Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Concerns over the UN Board of Inquiry Report on the Treatment of UNRWA Facilities in the 2014 Gaza War

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits an UNRWA school, February 2012, Gaza.

The United Nations’ ‘Board of Inquiry’ issued a report to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, in February of this year. He issued a summary of the report’s findings, on the 27th April, which asserts that Israeli military action killed and injured Arab-Palestinian civilians, who had sought refuge in six United Nations schools during the 2014 conflict in Gaza and its environs, between Israel and an assortment of terrorist groups, including Hamas, the ruling authority of the Gaza Strip itself.

Whilst stating that it was standard procedure not to issue such ‘Board of Inquiry’ reports, Ki-moon justified the publication of a summary on grounds of interest. The study was widely reported upon in a prejudicial fashion.

Questions of intent

The report did not make findings of intentionality on the part of Israel. Findings of criminality were noted to be beyond the purview of the UN Board’s report. However, the report recommended that Israel take greater care in future conflicts, suggesting a belief that the strikes were conducted in error:
“The United Nations should request the Government of Israel to give a commitment that, in the event that it plans any future military operation in proximity to United Nations premises, it will provide advance warning, sufficient to enable the United Nations to ensure the security and safety of its personnel or other civilians attending its facilities, and ensure that coordinating procedures are such that confusion or misunderstandings concerning UNRWA as well as other United Nations installations are excluded.” (Section 99, C)
The response to the UN summary was rather predictable, with numerous media outlets describing the incidents as actual “attacks” causing death and injury to Arab-Palestinians in seven (rather than six) UNRWA schools. The report also found that unidentified terrorist groups used several schools to store weapons, and to fire from those sites. This was a notable revelation but some media outlets emphasised that the report found the schools used in this manner were empty at the time. Institutions treating the story in this manner include Al Jazeera and Irish public service broadcaster RTE. Intent, on the part of Israel, to harm and kill was unfairly inferred, while the more probable intent of the relevant terror groups was minimised.

The notion that the IDF intended to attack is hard to justify, in view of the fact that all seven incidents did not constitute protracted attacks. Several involved a single strike, typically with a non-precision guided shell, in environments where fighting had taken place. Extracts of the incidents detailed in the report are quoted:
“Incident (a): Injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Maghazi Preparatory Girls “A/B” School on 21 and 22 July 2014” […] the school was struck at roof level by direct fire from an IDF tank, likely involving a 120 MM High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) Multi- Purpose (MP) or High Explosive (HE) projectile. Injuries were caused to a man and a child sheltering at the school, as well as damage to the school premises.
The following day, two mortars hit the roof of the school after its evacuation, causing no injury.
“Incident (b): Injury occurring at and damage done to UNRWA Deir El Balah Preparatory Girls “C” School on 23 July 2014 […] Between 05:45 and 06:15 hrs in the morning of 23 July 2014, the medical isolation room on the third floor of the school was hit by a projectile, which passed through a window and two walls of an elevator shaft, partially striking the external veranda wall and exiting the school grounds. Three displaced persons, among the approximately 40 sleeping in the room at the time of the incident, suffered light injuries. No one was killed. There was relatively minor damage to the school.”
Incident (c) relates to the graver event involving fatalities at Beit Hanoun. It is discussed in some depth in the sub-section “On the veracity of testimony”.
“Incident (d): Injuries occurring at and damage done to Zaitoun Preparatory Girls “B” School On the night of 28/29 July 2014 […] On 29 July, at approximately 01:30 hrs, a projectile struck the roof of the school, penetrating the ceiling and striking the wall immediately adjacent to the door of a classroom in which approximately 40 people were sleeping. Seven residents were injured.”
Incident (e) relates to a graver event, involving fatalities, at UNRWA Jabalia Elementary Girls “A” and “B” School, on the 30th of July. The report notes that a volley of four shells struck the school: “At approximately 04:45 hrs, the school was hit by a barrage of four 155 MM high explosive (HE) projectiles, an artillery indirect fire weapon.” The IDF did not deny the strike, and have ordered an investigation. They stated the fire was aimed at another more legitimate target. Credence may be given to this claim because the report acknowledges the ordinance which struck the school is used in indirect fire weaponry that aims at targets that are not in direct sight.

Incident (f) involves the deaths of civilians at UNRWA’s Rafah Preparatory Boys “A” School on the 3rd of August. A single precision-guided missile struck the road outside the school. The IDF acknowledged responsibility for the killings, but claimed the deaths were caused in error while it was pursuing three Islamic Jihad fighters on a motorcycle, who were passing by the school gate. The UN report agreed with this assertion, stating “The Board found that the missile had been directed at a motorcycle carrying three individuals.”

Incident (g) of the report noted more extensive damage done to UNRWA’s Khuza’a Elementary College Co-educational “A” and “B” School, between the 17th of July and the 26th of August. However, the buildings on the site were empty, and the IDF found material that suggested it had been used as an Islamic Jihad command centre and observational post for a period of time. The UN report did not contradict this perspective in its findings.

Issues of balance

Whilst the UN ‘Board of Inquiry’ report is more balanced than might be expected, given the UN’s prejudicial treatment of Israel in recent decades, it is nonetheless problematic for a number of reasons.

As previously noted, the report was only released as a summary. There are no plans to ever have the two hundred and seven page study published. It is clearly problematic for any major agency to publish findings that are not fully substantiated. It is near-impossible to substantiate why the UN Board found all the incidents to be attributable to the IDF, when there is noteworthy evidence to the contrary.

If the decision by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to publicise details of the report, was motivated by public interest, it would surely have been convention to issue the report in its entirety, in order to allow readers to evaluate its findings. Such a move would have been in the interests of the UN, assuming the findings were based upon secure evidence. The decision to instead issue a summary would have likely been motivated by two primary considerations: either some of the report’s findings are based on contentious claims, or some evidential material not included in the summary would have worsened its relationship with Hamas. Ban Ki-moon stated in his covering letter that the actual report:
“…contains a significant body of information the disclosure of which would prejudice the security or proper conduct of the Organisation’s operations or activities.”
The ‘United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’ (UNRWA) is of course the principle UN “Organisation” operating in Gaza. In the past, UNRWA’s Gazan branch has been criticised for politically modifying its position, to be in line with the wishes of Hamas. One issue of note was the controversial decision to back-pedal on the decision to teach the Holocaust in its school curriculum, due to Hamas’ objections based on an outright denial of the event!

It would not be unfair to suggest that Hamas has long kept UNRWA on a short leash. Despite the fact that UNRWA members often demonstrate support for Hamas, and it is accepted that many UNRWA employees are Hamas members, grave threats against UNRWA staff at gunpoint are not unknown. Thus, if the full report was redacted over security concerns, it is reasonable to infer that the summary may give a somewhat partial position.

The report relied to a substantial extent on UNRWA witness testimony, where there would have been a desire to downplay the involvement of some UNRWA employees with Hamas, and/or UNRWA failings to secure its own civilian structures to prevent their usage by combatants. A gloss was also placed on some of UNRWA’s more objectionable actions. The report asserts that the UNRWA did not hand weaponry stored at UN facilities to Hamas, but were in fact handed back to unnamed individuals, after contacting the Hamas-run police force.

The UN summary notes the contribution of unnamed non-governmental organisations to the report’s findings. Such organisations typically present a prejudicial image of the conflict in analyses.

The summary findings are also rather inconsistent. Ban Ki-moon asserts that the three schools used by belligerents for the storage of weapons were not in use. This was fortuitous, since the war occurred during school summer recess, as noted in the summary. However, it nonetheless appears that some schools may have not been wholly disused at the time, with the admission that the grounds of one school, where a terrorist group fired rockets, was open for usage by children.

On the veracity of testimony

The report also relied on anonymous non-UNRWA witness testimony, often obtained by UNRWA staff themselves. The neutrality of such staff can be questioned, due to the sympathy and affiliation of some with Hamas. Such a situation would possibly lead to selection bias, with the picking of witnesses that provide accounts favourable to Hamas’ agenda. Moreover, testimony obtained in an oppressive intimidatory environment is problematic, where reprisals against critics are not uncommon.

To take one example, the report blames Israel for perhaps the most infamous strike on a school during the war, at Beit Hanoun, which led to the death of 12 to 14 civilians, despite evidence that terrorist groups were fighting in close proximity to the school, and may have struck it. The summary notes that there was fighting very close to the school for several days, and also notes the repeated warnings from the IDF to UNRWA, to evacuate the compound over a three day period, with terrorist fighters acting in an area in very close proximity to the school:
“The Board noted that most witnesses described shelling in the vicinity of the school as a daily occurrence and that some of the residents at the school were injured as a result of shrapnel from the shelling outside the school. The Board also noted that an UNRWA security official testified to having received multiple calls from Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) during the three or four days prior to the incident indicating that, according to the IDF, rockets were being fired from and around the school and that it needed to be evacuated. On the other hand, the Board noted that witnesses interviewed by UNRWA had said that there was no militant activity either inside or in the near vicinity of the school, though rocket launching could be heard from areas further away.” (Section C, 27)
The report notes these contradictions but the authors of the summary and/or report appear to place greater weight on subsequent witness testimony that denies these strongly fact-based assertions, due to its conclusion: “The Board found that the incident was attributable to the IDF.” The shaping of witness testimony is a crucial strategy for dictatorial entities. Significant effort has to be made to protect witnesses against illegitimate threatening influence, to obtain accurate views in such regions.

The report also contradicted a prior public statement by UNRWA, which asserted that a Hamas rocket hit the school in Beit Hanoun, making its conclusions harder to accept.

UNRWA complicity with belligerents

The report summary contains a passage that discreetly acknowledges wrongdoing on the part of some UNRWA staff:
“The United Nations should request the Government of Israel to give a commitment that, at any time that it believes it has information that United Nations premises have been misused for military purposes or that UNRWA staff are involved in militant activities, such information will be promptly conveyed in strict confidence to the senior management of UNRWA or other United Nations entity…” (Section 99, b)
In another incident, three IDF soldiers were killed, with seven others wounded, in a heavily booby-trapped UN clinic that was situated on top of a Hamas tunnel. The scale of the endeavour may suggest that there was some level of complicity between certain UNRWA staff and Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Unfortunately, this serious incident was not investigated by the UN Board of Inquiry.

A broader perspective

To place the scale and number of strikes on Gaza’s schools in some perspective, three of the strikes resulted in serious harm to the civilian populace of Gaza. Two of these incidents appear to be attributable to Israel, with a combined death toll of approximately 30 individuals, but were carried out in error. The other incident at Beit Hanoun may have involved Hamas. Of the other four incidents, one caused substantive damage while a school complex was known to be empty, and the other three caused injury to a modest number, and relatively minor damage. The responsibility for these events is disputed.

According to UNRWA’s own figures, Gaza’s education infrastructure is considerable. There are 640 schools in Gaza, 221 of which are run by UNRWA, which in total serve approximately 450 thousand students. According to the World Health Organisation, illiteracy among Gazan youth was less than 1% in 2010, while the Gaza Strip plays host to five universities. By contrast, in neighbouring Egypt, the adult illiteracy rate is over 20%.




Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A review of June to December 2014 coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict on Irish television – Part One: Introduction, summary and conclusion

This article is the first part of an extended study of Irish television coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict, during the latter part of 2014. Part Two provides specific examples of bias on RTE, whilst Part Three expounds upon several examples of bias on TV3.

Doctor Rory Miller, an Irish Middle-East analyst, asserted that the Irish media historically motivated anti-Israel posturing amongst Irish political elites, at a time when the international media exhibited a lesser antagonism toward the Jewish State. Today, Ireland is regarded as one of the most anti-Israel nations in the Western world. Whether this charge is true or not, it can be justifiably suggested that the Irish media continues to shape inaccurate and hostile narratives.

This article largely focuses on RTE’s News reports. RTE is Ireland’s state-funded radio and television broadcast institution. It has a distinct monopoly, in terms of national radio and television channels, with six of the eight SaorView television channels on the free terrestrial digital transmission platform, until a further independent channel was launched in 2015. Analysis of TV3 is also included, which in 2014 was the sole privately owned Irish television broadcaster. It tends to achieve smaller viewer figures.

Any entity that constitutes a source of information should be open to scrutiny. Questions, such as “is the information correct or not”, “can the organisation verify its claims”, “does the organisation have a past indicative of prejudice”, etc. are all legitimate questions that we can ask of any information source.

These questions become especially important for organisations that constitute a constant and prolific mainstream source of information on current affairs. Mainstream media organisations play a substantive role in the shaping of society on a broad spectrum of issues. The role they play is pivotal, for any given society is dependent upon these entities to advise and inform. TV3’s role is important in this regard, and RTE’s especially so, since it constitutes a public service broadcaster with a significant monopoly. Remits to inform audiences should of course be applied in an impartial fashion, without undue politicisation. We should also expect good standards of accuracy and insight from public service broadcasters, which, due to tax funding, are in theory less subject to narrow commerical constraints.

Broadcasters are acutely aware of the importance of reputations for accuracy. At a recent Irish State Committee hearing, Ms. Moya Doherty, a member of the RTÉ Board, argued that it would make “little sense” for the Broadcaster to be politically prejudicial because it would “fundamentally undermine the public trust in everything RTÉ does”.

The featured examples of Irish media reportage should not be treated as a complete study on coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict in Ireland, in part because the focus is on televisual broadcasting, rather than radio, the print media etc. Being examples, they do not constitute a comprehensive analysis. The RTE news reports represent the most extensive sample herein, but it should be noted that they are just a fraction of the number of features actually broadcast on the conflict. The coverage of discussion shows is better represented. The cited examples are indicative of the broader tone of the public broadcaster’s coverage on the topic, where opinion and analysis of the conflict illustrate RTE’s own political outlook.


Screen grab of RTE lunchtime news and sports bulletin, 8 July, 2014.


Summary assertions

Part Two and Part Three of this extended article feature a selection of instances of substantive bias in reports and discussions in the Irish televisual media, through the latter half of 2014. This period is selected as it began with the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish-Israeli teenage males. The kidnap-murder initiated a phase of escalation in the Israeli/Jewish-Arab/Palestinian conflict. A sequence of events ensued, including the 2014 Gaza war, ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the near-intifada violence in Israel during the aftermath of the war, and the Palestinian Authority’s activities at the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the numerous examples cited in Part Two demonstrate that RTE has a propensity to present the Israeli-Arab conflict in a manner that is both favourable to Arab-Palestinians, and injurious to Jewish-Israelis. The failings relate to very basic matters of balance, where in some instances only one account of contested events was presented, failings in terms of the veracity of factual claims, and a lack of disclosure that some sources, and interviewees, are not disinterested observers of the conflict.

There were some similar concerns with TV3’s coverage, albeit criticism relates more so to discussion programmes. The specific instances cited relate to ‘The Vincent Browne Show’, which was of a distinctly lower standard than ‘Prime Time’, RTE’s broadly equivalent current-affairs programme.

The scope of this bias suggests that both Irish broadcasters cannot be firmly relied upon to report or discuss events appertaining to the issue with quite modest expectations of basic accuracy and balance.

It can be argued that both broadcasters presented a significant amount of programming that unduly limited access to the perspectives of one side in this conflict. The consistent patterns suggests an intentional prejudice on the part of programme makers, and, as a consequence, may constitute a violation of Section 39/1 of the 2009 Broadcasting Act, which obliges broadcasters to ensure all news reports be “presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views.”


Proportionality

On the 24th July, RTE’s 6.1 News featured 16 minutes on the death of 15 in Gaza, and spent 15 seconds on 82+ killed in a terrorist attack in Nigeria. We may assume that the importance alloted to each story, by news-editors, is based on quite obvious features, such as our cultural, religious, and geographic proximity to those killed, whether those killed were innocent civilians (greater interest) or combatants (lesser interest), and the sheer scale of the tragic deaths in question. In both instances, civilians were killed, and, in both cultural and geographic terms, the distance of the typical Irish viewer to these deaths was very substantial. Thus, the scale of the loss of life would be a prime interest in determining the degree of coverage both events warranted. However, the smaller event obtained a 60 fold increase in broadcast time, despite the larger event having a 5.5 fold higher death toll. Whilst this dry numerical comparison may seem unfairly selective, it nonetheless illustrates a major issue with proportionality.

It might be argued that there is a greater interest in Israel itself, as it is a notionally more Western State, and so somehow closer to the sphere of Irish interest than the other contemporaneous conflicts of the period. However, RTE largely ignored the Ukrainian conflict during the war in Gaza, until the downing of the uninvolved Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which led to the death of almost 300 civilians.

RTE’s news editors are of course fully entitled to follow their own sense of what topics they ought to feature most highly. However, a very modest sense of proportionality must surely follow, if RTE’s remit is to inform its viewers. When it comes to the troubled Middle East, the Gaza war was the event that truly registered on RTE’s radar, from its commencement to cessation. It was impossible to deduce from watching RTE’s news coverage that concurrently there was an immense loss of life in Syria and Iraq, while the war in Gaza was at its peak. The unprecedented bloody rise of ISIS’, did get significant coverage. However, even at its most newsworthy, ISIS never quite got the same degree of coverage as the Gaza war received at its peak. It echoes RTE’s limited coverage of the Sri Lankan war of 2009, which ran in a largely parallel timeframe to ‘Operation Cast Lead’, the first major Gazan war between Hamas and Israel. Similarly, there was almost no mention of the starvation and death of large numbers of Arab-Palestinians based in Syria the preceding year, nor of displacement due to civil war.


Addressing potentials for incitement

The examples illustrate a notable trend in RTE’s news reportage of the time. RTE failed to present meaningful contexts, because their narratives focused on Israeli actions, with little or no comment about the actions of opponents. This highly partial form of narrative can compel the viewer to conclude that Israeli actions should be deemed aggressive rather than defensive, and, due to the way in which the narratives were framed, any explanation provided by Israeli commentators would appear to be excuses.

When images of military activity appeared, Israel’s forces were those invariably featured. Imagery of Hamas was an extremely rare sight. The imagery of this conflict focused intensively on the injury of children. The suffering of children is of course newsworthy but this focus was highly disproportionate. For example, before and after the 24th of July Beit Hanoun school missile strike, news-features on the topic could lead with images of distressed children, and TV interviews featured repetitive video loops of injured children. During the same period, RTE’s ‘News Now’ channel featured highly emotive motifs of Gazan infants in its revolving ‘Top Stories’ news-box, located on the top-right of TV screens.

The display of the impact of war upon a civilian populace is an important feature of news reportage. It is entirely fair to present images of distressed children but to focus on them above almost all else has become a worrying international trend in the mainstream media. Whether intentional or not, the selection of such images presented stark suggestions that the Jewish State intentionally murders children, akin to old anti-Semitic blood-libel. Media coverage of the conflict has been linked with the rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and the European mainland. In recent years, hate-crimes against Jewish minorities have multiplied during times of conflict in Israel and its environs.

The Phoenix, August 1-14 2014, presenting Israeli leaders as NAZI style war criminals

Ireland’s Jewish populace is less of a conduit to hostility, perhaps because it is extremely small. Yet during the Gaza war, a well-known Irish comedic actor received death threats and anti-Semitic abuse for hosting an Israeli film event, while a sports pundit issued a violent anti-Semitic tweet after watching TV news coverage of the conflict. The open rhetoric from pro-Palestinian quarters became so intense that it verged on overt anti-Semitism, and emanated from various quarters.

Ultimately, it would be a genuine wrong for the mainstream media to censor disturbing imagery that emanates from conflict zones. However, the broadcast industry has tight ethical and legal guidelines with respect to the coverage of news. Prejudicial reportage is never desirable, and could have an impact on the welfare of the Jewish populace, as has been the case in other regions of Western Europe. The broadcast industry could act more responsibly, by addressing stories involving Israel with a modest sense of proportionally, and pay special attention to due diligence, because intensive demonising propaganda has long been a mainstay of this conflict, for which the media has often been a conduit.




Published at Crethi Plethi.

A review of June to December 2014 coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict on Irish television – Part Two: RTE’s coverage

This article is the second part of an extended study of Irish television coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict, during the latter part of 2014. Part One introduces and summarises the study, whilst Part Three provides specific examples of bias on TV3.

This extended article features a selection of instances of substantive bias in reports and discussions on RTE’s television channels, through the latter half of 2014. It begins with the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish-Israeli teenagers, which led to a dramatic escalation in the Israeli/Jewish-Arab/Palestinian conflict, resulting in war. The examples represent just a fraction of RTE’s reportage on the conflict. Israel was also discussed in other RTE news reports, which are not as relevant because they focused on the evolving political situation in Israel’s internal politics, in a brief matter-of-fact manner, without significant opinion and analysis, elements which would be indicative of RTE’s broad political outlook.

While RTE’s lunchtime and six o’clock (called ‘6.1 News’, the broadcaster’s principle hour-long news show) news reports are mainly referenced, these reports were uniformly featured in rotation cycles on RTE’s ‘News Now’ channel, and usually featured in identical or near-identical form on other RTE news programmes. Please note that programme content contained in the links to RTE’s Internet Player is only available for limited periods of time. Some quotations are included.

Pat Rabbitte, former Minister for Communications, recently echoed a commonly held belief that RTE is a powerful force of support for political parties to the left. A related belief also exists that RTE has long been unduly supportive of pan-Arab/Arab-Palestinian positions relating to the Israel-Arab conflict. Whilst this issue is somewhat peripheral in the Irish political landscape, prejudicial coverage of the conflict may still have an impact on the parties involved, both at an international and local level. The welfare of the related Jewish minority living in Ireland may also become an issue, if trends in Western Europe are at all indicative.


Hamas’ 2014 Kidnap-Murder

Events in the region took a turn for the worse with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens on June 12th 2014. Hamas would subsequently take credit for these murders. However, the terrorist group initially refused to confirm or deny their involvement. RTE falsely stated that Hamas denied any involvement in the kidnapping, and they continued to so in a consistent manner.

It seems to have taken RTE several weeks to revise its stance about Hamas’ claims, since it appears that a 6th of July lunchtime news report was the first to present an accurate account of Hamas’ response to the kidnapping. The amendment was first made in a two minute report, on the subject of the apparent beating of an Arab-Palestinian teenager with US nationality.

However, this particular lunchtime news report was problematic for other reasons. RTE featured an interview with the son’s mother but did not present a response from an Israeli perspective. RTE showed video purportedly of the beating, but failed to give anything but passing reference to the violence perpetuated by masked “protesters”, of which this US national was likely one, given that the confrontation took place during a serious riot.

RTE’s sequencing of the story was quite peculiar. The report of the beating came after the news bulletin’s 45 second headline story, concerning an interview with Irish government minister Richard Bruton. The report was followed by a 15 to 20 second segment on the death of 29 Kenyans in a serious terrorist incident, and a shorter mention of a major parachuting accident in Poland that led to 11 deaths.

RTE’s presentation of events in the conflict during this period are analysed in more depth in an article entitled “Obsession, Exclusion and Double Standards”.



The Gaza War

With the onset of Operation Protective Edge, at an early phase prior to the ground offensive, RTE featured a lunchtime news report, by journalist Nieve Nolan, detailing Israel’s increased air-strikes on targets in Gaza. There was no mention of rocket strikes until a brief statement by Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, even though Hamas’ increased rocket attacks the previous night were clearly the precursor for Israel’s intensified response.

Nolan justified the rocket attacks on Israeli towns as a response to the Jewish State’s killing of Hamas terrorists, who may have in fact died from handling explosives. Her claim is difficult to justify as the broad swathe of rocket strikes was initiated with the kidnap-murder of Jewish teenagers the previous month. Nolan’s view might be excused as an insufficient explanation of events but, at the end of the report, she states that Israel is set on a course of “escalation rather than de-escalation”, despite Netanyahu having acted with relative restraint, and voiced a reluctance to engage, until the dramatic increase of rocket attacks.

A detailed analysis and transcript of the report can be found in an article entitled “Problematic Media Coverage of Operation Protective Edge”. The article also discusses an RTE ‘News for the Deaf’ bulletin, which described Israeli’s as “militants”, perhaps to associate the IDF with terrorism.

An email of complaint was sent to RTE about the report on the 8th July. Fiona Mitchell, Deputy Foreign Editor, replied, via complaints@rte.ie, on the 14th of July. She stated:
“You mention use of the sentence "escalation rather than de-escalation'.  This was the same day that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had "significantly expanded our operations against Hamas and other terrorist organisations" making it clear that this was escalation rather than de-escalation, and making it a noteworthy news line.”
However, it appears that Netanyahu’s statement, which Fiona Mitchell quotes, appears to have been made after the Nolan's report was broadcast. Netanyahu’s statement was issued in the evening of the 8th July. Even allowing for a two hour time difference with Israel, the statement was issued hours after the news segment was broadcast. Thus, it remains unclear what information RTE News was reacting to, which resulted in the ‘lead’ with this stance in the report.

Furthermore, Mitchell stripped the Netanyahu quotion of its context, in which he still indicated a reluctance to intensify action, noting that: “Israel is not eager for war, but the security of our citizens is our primary consideration.” This is notable because Nolan's report fails to address the fact that Hamas made several blood-curdling announcements of its desire to intensify the war. The day before Nolan's report, Hamas rejected Netayahu's request for cessation, going as far as to claim that the group would engage in criminal behaviour by targeting Israeli civilians indiscriminately. Nolan’s report was thus highly selective, by ignoring the dark threats made by Hamas, whilst choosing to cast Israel as the aggressor.

Yet, an anti-Israel tone was occasionally absent at RTE News. Senior newscaster Brian Dobson interviewed the Palestinian ambassadorial representative to Ireland, Doctor Ahmad Abdelrazek, on 6.1 News, July 9th. Dobson was critical of Abdelrazek’s explanations for Hamas having initiated the war. Abdelrazek erroneously claimed the Iron Dome completely shields Israeli’s from Hamas rocket fire.

On the 22nd of July, RTE’s 6.1 featured a substantive amount of problematic coverage on the conflict. The 48 minute programme (excluding advertising) included over twelve minutes on the issue. Chris Gunness, of the UNRWA, gave a misleading account of events. Gunness’ selection as a guest, without an Israeli response, was problematic. Gunness has earned some notoriety for being deeply prejudicial. He supports incitement and sources that are supportive of terrorism.

RTE news presenter, Sharon Ní Bheoláin, pointedly interrupted Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to state that Hamas claims not to have been party to Egypt’s cease-fire initiative. However, the claim was not credible, since Hamas had already rejected two prior cease-fire proposals by that stage:
“Now it should be said of course that Hamas say they were not party to those talks, and that was part of the reason they rejected the Egyptian solution as it were. Can I ask you, because time is against us Minister, what is the Irish position on aspects of this, and I am thinking the Blockade, for example, which very many people would say has contributed enormously to the suffering of the humanitarian [sic] people, and also what the Irish position is with regard to the settlements, and the expansion of those settlements?”
Notably, Ní Bheoláin presents an excuse for Hamas’ failure to agree a ceasefire, while pointedly inferring blame on Israeli policy for the war. She also prompted the minister to state that Israeli air strikes are human rights violations, citing a report by Human Rights Watch, an NGO with a noted hostility toward Israel. However, it was to be an assertion he would not make, since he did not wish to pre-empt investigations.


Beit Hanoun

A missile strike at a school in an area of Gaza called Beit Hanoun, led to the deaths of 15 to 17 Arab-Palestinians, believed to be civilian. At the time, international media coverage was particularly intensive. The rush to blame Israel was exceptional, in view of the fact that there was a significant amount of uncertainty over what transpired. Subsequently, little or no coverage was given to emerging reports and video footage that suggested Israel was not to blame. RTE’s coverage fitted this template.

On the 24th of July, RTE’s coverage of the conflict was as obsessive as it was of poor quality. Almost 16 minutes was devoted to the conflict on 6.1 News, with a mere 15 seconds of coverage provided for the 82+ civilians killed in a terrorist attack in Nigeria. Such selective coverage was part of a persistent pattern, where reports of terrorist attacks in similar regions was rarely more than minimal.

Paul Hirschson, a member of the Israeli foreign ministry, claimed in an interview for the programme, that Hamas more than likely were responsible for the strike that led to the deaths. Chris Gunness also admitted, on the same 6.1 show, that the UNRWA didn’t know the source of the attack. Gunness is a partisan anti-Israel guest, who also claimed that the IDF did not allow UNRWA to evacuate civilians from the school. In an uncommonly strong reaction, an IDF spokesperson said Gunness’ claim is a “flat-out complete and total lie.” Therefore, Gunness was unlikely to be forwarding an apologia when he claimed not to know the source of the attack on the school. Nonetheless, screen-text on RTE’s News channel appeared soon after the interviews, which recurrently stated (in two separate locations) that Israel was responsible for the strike on the school: “15 killed as Israel bombs UN school in Gaza”.

RTE included a lengthy interview with Doctor Mads Gilbert at the end of their 9 PM news programme. He was interviewed by news-presenter Kate Egan. Doctor Gilbert earned notoriety for being one of the first Westerners to justify the 9/11 terrorist attacks, despite the substantive targeting of civilian infrastructure. He has also acted as an apologist for Hamas. He co-authored a book of his time in Gaza, which was economical with the truth. As a far-left terrorism advocate, his selection for interview, to describe events during an ongoing conflict, was inappropriate, in view of the friendly unchallenging interview, with smiling news presenter who did not discuss his controversial activism, however briefly.

On Prime Time, RTE’s principle journalistic show, Claire Byrne, a presenter and interviewer, stated in the introduction that Israel admitted targeting the school. She presented a narrative, of Israel admitting it targeted the school but attempting to justify the strike.

However, a few minutes later, Byrne would deny having made the assertion, when an Israeli guest, Professor Dan Shiftan, subsequently challenged her about the accuracy of the claim. He rightly pointed out that Israel had admitted firing in the area as hostilities with Hamas took place, but noted that Israel also denied being responsible for the attack which caused the civilian deaths. Byrne strongly disagreed with what he said. However, her rebuttal was unconvincing. Her explanation appears to suggest that the RTE news editors thought Israel’s admission that it had fired in the area to combat Hamas, was the same as an admission that they intentionally fired on the school, resulting in fatalities. A transcript of the introduction, and their subsequent argument, is featured in the Appendix to this article. More favourably, Byrne did appear to genuinely entertain Shiftan’s comments concerning Hamas’ conduct.

Prime Time’s accompanying news report, by journalist Kevin Burns, blamed Israel for the continued violence. Burns stated at the start of the report that “Israel said it was trying to stop rockets”, to suggest another intent. He also spoke in a noticeably higher-pitched tone of voice, when stating that Netanyahu said he regretted the loss of civilian life, to possibly give Netanyahu’s claim an incredulous quality.

RTE did not issue clarification, after blaming Israel for the Beit Hanoun school strike, when the source was unknown. They would in fact intensify the claim latterly — see Paul O’Flynn’s October 12th report.

A question of figures

The 26th of July Lunchtime News report, authored by Michelle McCaughren, claimed the Palestinians used rocks and firecrackers during riots in Judea and Samaria/West Bank, while Israel responded with tear gas and live fire, after stating that an Arab-Palestinian teenager was shot dead. The veracity of this claim is doubtful because there would have been a considerable death toll if Israel substantively used live ammunition to suppress a riot, unless the live bullets were used in a highly selective fashion, but this is not how McCaughren’s David and Goliath narrative is presented.

The 28th of July Lunchtime News report, by Joan O’Sullivan, claimed that Israel didn’t dispute the death toll of over a thousand Arab-Palestinians killed in the then-present war, before focusing on the apparent scale of Arab-Palestinian civilian deaths. Her assertion appeared to suggest that Israel had endorsed or not contested the Hamas health ministry/UNRWA/PCHR (Palestinian Center for Human Rights) NGO claims, which assert that three quarters of those killed are civilian. Such a claim is misleading because Israel asserted that it believed that half or more of those killed were engaged in belligerency, which was borne out by detailed analysis of the affiliations of the individuals killed. It is often difficult to distinguish between militant and civilian fatalities, and Israel tends not to issue or endorse death tolls until studies are carried out.

In the past, Hamas-based studies were the basis for statistics from the UN and a variety of anti-Israel NGOs. In the last major Gaza war of 2009, Hamas was forced to correct its statistics due to political expediency. Death tolls derived from Hamas’ health ministry are thus unreliable.

RTE Player Screen-grab of RTE’s Lunchtime News ,1st September 2014


War’s Aftermath

Christopher McKevitt’s 1st of September Lunchtime news report, focused on the transfer of land in Judea and Samaria/West Bank into state ownership. It failed to note that the site was the location of the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, and while his report mentions that the murders were a stated reason for the State action, he casts doubt upon the claim because that purpose wasn’t mentioned in a sign at the site! McKevitt presents the transfer as a theft of Arab land. The report header states “US urges Israel to reverse a decision to take Palestinian land in West Bank”. It would emerge however that the site went through a lengthy legal process to determine its ownership. It was declared to be state land when none was found.

Paul O’Flynn’s October 12th Lunchtime News report discussed financial assistance for Gaza’s repair. O’Flynn also describes the war that Hamas initiated, as a “bombardment”. The news presenter, when introducing the report, also spoke of an “Israeli military bombardment”. Israel is presented as the only group reluctant to assist Gaza. However, various donors are worried about such funds going to Hamas, which would facilitate the financing of a new war, as on prior occasions. Oddly however, the word “Hamas” is not found anywhere in the two-minute report.

The journalist claimed that 30 Arab-Palestinians were killed by an Israeli rocket at the Beit Hanoun school during the recent conflict:
“This school in Beit Hanoun was hit by an Israeli rocket during the summer, and 30 people died.”
There is in fact robust evidence to suggest that Israel was not responsible for the strike that killed the civilians at the UN school in Beit Hanoun. As previously mentioned, this evidence was not widely discussed in the aftermath of the intense mainstream media condemnation. There was also little mention of reports that the UNRWA acknowledged that a Hamas rocket hit the school. However, with the benefit of hindsight, after the initial and misguided rush to judgement, O’Flynn’s blame, focusing on an “Israeli rocket” to the exclusion of all other opinion and compelling evidence, is a rather serious ethical breach. The death-toll also appears to be inflated, from approximately 15 to 30, seemingly without justification.


Incitement and Intifada

Christopher McKevitt’s 6.1 news report, on the 18th of November, addressed the terrorist attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem, resulting in the murder of five.

Mckevitt stated that Palestinian Authority president…
“Mahmoud Abbas did condemn the killings but in the same breath criticised the recent Israeli assault on the al Asqa Mosque on the Temple Mount, a site venerated in both Judaism and Islam.”
Mahmoud Abbas, like Arab-Palestinian leaders before him, has repeatedly claimed that Israel is taking possession of the al Asqa mosque, to stoke intensive violence. However McKevitt failed to provide any clarification or qualification that “Israel’s assault on the al Asqa Mosque” was a particular truth claim that Abbas was advancing. McKevitt’s assertion tacitly justified the attack, by pointing to supposedly provocative actions on the part of the side so attacked. The PA president condemning a terrorist attack, whilst echoing the very sentiments that gave rise to such violence at the time, was indeed a terrible irony, and surely merited some comment concerning his role of inciting violence.

An RTE article ‘Fifth person dies after Jerusalem synagogue attack’, published the same day, undermined Netanyahu’s claims regarding Abbas’ incitement. It failed to mention Abbas echoed the very inciteable claims in his “condemnation”.

McKevitt’s report noted that the dispute was over access rights to the Temple Mount. However, he fails to mention that the issue is in fact over the access rights of one group — Jews, who at the time were campaigning for the right to worship on the Mount, which is their holiest religious site.

McKevitt asserted that twelve Arab-Palestinians had died versus seven Israeli’s. To his credit, he said that some of those Arab-Palestinians were the instigators of homicidal acts. However, he failed to mention that the others were involved in violent Intifada-like protests at the time (except for a man who committed suicide) so it is rather misleading to draw equivalences to innocents murdered by terrorists, whilst praying in a synagogue or waiting at a bus or train stop.


Simplified narratives

Paul O’Flynn’s 6.1 News report, of the 10th of December, on the death of PA minister Ziad Abu Ein, appears latterly in the news programme, despite being announced as an upcoming story in the first part of the show. Presenter Sharon ní Bheoláin misleadingly suggested that he died when he was hand-grabbed by an Israeli soldier, when in fact he died subsequently, for reasons that are disputed. Secondly, O’Flynn’s report features a lengthy comment by PA minister Hanan Ashwari, in which she not only calls it an act of murder, but claims Israel killed thousands of other Arab-Palestinians “in cold blood”. There was no corresponding response from any Israeli official, other than O’Flynn noting that both sides disputed the events.

In an article published on the 31st of December, RTE claims Israel committed war crimes in the “occupied territories” without qualifying that the claim is the position of one side, or with the citing of any source, however prejudicial:
“Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is to apply immediately to join the International Criminal Court, senior officials said, after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on ending the Israeli occupation.

Mr Abbas will sign the Rome Statute, adhering to the founding treaty of the ICC, where the Palestinians could sue Israeli officials for war crimes in the occupied territories.”
Reports by United Nations bodies have levelled the war crimes charge at Israel’s door but all have been contested. For example, the Goldstone Report was demonstrated by numerous sources to possess strong evidential problems responses, and convincing charges of bias in its analysis.

Irish pro-Israel advocacy group, Irish4Israel, noted RTE’s continuing fascination with the story into the New Year, whilst failing to give the Israeli perspective much voice, nor address the fact that the PA may be vulnerable to charges as well.


End of year news roundups

News channels, the world over, like to fill their end of year schedules with news coverage of the year then coming to an end. This programming can at times be edifying, but for the most part comes across as the rehashing of old news stories. Occasionally it can also provide an indicator of certain biases because the partial selection and coverage of stories can constitute a glimpse of what the news-editors value.

RTE’s run-down of what it feels were the most newsworthy stories of the year, entitled “2014 Year In Review” published on the 30th of December 2014, used some problematic language in the two featured stores on Israel, the first of which addressed the death of former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

The piece features an inaccuracy with respect to Sharon’s military record. It states: “He left major historical footprints on the Middle East through military invasion, Jewish settlement-building on occupied land the Palestinians seek for a state”.

Casting his role as one of acting in military invasions, ignores some of the most notable events of his military career as being in the defence of Israel, with particular respect to his defining role in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Even the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, for which Sharon’s reputation was tarnished, can be deemed a defensive act, after persistent PLO incursions.

RTÉ’s Error-Laden Coverage of Ariel Sharon’s Death’ offers a detailed analysis of their prior coverage.

With respect to the 2014 Gaza war, ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the broadcaster states:
“By the end of the 50-day conflict, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by Hamas rockets and attacks.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later said the destruction in Gaza was “beyond description”.”
RTE accepted the UN’s death toll figures, without mention that Israel disputes these figures for good reason, since they are derived from Hamas’ health ministry, which has a record of forwarding tolls that grossly distort civilian death rates. The Meir Amit Terrorism and Information Center has been investigating the identities of casualties since the early stages of the war. In a succession of seven reports, it has so far examined 1,165 individual Gazan fatalities. It found 52% of deaths are linked with terrorist groups.

By contrast, the RTE review featured nothing about the Syrian civil war, other than with respect to the emergent terrorist group ‘Islamic State’. The death toll of the civil war had by then exceeded 200,000 in just over three and a half years, in what began as an Arab Spring protest, transitioning into an organised anti-Assad insurgency by Summer 2011. Yet all the reader gets is a sub-section entitled “The rise of the Islamic State group”, which does not directly reference the civil war.

RTE’s one-hour special on 2014 in review (first broadcast on RTE One, 31st December 2014), reflected similar biases with respect to the Gaza war, whilst failing to discuss the Syrian civil war.


Presenting a pro-Palestinian alternative

When accused of bias, many media outlets claim to have received accusations of bias from both sides in a given issue. Therefore, they argue that they cannot be biased. Such a stance may be deemed to be a fallacy because the argument does not measure the broad veracity of the complaints from each side.

Accusations of bias can of course be motivated by a dislike for the expression of stories that do not suit a person’s own narrative on an issue, so the veracity of these criticisms has be measured, in terms of accuracy and balance. This point is exemplified by the biggest controversy over RTÉ’s coverage of the Gaza war, where Irish anti-Israel groups organised an online petition, to object to a supposed misinterpretation of what an Arab-Palestinian woman stated. The charge was difficult to justify because the broadcaster did not present her comments as being a direct translation.


Appendix

On 24th July 2014, RTE television programme ‘Prime Time’, featured a segment where Claire Byrne, the presenter and interviewer, suggested that Israel admitted targeting a school in a northern district of Gaza, called Beit Hanoun. However, she would deny making the assertion to an Israeli guest, Professor Dan Shiftan.

Claire Byrne’s introduction to the segment conflated the targeting of the area with targeting the school:
“Israel has admitted tonight that it targeted an area in Gaza where 15 people were killed, when a UN school was hit earlier today. Hundreds more were injured in the attack on the school, which was being used as a shelter for civilians during fighting in the Middle East. But Israel says that Hamas is to blame, claiming that it prevented civilians from leaving the school, which was being used as a cover to launch rocket attacks.”
Later in the segment, Shiftan disputed Byrne’s claim that Israel admitted “targeting” the school.

Byrne replied: “I want to be very clear what we did say, and what the Israeli Defence Forces said on their official blog. They say that Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun. This is the IDF, which is where the shelter is located. The IDF, the Israel Defence Forces, they say, responded by targeting the source of the fire. So they are saying that they did target that area.”

Shiftan: “No, no. The source of the fire. Not the school. The source of the fire. Not the school. You said Israel targeted the school.”

Byrne interjecting: “No we didn’t, no we didn’t. We very very clearly and very deliberately said that they targeted the source of the fire. We did not suggest that they targeted the school because we’ve said exactly what the IDF said.”

Shiftan: “Ok, no you didn’t but we can come to that later. The important thing is that we don’t know yet if these casualties came from Hamas rockets that fell. About 20%, somewhat less than 20% of the rockets Hamas is launching, vis-à-vis Israel, are falling inside the Gaza Strip.”





Published at Crethi Plethi.

A review of June to December 2014 coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict on Irish television – Part Three: TV3’s coverage

This article is the third part of an extended study of Irish television coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict, during the latter part of 2014. Part One introduces and summarises the study, whilst Part Two provides specific examples of bias on Ireland's public service broadcaster RTE.

TV3 is RTE’s chief competitor in the Irish broadcasting industry, for television-based news coverage. RTE, as the Irish State Broadcaster, obtains funding from a mix of tax revenue and advertising. Due to RTE’s broad monopoly, TV3 has complained that it is a challenge to compete in the broadcasting environment, because it relies solely on advertising revenue, for which it has to compete with RTE.

The ‘5.30 News’ reports, on the TV3 channel, during the 2014 Gaza war (‘Operation Protective Edge’), often followed a fairly straightforward narrative, that did not tend to strongly favour one side, e.g. Steven Murphy’s 23rd July segment, which did not shy away from strong content but still presented both perspectives. This may be surprising, in view of TV3’s modest budget for news content, compared to that of RTE, and because news coverage on the TV3/3e channels tend to focus less so on hard-news.

The quality of content seems to diverge to some extent, one variable perhaps being the programme makers. TV3’s ‘Ireland AM’, with presenter Mark Cagney, often favours anti-Israel perspectives, while an extended ‘FYI’ documentary (1st August, 3e), for young adult audiences, was deemed to have given fair voice to both sides. By contrast, RTE’s reportage seemed to become more overtly prejudicial as the war in Gaza progressed.


Tom McGurk (left), Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Boaz Modai (middle), and
Palestinian ambassadorial representative to Ireland, Dr. Ahmad Abdelrazek (right). TV3, July 17th, 2014

Tom McGurk tackles Israel’s Ambassador

TV3’s news reporting focuses on entertainment and sport above politics. This may suggest the channel is less weighed down by ideologically driven analysis of the news. Unfortunately however, TV3’s primary current affairs vehicle, the ‘Vincent Browne Show’ proved to be the complete opposite.

In one extended 17th July segment, the harshness of the questioning directed by guest host Tom McGurk, toward the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Doctor Boaz Modai, was extraordinary. One might expect presenters to try to calm feelings when attempting to discuss emotive topics, but McGurk used highly dramatic language, gestured wildly during his argument with Modai, and obsessed about the IDF invading Gaza at night when common sense would indicate such a legitimate measure was used to reduce Hamas’ capacity to strike. He also forwarded a number of notable inaccuracies, such as the claim that nearly half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 10 or 15. McGurk is a journalist, ex-rugby player and RTE sports pundit.

Challenging questioning should be expected, but the presenter displayed a stark favouritism with respect to his treatment of the Palestinian ambassadorial representative to Ireland, Doctor Ahmad Abdelrazek, who he seemingly agreed with completely. McGurk did not challenge Abdelrazek’s overt falsehoods, such as a denial that Hamas fires at Israelis indiscriminately, and seeks Israel’s destruction.

Tom McGurk did not appear to take any questions or issues arising from Modai’s points, whilst directly leading the questioning from the PA representative’s points, on several occasions. McGurk insisted that Hamas are the legitimate democratic rulers of Gaza. This is a bizarre claim that anti-Israelis advance, since the regime has long exceeded its democratic mandate. Such stances are proffered by apologists, so may indicate a sympathy with the terrorist group. However, in a contradictory fashion, McGurk also makes out Gazans are completely innocent, that they have no desire to have Hamas wage war on Israel, despite having elected Hamas on a continued mandate of violence, shortly after the end of the intensive terrorism of the Second Intifada.

McGurk presented a misleading premise, that there was somehow the option for peace, after Hamas attacked Israel in a sustained fashion, ignored pleas for a cessation, and subsequently escalated the rocket barrages. He also posited the notion that Israel was punishing Gazans in a prison camp. He stated it was an act of collective punishment, and asserted that Jews were killed by the million due to “collective punishment”. Although McGurk denied it, his paralleling with the Holocaust was overt. His stance may even suggest that some Jews were deserving of punishment during the Holocaust era, since the notion of ‘collective punishment’ rests on the idea that a group is punished for the actions of some.


Tom McGurk argues with,Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Boaz Modai (off-picture), TV3, July 17th, 2014.

At the end of the interview, McGurk’s input arguably led to a breach of the 2009 Broadcasting Act by TV3, which bears a responsibility for the actions of those programme makers whose content the broadcaster presents to the public, when he lectured Ambassador Modai on the attitudes of the Irish toward the conflict, which he presented as both pro-Palestinian and noble in intent. McGurk argued that the Irish people sympathised with the Arab-Palestinian collective because the Irish were a people historically dispossessed of their land, as he claims the Arab-Palestinians to be. However, it can be argued that McGurk’s analysis is both facile, and factually incorrect, thereby exceeding his role as presenter with a highly subjective opinion. Whilst Ireland is rightly viewed as a pro-Palestinian nation, it is worth noting that a great number of people in Ireland have little interest in this conflict. The debate is also very one-sided because there is no substantive Irish pro-Israel movement, while the Irish pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel faction is highly organised, and highly vocal. It is almost an inevitability that sympathies will be swayed if people are presented with one-sided media narratives over very extended periods. A study published in May 2011 also found that 11.5% surveyed were hostile to Jews. Thus, with some unjustifiable hostility, combined with a broad lack of interest in the conflict, a lack of genuine local debate, where only one narrative is commonly expressed, and an absence of knowledge of the issue, with some of those hostile to Israel misinformed to the point of absurdity, it cannot be affirmed that the Irish hold anti-Israel sentiment for any one particular or primary reason, and whether that reason is noble or base.

McGurk selectively views the Arab-Palestinians as a displaced people, while apparently deeming the Jewish nation as not. For McGurk, it would seem that the Jewish People, as a collective, is fundamentally a homeless group. It is well known that some early senior Irish republicans sympathised with Zionism, seeing the plight of the Irish as somewhat similar, being a people going through a similar dispossession of their homeland by external forces. There is also a concurrent parallel between the Jewish and Irish Diasporas, since the Irish experienced substantive oppression in early migratory phases. Therefore, given their history, it is certainly not obvious that the Irish people would have a greater historic similarity to Arab-Palestinians, a group culturally and in part racially descended from prior Arab-Islamic occupiers, who would subsequently make so much of the Middle East judenrein.

Tom McGurk exhibited very similar behaviour in the past, where he browbeated pro-Israel guests, e.g. McGurk undermined the sole Irish pro-Israel speaker, in an episode of his show ‘Spirit Moves’ (RTE Radio One, 11th January 2009), going as far as to personally insult him. After the guest pointed out that the IDF was trying to suppress Hamas, an organisation with genocidal anti-Semitic aims, McGurk said: “You’re an extraordinary cheerleader! 300 dead children and you’re on the sidelines cheerleading!” Through the programme, McGurk referred to the death of 300 children. A BBC report, circa January 6th was cited as a source. However, figures supplied by the BBC, via Hamas’ health ministry, vary between 205 and 195, in another erroneous report. These figures were strongly contested, since the tolls relate to an early phase in ‘Operation Cast Lead’, just a few days after the IDF’s ground invasion of the 3rd January, but McGurk, and his other guests, would insist upon its veracity. Hamas revised its death toll in 2010, aligning more with figures provided by the IDF.

A transcript of the 17th July 2014 discussion is available below, in an appendix of this article.


Dearbhaill McDonald Presents

Journalist Dearbhaill McDonald presented another episode of the ‘Vincent Browne Show’ on the 24th of July. McDonald chose to discuss what impact social media was having on the Gaza conflict. Indeed, sites like Twitter were used intensively to post images of apparent suffering, with a particular focus on Arab-Palestinian children. This issue may have had a profound impact on the way the media conducted itself, as well as the way in which it shapes narratives on the conflict, where propaganda, devoid of any context, could take a leading role. Questions of the veracity of these images was also relevant, with Hamas and other parties having often used images from other conflicts. This activity began to intensify in 2012, when images of heavily injured and dead children were misrepresented as having been killed by Israel. Such visceral imagery may have also played a role in the increase of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe. These were worthy areas of discussion but McDonald chose to limit the conversation to essentially pro-Palestinian talking points: whether or not the display of such explicit imagery is acceptable, in view of our social sensibilities!

The panel comprised of guests that were hostile to Israel, with the exception of Declan Power, a security analyst, who was critical of both Israel and Hamas. Despite often criticising Israel, he was nonetheless continuously interrupted, sometimes in a hostile fashion, and at times undermined by the host, when criticising Hamas. This may suggest that the presenter and/or the producers of The Vincent Browne show fostered an intolerant climate for one side of this discussion, where any expressions of sympathy with Israel were to be discouraged.

Colette Browne, an ‘Irish Independent’ columnist, even criticised Power’s opinion that Hamas should not be indiscriminately launching rockets on Israelis. Power stated that if Hamas “really were interested in the security of their people, one of the things that would give them huge leverage is if they stopped firing these rockets”. Colette Browne interrupted to assert that “they [Hamas] stopped in 2012 and the blockade wasn’t lifted on Gaza.” This contention relates to the unlikely claim by some terrorist groups that they stopped firing rockets in the 2012 ‘Pillar of Cloud’ War, in exchange for the opening of Israel’s borders. Extravagant claims of victory are a normative part of conflicts, where terror groups like Hamas and Hizbullah often proclaim victory after resounding defeat.

The 24th July was the day of the missile strike on the UN school in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun district. The mainstream Western media rushed to a judgement on the strike, with the attribution of blame unjustly associated with Israel, which appears to have become an innate reflex since the Millennium.

Dearbhaill McDonald directed a question on the issue to ex-rugby player, Trevor Hogan, who having repeatedly berated Declan Power, was speaking on behalf of anti-Israel group ‘Gaza Action Ireland’:
“And some breaking news over the course of the programme, Trevor, that Israel is no longer standing over the position earlier that Hamas is responsible for that attack on the UN school.”
These claims did in fact emerge several hours earlier. Trevor Hogan, replied with an unintended irony:
“Exactly, Israel, Israeli spokespeople have a tendency, their immediate reaction is to deny everything, and blame Hamas, and then after everything cools down, they accept responsibility. And they’ve already done that with this latest incident. So it’s just a reminder that we should never believe a word Mark Regev, all of these spokespeople say, because they continuously twist the truth. And now as Larry and Colette has pointed out, there’s no way for them to hide anymore.”
In reality however, Israel asserted that they conducted a military campaign in the area within hours of the mainstream media’s frenzied coverage so it is fanciful for the presenter and guest to suggest they are spinning the story. McDonald and Hogan misrepresented Israel’s stance as they continued to deny responsibility for the missile strike on the school which led to the death of 15 Arab-Palestinians.

Whilst RTE’s ‘Prime Time’ coverage of the Beit Hanoun school missile strike (as described in Part Two of this article) was undoubtedly problematic, the presenter, Claire Byrne, did at least allow the fair expression of competing viewpoints. By contrast, ‘The Vincent Browne Show’ once again became an example of what any responsible broadcaster should avoid.

The attitudes of the principal host, Vincent Browne, were cause for complaint in the past, which the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland largely upheld.


Appendix

Tom McGurk’s questions to Ambassador Boaz Modai, on the Vincent Browne show (17th July 2014), show a marked contrast to the questioning directed at the Palestinian ambassadorial representative to Ireland, Ahmad Abdelrazek. Some responses are given in a synopsis due to the length of the debate.

Tom McGurk [question to Ambassador Boaz Modai]: “Tonight Ambassador thousands of Israeli troops, tanks are invading on Gaza. Presumably a very large number of people will be dead tomorrow morning?”

[Modai states that Rockets have continued with 12,000 rockets hitting Israel, stating that no government would tolerate such a thing]

McGurk: “But not many governments in the world would sent in troops, armoured cars, and tanks, into a small area of a million people, into a civilian situation, in the dark. They’ve gone in tonight with all the lights out in Gaza. Is that not a terrifying prospect?”

[Modai explains that there are two Gaza’s, and air strikes could not destroy the tunnels and rockets.]

McGurk: “But you’ve invaded both Gaza’s because they are still the same piece of territory.”

[Modai states the army will do its utmost to protect civilians]

McGurk: “Yeah but what do you hope to achieve by this? Presumably if you have members of Hamas, what will you do with them tonight, will you arrest them, shoot them on the spot, what will you do with them?”

[Modai states it is difficult to discuss the military operation]

McGurk: [Laughs] “I think we should [discuss the military operation]. There is a moral question there.”

[Modai responds by stating that the moral question is who aims what at whom — pointing out Hamas does a double war crime by aiming at civilians from civilian areas]

McGurk [Interrupting]: “Ok we’ve heard that speech all week! What is the purpose of the invasion tonight. If a certain number of people are killed, will Hamas stop, will Hamas surrender, what is the purpose of it because when you pull out, after how many people will be killed on either side, what will the difference be?”

[Modai states that the aim is not to kill people but to achieve a solution to a problem — the terror tunnels, Israel intercepted Hamas militants using a tunnel to get into a Kibbutz to cause a massacre.]

McGurk [sighing and interrupting]: “There has already been a massacre… But ambassador, there has already been a massacre, and 60 children. The world is looking at Israel in astonishment. Do you realise the damage you are doing to the state of Israel internationally and globally? To kill 60 children is a war crime in anybody’s language.”

Modai: “The easy use of the word ‘war crime’” [goes on to challenge the stance by pointing to the bombing of Kosovo in 1999, by Western nations, in which 2000 civilians were killed, including many children.]

McGurk: “So 60 don’t matter that much then?”

[Modai counters that war often leads to civilian deaths, especially when used as human shields]

McGurk [To the Palestinian ambassadorial representative, Doctor Ahmad Abdelrazek]: “The bottom line here is that the Hamas rockets have provoke the situation. And if there were no Hamas rockets, there wouldn’t be this invasion. Does that not add up?”

Abdelrazek: “The results that we see they are targeting the civilians without ah sometimes I think its for fun because what we have see yesterday, and all the journalists in Gaza saw yesterday, that the gunship, the Israeli gunship shot the four children at the beach. It was clear there are children. It was clear they are not armed but they shot two shots and the second shot the children, and blast others… when this people are on the beach there were nobody, no Hamas people, no fighters people. There are children playing football.”

McGurk [to Modai]: “Well Ambassador, would you explain to this Palestinian gentleman why… let the ambassador explain why that was done?” [Notably McGurk allows the PA Ambassador to completely side-step this question, and actually turns on Modai]

[Modai states that it was probably a mistake due to the confusion of war. He notes his surprise the Arab-Palestinian ambassador’s stance as his leader Mahmoud Abbas was critical of Hamas’ actions in targeting Israeli civilians indiscriminately. He suggests the ambassador is trying to protect Hamas].

McGurk: “Are Hamas not elected?”

Abdelrazek [instead of stating that he does not defent Hamas — the PA Ambassador states]: “Mr. Ambassador, you say you your soldier doesn’t target civilians, I’ll give you many examples. First of all you remember on last March, when a soldier shooted killed a Jordanian judge, just with cold blood. Many witnesses. The second, when the soldier shooted and the unity, the army said he wasn’t a member of the unity but [indistinct] he shooted the young boy.”

McGurk: [instead of allowing Modai reply, McGurk interrupts and asked the PA ambassador] “Sorry to interrupt you. I want to move you on to tonight, you are familiar with Gaza, what is that scene like tonight”

Abdelrazek: “you can imagine one point seven million people are…”

McGurk: “…in the dark”

Abdelrazek [echoes McGurk]: “…in the dark, and in an area of 300 square kilometres only, and ahh ahh ahh the Israelis say they don’t want to war but we have to know that before the beginning they started to to call the reservists, how many reservists Mr. Ambassador? More than 60,000 reservists has been called. How, what for? A tiny three hundred square kilometres. It’s a huge army for Gaza. It’s a huge army so it was deliberately preparing for the invasion of Gaza.”

McGurk: “Boaz, can I put this to you, ah you know there the accusation that this is the doctrine of collective punishment, and who knows more about the doctrine of collective punishment than the Jewish people who were murdered in millions by the process of collective punishment. How do you face that accusation because to many Gaza is a prison camp.”

Modai: “Could you repeat the question. Are you trying in any way to compare in any way the Holocaust…”

McGurk: “No, I’m talking about the process of collective punishment, where a whole group of people are punished. That is what is going on here in Gaza. Would you recognise that?”

[McGurk interrupting as Modai begins to answer] “You saw everybody tonight in Gaza being punished.”

[Modai states the Gazans are the victims of Hamas, rather than the Israelis].

McGurk: “Perhaps but what can they do about Hamas? What do you want them to do about Hamas?”

Modai: [pauses, seemingly with incredulity at the question] “What does the world do about Hamas, what does the Palestinian Authority do, I mean this is a question you should be asking? … his government is sharing power with the Hamas.” This is a terrorist organisation, do you accept that? [McGurk allows the PA Representative to interrupt.]

Abdelrazek [The PA Ambassador puts his hand up to interject]: “I’ll tell you something now. I’ll tell you something. Since we are… Mr. Ambassador. Mr. Ambassador, the whole problem lets go to the origin. The whole problem is occupation, and we say the only way to have security is to have a just solution of two state solution. When you started to negotiate with the Israeli government, Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister, he used to say ah ah ah President Abbas doesn’t represent all the Palestinian, and when we form the unity government Mr. Netanyahu say Mr. Abbas ah ah ah should choose between peace or Hamas. Our government is recognising Israel, our government is so we don’t.”

[Modai reminds the PA Ambassador that Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel.]

Abdelrazek [taking exception]: “Excuse me, no no you have people in your government, excuse me, Mr Neftali Benai who is a minister”

Modai: “He’s not against peace. He’s for peace.”

Abdelrazek: “I’ll tell you what he said…” [reaches into his pocket]

McGurk: “Boaz, can I just ask you this? You said the people in Gaza have to deal with Hamas. How do they deal with Hamas? I mean they don’t ask Hamas to fire the rockets. How do they deal with them?”

Modai: “We’re trying to help them to get rid of the Hamas…”

McGurk [interrupting]: “…by invading with thousands of [indistinct]? By killing them?”

Abdelrazek [joining in with McGurk]: “the civilians… the civilians…”

Modai: “We are not killing the civilians [intentionally]. It’s very nice, I’m sure the viewers see how you both attack me on that.”

McGurk [interrupting as well as Abdelrazek]: “your affliction of the facts, not of any [indistinct].”

[Modai states that Abdelrazek knows well what Hamas are all about, and objects to the equivocation of Hamas and the IDF, stating that they only target civilians, not the military. Refers to the Allies having killed more civilians than military, asking does that mean they were wrong, and Germany right?]

McGurk: “Speaking of history, can I say something to you? In Ireland we have a particular understanding of this problem because we too were a dispossessed people for hundreds of years. We too understand the notion of being dispossessed in our own land. This has been the experience of the Palestinians. And that’s perhaps why Irish sentiment is sympathetic to the Palestinians. We’ve also had a peace process. We’d a thirty-year war here. Nothing was ended until both sides put away the weapons and sat down and had an agreement, and an enemies became friends.”

Abdelrazek: “Absolutely.”

McGurk: “Where are you ever going to start a peace process gentlemen? Where can there be a starting point, certainly not tonight.”

Abdelrazek: “When Israel accept the are two states on the 1967 borders.”

McGurk: “1967 Borders, no?”

Modai: “Israel already agreed to two states but there is no dialogue.”

Abdelrazek: “How you say there is no dialogue” [states Abbas is proposing negotiating now for a strictly three month period — argue back and forth about a notional ‘right of return’, and setting preconditions of the 1967 borders before negotiations.]

McGurk: “Is there a possibility ah that ah sometime tomorrow, if there’s huge numbers of people dead, that Israel will realise the level of the mistake that is being made here, because you’re looking at thousands of young kids in Gaza, and the population, as you know, almost half the population is under the age of 10 or 15. Tonight, watching their doors smashed in, and the soldiers arresting their family, what are they going to become in 10 or 15 years time?”

Modai: “You have to decide what is better, to target from the air or the ground?”

McGurk [interrupting]: or or or try the peace.”

Abdelrazek [laughing at Modai’s phrasing]: “Do we have to choose which way to be killed, Mr. Ambassador?”

[Modai refers again to Hamas’ wish for destruction]: “Do you try to make peace with someone who calls for your destruction, who shoots at your citizens indiscriminately?”

Abdelrazek: “No, no, this is nonsense.”

McGurk [to Abdelrazek]: “I’m going to give you the final word. We’re running out of time. Final thought about tonight in Gaza.”

Abdelrazek: “Already already since the the Israeli ah invaded, the Israeli troops invaded Gaza, already there are four dead people, and twenty twenty ah ah blast, but ah thank you Mr. Ambassador to give us the chance to choose our way to be killed, by air or by troops.”







Published at Crethi Plethi.