Before I say that Kevin Connolly has just filed a stinker of a report on the BBC news website, I’m going to try and be what the BBC claims it is: impartial.
I’m going to imagine I am a reader with an average amount of knowledge of the Israel / Palestine conflict (not a lot.) I haven’t taken a particular interest in the recent ‘knife intifada’, but I’ve heard bits and pieces about it, and maybe seen the video that has been widely disseminated online. I come across Kevin Connolly’s report on the BBC website. The BBC is my trusted source of information. (!)
Okay. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Kevin’s opening statement is written in the style of the opening passage of a certain type of novel. An ‘airport’ novel, I’d say.
“Almost everything about the shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif made it a very modern moment of news.There was the time and the place.”
I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
“It occurred on the edge of the Jewish sector of the divided city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank - a kind of crucible of the troubles here, where so many of the stabbings and shootings in the latest wave of violence have happened.”
Wait. “Stabbings and shootings” Cripes! Those Israelis and Palestinians. Six of one and half a dozen of the other. Always at each other’s throats; a plague on both their houses.
Well, even if we’re not avid followers of Middle East news, we should know, if only vaguely, what the so-called ‘knife intifada’ is. It’s random stabbings of Israeli civilians and soldiers by Palestinians seeking martyrdom. The victims are wounded or killed and then the perpetrators are shot or apprehended.
If I knew a little about recent events I might just wonder whether there was an element of ‘cause and effect’. Stabbings and shootings, not actually equivalent incidents, perhaps. Let’s just say - without the stabbings there wouldn’t be the shootings.
Someone might try to catch me out there, by mocking the smart-alec ‘cause and effect’ label. They might say: “The cause is the ‘occupation’ and the effect is the ‘stabbing’ “
But, hey, one person’s Understandable Reaction is another person’s extra-judicial killing.
Further down the page Kevin Connolly uses ‘extra-judicial’ to convey an illegal act - (not authorised by law) - when he refers to “killings of militants”.
Does he see stabbing as ‘militancy’? Can we agree that however we look at it, these stabbings are intolerable rather than understandable?
Of course one might want to make sense of it all by mentioning some basic background about the occupation. The why and the wherefore. Perhaps one might also need to explain about the incitement. One might even need to go back to the seventh century to the root of the Arabs’ intransigent rejectionist attitude, but never mind, Kevin Connolly doesn’t want to get into any of that. As he said, this is not “the time and the place”. So we won’t.
“There was the way it was captured on video by a Palestinian working for B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation.”
As an average reader I might not know that B’Tselem is more of a political organisation than a benign human rights organisation. However, your averagely knowledgable reader might be aware that ‘human rights organisation’ has become a sort of code for left-wing anti-establishment advocacy of the kind that prevents Theresa May from extraditing terrorists to countries where they might experience torture, so we’ll let that one go.
“There was the way it has been viewed repeatedly on the internet, dissected and debated, testimony to the ability of those with strong opinions to see what they want to see.”
And there is the way it is being reported on the BBC News webpage, “testimony to the ability of those with strong opinions to see what they want to see.” Got any strong opinions, Kevin?
I’m not going to reproduce every word of Kevin’s article here, but a couple of paragraphs later we read this:
“Two Palestinians have tried to stab Israeli soldiers and have been shot - the body of one, in a short black jacket, is lying somewhere near the middle of the frame.
Kevin, you’ve seen the video. You saw the blood, you saw the soldier, you saw the ambulance, yet you decided to portray actual stabbing as an attempt. I mean, why did you say “tried to stab” rather than just plain “stabbed”? Surely you’re not trying to suggest the Palestinian was innocent?
The Israelis gave mixed reactions to this incident. Initially they condemned the soldier’s action and said that if it was a gratuitous killing it would be dealt with accordingly. The soldier would be punished. But later there was the question of a possible suicide belt, not unprecedented in similar situations. But according to the behaviour of bystanders seen in the video that argument seems weak, and seems to have been largely discounted. It’s an ongoing situation.
“This description of what happens next comes from a slightly unusual source.”
“They are the words of the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot, speaking in a briefing at an army base that was leaked to Israeli media.”
Is Kevin implying that Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot and Col Peter Lerner, whom he also quotes, would ‘usually’ try to protect an IDF soldier or worse, to conceal a crime by an IDF soldier, had such a soldier committed a crime? Now that’s hardly impartial.
The report then continues in a clumsy and heavy handed fashion (My impartiality is now out the window) to portray ordinary Israelis as callous, right-wing, warmongers.
Even if 80% of those polled are of the view that the Palestinian ‘had it coming’, reporting that context-free, as it is here, is bound to look one-sided. What if one polled post-war Britain’s attitude to what 'we' did to the Germans (without mentioning Hitler)?
Later there’s more emotive wordmongering.
“Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, who is generally considered a hardliner on issues of national security, has sided with his military commanders.
But others like the former Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, appear to have scented an opportunity - he turned up at an early court hearing to support the soldier.”
“Scented an opportunity.” That’s a good description of Kevin Connolly’s M.O. He’s scented an opportunity.
The rest of the piece continues with cherry-picked quotations from Haaretz, mainly concerning whether or not the soldier had committed an extra-judicial crime or taken a legitimate precautionary action.
The tenor of Kevin Connolly’s piece is eerily reminiscent of the overtly judgmental and emotive way the BBC reports the increasing British, and for that matter European, ‘right-wing’ and in the BBC's view ‘wrong’ reaction to terrorism.
Impartiality out the window all round.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you must have missed Martine Croxall doing the papers late last night. Her comments about Trevor Phillips’s “What Muslims really think” articles were pure BBC. Denial is absolutely not just a river in Egypt.