[News] 'Escalation', 'retaliation' and BBC double standards in Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 27 11:59:34 EDT 2006

'Escalation', 'retaliation' and BBC double standards in Gaza

Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 26 June 2006


A Palestinian boy waves Palestinian flag in front of Israeli soldiers 
during a demonstration against the controversial separation wall in 
the West Bank village of Bilin west of Ramallah June 23, 2006. 
(<http://www.maanimages.com>MaanImages/Mushir Abdelrahman)

The killing by Palestinian militants of two Israeli soldiers and the 
capture of a third from an army post close to the Gaza Strip set the 
scene for Israeli "reprisals" and "retaliation", according to the 
reports of BBC correspondents in Israel and Gaza at the weekend.

The attack by the Palestinians, who sneaked through tunnels under the 
electronic fence surrounding Gaza, marked a "major escalation in 
cross-border tension" (Alan Johnston) that threatened to overturn "a 
week of progress on two fronts" (John Lyon): namely, the recent talks 
between Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president 
Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, and between rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas.

Thus, according to the BBC's analysis, this attack ends the immediate 
chances for "peace" negotiations and provides the context for the 
next round of the conflict between the Israeli army and the 
Palestinians of Gaza. We are left to infer that all the suffering the 
army inflicts in the coming days and weeks should be attributed to 
this moment of "escalation" by the Palestinians.

We can ignore the weeks of shelling by the Israeli army of Gaza, the 
firing of hundreds of missiles into the crowded Strip that have 
destroyed Palestinian lives and property, while spreading terror 
among the civilian population and deepening the psychological trauma 
suffered by a generation of children.

We can ignore the deaths of more than 30 civilians, and dozens of 
horrific injuries, in the past few weeks at the hands of the Israeli 
military, including three children hit in a botched air strike last 
week, and a heavily pregnant woman and her doctor brother killed a 
day later as a missile slammed into the room where they were eating dinner.

We can ignore the blockade of Gaza's "borders" by the Israeli army 
for months on end, which has prevented Palestinians in the Strip from 
trading goods at crossing points with Israel and from receiving vital 
supplies of food and medicines. As a captive population besieged by 
Israeli soldiers, Gazans are facing a humanitarian catastrophe 
sanctioned by Israeli government policy and implemented by the Israeli army.

We can ignore Israel's bullying of the international community to 
connive in the starving of the Hamas-led government of funds and 
diplomatic room for manoeuvre, thereby preventing the elected 
Palestinian leadership from running Gaza. So desperate is the 
situation there that Hamas officials are being forced to smuggle in 
millions of dollars of cash stuffed in suitcases to pay salaries.

And finally we can ignore the violation of Palestinian territory by 
Israeli commandos who infiltrated Gaza a day before the Palestinian 
attack to kidnap two Palestinians Israel claims are terrorists. They 
have been "disappeared", doubtless to be be held in administrative 
detention, where they can denied access to lawyers, the courts and, 
of course, justice.

None of this provides the context for the Palestinian attack on the 
army post -- any more than, in the BBC's worldview, do the previous 
four decades of occupation. None is apparently relevant to 
understanding the Palestinian attack, or for judging the legitimacy 
of Israel's imminent military "reprisals".

In short, according to the BBC, we can ignore Israel's long-standing 
policy of unilateralism -- a refusal to negotiate meaningfully with 
the Palestinians, either the old guard of Fatah or the new one of 
Hamas -- with its resort to a strategy of collective punishment of 
Gaza's population to make it submit to the continuing occupation.

In the skewed moral and news priorities of the BBC, the killing of 
two Israeli soldiers by Palestinian militants -- the "escalation" -- 
provides a justification for "fierce retaliation" against Gaza, with 
the inevitable toll on Palestinian civilians and militants alike. The 
earlier killing of tens of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli 
military, however, is not presented as justification for yesterday's 
Palestinian retaliation against the army.

In other words, on the scale of moral outrage the BBC ranks the 
deaths of Israeli soldiers enforcing an illegal occupation far above 
those of Palestinian civilians enduring the illegal occupation.

There is another notable asymmetry in the BBC's assessment of the 
"escalation". Participation by the military wing of Hamas in the 
attack is evidence, suggest the reporters, of the role of the 
Palestinian leadership in "escalating tension". But the killing by 
the Israeli army of a Palestinian family of seven on a Gaza beach on 
June 9, and many more civilians since, was apparently not an 
"escalation", even though it provoked Hamas to renounce a ceasefire 
it had maintained for 16 months in the face of continuous Israeli 
military assaults.

So how is the ordinary viewer to make sense of these events -- the 
endless "cycle of violence" -- with the BBC as guide. (And the BBC is 
no worse, and possibly better, than most of other Western 
broadcasters. At least its reporter Alan Johnston is based in Gaza.)

Not only do its reporters exhibit the biases associated with its 
institutional racism -- as an organisation, the BBC chooses to 
identify with Israeli concerns before Palestinian ones -- but they 
then compound this distortion by repeating uncritically Israel's own 
misrepresentation of events.

The reporters, like so many of their colleagues, fall into the trap 
of presenting the conflict through the eyes of the Israeli 
government, the same government whose prime minister, Ehud Olmert, 
last week proudly displayed his ethnic chauvinism by setting the 
suffering of the Jewish residents of Sderot, who face a mostly 
non-lethal smattering of Palestinian home-made Qassam rockets, far 
above the rising death toll of Gaza's civilians from the army's 
constant aerial and artillery bombardment. "I am sorry with all my 
heart for the residents of Gaza," Olmert said, "but the lives and 
well-being of Sderot's residents are more important than those of 
Gaza residents." In other words, a potential threat to a single Jew 
is more important than the deaths of dozens of Palestinian innocents.

Thus we learn without comment from the BBC that Olmert has denounced 
the killing of the two soldiers as "terrorism", even though the word 
cannot describe an attack by an occupied people on an occupying army. 
How is it possible for a few men with light arms to terrorise one of 
the most powerful armies in the world? What next: are we to listen 
sympathetically to claims by the US that its soldiers are being 
"terrorised" by Iraqi insurgents?

The defence that the BBC is simply reporting Israel's position does 
not stand up to scrutiny. Is it even conceivable that we might hear a 
BBC reporter neutrally repeat a Hamas statement that the Israeli army 
is terrorising Palestinians by reckless shelling civilians in Gaza, 
even though the word's usage in this case would better satisfy the 
dictionary definition? The shells most certainly do spread terror 
among Gaza's civilian population.

We hear too without comment that Olmert is holding both Hamas and the 
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the attack. The 
BBC dutifullly repeats Israeli claims that Abbas has the resources to 
fight "terror" even as the money to pay Palestinian security forces 
is held by foreign banks unwilling, at Israeli and American behest, 
to hand it over, and as Hamas and Abbas are locked in battle for 
control of the Palestinians' shrinking government.

Does common sense not recoil from the suggestion that both Hamas and 
Abbas can be equally blamed for the attack when the two are bitter 
rivals for power? Or that either can be held accountable when Israel 
has refused to negotiate with them or treat them as the genuine 
representatives of the Palestinian people?

Again, would the BBC report with due solemnity claims by the 
Palestinians that they hold Olmert and Peretz personally guilty for 
the civilian deaths in Gaza over the past fortnight, even though in 
an enlightened world both should be standing trial for war crimes?

Instead, however implausible the Israeli version of reality, the BBC 
happily sows confusion on behalf of the Israeli army. Like other 
broadcasters, it credulously reports preposterous arguments seeking 
to exonerate the Israeli army of responsibility for the shelling of 
the beach in Gaza that killed a Palestinian family of seven. It 
treats as equally credible the army's belated version in which 
Palestinian militants are said to have laid a single mine at a 
favourite seaside picnic spot in the futile hope of preventing the 
Israeli navy landing along the Strip's miles of coastline. (In 
consequence, the BBC excludes the seven dead and dozens of 
Palestinian injured in that Israeli attack from its list of recent 
civilian casualties in Gaza).

And both BBC reporters note gravely Israel's concerns that this is 
the first time Palestinian militants have broken out of the 
fenced-off Strip since Israel withdrew from Gaza nearly a year ago. 
Somehow the fact that the Palestinians have briefly escaped from 
their cage appears to make the attack all the more shocking not only 
for Israel but for the two reporters.

This attack in Israel, they tell us, is the most serious to date, 
with the implication that it is therefore illegitimate and part of 
the same "escalation". Even ignoring the fact that this attack was 
against Israeli soldiers besieging, imprisoning and shelling the 
Palestinians of Gaza, does the BBC not to pause to consider the 
double standard it is applying?

Was the Israeli army's incursion into Gaza a day earlier to capture 
two alleged Palestinian militants not an equal escalation? Was it not 
an equal violation of Palestinian sovereignty? Of course not. The BBC 
knows, as do the rest of us, that the army never really left Gaza and 
the occupation never really ended. But you won't hear that from any 
of its reporters.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, is the author of 
and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State", 
published by Pluto Press and available in the US from 
of Michigan Press. His website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

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