Pilger's claims, such as "For much of their resistance, the Palestinians have fought back courageously with slingshots". (In the period 1951 1955 alone, for example, there were more 3000 armed terror attacks against Israeli civilians, resulting in the deaths of 922 Israelis and foreign tourists.)

Before that, to indicate that there is a diversity of opinion on the Middle East in the British media, I attach an extract from the U.S.-based Canadian writer Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph, and a surprisingly self critical paragraph from The Guardian.


Pilger's discussion of the program, on the Gloria Hunniford chat show (which is carried on another British television station, Channel 5) was aired earlier during Yom Kippur when few Jews were available to participate.

According to TV reviewers, Israel and Israelis in the programme were dehumanized from start to finish. No effort was made to provide context, Israeli perspective or even explanation. The program also accuses the Jewish world of carrying out a conspiracy to manipulate the non-Jewish world into believing that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.


Mark Steyn (The Daily Telegraph, September 14, 2002): "Still, I for one never tire of seeing headscarved women in Midwestern towns giving interviews about how in the past year they can tell people are looking at them "differently". I expect the French, German and Belgian television shows are full of features about how European Jews have spent the past year coping with savage assaults, synagogue torchings, schoolbus burnings, etc. They're not? My, you do surprise me. It's probably just as well. Best not to clog up the airwaves with a lot of whining Jews moaning about being attacked by Muslim gangs, lest it provoke another anti-Muslim "backlash", eh?"


Ian Mayes (The Guardian, September 16, 2002): "Why, I was asked last week by a reader in Israel, had the paper not reported a rally of about 2,000 Arabs in support of Saddam Hussein in Gaza City on September 10? A piece of unidentified copy, quoting Associated Press, followed the question: "Did this story appear in today's Guardian?" The answer is no. The Guardian's correspondent that day was, in any case, busy on the West Bank. The question was really intended as a statement that the Guardian's coverage was so slanted against the Israelis and in favour of the Palestinians that a report such as this, judged by the reader to reflect unfavourably on the Palestinians, stood no chance of appearing in the Guardian. In fact, an electronic search failed to find any mention of it in any national newspaper in the United Kingdom."


Incidentally, Robert Fisk, the chief Middle East correspondent of the liberal British daily The Independent, spent September 11 addressing an American university on why "the massacre of Palestinians in Beirut 20 years ago, with its death toll well over half that of 11 September" was not being commemorated in the US as part of the September 11 anniversary.

-- Tom Gross



Israel's Routine Terrorism
John Pilger on the hypocrisy of an occupying force
The Mirror
September 16, 2002

Tonight ITV1 screens John Pilger's powerful documentary, "Palestine is still the Issue." In this special report, Pilger reveals the tragedy of an epic injustice that is at the root of Bush's and Blair's threats of war.

Last October, in the early hours of the morning, a young expectant mother called Fatima Abed-Rabo awoke with intense labour pains; and she and her husband Nasser set out in a friend's car for the hospital in Bethlehem, in Israeli occupied Palestine.

The couple had been trying for a second child for three years and had undergone fertility treatment. "The news of the pregnancy had made us so happy," said Nasser, "that we celebrated by replacing the tin sheeting on our home with a concrete roof."

The couple were stopped at the Israeli military roadblock just outside their village. The soldiers turned them back, even though Fatima was now haemorrhaging. They got a taxi, hoping that would be allowed through. Again, they were turned back. No explanation was given; one soldier mimicked Fatima's moans.

Fatima gave birth to her baby in the taxi. She remembers the soldiers hurling her husband's ID into the blood on the floor.

"We cut the umbilical cord with a razor blade," she said. "My husband wrapped the tiny boy in his jacket, and eventually one of his relatives found a back route."

Barely three pounds in weight, blue and in a critical condition, the baby was dead by the time they arrived at the hospital.

We don't know why they did this to us," she told me in my film on ITV tonight. "It wasn't personal. This is how they treat all Palestinians. I'm sorry to say this, but they would rather help an animal than an Arab."

Stories like Fatima's are rarely news in Britain, yet they are typical of the everyday treatment of the Palestinians. Human rights groups run by Israelis have recorded hundreds of instances of pregnant and seriously ill Palestinians being turned back at Israeli checkpoints, including ambulances.

"We don't know how many have died like this," said a spokeswoman for the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, "because many people don't even bother to set out for hospital, knowing the soldiers will stop them. "These people offer no threat to Israel. Those who do, like the suicide bombers, of course never go through roadblocks, which exist only to control, subjugate and humiliate ordinary people. It is like a routine terrorism."

Fatima's remark about being treated worse than an animal is apposite. It is always easier to harm or kill people who, in the eyes of the powerful, do not matter: be it in Afghanistan or occupied Palestine.

Israeli soldiers enforcing the illegal occupation of Palestinian land can cause the death of babies and other innocents, or kill them outright, and words such as murder and terrorism are almost never used. The same immunity has been enjoyed by those politicians who design and permit this "routine terrorism," which is the product of a form of colonialism.

Indeed, to understand both the roots and the double standards of Bush's "war on terror," whose propaganda the Israeli regime of Ariel Sharon has adopted almost word for word, you need to come to Palestine, where one of the longest military occupations in modern times is now in its 36th year.

When I was passing through Israeli checkpoints last May, there were several of these routine murders. A nurse was one of them. Nine-tenths of Palestinians killed by the Israelis are civilians; 45 per cent are teenagers and children. In Gaza, five years ago, an amusement park opened beside the sea. It was the only one in a deeply impoverished place populated mainly by refugees whose families were forced off their land or out of their villages by the Israelis.

"At first, it was very successful," said Walid Al Dirawi, who looks after the deserted ruin of rusting rides and dodgem cars. "Then the shooting started from across the road. The Israeli settlers and soldiers shot it up every weekend, and of course people stayed away." Behind the dodgems is a wall pock-marked with bullet holes, like a shooting gallery.

The "settlers" are mostly religious Israelis or immigrants from Russia, America and elsewhere, who are subsidised by the government to live in what are colonial fortresses in the midst of Palestinian communities, guarded by the Israeli army. They have no right to be there under international law, and the United Nations says they should get out. Their justification is usually Biblical.

For the Israeli state, they serve a practical purpose; they occupy and encroach upon more and more Palestinian land, while allowing the military to control the Palestinians with more and more roadblocks and restrictions. Many Palestinian villages are surrounded by barbed wire, and people require a special permit even to travel to the next one. Gaza, where 800,000 are trapped, is surrounded by an electrified fence.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu came here recently, he said: "The way the Palestinians are treated is the way we were treated in apartheid South Africa."

Trapped by checkpoints and arbitrary curfews the Palestinian economy is in ruins. According to a US government survey, more than half of all Palestinian children suffer from malnutrition, including chronic malnutrition defined as stunted growth.

People struggle to live on less than 1 a day. One of the most moving sights I have seen are the kites that reach for the sky every dusk, displaying the colours of the Palestinian flag, flown by terribly thin children from their open prison in refugee camps.

Cutting a swathe through this poverty and despair are the Israeli "settlements": surreal, middle class suburbs that are armed fortresses with watchtowers. From here, the "settlers" shot up the amusement park. I visited one of these fortresses. What struck me was the lushness: the constant sound of running water: sprinklers nourishing hothouse crops and manicured gardens. On the other side of what looks like the Berlin Wall, in impoverished Gaza, standpipes trickle and often run dry.

These illegal, provocative enclaves, and their surrounding security areas, control almost 42 per cent of occupied Palestine a fact that, on its own, makes mockery of the popular myth that two years ago the Israelis made a "generous" offer to return 90 per cent of the occupied territories, which the Palestinian Authority rejected.

The truth is very different. Following peace negotiations in America in 2000, President Clinton's National Security Adviser Robert Malley, who was there with Clinton, revealed that, although the Palestinians rejected certain Israeli proposals, "it could also be said that Israel rejected the unprecedented two-state solution put to them by the Palestinians, including the following provisions: a state of Israel incorporating some land captured in 1967 and including a very large majority of its settlers; the largest Jewish Jerusalem in the city's history (and) security guaranteed by a US-led international presence."

Shortly after it was founded in 1948, Israel controlled, mostly as a result of a United Nations partition and partly by force, a total of 78 per cent of historic Palestine. The Palestinians, who were the majority, fled in an orchestrated campaign of fear and terror, or they were expelled. These days, this would be known as "ethnic cleansing".

When he retired, General Moshe Dayan, Israel's military hero, said: "Jewish places were built in the place of Arab villages. There is not one single place in the country that did not have a former Arab population."

During the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis occupied the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine. Today, the Palestinians, seeking to form their own independent state, want only that 22 per cent back.

Little of this background is known or understood widely in Britain, even though the region is constantly in the news. Last May, the Glasgow University Media Group, famous for its pioneering media analysis, published a study that found TV viewers in particular were rarely told that Palestinians were the victims of an illegal and brutal military occupation. Only nine per cent of those interviewed were aware that the Israelis were the occupiers. For years, representing the Israelis as oppressors has been a taboo with always the threat of slurs of anti-Semitism (a bleak irony, as Palestinians are Semites, too).

This has been manipulated by the Israeli government and its foreign lobbies, especially in the United States where the lobby commands most of the Congress and the White House.

Many Israelis, like many Jews in Britain and other counties, condemn this intimidation, just as they condemn the occupation and are fearful of its deeply corrupting effect on Israeli society. Recently, the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, said he had long believed that Israel should give back the Occupied Territories. When I was in Israel in May, some 50,000 Israelis crowded central Tel Aviv, demanding that the government of Ariel Sharon made peace.

They are still a minority. The Palestinian suicide bombers and their mass murder of innocents have hardened Israeli public opinion, but what is seldom reported is that they are a relatively recent phenomenon.

For much of their resistance, the Palestinians have fought back courageously with slingshots against a modern army, equipped with tanks, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships.

Britain has a historic responsibility towards the Palestinians. The 1917 "Balfour Declaration" promised Jews a homeland provided it would not prejudice the rights of the non-Jewish communities. The British famously reneged on this. Britain administered the League of Nations" Mandate for Palestine until the partition that created Israel in 1948, which the Palestinians call al-Nakba, "the catastrophe."

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, successive British governments have pledged to support the resolutions that have called upon Israel to end its occupation.

In the General Assembly, there have been an estimated 450 resolutions calling, in one form or another, for justice for the Palestinians. This is a world record. No country has incurred the opprobrium of the world community as often as Israel and no country has been excused its "rogue" behaviour so consistently, thanks to its backer, America.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, it was ordered to withdraw by the United Nations Security Council. When the Iraqis failed to comply, they were attacked with such force that tens of thousands were slaughtered. When Israel seized the West Bank of the Jordan and Gaza, it was ordered to withdraw by the same UN Security council. That was 35 years ago, and the occupation goes on.

On the contrary, Israel has since been rewarded with billions of dollars worth of aid and armaments, principally by the United States, which has helped it develop nuclear weapons and other so-called weapons of mass destruction.

Britain has nurtured the hypocrisy that reached its apogee in the United Nations General Assembly last week when George Bush, speaking and postulating like a Mafia don, and with the full support of Tony Blair, threatened the very existence of the UN unless it provided him with a figleaf from behind which he could attack Iraq.

But it was Israel's flouting of UN resolutions on Palestine that was the spectre in the General Assembly. Every delegate knew it, especially the British who are fully aware of the enduring destabilising effect of the illegal occupation.

They also know that it is being intensified by Ariel Sharon, a man whom a commission of his own parliament found indirectly but "personally responsible" for the massacre of more than 800 Palestinians in 1982 and who once boasted: "They (the Arabs) have the numbers. We have the matches."

With Bush and Blair about to ignite another war in the Middle East, justice for the Palestinians remains key to peace.

John Pilger's documentary, "Palestine is still the Issue" is on ITV1 tonight at 11.05 p.m.



Robert Fisk: America's case for war is built on blindness, hypocrisy and lies
George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are wilfully ignoring the realities of the Middle East. The result can only be catastrophic
The Independent
September 15, 2002

Years ago, in a snug underground restaurant in downtown Tehran, drinking duq an Iranian beverage of mint and yoghurt Saddam Hussein's former head of nuclear research told me what happened when he made a personal appeal for the release of a friend from prison. "I was taken directly from my Baghdad office to the director of state security," he said. "I was thrown down the stairs to an underground cell and then stripped and trussed up on a wheel attached to the ceiling. Then the director came to see me.

"'You will tell us all about your friends everything,' he said. 'In your field of research, you are an expert, the best. In my field of research, I am the best man.' That's when the whipping and the electrodes began."

All this happened, of course, when Saddam Hussein was still our friend, when we were encouraging him to go on killing Iranians in his 1980-88 war against Tehran, when the US government under President Bush Snr was giving Iraq preferential agricultural assistance funding. Not long before, Saddam's pilots had fired a missile into an American warship called the Stark and almost sunk it. Pilot error, claimed Saddam the American vessel had been mistaken for an Iranian oil tanker and the US government cheerfully forgave the Iraqi dictator.

Those were the days. But sitting in the United Nations General Assembly last week, watching President Bush Jr tell us with all his Texan passion about the beatings and the whippings and the rapes in Iraq, you would have thought they'd just been discovered. For sheer brazen historical hypocrisy, it would have been difficult to beat that part of the President's speech. Saddam, it appears, turned into a bad guy when he invaded Kuwait in 1990. Before that, he was just a loyal ally of the United States, a "strong man" as the news agency boys like to call our dictators rather than a tyrant.

But the real lie in the President's speech that which has dominated American political discourse since the crimes against humanity on 11 September last year was the virtual absence of any attempt to explain the real reasons why the United States has found itself under attack.

In his mendacious article in this newspaper last week, President Bush's Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, also attempted to mask this reality. The 11 September assault, he announced, was an attack on people "who believe in freedom, who practise tolerance and who defend the inalienable rights of man". He made, as usual, absolutely no reference to the Middle East, to America's woeful, biased policies in that region, to its ruthless support for Arab dictators who do its bidding for Saddam Hussein, for example, at a time when the head of Iraqi nuclear research was undergoing his Calvary nor to America's military presence in the holiest of Muslim lands, nor to its unconditional support for Israel's occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza.

Oddly, a very faint ghost of this reality did creep into the start of the President's UN address last week. It was contained in two sentences whose importance was totally ignored by the American press and whose true meaning might have been lost on Mr Bush himself, given that he did not write his speech but it was revealing nonetheless. "Our common security," he said, "is challenged by regional conflicts ethnic and religious strife that is ancient but not inevitable. In the Middle East, there can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides." Then he repeated his old line about the need for "an independent and democratic Palestine".

This was perhaps as close as we've got, so far, to an official admission that this whole terrible crisis is about the Middle East. If this is a simple war for civilisation against "evil" the line that Mr Bush was so cruelly peddling again to the survivors of 11 September and the victims' relatives last week then what are these "regional challenges"? Why did Palestine insinuate its way into the text of President Bush's UN speech? Needless to say, this strange, uncomfortable little truth was of no interest to the New York and Washington media, whose wilful refusal to investigate the real political causes of this whole catastrophe has led to a news coverage that is as bizarre as it is schizophrenic.

Before dawn on 11 September last week, I watched six American television channels and saw the twin towers fall to the ground 18 times. The few references to the suicide killers who committed the crime made not a single mention of the fact that they were Arabs. Last week, The Washington Post and The New York Times went to agonising lengths to separate their Middle East coverage from the 11 September commemorations, as if they might be committing some form of sacrilege or be acting in bad taste if they did not. "The challenge for the administration is to offer a coherent and persuasive explanation of how the Iraq danger is connected to the 9/11 attacks" is about as far as The Washington Post got in smelling a rat, and that only dropped into the seventh paragraph of an eight-paragraph editorial.

All references to Palestine or illegal Jewish settlements or Israeli occupation of Arab land were simply erased from the public conscience last week. When Hannan Ashrawi, that most humane of Palestinian women, tried to speak at Colorado university on 11 September, Jewish groups organised a massive demonstration against her. US television simply did not acknowledge the Palestinian tragedy. It is a tribute to our own reporting that at least John Pilger's trenchant programme Palestine is Still the Issue is being shown on ITV tomorrow night, although at the disgracefully late time of 11.05pm.

But maybe all this no longer matters. When Mr Rumsfeld can claim so outrageously as he did when asked for proof of Iraq's nuclear potential that the "absence of evidence doesn't mean the evidence of absence", we might as well end all moral debate. When Mr Rumsfeld refers to the "so-called occupied West Bank", he reveals himself to be a very disreputable man. When he advances the policy of a pre-emptive "act" of war as he did in The Independent on Sunday last week he forgets Israel's "pre-emptive" 1982 invasion of Lebanon which cost 17,500 Arab lives and 22 years of occupation, and ended in retreat and military defeat for Israel.

Strange things are going on in the Middle East right now. Arab military intelligence reports the shifting of massive US arms shipments around the region not just to Qatar and Kuwait, but to the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. American and Israeli military planners and intelligence analysts are said to have met twice in Tel Aviv to discuss the potential outcome of the next Middle East war. The destruction of Saddam and the break-up of Saudi Arabia a likely scenario if Iraq crumbles have long been two Israeli dreams. As the United States discovered during its fruitful period of neutrality between 1939 and 1941, war primes the pumps of the economy. Is that what is going on today the preparation of a war to refloat the US economy?

My Israeli colleague Amira Haas once defined to me our job as journalists: "to monitor the centres of power". Never has it been so important for us to do just that. For if we fail, we will become the mouthpiece of power. So a few thoughts for the coming weeks: remember the days when Saddam was America's friend; remember that Arabs committed the crimes against humanity of 11 September last year and that they came from a place called the Middle East, a place of injustice and occupation and torture; remember "Palestine"; remember that, a year ago, no one spoke of Iraq, only of al-Qa'ida and Osama bin Laden. And, I suppose, remember that "evil" is a good crowd-puller but a mighty hard enemy to shoot down with a missile.

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