Saturday 25 January 2020

Things in life leave a mark

Contemporaneous image

I offer you a hand-made (not fully proof-read) transcript of the Today Programme featuring Jeremy Bowen’s take on President Trump’s upcoming Middle East peace deal.  (1:47)

I realise long transcriptions make pretty dry reading, and in case you can’t face ploughing through it, suffice it to say that Jeremy Bowen and Sarah Smith are not entirely on board with the deal, nor seemingly very optimistic about its prospects.

It seems the Palestinians are going to be trounced, done over and thrown under a bus and their long-held desire for a state is about to be consigned to oblivion and beyond. 

I don’t know about you, but I thought they both came across as a teeny bit one-sided. Only joking. The conversation was pitched entirely from a particularly BBC-like Palestinian perspective, which automatically takes all utterances from the Palestinian leadership at face-value while the default Trump Derangement Syndrome and bare naked Israel-bashing is up there, out and proud for all to see. 

(WRT possible unveiling of President Trump’s Middle East Plan.)
Sarah Smith 
Good morning Jeremy. 
Jeremy Bowen 
Good morning. 
Some of the details of this came out of course via Twitter, being that this is President Trump, where he said that reports of our closely-held details of our peace plan are purely speculative, but given that he put that on Twitter himself, is that not presumably as good as an announcement that he’s ready to reveal it? 
Yes he seems to be, and there are lots of questions about why now - a lot of the reports about what’s in this supposedly secret deal suggest that it might include widespread annexation of Jewish settlements in occupied territories - that’s the area that Palestinians have wanted for a state for - for many years,  and it’s also suggestions that Palestinians, if they’re going to benefit from various economic incentives wherein the deal might have to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, um which is something they don’t do at the moment because they believe that the occupied east Jerusalem should be their capital. Basically, the suggestions are, of course, we don’t know, but the suggestions are that Mr Trump has essentially in mind a plan which will absolutely include all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda.

And he hasn’t invited anyone from the Palestinian Authority to the Whitehouse yet - rather bizarrely he’s invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and the man who is standing against him to become PM in elections that begin in March you’d think he’d wait until after the elections till you find out who the Prime Minister is going to be and then you deal with them.

Well, the Palestinians don’t talk to the Trump administration because they feel it’s so hopelessly pro Israeli, biased towards the Netanyahu administration, there are suggestions in the Israeli press that Mr Netanyahu who’s a very experienced and wily political operator and salesman wants Gantz, his opponent, there because he’s thinking of a way of politically out-manoeuvring him, possibly drawing him into a unity government, which is something that would benefit Netanyahu more than Gantz so the argument goes, and it’s also going to be quite a surreal thing because of course, Gantz will be the one man in the room who isn’t facing serious crimes - Trump is being impreached (sic) for crimes and misdemeanours and Netanyahu himself faces very serious criminal charges, bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and Tuesday, the date they’re meant to be talking about this in Washington is the day when the Israeli Parliament is supposed to start talking about whether or not to grant Mr Netanyahu immunity from those charges.


Then we get to the nitty-gritty. The bit about Jeremy Bowen’s long-held grudge against the Israelis.

With a neat segue into Jeremy Bowen’s animus (!) via Fergal Keane’s PTSD, the conversation turns to the matter of that fateful day where Jeremy Bowen’s Lebanese friend and driver Abed Takkoush was killed. According to Bowen, (and various other bodies hostile to Israel), the trigger-happy Israeli soldiers took a deliberate (or reckless) pot-shot at them in the full knowledge that they were civilians.  

“A driver working with a BBC camera crew covering the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon has been killed after his car was hit by a single tank round.
His car, which was parked while the crew were filming, took a direct hit. Flames engulfed the vehicle trapping Abed Takoush inside.
Israel said the shell was fired by the South Lebanon Army.
The BBC crew had been filming near the village of Bint Jbeil, which Israel abandoned during the night in their accelerated retreat from south Lebanon.
Another Lebanese man was killed on the same stretch of road about the same time.
BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen said: "We had gone about a 100 metres from the car when it was hit. There was a huge fire."
"I was in sight of the Israeli settlement. I thought it would be fairly quiet. I even waved my arms over my head to show we were civilians. I had no helmet and was wearing a pink shirt, " he said.
Neither he nor cameraman Malek Kenaan were hurt in the incident.
Jeremy Bowen is one of the BBC's most experienced foreign correspondents, and has covered conflicts around the globe.
In a tribute to his colleague he said Abed had worked for the US network NBC and for the BBC in Lebanon for 25 years.
He said Abed Takoush was a family man, proud of his country and his work.
More than 80 journalists and media staff were killed last year, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

Discussing reporting with regard to the PTSD suffered by Fergal Keane, Bowen says “Of course it’s not all about us. We don’t particularly like talking about these things
Maybe so, but Bowen has ruminated over this incident retrospectively on a number of occasions. His feelings of guilt haunt him. 

“I’ll feel guilty until my last day that we stopped to film there.”
The way Bowen has rationalised or internalised these feelings is interesting. He blames himself for leading his friend into a situation when he should have known better. He believes his guilt lies in the fact that he led his friend into an 'Israeli trap'. He believes he should have known that bloodthirsty, trigger-happy IDF personnel would take advantage of their presence in the firing line and kill them simply because they could. 

Any suggestion that he unwisely stopped to film a 'piece to camera' in a ‘fog-of-war’ type of scenario, where tensions were high and all persons in the vicinity were putting themselves at risk was not what he had in mind.

Other organisations hostile to Israel have taken up this incident, reinforcing Bowen's angle on what happened.  Committee to protect journalists. In a letter to PM Ehud Barack, Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director, sets out the case against Israel and demands an investigation.

Quoting what “Israel says”`;
“In a statement released last week (June 16), the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) described the May 23 attack as a "tragic mistake." According to the statement, the incident occurred after an Israeli tank crew "observed a suspicious vehicle carrying individuals in civilian clothing, and suspected that they were members of a terrorist Lebanese group carrying equipment and preparing for an anti-tank missile firing against IDF tanks and vehicles."  
An IDF investigation concluded that "under the operational circumstances in which the tank crew operated, and in light of the data that was known at the time, the crew operated in accordance with the relevant procedures for such situations" 
However, Ms Cooper disregards the above and concludes:
“we believe, based on the available evidence, that the killing of Abed Takkoush was either reckless or deliberate. We therefore call for an immediate investigation, independent of the Israeli government and the IDF. The findings of the investigation should be made public.”
Whenever this event comes up in the media, which it frequently does, it invariably omits the circumstances surrounding the infamous disaster. 

“By the mid-90s the main fight was in south Lebanon between the Israeli occupiers and Hizballah. Israel claimed self-defence and called Hizballah terrorists. Hizballah regarded themselves as a legitimate resistance to occupation and so did most Lebanese.”
Bowen refrains from explaining why there was no Hizballah ‘resistance’ to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon or to inform listeners of the 1989 Taif Agreement and the fact that under that agreement, all militias – including Hizballah – were supposed to have been disarmed and disbanded. 
Although in previous accounts Bowen has said “I’d been talking to my literary agent on the phone” at the time of the incident in which his driver was killed, in this programme his version is slightly different. 
“The big mistake I made was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera overlooking an Israeli village. I discovered later that journalists and Israeli civilians were watching from a picnic spot as I got out of the car with Malik. I thought we were safe where we were but I didn’t realise that an Israeli battle tank had us in its sights.” […] 
“I said to Malik ‘let’s get up there to help him’. Malik’s face was contorted. ‘No’, he said, ‘don’t do it. Abed is dead; he can’t have survived that and if you go up there too, they’ll kill you’. When cautiously I moved towards Abed’s body I heard bullets fizzing over my head and ducked back into cover. A team from the Times later said they heard the tank crew saying on the radio that they’d get the other two with the heavy machine gun. I’ll feel guilty till my last day that we stopped to film there.” 
Bowen adds further context-free anecdotes of Israeli actions, telling listeners that in 1996:
“We joined a UN convoy that was trying to reach besieged civilians. The Israelis turned it back with some heavy shelling.”
Jeremy Bowen will no doubt continue his efforts to promote his version of this story for as long as the BBC and additional media outlets continue to provide him with the platform to do so. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that the man who repeatedly tells that story from that particular angle is also the person who for the last twelve years has been entrusted with ensuring that what BBC audiences are told about Israel meets editorial standards of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.

I have to say that Jeremy Bowen’s conflicting feelings - the guilt - in taking the blame for his friend’s death, and at the same time convincing himself of his own innocence - exonerating himself, if you like, by blaming the Israelis because they could clearly have seen that we were unarmed civilians in pink shirts.

By his own words, "Things in life leave a mark" isn’t he destroying any semblance of impartiality on his part? After all, people are always claiming impartiality on the basis that  they ‘have no skin in the game’.

I hereby rest my case.


  1. Interesting - the circumstances surrounding that incident have always seemed a bit murky.

    1. Yes I agree, they certainly did (and still do) seem murky. I’m not trying to minimise the effect this must have had on Bowen, nor am I utterly certain of whose version or which narrative is the most accurate one - but taking into consideration the ‘agendas’ of everyone who took the trouble to give an opinion, I instinctively suspect there’s a good deal of wishful thinking and embellishment in those accusations against the IDF.

      Sorry for the long read. I couldn’t decide how much to leave out. The usual dilemma.

  2. Look if the Israelis wanted Bowen killed
    he wouldn’t be alive now, would he ?
    .. They’re not Dads Army are they ?

    but Israeli conscripts are probably sometimes unprofessional
    I've seen it myself.
    And there is often a cultural problem with arrogance in Israel... not everyone but it's common. (or was)

    1. Lol "They're not Dad's Army are they?" - that bon mot needs wider circulation.

      It's true conscripts are far more likely to be trigger happy or make the wrong judgement calls I would say.

      I am not sure Israelis are any more culturally arrogant than Chinese, Russians, Indians, Americans, Pakistanis, Saudis or Argentinians - to take a random sample. They seem on a par with the rest of the world.

      I remember long ago hearing tales at work (from people who were there) about how our own army despatched lots of German soldiers after surrender. If they were suspected of infiltration, underhand methods or over-stubborn resistance in France in 1944 the tank regiments would often put them up against a wall and machine-gun them. Of course that doesn't fit in with modern PC ideology, so we never hear those truths.


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