OPEN LETER FROM SOUTHAMPTON PALESTINE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN TO ALL BBC DIRECTORS, PRODUCERS AND PRESENTERS COVERING ISRAEL/ PALESTINE
This letter is a passionate and desperate appeal to you all to break decisively from your long history of misleading and distorted presentation of Israel/Palestine, to recognise the moral imperative of reporting truthfully and boldly on the reality of what is happening to the Palestinian people, and to start to do so. The history of biased and inept reporting of this issue is not merely a matter of opinion. It is a research finding of academic studies including those of the Glasgow University Media Group which have been summarised in the books ‘Bad News From Israel’ and ‘More Bad News From Israel.’ What is meant by biased and inept reporting is not the claim that everything that you report is factually inaccurate, but rather a combination of selective and decontextualised reporting, consistently giving priority to Israeli propaganda lies over and above truthful and honest statements made by Palestinians and pro-Palestinian commentators, and one-sided empathy which frequently appears to demonstrate more concern for the feelings and sensibilities of Israelis than for the lives and basic human rights of Palestinians.
Whilst it may not be your intention to deceive the public, that is certainly the result, because whilst they may be in possession of some of the facts of what is happening they are denied any real comprehension of what is really happening and why. The result of this is to mollify and minimise the justified and entirely appropriate sense of public outrage at Israel’s bloody, murderous and on-going oppression of the Palestinian people which is the only thing that could create the political momentum to change this situation. The function that you are performing is therefore of the greatest importance as it has real world consequences that affect the lives of millions, especially given your role as a respected global broadcaster.
The killing of even a single child is generally considered a terrible crime and our criminal justice system quite rightly demands that the person responsible is arrested and put on trial. But what we witness in the case of the BBC’s coverage of Israel’s latest crimes against the people of Gaza, which have resulted in the deaths of 469 children and counting, along with all the other death, injury and destruction created by this murderous onslaught against a defenceless civilian population, is tantamount to rigged trial in which the wealthy and well-connected defendant has already paid off the judge and jury. In fact, the defendant in this case has done even better than that – he’s somehow managed to pay off the Prosecuting counsel, so that the majority of charges that can and should be made against him aren’t even being made! Instead we are treated to the spectacle of the victims being blamed for all of the harm and injury that they have experienced by powerful high-class defence lawyers whose air of competence, intelligence, and authority manages to convince all but the most canny and well-informed observers that they must be right. Such is the nature of the BBC’s coverage of Israel/ Palestine including the recent military onslaught against the people of Gaza.
All of the evidence from people on the ground points to the fact that Israel lies, and lies, and lies again with respect to the Palestinian people – the indigenous people of that land whose lives they control and oppress, often in a highly brutal manner as we are witnessing now. Investigative journalist Chris Hedges who has spent a lot of time in Gaza reports witnessing F-16 attack jets dropping 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded and poorly built accommodation in Gaza city. He saw the corpses of those killed including children. This was later reported by the Israelis as a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory. He personally watched Israeli troops in Gaza deliberately bait young Palestinians by swearing at them in Arabic from the loudspeakers of their armoured jeep and then shooting them down mercilessly when they retaliated by throwing stones. This was later reported by the Israelis as children caught in cross-fire. He has stood in the remains of schools that had been bombed by Israel. These were reported by the Israelis as rocket launching sites despite the lack of any such evidence. He, like every other journalist and humanitarian worker in Gaza, past and present, never saw any evidence whatsoever that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”
But the disparity between the factual record and the outrageous claims made by the Israelis is not the only evidence that we have that they engage in systematic and deliberate distortions and media manipulation. Israel has a Ministry of ‘Public Diplomacy’ currently headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds this post in addition to his role as Israel’s Prime Minister — giving him the unique power to not only direct Israel’s murderous oppression of the Palestinian people but to also lead and direct the media misrepresentation of it throughout the world. And this is only a small part of the deliberate and highly organised propaganda units of the state of Israel which are complemented and further empowered by openly pro-Israeli media outlets throughout the world. They have employed the services of American experts in corporate public relations such as Frank Luntz who has advised Israeli spokespeople to always open their remarks by pantomiming humility and concern for Palestinian children before opening up a relentless attack on “Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad” and to remind people again and again that “Israel wants peace.” Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokesman Mark Regev must be among the most successful and effective propagandists and mass deceivers the world has ever known. They have followed Frank Luntz’s advice precisely and in details, presenting to the watching world the image of an Israel sincerely concerned to minimise innocent life which many people are deceived by. The brutal and murderous oppression of the Palestinian people in which they are engaged is presented to the watching world as an effort to ensure the safety and well-being of the Israeli public – a claim which flies in the face of reality when the full facts are known. And the BBC along with much of the world’s media are, deliberately or by default, fully complicit in this campaign of mass-deception.
How can it possibly be right that, when a person who has killed a child or adult in the UK or any other democratic country enters a plea of not-guilty on grounds of self-defence, serious efforts are made to challenge that person including subjecting their testimony to robust challenge and analysis and seeking to establish their truthfulness or untruthfulness as a witness and reporter of events, yet when hundreds of Palestinian children and adults are killed by the Israelis, and hundreds of thousands of them subjected to trauma and misery, these principles are not merely abandoned but turned on their head?! How can that be right?! It is not right, and we cannot and will not accept it any longer. And yet the BBC Charter claims to treat controversial subjects with impartiality, to ensure that a range of views is appropriately reflected, and to support fundamental democratic principles. And so we ask you the following questions:
“Where is the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when evidence that Israeli politicians are deliberately and systematically lying about their claimed intentions and aims is completely suppressed?”
“Where is the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when professional Israeli propagandists such as Mark Regev are given free reign to spout their propaganda lies while honest, knowledgeable and authoritative Palestinians such as Mouni Rabbani, Yousef Munayyer and Ali Abunimah, or highly-knowledgeable pro-Palestinian commentators such as Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, Richard Falk, Ben White and many others are not even given the opportunity to call out the outrageous lies for what they are?”
“Where is the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when you reference the Hamas Charter written in 1988 but fail to cite repeated statements by Hamas leaders from 1990 onwards explaining clearly and unambiguously that they bear no animosity whatsoever towards Jews or anyone else on the grounds of their religious beliefs but merely seek to resist those particular Jews seeking to murder, oppress and disposes them?”
“Where is your due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when you fail to provide any sort of critical analysis of the politically motivated designation of Hamas as a ‘terrorist organisation’, in spite of the fact that the movement has never targeted Westerners and is it itself a target for actual terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and IS which regards it as insufficiently Islamic due to its commitment to democracy?”
“Where is the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when you fail to point out the fact that the demand made by Hamas for an end to the siege of Gaza is the same exact-same demand being made by all Palestinians as well as major aid organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children, and that all of them are making this demand for sound and legitimate humanitarian reasons given the dire state of public health in Gaza even before the current violence?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when you failed to criticise Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to prevent the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas – a necessary pre-condition for any functioning Palestinian government?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your failure to condemn as unacceptable Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas – clearly a thinly veiled threat of violence, which the current onslaught is the bloody enactment of?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your reporting on Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement “Hamas is responsible, Hamas will pay” in response to the news of the kidnapped Israeli students on the 12th June, without the slightest critical analysis of this claim, including the unlikelihood of Hamas ordering such a thing in the immediate aftermath of their entering into a unity government with Fatah, or Netanyahu’s likely motivations for making such a claim which were clearly to find a pretext for destroying the Palestinian unity government?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your failure to report on the daily human rights abuses, violence and violent intimidation experienced by Palestinians in the area of the West Bank where the Israeli teens went missing that created a more than plausible motivation for the kidnappings by an individual or small gang of aggrieved Palestinians wishing to exact revenge?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your suppression of that fact that on 25th July Israeli police spokesperson Chief Inspector Mickey Rosenfeld informed told your own journalist Jon Donnison that the two men detained for killing the three Israeli teens were acting on their own initiative?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your disproportionate coverage of the missing Israeli teens and your failure to provide any coverage at all of the eleven Palestinian teens shot by Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 15th May, two of whom were killed, nine of whom were injured?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your claim that Hamas started the current violence when it is clear from the factual record that it was started by air-strikes by the Israelis on 29th and 30th June?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your failure to report the fact that prior to this the Israeli security establishment had themselves testified to the fact that Hamas were doing a very effective job of preventing rocket fire from Gaza into Israel through the special police force that they had set up for that purpose?” A fact reported on by the respected NGO, International Crisis Group, which renders utterly absurd Benjamin’s stated reason for his country’s current onslaught against the people of Gaza?”
“Where was the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when you report as a matter of fact that Israel launched its ground invasion on 17th July in order to destroy so-called ‘terror tunnels’ without pointing out that it was perfectly possible for them to simply block them from the Israeli side, just as Egypt’s military rulers had already done with respect to tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, and hence no invasion was required for that purpose?”
“Where is the due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine when you fail to report the fact that Israeli politicians frequently use racist and genocidal language with reference to Palestinians including current Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s statement likening the Palestinians to cancer and military action against them to chemotherapy, or the recent appeal by Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Moshe Feiglin to the Israeli army to kill Palestinians in Gaza indiscriminately and to use every means to ethnically cleanse Gaza?” A fact that would actually allow the public to begin to make sense of the murderous onslaught that they have ordered against the people of Gaza with total disregard for the suffering that they are causing.
It is quite clear from an informed and broad-sighted analysis that you consistently privilege deference to Israeli sensibilities above any real commitment to due impartiality and commitment to democracy in your coverage of Israel/Palestine.
There are many reasons for this and it relates, fundamentally, to the power wielded by pro-Israeli lobby groups both in America and Great Britain. But what is abundantly clear is that in the final analysis there is simply no possibility of compromise between deference to power and privilege and the demand of truth and justice. And in the same way that the BBC previously presented the public with a sanitised and highly distorted image of Jimmy Saville, it now presents the public with a sanitised and highly distorted image of the state of Israel and its current leadership. And just as your previous deferent and indulgent attitude towards Mr Saville allowed him to continue his abuse of children, so currently your deferent and indulgent attitude towards Mr Netanyahu and his political allies is allowing them to continue their murder and abuse of Palestinian men, women and children on a vastly greater scale, with disastrous consequences for the lives of millions of people.
This moral sickness and mass deception must end now! Our message to you is that we do not want to see or hear BBC television or radio presenters acting as a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda lies any more! Neither do we want to see you giving air-time to professional Israeli propagandists like Mark Regev making slick and sick excuses for the killing of Palestinian children or the bombing of Palestinian hospitals. Making excuses for Israeli war crimes that we would never, ever accept in any other context is an insult to our intelligence and our sense of morality. It is a crime against our humanity, and against the humanity of the viewing public, nationally and globally, the vast majority of whom would never, ever accept what Israeli is doing if they were equipped with the full facts, but who are all too often deceived by your deceptive and misleading coverage of events into viewing these monstrous crimes as a sad necessity.
And in so far as your deceptive coverage of events allows Benjamin Netanyahu and his political allies to continue their monstrous crimes against the Palestinian people without facing the public and political condemnation within Britain and throughout the world that they so truly deserve – the one thing that could possibly, just possibly, create the political momentum that would actually bring about political change and give the Palestinians the freedom, security and peace that they so richly deserve – then you yourselves are contributing to their on-going oppression and suffering and deserve to be severely criticised for so-doing.
Branch Secretary – Southampton Palestine Solidarity Campaign