Sunday 3 November 2013

One of our own

From Our Own Correspondent is supposed to be amusing and off beat. It’s the correspondent’s personal take on a subject, in contrast to their real job, eagle-eyed reporting of newsworthy incidents, which crop up wherever he/she is deployed. Listeners hope and trust they can depend on him/her to enlighten and educate us, after having witnessed, on our behalf, all manner of happenings in strange lands and faraway places. 

Sometimes an episode is quirky, and sometimes informative and entertaining as well. But the personal take is nearly always pure BBC, especially when it comes to matters Middle East.

Take this fellow Andreas Gebauer, an assistant editor at the BBC world service. Not much on Google about Andreas, apart from a dispute about BBC pay.  
“... if the BBC has to pay Future Media and Technology staff in line with the market to secure services like the iPlayer, “why does it follow that [Thompson], as the DG, needs to be paid more than anybody else? There are plenty of football clubs who pay less than their star players.” 
At some stage he was joint signatory to a letter to the staff magazine ‘Ariel’.  
  “And in the BBC World Service, three of the six newsroom editors who wrote a pained letter to staff mag Ariel in February about fighting the cuts have decided enough is enough. Andrew Maywood, Andreas Gebauer and Peter Miles are all thoughtful and committed journalists.  It's very sad that they feel it's time to move on.” 
Yet here he is, still at the BBC, with a From Our Own Correspondent about the Middle East. 
He must have thought it was appropriate to compare Israel’s security fence with the Berlin wall. I’m sure he knows why the Berlin wall was built, but I think it’s fair to say he is not so well informed about Israel’s Security barrier. He must have simply absorbed the BBC’s default Israel-bashing assumptions.

I have a piece of the Berlin wall somewhere (don’t we all) in a jiffy bag. Some German friends sent it to me as a present. Maybe one day we’ll all have a bit of ‘Apartheid wall” amongst our memorabilia, and if we do it will be because the Palestinians have stopped encouraging each other to blow themselves up near Israelis, or creep into Israeli bedrooms and hack people to pieces. 

But that’s a long way off, and Andreas Gebauer will have to be very patient because it’s going to need more than a warm handshake between two wise and courageous politicians, as per his remedy for solving the Israel Palestine conflict.

In this odd FOOC he manages to cover nearly all the anti-Israel ‘tropes’ and insinuations, one by one.
I transcribed the whole thing so that I could clarify the words that made me uneasy. It took quite a while, but when I’d finished it the computer froze. There was nothing else to do but shut it down and lose unsaved work - which was as bad as I feared it would be. That’ll teach me. 

 But I am not one to have a massive fit when that happens, only a tiny one. I got back on my horse and I can tell you that this time I’m ‘saving’ every other word.
Let’s start by asking if there is really any similarity between the Berlin Wall and Israel’s wall. I mean, why were they built? There is a similarity of course in that they’re walls.

Kate Adie takes the BBC line. She isn’t convinced that Israel’s wall was really built to stop Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, but she is obliged to tell us that “Israel says” that this is so. No doubt she suspects it was built to inconvenience and humiliate Palestinians and steal their land. 

Here’s her intro:
“Israel today released 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal connected to the latest Palestinian Peace talks between the two sides. The Israeli Prime Minister has been telling his parliament he’s making a real effort to secure a peace deal with the Palestinians. Precisely what’s being discussed isn’t being revealed. The Palestinians are known to be concerned about the 400 mile long separation barrier Israel has built in the West Bank, to protect, it says, attacks being launched against its citizens. Seeing it has reminded Andreas Gebauer of another wall, the one that divided Berlin, and his native Germany.”

Andreas Gebauer soon gives us 'wall imagery'.  It’s like a verbal Steve Bell cartoon, with a bit of Banksy thrown in, but with an even higher wall. Palestinian suffering is alluded to with a  graphic tale of a sadistic border guard who made Andreas wait in the heat till he had to vomit. But that was the other wall. 
To follow, the ubiquitous contrast between Palestinian poverty and Israeli wealth, symbolising material inequality, the haves and the have-nots, and the reflexive, implicit condemnation of the Israelis, when the Palestinians' hardships are primarily the fault of the corrupt Palestinian leadership, both factions. This caricature echoes Peter Kosminsky’s anti-Israel fiction, The Promise. At the time it was feted as a carefully researched, scrupulously impartial, historically accurate representation, which misled listeners who mistakenly hoped and trusted him to enlighten and educate them, after claiming to have witnessed, on their behalf, all manner of happenings in a strange and faraway place. The opposite was the case, and the fact that Kosminsky has been busy rubbing shoulders with anti-Israel campaigners ever since totally demolishes his claims of impartiality. But the horses have bolted.
These tiresomely familiar Israel-denigrating insinuations are followed in rapid succession by ‘the water issue’, ‘settlements’ ‘expansionism’ (the ‘Israelification’ of Palestine)  and obliquely, ‘ethnic cleansing.’

The truth about all these issues can be examined in detail by anyone who cares to research them, but who, apart from a “Zionist”, can be arsed? 

Yolande Knell made no attempt to conceal her personal identification with the Palestinian cause in this ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ from 2011. She boasts of a friendship with a high profile Palestinian activist, confident that the listeners wouldn’t see that as problematic. She assumes they’d agree that the stereotypical Jew is ‘over familiar’ -  “swaggering” as Jeremy Bowen might say.

She recounts her ‘mischievous’ urge to express her Palestinian friends’ preference for the Arabic word Al Quds, just to insult the young Jewish passenger in the neighbouring seat who preferred the Israeli word Yerushalayim, and  implies that his little sister was badly behaved, while she was at it.
Her piece was all about the sinister sounding Judaisation of Jerusalem, on the theme that Israel’s expansionist aspirations threaten the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood. Everyone - any fule kno - that place names on signage are commonly doubled-up - in areas of Great Britain, particularly Wales, sometimes in Cornwall and even in multicultural Londonistan. 
“Land may be at the heart of the P/I conflict” she opines, erroneously. (Palestinian rejectionism is at its heart) Leaving that aside, land issues must be dealt with if the two-state solution is ever to come to pass.

Israel’s enemies have a compulsive habit of attributing their own ludicrous malevolence to others, and erasing traces of Jewish identity is exactly what Arab Muslims persistently do themselves.
“The biggest problems arise in East Jerusalem - which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and is still a mainly Arab area - although Jewish settlers are fast moving in, taking over Palestinian homes.” Says Yolande.
Palestinians and the Israeli Left feel that chucking Palestinians out of homes they’ve lived in for many years is very wrong, and they sincerely believe, (when applied exclusively to Palestinians) the fact that they’re tenants who won’t/don’t pay their rent is beside the point.

The Israeli courts have deemed that breaching the terms of their tenancies justifies their eviction.  It is accepted that legally the rightful property owners, pre-dating 1948, are Jews, despite Palestinian claims that some of the deeds are forged. 
For what it’s worth I think taking that line weakens the argument against the  Palestinians’ ‘right of return’, at least for Palestinians whose families owned houses in pre 1948 East Jerusalem,  if not for their descendants.

But the scenarios are not quite parallel. They differ because, a.) the Palestinians deliberately violated conditional tenancy agreements, and non payment of rents is a valid reason for legal eviction everywhere. 
and 2.) The Palestinians who vacated their pre 1948 properties did so while fleeing from of the Arabs’ intended annihilation of Israel, an act of aggression which failed. Losers weepers. 
Whatever land swaps and concessions are negotiated, Yolande Knell’s distaste for the Jews of Al Quds is pretty obvious. It’s all seen through the BBC’s particular prism 

Suddenly, a glimmer of balance. Andreas mentions Israel’s 1.6 million Arabs! 
But wait. “They were allowed to stay in 1948?” Allowed to?  By whom, Andreas? 
He seems to assume that the Israelis see the wall as a permanent substitute for ‘making peace’ and  concludes with some of his special, Berlin-wall-like, somewhat patronising advice: Israel! Knock down that ugly wall, and all will be well. 

Here’s my transcript:

“The story of walls and the promised land begins three and a half millenia ago, Joshua and the Israelites having escaped the pharaohs chariots have crossed the Jordan to take possession of Canaan, in their way is what claims to be the oldest city in the world, Jericho, surrounded by the mightiest wall; but it crumbles within days after the Israelites kept walking around it blowing trumpets of rams’ horns. 
Now a new wall has gone up in Canaan. It snakes its way across hills, follows motorways, hugs buildings, cuts through roads and farms. In the hilly countryside it stands out, an ever present reminder of the unresolved Middle East problem. Of course I knew it would bring back memories of the Berlin wall, which I’d first seen as a young boy.
When you stand next to it, as I did east of Jerusalem, the similarities are erie. The same prefabricated slabs, the same watchtowers. Even the graffiti; some angry, some witty. Only - this wall seems to be much higher. Eight meters I later find out, more than twice as high as the Berlin wall.

To most Palestinians, it’s impenetrable. Not only to would-be attackers, but also to the mass of Palestinians looking for work. The few Palestinians that are allowed to cross it may have to wait for up to four hours at a checkpoint. Again, childhood memories of Berlin come back, especially an incident when East German border guards let us wait outside in our car for two and a half hours in the blazing summer sun, until I was sick from heat stroke and vomited all over their lovely checkpoint. It felt good to see a border guard having to come across with bucket and broom to clean up the mess.
Three years later people in divided Germany felt envious of Israel when its forces reunited divided Jerusalem, while their own wall seemed to be there forever. But they were wrong. Against all expectations, it came down, and Berlin and Germany were one again. So, much bigger was their surprise when a few years later they saw a new wall go up just east of Jerusalem, not dividing the city, but keeping out its Palestinian hinterland.
The Israeli economy may be doing well, but that Palestinian hinterland is clearly suffering. Bethlehem, just a few miles from Jerusalem shows all signs of massive unemployment, stagnation and squalor. On the hill opposite, sheltered by the wall and overlooking the countryside like a modern medieval castle sits Har Homa, one of the many Israeli settlements that have sprung up east of Jerusalem. They look well built in their gleaming white concrete, their rooves not cluttered up with black water tanks like those of the Palestinian houses. Unlike the settlements most Palestinian towns and villages receive water for only a few hours a day. When you travel through the West Bank, you can’t help feeling that most of it has already been incorporated into Israel. The road numbers are Israeli, the bathing complex on the Dead Sea is Israeli, the Qumran Caves where centuries old Jewish scrolls were found form part of an Israeli national park. The road along the River Jordan, with an electrified fence facing the neighbouring Kingdom of Jordan is dotted with small Israeli settlements. The only Arab presence is a derelict barracks, vacated by the Jordanian army when it left in a hurry in 1967. And yet there is a huge Arab presence even in Israel proper. Head north to Galilee  and you encounter numerous Arab villages and towns, the minarets of their mosques and the steeples of their churches shining proudly in the sun. Their residents, now more than one point six million were allowed to stay after 1948, even given Israeli citizenship. The wall makes a reappearance on the way back to the airport, next to the motorway leading from Galilee to Tel Aviv, behind it the Palestinian town of Tu Karem(?)
To the right, in the distance, the high rise blocks along the Israeli coastline.
This is the point where Israel proper is barely ten miles wide, no distance for a good enemy army. Yet whether the wall is the answer to Israel’s undoubted security needs is questionable. Walls may, for a while, bring relief to a symptom, they don’t solve the problem itself.
The Berlin wall certainly saved East Germany from economic collapse, but it didn’t rescue it in the long run, creating hardship and huge resentment in the process. Similarly, Israel’s security barrier is unlikely to be the long term answer. It’s a blot on the landscape, and doesn’t help Israel’s image. What’s required now are two wise and courageous politicians to emerge on both sides, and fortunate circumstances. We may have to wait for a while, but so did the people of Berlin.


  1. I am deeply uncomfortable with the celebratory expression 'when Israeli forces reunited divided Jerusalem', Jerusalem is an occupied city from which Palestinians are still being 'ethnically cleansed' - Israel is surrounded by Palestinian refugees of which there are said to be some 6.5 million, coincidentally almost exactly the same number as ther are Jewish Israelis, Equally disconcerting is Andreas Gebauer's expression 'were allowed to stay' seeming to imply that the Israelis should be commended for 'allowing the Palestinians' to stay. More honest might be to say 'descendants of those Palestinians who were not driven into exile'. Remember that some 400 Palestinian villages were bulldozed by Israelis so the people, whose home they were, had nothing to return to. Israel is Palestine. I am also surprised to see the term 'Palestinian settlements in the West Bank' in the From Our Own Correspondent Online Introductory page. This implies, though I cannot believe it is intended, a mutuality of Isreali settlement and Palestinian village. This of course is quite wrong, the term 'settlement' in 'Israeli Settlement' implies 'a colony', as in colonial settlement, something extraneous, while using the term settlement in relation to Palestinian villages may not be exactly wrong, though its use is unfortunate, for they are human settlements as London is a human settlement.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Your comment indicates a lack of understanding of Israeli /Palestinian history.
      Pre 1967 Jerusalem was indeed an occupied city. In 1950, Jordan illegally annexed the territories it had captured in the 1948 war–-eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

      “the celebratory expression 'when Israeli forces reunited divided Jerusalem'”

      After the six day war in 1967 the Israelis certainly did reunite divided Jerusalem.
      When Jordan controlled East Jerusalem in direct contravention of the 1949 armistice agreements, Jordan did not permit Jews access to their holy sites or to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. You may be uncomfortable with that fact, but there it is.
      For a step-by-step explanation of precisely how Andreas Gebauer’s emotive essay deceives and misleads, see BBCWatch. You will not like it any more than I like the inflammatory propaganda you will read on antisemitic websites, but on a more positive note at least your comment gives some credence to the BBC’s claims that they get complaints from both sides.


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