Saturday 9 August 2014

Tim Whewell on 'From Our Own Correpondent'

Tim Whewell's report on this morning's From Our Own Correspondent bears transcribing in full. It's the sort of report which shows what the BBC can do - something it's important for blogs like this to point out from time to time (as we sometimes do).

It follows the story of 36 year-old Narakorn Kittiyangkul, the Thai national killed by a Hamas mortar attack during the present conflict, and features Roni Keidar, who (along with her husband) runs a communal farm in Netiv Haasara, right on the Gazan border:
It's often the footnotes that are most intriguing. 
And there's a footnote to the Gaza conflict, you may have seen. The casualty lists record the Palestinians killed, the Israelis and one Thai, described as a worker. 
Seeing that brings a particular stab of sadness - a death somehow even more random than so many of the others.
Unexpectedly last week, I found myself standing where the Thai was hit by a Hamas shell in a greenhouse in southern Israel, right on the Gazan border. I know now what happened. 
The Israeli farmers who employed him to pick tomatoes had warned him and his two fellow Thai workers they'd have less than 15 seconds to take cover if there was a mortar attack. When the shell came he didn't hit the ground. He took out his mobile to photograph it. (The trail makes a beautiful silver streak that fascinates me too.) 
His boss's wife, Roni, explains, he was still alive, just, when her husband, Ovadia, arrived minutes later but, though they tried to staunch the bleeding, he died before he reached the hospital. 
"I've got a different husband now," Roni says. He can't sleep, worrying that he's somehow to blame for his employee's death. 
As for the trauma the remaining Thais are suffering we can only guess. They speak a little Hebrew and no English. "We immediately offered them return tickets to Bangkok," Roni says, "but they wouldn't go." 
But why has Roni herself stayed? She's been in equal danger from the missiles and from the tunnels Hamas dug under the border. The entrance to one was discovered under another greenhouse nearby.
Half her village has left, but she stayed because it's her home and as an act of defiance - because the ultimate aim of Hamas, Israelis believe, is - as defined in its charter - to drive them not only out of occupied territories but from their whole country - a country where, finally, after the Holocaust, Jews hoped they would be able to feel safe.
Roni and Ovadia used to have a farm in Sinai, but after that desert peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982 they deliberately decided to move, not as many Israelis did to another occupied area, but to within Israeli's internationally recognised borders. And there, they believe, they have a right to live in peace without the gnawing fear that gunmen will emerge from underground to murder them. 
According to the Israeli media, apparently relying on Israeli intelligence reports, Hamas planned to send thousands of its fighters through the tunnels to invade Israel at Jewish New Year next month. 
That's the reason, most Israelis tell you, they were dragged, reluctantly, into a defensive war.
"Why?",  they demand, "don't you foreign correspondents ever report that?" 
And, again and again, I slip into the same argument: We do report the reasons, but we also have to report the results. And then much of the audience for our reporting concludes that being afraid or traumatised, like Roni, is bad but not nearly as bad as being dead, as so many Palestinians now are.
We're talking now, uncomfortably, about hierarchies of suffering, and Israelis reply, "So what do you want? More dead Jewish children? Do we also have to die just to make you report the story fairly? Is it our fault we've built technology to protect ourselves from their rockets? And why are there no shelters in Gaza?"
It's not true that Israelis don't care about the suffering of Gazans. Most I've met do.  
But what scares them almost more than Hamas' missiles is its embrace of martyrdom.
"We love death as our enemies love life", they quote its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, as saying.
Hamas, they say, does nothing to protect its own citizens - citizens who, bewilderingly for Israelis, voted freely to be ruled by people who Israel, the US, the EU, and other countries, now count as terrorists. 
Discussions like this are exhausting. At one meal with Israeli friends we moved eventually onto safer, "How's the family?" territory. And then the woman I'd been arguing with said, quietly, "My grandson's in Gaza." She didn't say "army". In an Israeli context you don't need to. So, for a fraction of a second, I wasn't sure what she meant. When I was, I also realised she was trying not to cry, and I wished I'd never had the argument. No one wants a dead grandson, but no one wants either to be dreading constantly that the phone might ring with fatal news. 
After the Thai worker died on the Gazan border a Buddhist monk was sent by his embassy in Israel to perform a ceremony exorcising the spirit of death from the farm. Perhaps that's why his two fellow workers stayed.
But after this latest war what ceremony can exorcise the spirit of death from this region for Israelis and Arabs who have nowhere else to go? We all know there isn't one.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Craig. I heard this item and couldn't believe this was the BBC. And reporting on the plans for the tunnels? But when Whewell said that the BBC does report from the Israeli side, I thought yes, from programmes like this. I can only assume that their audience figures are very low. But something like this on the 6 pm news, never. I assume it is to assure us of balance.


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