Be flippant, and never mind the facts

Animus toward Israel creeps into some BBC coverage of the conflict.

July 25, 2006 22:24
4 minute read.
Be flippant, and never mind the facts

nahariya katyusha 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Early media coverage of Hizbullah's aggression against Israel presented a generally sound picture of cause and effect, of the terrorist group's agenda and of Israel's right to remove the menace to its people. The BBC, however, is a frequent exception. Correspondent Nick Thorpe, for instance, in a report broadcast on July 15 and posted as well on the network's Web site - "Becoming Israel's greatest enemy" - opted for jarringly flippant characterizations of the present crisis in Lebanon, followed by anti-Israel distortions and platitudes. An introductory account of the assault of Katyusha rockets raining down on northern Israel, and the less lethal Kassams plaguing the south of the country, are reported like a child's fable. Thorpe says: "The Kassams mostly needle the Israelis, like pinpricks in the ankles of a giant, taunting him to stamp back with his big, US-issue army boots. The Katyushas are like poisoned arrows. They drive him mad." Thorpe likes the image of Israel as a mad giant, saying later: "The giant is kicking out, then landing punch after punch on long-suffering Lebanon." The fact that the allegedly "giant" nation is actually so tiny that its entire northern region and nearly a third of its population are being battered by Katyusha missiles is of no interest to the story-teller. BUT THE Hizbullah-launched conflagration is only a backdrop to the central, indelible and preferred story, and Thorpe soon segues into his topic - Palestinian feelings and grievances. He notes: "For many Palestinians there is proof at last that the state which has taken 78% of what they regard as their land since the foundation of Israel in 1948 - and every day seems to take a little more - can actually be beaten." The 78% Palestinians "regard as their land" is, of course, not just the West Bank and Gaza, but encompasses the legally sovereign and internationally sanctioned State of Israel itself. Thorpe is comfortable, though, casually repeating without caveat this irredentist position and - less than a year after Israel's withdrawal from the entire Gaza Strip - asserting absurdly that "every day" more land is seized. CLICHES ABOUND. Driving in the West Bank, the BBC correspondent expresses understanding of "the resentment and the sense of oppression the Palestinians feel" as he witnesses "smart, middle-class Israeli settlements [that] have sprung up on virgin hillsides..." These, he claims, are "watered by springs often diverted from Palestinian villages." Notably, Thorpe is imprecise here, omitting names of any such multiple Palestinian villages robbed of water diverted to neighboring Jewish towns. In reality, West Bank Arab towns have, during Israel's administering of the area, enjoyed a dramatic improvement in water availability. In the period, for example, from 1967 to 1995, West Bank Palestinians increased domestic water use by 640%, from 5.4 million cubic meters to to 40 MCM. This occurred as Israel connected hundreds of West Bank towns to its national water carrier and drilled or permitted Palestinians to drill scores of major wells as well as innumerable private ones. Thorpe makes no note of these nettlesome details in scanning the hills of the West Bank. BEYOND ALLEGED water and land seizures, the Israeli "occupier" has also committed other severe offenses, including erecting - for no apparent reason mentioned by Thorpe - "tunnels and fences" that "keep Palestinians away from Israeli roads, Israelis settlements and Israeli soldiers." (Terrorism is omitted entirely.) This seemingly inexplicable, callous and exclusionary practice by the giant Israel has led to Palestinians being "increasingly confined by barriers and checkpoints into little reservations" and, Thorpe observes, "it is little wonder that Palestinians applaud Sheikh Nasrallah, the spiritual head of the Hezbollah, when he calls for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel." Having sketched all these Israeli abuses, Thorpe moves to the concluding section of his account, describing a discussion with Dov, his "old friend" from Jerusalem who works to identify and counter threats to the Jewish people. He queries: "On your travels, you must often be asked to justify Israel's policy towards the Palestinians." When Dov replies that he does not "engage with" the issue, Nick Thorpe, BBC expert on Israeli geography, water, land policy, missile defense, history, political strategy and national survival, offers a word of instruction. He writes: "I disagree, as gently as I can. Until there is a broad peace agreement in the Middle East, it seems to me, not imposed by Israel but agreed by all sides, I fear his people, and for that matter mine, will be targets." NOTHING IN Thorpe's breezy rendition even hints at decades of Palestinian violence, anti-Jewish hate-mongering or rejectionism. Nothing suggests the self-inflicted disasters. In a final touch of symbolism, the reporter describes a passing Arab villager "pushing a cart loaded to the sky with white eggs. In the other direction come lorries loaded with shells for Israeli tanks to launch into Lebanon." As fatuous and simple-minded as this report may be, the animus toward Israel and gross disregard for fact are no joke, but rather all too emblematic of bias in coverage provided by Britain's government-supported network. The writer is executive director of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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