Thursday 17 August 2017

Kevin Myers, the Nature of Anti-Semitism and the Media’s schadenfreude

Kevin Myers’ Sunday Times profile picture (Source: Youtube image grab)

On the 30th of July 2017, the Irish edition of the Sunday Times published a column by veteran journalist Kevin Myers, entitled “Sorry ladies — equal pay has to be earned”. The ensuing reaction has been a spectacle of extraordinary proportions, constituting one of the bigger media stories of 2017.

Myers was fired from his post as chief columnist with the Irish Sunday Times, within a few hours, after an outraged online response in Britain, and attacks in the media. Some British news outlets, such as the Guardian went as far as to label him a ‘Holocaust denier’, while Danny Cohen, a prior executive at the BBC, demanded that the Sunday Times prevent Myers from working for any ‘News UK’ publication again. Lionel Barber, the Financial Times’ editor, claimed that the article represented an expression of “undiluted anti-Semitism and misogyny”. The Irish media was no less hostile, and a rolling series of attacks would ensue over the next two weeks, while a number of senior politicians also lambasted his article.

Anti-Semitic Stereotyping

Ireland’s main Jewish community group, the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, issued the most notable public statement in support of Kevin Myers, claiming that to call him “either an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier is an absolute distortion of the facts”, adding that Myers has done “more than any other Irish journalist” to write “about details of the Holocaust over the last three decades.”

The Irish Times would however publish an op-ed by Caryna Camerino, a Canadian Jewish woman who has lived in Dublin for approximately a decade. The publication of the article appears to have been motivated as a harsh retort directed at both Myers, and the Jewish Representative Council’s defence of the journalist, which elements of the media treated in a seemingly incredulous manner. Camerino’s attack focused on biological sex: her “lady brain” could not understand the assertions of these “men” at the Council, and that they do not represent her. She did not address the strength of her own connections to Ireland’s Jewish community, other than to acknowledge that she is not religiously practicing, nor if she was aware of any substantive dissent.

Camerino latterly claims in her op-ed that she is a “real Jew” with real feelings, etc. Although the remark is not closely connected to her attack on the Jewish Council, the article ultimately presents an inference that the Council are somehow not truly entitled to express their opinions, in view of her trenchant attack which amounts to little more than an ad hominem, while, in a stark dichotomy, she, as an individual and authentically Jewish person, possesses that right. She comes close to making that point outright when criticising the Council for not giving “any recognition of Jewish diversity, humanity and individuality — the very things that get erased by anti-Semitic generalisations”.

Camerino is of course justified in claiming that she is firmly and unconditionally entitled to express her opinion, as that is very much the right of each individual under any truly free democratic state, but she cannot justly insist that others have no such right to speak on behalf of their community when they have been afforded the authority to advocate on such a collective’s behalf for quite some time. The head Council representative, Maurice Cohen, stated that they had consulted quite widely on the matter, and appear to have received little negative reaction from the people they represent.

The question as to whether or not Myers endorsed an anti-Semitic stereotype in his final Sunday Times article is perhaps not as clear-cut as it may at first seem. Myers stated in his typically combative manner:
“I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC — Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted — are Jewish. Good for them.
Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity. I wonder, who are their agents? If they’re the same ones that negotiated the pay for the women on the lower scales, then maybe the latter have found their true value in the marketplace.”
Seth Barrett-Tillman, a lecturer in law at Maynooth University, asserted that Myers made a factual statement that was praiseworthy, and which could be tested for its veracity, in an RTE interview with Sean O’Rourke. By contrast, Julia Neuberger, Britiain’s first female Rabbi, described the assertion in Myers’ column as “absolutely gratuitous, not cleverly done, it’s blatant racism”, adding that “you have to give people a chance to rethink their own attitudes.” Maurice Cohen disagreed, arguing that Myers had “inadvertently stumbled into an antisemitic trope”.

Myers is a particularly intelligent and educated individual, who appears to be knowledgeable on the topic of anti-Semitism. He clearly tapped into a stereotype that is often used as a means of detraction, but the context in which it is presented is genuinely peculiar. The stereotype appears to have been applied as a means of praise toward Jewish people, rather than as an expression of hostility. He argued that individuals should take proper recompense for their labours and talents.

While Camerino suggested that Myers traded in negative characterisations of Jewishness, and in anti-Semitic conspiracism, Myers did not appear to make out that Jewish people are greedy and controlling in the two relevant paragraphs, which were otherwise quite sarcastic, if not genuinely unpleasant, although it might be argued that this contrast is merely a façade, and that the journalist traded on an undercurrent of the sentiment of Jewish greed to generate a reaction from the reader.

Stereotypes can sometimes feature some level of truth since cultures frequently diverge, and talents quite often get directed into different professions and other varying spheres of activity. Stereotypes nonetheless generalise and can act to typecast minorities. They can be damaging and potentially dangerous, even when presented in a positive manner. However, Camerino denied Myers’ subsequent claim that Jewish people achieve a great deal in certain areas of endeavour, which he said that he admired — a sentiment which seems genuine because he has occasionally expressed similar views for some time. Myers elaborated in a BBC interview, after the controversy erupted, stating that Jewish financial institutions historically did better because they were more trustworthy. Camerino’s claim would seem to be questionable since it is hardly a secret that Jewish people do achieve a level of notable prestige in academia, health and finance, and she unnecessarily cast Myers’ philosemitism as anti-Semitism in its own right.

Some critics have argued that motivation matters little when such an author trades in damaging stereotypes. Rabbi Neuberger sought the opportunity to explain to Myers why such sentiments are so offensive. However, few would not accept that motivation denotes levels of blameworthiness, where accidental wrongdoing is usually treated very differently to acts of malice. Legal systems also make a distinction between such acts. If Myers is guilty of negligence, where he should have known of the harm of the stereotype, as Neuberger seems to have suggested, then that assertion contrasts to no small extent with claims that he is an outright bigot/anti-Semite.

If Myers did intend to trade on negative stereotyping then he was crossing an ethical boundary but the paragraphs are ultimately too vague to make a firm judgement on the matter. Occasionally, anti-Semites proffer a backhanded compliment as a prelude to an attack, but in Myers’ case it did not occur. In cases were such descriptions lead to anti-Semitic expression, conspiracies are invoked to suggest that Jewish people control a given area of industry, that they run a “cabal” for their own mutual benefit, which not only excludes non-Jewish people from betterment in the same field, but is used for nefarious means and excessive gain.

Myers’ remark ultimately constitutes an anti-Semitic stereotype, and was problematic without any clarification because it could be seen as an endorsement. It leaves Myers justly open to criticism, but the surrounding contextual indeterminacy should have mitigated against such an intensive reaction, because it was not expressed by a person with a notable prior record of hostility toward the Jewish people — quite the opposite in fact. Given Myers’ prior record of support for certain Jewish issues, he should be afforded the benefit of the doubt when claiming that the comment was not motivated by hostility. However, the controversy began in Britain where few would be familiar with Myers’ record of philosemitism.

The equal pay debate

Kevin Myers’ by now infamous Sunday Times 30th July article focused on the row over the diverging sums paid to male and female performers and presenters at the BBC. He argued that men tend receive better remuneration than women because they frequently work harder, and take fewer days off work due to medical issues. He asked:
“Is it because men are more charismatic performers? Because they work harder? Because they are more driven? Possibly a bit of each… men usually do work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant.”
The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) harshly attacked the Sunday Times’ subsequent apology for running the offending Myers article, arguing that:
“The article clearly displayed discriminatory views on both gender and religious grounds, yet the apology today made no reference to the misogynistic and sexist views expressed in the article. The apology presented the Sunday Times with the opportunity to redress the views expressed, and the offence caused to women. This opportunity was clearly not taken. By its omission, in our view the apology gives licence to further similar sexist views to be expressed in its newspaper in the future.”
Numerous studies over the years have found that British men contribute a higher number of work-hours than women although it should be noted that women also take on a greater share of household chores, which nullifies or reverses this discrepancy. The male-female divergence in work hours is echoed in the US and across the world. British studies have also found that women take more sick days from the workplace than men. Such a divergence in work practices will probably have a significant impact on the long-term development of careers.

Whether or not Myers holds misogynist views, his largely factual assertions appear to have caused most offense, but they can be backed up by well-known evidential findings. As such, what the NWCI purports to be “misogynistic and sexist views” are in fact evidence based, even if they can be unpalatable, particularly when advanced with a biting sarcasm.

Kathy Sheridan, an Irish Times columnist, put a hostile spin on the Myers controversy. Sheridan took Myers to task for his attitude to women and feminism. Although Myers has made acidic comments about feminism, he does not appear to have argued for any curtailment of freedoms and opportunities for women. He railed against what he claimed was a misandrist bias in the Irish courts system. He had also objected to the rigid insistence on absolute equality.

When addressing the present controversy, Myers claimed in interviews that equality is not a natural feature of relations, and that people who diverge in terms of biologically sexual orientation have different strengths and weaknesses. Accordingly, there should not be so much emphasis on divergent rates of success and uptake within the various professions. He also denied that he believed women to be inferior to men.

Myers’ claims are offensive to some but they are not without some objective validity in view of the findings of a number of scientific studies. In terms of psychological behaviourism, women diverge more dramatically from men in nations with a high human development index, where policies to ensure equal freedoms and opportunity are in place. Related studies indicate that women focus on spheres of interest that are more socialised than that of men, and hence favour person-orientated occupations, while men focus interest on objects, and display a preference for subjects like science and mathematics. This divergence was again found to be most prevalent in nations that possess a high rating on the developmental index, suggesting that conditions which allow for greater freedom of opportunity bring about an intensified polarisation when it comes to occupations.

These findings have some compatibility with somewhat traditional views on the sexes, although they do not affirm in any way that women are in any way inferior to men. Nonetheless, such studies may make difficult reading for many social theorists, who are committed to the belief that culture, rather than biology, is the principle determinant in the divergences of behaviour between the sexes.

Defining Holocaust denial

On the 4th of March 2009, the Irish Independent published an article (‘I’m a Holocaust denier, but I also believe the Nazis planned the extermination of the Jewish people’), in which Kevin Myers argued that Holocaust deniers, such as Bishop Richard Williamson, should not be punished, and voiced some qualified support for such people. The article was removed from the Independent‘s website on the day that the present controversy exploded.

Myers has been called a Holocaust denier, particularly in the left-wing British media, but others disagree. An in-depth examination of the phenomenon of Holocaust denial reveals that Myers cannot be regarded as a Holocaust denier in any meaningful sense of the term, and that it was applied as a rhetorical device to justify his libertarian stance on freedom of speech.

Myers stated that “there was no holocaust (or Holocaust, as my computer software insists)”, because the majority of “Jewish victims of the Third Reich were not burnt in the ovens in Auschwitz. They were shot by the hundreds of thousands in the Lebensraum of the east, or were worked or starved to death in a hundred other camps, across the Reich.”

Myers also claimed that it was unlikely that exactly six million Jewish people were murdered by the NAZIs but he nonetheless affirmed that it was a particularly substantive genocide, stating that “millions of Jews were murdered”. He claimed:
“I’m a holocaust denier; but I also believe that the Nazis planned the extermination of the Jewish people, as far as their evil hands could reach.”
A person who engages in Holocaust denial claims that there was no systemic and logistically very substantive attempt to exterminate European Jewry. Holocaust deniers will never allow for anything more than a small fraction of the six million that are reliably estimated to have been murdered. They must also necessarily deny the existence of the death camps, often by denying that they were used for systematic killing. This description is in accord with the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) statement on the topic:
“Holocaust denial is discourse and propaganda that deny the historical reality and the extent of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices…
Holocaust denial may include publicly denying or calling into doubt the use of principal mechanisms of destruction (such as gas chambers, mass shooting, starvation and torture) or the intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people.”
Holocaust deniers tend to present Hitler and the NAZIs in a positive light, and often claim that Hitler never planned to exterminate Jews. Myers stated the opposite in both respects.

Deniers assert that if a Jewish genocide did take place, it resulted in the death of no more than a few tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands, of Jewish people, so that any supposed Holocaust was no more significant than the several other substantive genocides of the era, which would include peoples of Christian and non-Semitic Eastern European religious and racial identities. By attempting to lessen and relativise the unique scale of Jewish suffering, which was fostered by a particularly vicious and non-evidential form of animus that was central to the worldview of National Socialism, where the destruction of German/European Jewry represented a priority for Hitler as stated in 1922, with their persecution commencing as soon as the NAZI party took power in 1933, Holocaust deniers ultimately attempt to negate the unsocial status afforded to anti-Semitic statements, and related conspiracies, in the post-Holocaust period.

Myers questioned the exactness of the Holocaust’s figure of six million dead in his article, to argue that people may be punished for questioning such a figure, and may limit academic endeavour, but still noted that millions were killed. By contrast, Holocaust deniers must fundamentally question the grand scale of the murderous campaign, to present a coherent theory that Jewish people were not singled out for a particular and quite uniquely murderous programme, although it should be remembered that other minorities suffered to some extent in a similar fashion, particularly the Gypsies of Eastern Europe. Myers did not question the NAZIs intent to exterminate European Jewry. He in fact acknowledged that was the very plan of the Third Reich.

However, Myers’ stance is somewhat questionable in other respects. Some historians have estimated that the death toll is slightly less than six million, but have not been branded as ‘Holocaust deniers’ by any party, nor have they been sought by the authorities, while institutions commemorating the terrible episode are not rigid in the assertion that exactly six million people died. Furthermore, Holocaust denial laws tend to be designed to specifically act against the trivialisation of the event and the gross under-representation of the genocide’s scale, rather than to enshrine any sort of exact figure on the death toll that would bind academic study into the future.

Although Myers’ March 2009 article is clearly not anti-Semitic, it is nonetheless problematic. It treated a sensitive subject in a harsh and unnecessarily contentious manner, and made a claim that more Jews were killed by death squads than in the gas installations of the Auschwitz death sub-camps, to point out that the name of the NAZI extermination programme is invalid. Myers stated:
“For if the word is to have any literal validity at all, it must be related to its actual meaning, which comes from the Greek words holos, ‘whole’, and caust, ‘fire’. Most Jewish victims of the Third Reich were not burnt in the ovens in Auschwitz. They were shot by the hundreds of thousands in the Lebensraum of the east, or were worked or starved to death in a hundred other camps, across the Reich.
This programme was begun informally by Nazi armies in 1941, and only took organised form after the Wannsee conference in January 1942. Thus was born one of the most satanic operations in world history, in which millions of Jews were murdered. To be sure, you can use the term holocaust to describe these events, but only as a metaphor.”
Myers’ assertion concerning the modes of genocide is technically correct but rather misleading since there were several other death camps besides Auschwitz, with gassing and crematorium facilities, the mode of murder and disposal to which Myers seems to accord with his definition of the word ‘Holocaust’. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has estimated that almost three million Jewish people were murdered in death and concentration camps, while some were also murdered external to such facilities by gas. While not all those killed in such camps would have been cremated, it clearly was one of the predominant modes of bodily disposal especially after Hitler decided to proceed with the total annihilation of Jewry in December 1941. Its symbolism formed a unique motif for this particular programme of extermination, especially in view of the opposition in Jewish religious law to such burial practices. Myers may still cast such an argument as the use of a ‘metaphor’ but in truth it was much more. The numerous crematoria, and the open fire pits at Treblinka, constituted an elemental part of the NAZIs schema of destruction, which from 1942 were devised to cover up and efficiently dispose of many thousands of people on a daily basis in the camps.

Myers acknowledged in private email correspondence that the tone of the article was ill-judged. He received emails of support from anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, which he denounced. Myers also claims that the article’s headline was written by an editor, as is often the case with publications. To the best of my knowledge, this claim has not been rejected by the Irish Independent.

Myers elaborated, to claim that his defence of Holocaust denial was based on freedom of speech, rather than any particular agreement with the essential tenets of Holocaust denial:
“I’m a holocaust denier; but I also believe that the Nazis planned the extermination of the Jewish people, as far as their evil hands could reach. And because the Nazis lost, the free-speech party won. So, this means that the bishop can believe, and even publicly state, if he wants, that Auschwitz was an ice-cream parlour and the SS was a dance troupe.
That is the nature of free speech. Any one of us should be able to declare any old counter-factual and even offensive nonsense, without being sent to jail, provided we preach hatred for no one. It’s a free and equal world.”
While legitimate concerns can arise over freedom of speech, and Myers is justified in raising the issue, there are also legitimate reasons for the existence of Holocaust denial laws.' The Holocaust is treated differently to other major events in history. Significant numbers of people, and a number of organisations, denied the Third Reich’s criminal actions. They did so for politically motivated reasons rather than due to an innocent scepticism. By attempting to disprove the Holocaust, they invariably endorse further clichéd anti-Semitic conspiracies, often arguing that the story of the Holocaust is part of a plot of the Jews to silence criticism of their activities, to increase their supposedly privileged status, and thereby to increase their power internationally for malefic purposes. The Holocaust is denied to invoke further hatred of this group, and often to legitimise the beliefs of Hitler and the National Socialist movement.

Myers also took issue with the double-standards of the authorities, which tend to ignore Islamic anti-Semitism while prosecuting its Western equivalent. He somewhat paradoxically criticised such beliefs — a stance that no genuine Holocaust deniers would adopt:
“Across Europe, there are countless Islamic madrasahs, in which imams regularly preach hatred for Jews, and where the holocaust is routinely denied. Which member-state of the EU will pursue such conveyors of hate, or seek the extradition of an imam who says that the holocaust was a Zionist hoax?”
… the EU has tolerated the creation of an informal historiographical apartheid. So, on the one hand, a single, eccentric (and possibly deranged) Christian bishop may be hounded for his demented historical beliefs: but on the other, there is a deafening silence over the widespread and virulent distortion of the ‘holocaust’ by Islamic preachers.”
Although some of Myers’ assertions in the March 2009 Irish Independent article may be questioned, the assertions are not motivated by anti-Semitism — in fact quite the contrary if the reader goes beyond the journalist’s astonishingly bombastic claim that he is a Holocaust denier. Myers places freedom of speech above all else, and frequently railed against all sorts of political/media consensuses, which seems to have motivated his defence of Holocaust deniers, such as Bishop Williamson. It is clear that Myers ultimately acted to deny the Holocaust as a rhetorical device, based on two effective technicalities of minor significance, to make a point about freedom of speech and Holocaust Denial laws. This viewpoint appears to have been the reading behind the intent behind Myers’ article at the time, despite the fact that his piece justifiably raised strong objections.

Published at Crethi Plethi.

Thursday 4 August 2016

A Comprehensive Response to Anti-Israel Tourist Activism Talking Points, Part II

Geography of Israel (source: PikiWiki)

This article addresses the propagandistic talking points of tourist activism, so designed to undermine the international standing of Israel. The anti-Israel commentaries by former RTE producer, Betty Purcell, in the aftermath of a 2015 visit to Judea and Samaria/West Bank, organised by the Bethlehem branch of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), in which she toured and lived with a Christian family, are utilised as a starting point for the arguments of rebuttal featured in this essay. Part One of this series addresses other topics of contention.

The water libel

Purcell echoes the “water apartheid” charge, which many anti-Israel NGOs have advanced. Some NGOs go as far as to use the libel to foster claims that the Israeli State is engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Purcell waxes lyrical on the supposed inequality of it all:
“Sewage water is polluting his [a farmer in Bethlehem] remaining fields. He points to the shrunken, dehydrated olives with tears in his eyes. He has no water for irrigating the fields, and his whole village exists in a threatened zone.” […]
Staying with Palestinian families, the first thing you notice is the rationing of water.
Palestinian houses only have their water supplied for three days a month, and they try to fill water cannisters on their roofs for the other days.
Water is at a premium, although we are told to shower as often as we need to. We try to splash quickly and dry off. I am therefore amazed, when we are taken to an Israeli settlement, to discover water in abundance there.
There are sprinklers on the gardens, and even an aqua park. Water is available 24/7. International organisations state that one Israeli uses as much water as eight Palestinians.”
Prima facie, some readers may find it difficult to accept the notion that a team of YMCA sponsored tourists, staying as guests in the family homes of locals so afflicted, would be encouraged to liberally avail of showers in an arid environment where there is such a degree of water poverty. Water would effectively be a life-or-death resource for a farmer with fields to irrigate. Be that as it may, Purcell does not state whether the water is supplied through water infrastructure or by tankers. A few percent of homes in the region are not connected to water-mains supplies.

A representative of the Israeli Embassy took issue with her claim that Israeli people have a tendency to use as much as eight times more water than that of Arab-Palestinian people:
“Ms Purcell repeats the old canard that Jews are stealing the water of the West Bank. In fact, since the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990’s Israel has far exceeded its pledge to increase water resources to the Palestinian Authority; currently, the availability of fresh water to West Bank Arabs is more than two-thirds per capita to that of Jews living there and the gap is narrowing.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has not helped itself by doing nothing to repair water infrastructure under its own control or to recycle water for irrigation, despite international funding.”
Purcell was unmoved by the reply, claiming that the representative:
“…inadvertently admits to the Apartheid system that exists in the West Bank, when he argues that the water Israel allows to them is two thirds that available to Israeli settlers.”
Purcell goes on to argue that the representative:
“does not contradict the limitation I saw on water to three days a month, or my observation that the settlers had 24/7 access for their sprinklers and water parks.”
Purcell fails to observe an effective rebuttal, with the claim of a water supply constituting “more than two-thirds per capita” going to Arab-Palestinians, because it is wholly incompatible with her claim that Arab-Palestinians only have water for a few days of the month. Purcell uses omissions as validations of her point of view. As a media professional, she must be aware that newspapers rarely publish lengthy letters so the representative of the Israeli Embassy cannot be expected to rebut every facet of her claims.

It is impossible to claim that an “apartheid system” exists when asserting that Jewish residents have a huge abundance of water, whilst affirming the views of the representative of the Israeli Embassy, that Arab-Palestinians obtain more than two-thirds the same water per capita, which is somehow leading to immense hardship. Secondly, Purcell’s acceptance of the Embassy’s claim leads to the inadvertent acknowledgement that Israel supplies Judea and Samaria/West Bank with a lot of water, rather than the State stealing water from the region – a normative charge made against the Jewish State by anti-Israel NGOs. Thirdly, Israel does not somehow “allow” Arab-Palestinians to have water – PA water production is largely independent of the State of Israel, as mutually agreed in the Oslo peace process.

From the 1970s, many Arab-Palestinian communities were first connected to a mains water supply, the Israeli National Water Carrier, which allowed water consumption to effectively double that of the period under Jordanian control. The improvement of such infrastructure greatly improved the health of these communities, with a reduction in infant mortality rates, and a dramatic increase in life expectancy - indicators markedly better than many Arab nations even during the Second Intifada.

Israel recognised Arab-Palestinian water rights at the Oslo talks, which resulted in the Jewish State loosing substantive control of a large portion of its water resources – a major issue which has led to the development of highly efficient drip-irrigation techniques, and the substitution of fresh water with recycled water for agriculture usage.

Today, the Palestinian Authority run their own water supply, and access their own water sources so it is quite absurd to suggest Israel is purposely starving the PA of water resources. Israel provides a significant portion of the Palestinian Authority’s water supply which, as noted, more than exceeds their responsibilities under Oslo II. Yet this is somehow a validation of the existence of an “Apartheid system.”

The Palestinian Authority’s water supply has continued to grow, with nearly 100% of all homes now having access to the mains. An eminent hydrologist, Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, who worked in the co-ordinated effort to establish the PA’s water supply, authored a study that notes, in depth, the damage that the Palestinian Authority has caused to the supply. He notes that there are problems with the supply, even though Israeli citizens pay more for their water to subsidise the supply of water to the PA at discount prices. The Palestinian Authority has rejected the use of advanced water conservation techniques, and has failed to maintain water infrastructure to a reasonable standard. It continues to drill water wells without authorisation from the Israel-PA Joint Water Committee, which has compromised water quality.

Purcell blames Israel for the presence of sewage on farms, echoing the claims of anti-Israel activists that Jewish neighbourhoods purposely poison Arab-Palestinian water supplies with sewage. She neglects to mention that the PA controls such infrastructure in Areas A and B. The governing body is remiss in failing to build sewage treatment plants, with the co-operation of the Sewage Committee, allows sewage to flow untreated into waterways, and has refused to co-operate with Israel in sewage treatment projects. In recent years the sewage has compromised Israel’s more low-lying water supply, which has led to substantive public health concerns, and regional inoculation programmes.

A free pass for Arab-Palestinian elites

Purcell said she felt depressed at the level of the “hardship and oppression” Arab-Palestinians endured:
“But that would not do justice to the brave and kind Palestinian families we were honoured to meet on our trip.
They deserve nothing less than equal treatment in a fair democratic society.
Only the international community can deliver that for them, by supporting their call for the isolation and boycott of Israel, until it agrees to a settlement that is fair and just for all.”
Purcell’s absurdly one-sided notion of injustice is rendered ever more fanciful for blithely ignoring the wrongdoing of the Palestinian Authority. Purcell complains about a deficit of freedom, fairness and democracy, but says nothing of the PA’s increasingly autocratic rule, which impacts upon basic rights taken for granted in the West. The capacity for Arab-Palestinians to criticise the ever-corrupt PA, the capacity to strike as an employment right, and even the right to vote, with a decade since the last elections, are all curtained. Prime-minister Rami Hamdallah acknowledged in an interview that torture occurs in PA administered prisons.

A few months before Purcell visited the region, Israeli Christian, Druze and Bedouin leaders met in Nazareth to discuss the threat of Islamism to the Middle East’s ancient Christian community, and Israel’s protections of religious minorities. Purcell focused on Christian welfare but has ignored an increasing number who have spoken out in support of Israel, at considerable risk. Many feel they have no future in the Islamic Middle East. Some speak out at the Palestinian Authority’s treatment of religious minorities. Indeed the Constitution for the prospective Arab-Palestinian nation affirms that Shariah Law shall be the basis for its legislation (Article Seven), which may in time reduce the rights of Christians to that of Dhimma status.

Protest tourism at its ugliest

Anti-Israel advocates often begin personal accounts of the genesis of their activism, from a standpoint that seeks to obtain a level of understanding and sympathy with their audience. Such moves assist in quelling concern about the extremism of their stance. Purcell conforms to this standard when asserting:
“My interest is in the human rights area, as a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. What we are all sharing is a profound sense of shock at the effect of the Israeli military occupation on ordinary Palestinian’s lives.”
Such narratives are strengthened by claims that a given advocate once supported Israel. This theme is regularly invoked with Jewish activists, who supposedly had a revelation, leading to a disenchantment with Zionism. The “meme of the "disaffected Jew” can often be little more than a rhetorical device, with some activists pretending to be Jewish to adopt this posture. There is an equivalent narrative for non-Jewish advocates who claim to have once supported Israel. In a letter Purcell added the revelation that:
“As a teenager, I planned to go and work on a kibbutz, believing that Israel was building an equal and fair society. My recent experience in Palestine has horrified me, seeing what that society has become.”
However, Purcell’s assertions, that she experienced “shock” and horror, appear to be unconvincing. Purcell comes from a hard-left political background, which would have exposed her to decades of the most intemperate criticism of the Jewish State. She has a record for anti-Israel advocacy, for example, she chaired ‘Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign’ talks in 2014. Such activism suggests that Purcell had a far from impartial stance before visiting the region.

Purcell described the contingent of fellow Christian tourists from various parts of Europe and the US:
“We are a group of international visitors from 13 countries around the globe who have come on a fact finding trip with the Bethlehem YMCA…”
The contingent stayed with Christian Arab-Palestinian families in Bethlehem, and travelled to other parts of Judea and Samaria/West Bank, under the auspices of the YMCA. It suggests a pre-existent bias in her choices. In view of her activism, her choice may have been knowing, because the YMCA has declared itself to be an explicitly anti-Israel organisation.

The one-sided advocacy of the visit was all too evident in the words of Purcell’s host: “Thank you for coming here to talk to us. We won’t ever give up, while there are good people in the world supporting us.” Little wonder Purcell could only afford critical words for Israel, which apparently has no reason to protect its citizens from terrorism. Individual Arab-Palestinians are referenced but Purcell just offers a demonising collective caricature of the Jewish residents, who appear to have no business living there.

In recent years, there has been a boom in the trade of anti-Zionist tourism, to Judea and Samaria, which is sponsored by a whole host of anti-Israel NGOs. In 2013, Ardie Geldman, a nearby resident of Efrat, wrote an all too rare rebuttal of this tourist activism. The article is of particular relevance because it references several areas that Purcell also visited, going on to describe how privileged tourists from the West receptively absorb deceptive narratives - describing the information provided as ‘half-truths’ would be an understatement:
“When a stopover in Efrat follows a visit to Dheisheh or Aida, the questions the visitors ask convey the mistaken assumption that the state of Israel created these camps… and that Israel remains responsible for the camps' continued existence and their current squalid conditions…
[UNWRA] has been resisting any contraction of its operations, never took any steps to fold up, and to date, service responsibilities were never transferred to the legitimate Palestinian Authority. UNRWA continues to act as a ‘non-territorial government’ competing with the elected Palestinian Authority for funds and responsibilities […]
the western edge of the Dheisheh refugee camp lies directly across the road from Ducha, a section of the Palestinian town of Beit Ja’alah. Ducha is noted for its large and ornate homes, not a few with expensive cars parked in their driveways. Years ago, some residents of Dheisheh began building homes in Ducha while retaining their homes in Dheisheh. The camp home, typically a small slum… is the only home belonging to refugees that foreign visitors are taken to see.”
The Road to Jenin, a documentary by Pierre Rehov addresses the falsified "Jenin Massacre" narrative, where it was claimed that the IDF killed 500 civilians in the Jenin Arab-Palestinian camp in 2002. However, it was subsequently discovered that 47 died, most of which were terrorists. The documentary includes remarks by Dalry Jones, an Australian Christian, who volunteered for various humanitarian endeavours, much as Purcell describes her compatriots on the YMCA visit. Jones visited during the Second Intifada. She was initially convinced by anti-Israel propaganda, including claims that Israeli forces were torturing innocent Arab-Palestinians with the utmost savagery. However, she witnessed the gruesome horror of an Arab-Palestinian child-bomber explode, leading to the realisation that the supposed images of torture were a result of suicide bombing.

Anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian?

The contrasting way in which Purcell addresses violence by a subset of the Jewish people of the region, and that of Arab-Palestinians, presents as a normative dichotomy within the anti-Israel movement:
“These settlers are aggressive and heavily armed. In Hebron, they throw rubbish down on the Palestinian street sellers who have managed to remain open.”
This singular thematic narrative leads many commentators to question the motives of the anti-Israel movement, for it seeks to downplay the substantive violence directed at Jewish people, whilst egregiously overstating the level of violence from Jewish sources.

Thus, we have “aggressive and heavily armed” Jews in Hebron, but no mention of the fact that Hebron has been cleansed of its Jewish populace, by genocidal methods, in successive eras. Unfortunately, Purcell did not mention the more recent violence that gripped Hebron during the Second Intifada, or ongoing violence in the concurrent quasi-Intifada. Purcell chose instead to relate an alleged assault on a British woman, by Jewish settlers.

Purcell describes Hebron as a “Palestinian town.” She describes Judea and Samaria/West Bank, and Old Jerusalem, as “Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem.” These normative anti-Israel assertions intentionally deny the elementally Jewish features of these regions. Would Old Jerusalem be remotely the city it is without its Jewish heritage? We can ask the same question of Hebron, which is the second most important city within the Jewish faith, due to its associations and shrines. The effort to wash away Jewish culture and history in these areas, and to promote the exclusion of Jewish people from these regions, must necessarily give raise to questions of anti-Semitic intent within the anti-Israel movement.

Purcell’s hostility toward Israel is exemplified by her failure to mention Arab-Palestinian wrongdoing whatsoever. She claims that Israel’s security barrier, and the restrictions on people entering from Judea and Samaria/West Bank, are not the kind of actions of “a state which genuinely wishes to live in peace with its neighbours.” The security barrier was built during the Second Intifada, a rather un-neighbourly episode, and a time when Israel had repeatedly tried to compromise with Yasser Arafat. Settlements were not the issue - Arafat walked out of the negotiations at Camp David in 2000, partly due to shared sovereignty of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, and again at Taba in 2001, despite improved terms.

Arafat’s intransigence was in keeping with the past. Almost every relevant Arab leader rejected every possible solution out of hand. A tiny Jewish state on 1/8th of the original mandate lands was rejected in 1947. They even rejected a tiny 5% state-let, proposed by the British in a 1938 proposal. They rejected the returning of almost all of the lands taken by Israel in 1967, when they issued the ‘Three Nos’ at the Arab League’s Khartoum conference of 1967. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League for making peace with Israel in 1978/79. More recently, Mahmoud Abbas rejected John Kerry’s 2014 framework proposal to bring an end to the conflict. At contention is the very existence of a predominantly Jewish Nation, as Abbas has noted.

Purcell was interviewed on RTE Radio One’s Marian Finucane show (44 minutes into the show) about her visit. When challenged that Israel suffered from terrorism, and hostile neighbours, Purcell asserted that Israel had come to an “accommodation with all of the Arab States.” Most Arab states have not recognised Israel, other than Jordan and Egypt, which maintain a rather icy peace. Other nations that attacked the Jewish State since 1948, remain overtly hostile, albeit to a varying extent.

Purcell presented Israel as facing no threat that would justify the security restrictions, and stated that Arab-Palestinians were “stymied in every aspect of their lives” through Judea and Samaria/West Bank.

Purcell reiterated the falsehoods of her written descriptions of the visit, almost verbatim, wrongfully stating, for example, that “those with settler number plates never get stopped.” She also justified the violence and terrorism of the 2015 quasi-Intifada, which in October alone resulted in some 620 attacks, of which all but four are of Arab-Palestinian origin.
“Marian I have to say, I read a bit before I went, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. I mean, really whats there is a system of apartheid, and I’m not surprised that in the news headlines what we’re getting is an escalation in the violence in the region.”
The host responded by arguing that Jewish people didn’t “feel” safe, a point which Purcell rejected, stating:
“But this isn’t even in the Jewish State. This isn’t even in Israel. This is in the Palestinian part if you like, the West Bank. [...]
There are no security threats because they are in the West Bank. They’ve no access to Israel.”
The above stance might be described as a "cake and eat it" line of argumentation. There are of course fewer terror threats (rather than none) originating from the Judea and Samaria/West Bank region, as a consequence of the very security barrier, and associated security restrictions, to which Purcell most trenchantly objects.

Purcell’s article similarly describes the presence of the IDF in a melodramatically malign fashion:
“From the moment they wake up, until they close their eyes at night, every man, woman and child in the West Bank of Palestine is under the control of the Israeli army and government.”
The claim is extraordinary, given that the Palestinian Authority rules 97% of the Arab-Palestinian populace, in Areas A and B. The PA has full security control over Area A, with Israeli oversight in B.

Objectively speaking, can it be said that Israel would have anything to fear from a full military withdrawal from the region? During the last two decades, Israel has withdrawn its troops from various regions, but reaction in each instance was an increase in terrorist attacks. Israel withdrew from the majority of Hebron in 1997, but was rewarded with substantive attacks during the Second Intifada, and latterly during the time of Purcell’s own visit. Israel withdrew from Lebanon (2000), which led to indiscriminate rocket attacks on Northern Israel’s civilian populace, temporarily displacing several hundred thousand people. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and guaranteed access to Israel for Gaza’s people and goods. Yet the electorate would soon vote to empower a terrorist group, which in turn would intensify its campaign of belligerency.

During the interview, Purcell justified the recent spate of terrorism, by claiming that this violence was a reaction to the living conditions of the attackers. She inaccurately claimed that Israel had, by that time, killed 50 Arab-Palestinians in demonstrations, and that eight Israelis were killed subsequently. Her account is incorrect. Purcell’s misleading timeline infers that the violence was a reaction to killings by the Israeli authorities. During this period, around half of Arab-Palestinian deaths were attributed to the reaction of the Israeli security services during terrorist attacks. Other deaths were attributed to clashes during violent riotous incidents, which Purcell misleadingly describes as "demonstrations."

Advocating a one-state solution

Purcell would write in a letter about her visit, that:
“Children in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, (where we did a cookery lesson), have to go through the Separation Wall to get to school, enduring queuing and military searches like their parents.”
There are a significant number of schools in the Bethlehem area, as well as within the UNRWA camps. As of 2005-06, there are 135 schools in the Bethlehem area while the Aida refugee camp features two schools. The crossings always carry a degree of tension due to the prospect of terrorist attacks, so it is quite a peculiarity for parents to elect to send their children to schools not within their own locales.

In the article, Purcell draws attention to what she feels are additional double-standards. She blames Israel because local “Palestinian women are limited to the Bethlehem maternity hospital” while Jewish people “have quick and easy access to the modern hospitals of Jerusalem.” The Palestinian Authority receives a substantial amount of donor aid from internationals sources, while access to health care medicines and technologies is unrestricted. How is it Israel’s fault if PA health care is not up to the standards of Israel? Why is Israel not allowed restrict access to its sovereign territory to non-nationals? Perhaps the Palestinian Authority should spend less rewarding terrorists a overly generous salary and spend a little more on essential services, such as health care?

After Purcell lambasts Israel for such supposed double-standards, she states that the Arab-Palestinian people she met “deserve nothing less than equal treatment in a fair democratic society.” Although she does not explicitly call for a one-state solution, there can be no mistake that her article is an advocacy for that very concept, because it gives unusual focus to Israel’s supposed wrongs with respect to Arab-Palestinian access to Israel, whilst wholly ignoring the role of the PA in the provision of such services and employment. It would seem that the desired objective of “equal treatment in a fair democratic society” refers to all of the region’s Arab-Palestinians and Jews, due to her use of the grammatically singular, when speaking of diverse peoples and politically distinctive regions.

One-state solution advocates must necessarily ignore the widespread intensive sectarian incitement against Jewish people, including blood-libel, the genocidal intent expressed by terrorist groups, the celebration of terrorist atrocities against Jewish civilians in the public sphere, and the militant anti-Semitism endorsed by the highest religious authorities in the region. Hence, this form of proposal is sometimes termed the "Rwandan Solution."

If one-state advocates are sincere in their quest for peace, then they ought to remonstrate with Mahmoud Abbas for insisting that Jewish people would be unwelcome in a prospective Arab-Palestinian state. A look at the Palestinian Authority’s attitude toward the prospect of Jewish people living in their midst, was recently illustrated by the behaviour of several Palestinian Authority officials, when they realised that Jewish settlers were invited to a Samaritan festival. The PA governor of Nablus, General Akram Rajoub, a VIP guest at the ceremony, rapidly withdrew, stating:
“we can’t accept the presence of settlers at the ceremony. Even worse, these settlers were given the privilege to speak at the ceremony, which is why we had to boycott the official event and leave the hall. We’re not prepared to talk to Jewish settlers because we don’t accept their presence among us.”

Towards boycott

Purcell advocates a boycott of Israel to bring an end to the purported “injustice.” It has often been remarked that those involved with the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement (BDS) obsessively focus on the supposed Israeli oppression of Arab-Palestinians, whilst ignoring the overt discrimination of Arab-Palestinians living in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, where laws explicitly discriminate against the grouping, to restrict the allowance of citizenship, and to pursue better conditions of employment. Similarly, Purcell only affords space for criticism of Israel, and labels it an “apartheid” state, despite the wrongdoing of these other nations being more redolent of the formal legal structures of apartheid South Africa.

Critics of the BDS campaign argue that the movement’s ultimate intent is to facilitate the destruction of the Jewish State. Such claims may be cast as pro-Israel propaganda, but criticism of the movement is also voiced from sources quite unsympathetic to the Jewish State. The vice-chair of ‘Americans for Peace Now’ has asserted that “BDS’s prime motivation, if their messaging is to be believed, is not to end the occupation at all; rather, it is to end Israel.” BDS’ core policy constitutes the demand for the so-called "Right of Return" for the descendants of one subset of the people displaced by the 1948/9 War of Independence, which follows the old PLO policy of destroying of the sole Jewish State in existence by way of demographic encroachment. The entire stance betrays the policy of two states for two peoples.

It is quite bizarre for activists to complain about the length of time it takes for Arab-Palestinian workers to enter Israel, whilst advocating for a boycott of the very economy that offers such workers better employment terms than they get at home. Forbes points out that boycotts cause far greater economic harm to the Arab-Palestinian populace of Judea and Samaria/West Bank than to the State of Israel. Israel purchases 81% of Arab-Palestinian exports, while two-thirds of imports into the Arab-Palestinian economy are from Israel. Boycott advocates complain about poor conditions in the largely PA-controlled areas for the local people, but then forcefully advocate for policies that will make their conditions dramatically worse.

Purcell advocates for a political movement that harms Arab-Palestinian interests and undermines the already dim prospects for peace, between the respective peoples. This would suggest her advocacy is not motivated by a desire to right such supposed wrongs, as indicated by the rigid insistence that Israel providing substantive amounts of water to the Palestinian Authority, as well as a belligerent Hamas, somehow amounts to “apartheid.”

The boycott movement effectively closed SodaStream’s factory in Judea and Samaria/West Bank, despite providing an economic model for greater co-operation, philosophically akin to the steel and coal treaties between France and Germany, which lent a hand in bringing a meaningful long-term peace to Western Europe. Indeed, some within the boycott movement express a blithe disregard when their campaigns cause difficulties for the very people that they purport to support. Mahmoud Nawajaa, a senior member of the movement in Judea and Samaria/West Bank, described the loss of employment at the Sodastream plant as “part of the price that should be paid in the process of ending occupation.”

A lack of concern for the welfare of the Arab-Palestinian populace is perhaps unsurprising, given BDS’ unsavoury background. Testimony at a US Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, by former US Treasury terror-analyst Jonathan Schanzer, revealed there are established links between the supposedly non-violent BDS movement and Hamas. Schanzer is the vice-president of research for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

The Irish Examiner

The Irish Examiner’s November 2nd, 2015 opinion piece by Betty Purcell, would not read as a balanced piece of journalism that tried to address the widely divergent perspectives on the conflict, as indicated by the title "A boycott of Israel can help end the injustice."

The Examiner presented the piece as an opinion-based article. By definition, opinion-pieces (op-eds) are intended to express certain views on a given issue, so represent a form of advocacy that should contrast with news reportage. However, op-eds do not represent a carte blanche opportunity to freely express unsubstantiated claims by politicised activists. Not only did the Examiner fail with respect to basic due-diligence, it went further by actually endorsing Purcell’s claims in an introductory paragraph:
“On a recent visit to Palestine, Betty Purcell witnessed the terrible conditions locals are forced to endure, with so many aspects of their daily lives under Israeli control.”
The conditions of such a visit, which was arranged by an anti-Israel organisation, would surely lead to substantive concerns about balance. Purcell would also cite politically-partial sources like the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI), without advising of their pointed activism. The EAPPI, under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, has promoted a narrative that delegitimises Israel’s right to exist, ignores the oppression of Christians in the Middle East, and presents an apologia for Israel’s foes. The organisation proclaims to bear “witness” to this particular Middle-Eastern conflict, by accompanying Arab-Palestinians through their daily lives. As such, the very intent of the programme is to demonise the Israeli forces and Jewish people living in the region. The WCC’s related organisation, the PIEF, has promoted anti-Semitic replacement theology, as per the Kairos Palestinian Document, which also legitimises Arab-Palestinian terrorism as “resistance.”

Op-eds should transparently declare any interests that authors may possess. Purcell’s prior anti-Israel advocacy was not noted, nor the politicised nature of the organisation that facilitated her visit to Judea and Samaria/West Bank or the NGOs she cited. Such groups campaign on openly anti-Israel platforms.

The account Purcell gave of her visit to the territory provided an insight into the trenchant political culture found at RTE, because it is so comprehensively one-sided, and unashamedly propagandistic in nature. Purcell found no time to criticise Arab-Islamic society, which is determined to deny all Jewish independence on their homeland, nor the religious-sectarian extremism that motivates indiscriminate violence, both at an individuated level and within ruling terror organisations, against Jewish civilians.

Published at the New English Review.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Lebanon, UNIFIL Deaths, and Ireland’s Diplomatic Machinations

Between 1978 and 2001, Ireland contributed significant personnel to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was mandated to assist an orderly withdrawal of Israeli forces, and keep the peace in the border area of Southern Lebanon neighbouring Israel, after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) repeatedly attacked the Jewish State. Irish troops returned in 2011, to assist with a modified UNIFIL mandate, in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War.

Lebanon’s tragedy

The aftermath of the Damour Massacre,  Lebanon, 1976.

During the 1960s, the PLO used Jordan as a base to attack Israel, whilst attempting to terrorise and destabilise the Arab nation toward the goal of regime change. King Hussein expelled the PLO in 1971. The terrorist group would take up residence in Lebanon, to disastrous effect. The PLO was pivotal in instigating a particularly bloody civil war in the small nation-state, in which it is estimated that approximately 150,000 people would die between 1975 and 1990, although some sources estimate the death toll is a quarter of a million.

The mandate territories in the Middle East included the region of Syria, awarded to France by the League of Nations. Due to a concentrated Christian presence, Lebanon was split from the Greater Syrian region, and was formed as a primarily Christian nation. Lebanon was an unstable factionalised mix, with weak governance and a resentful Islamic minority. War broke out between Muslims and Christians in 1958, after the Islamic populace took issue with Lebanon's pro-Western stance. The Islamic faction was defeated with US intervention. Since an effective PLO invasion, a succession of massacres were committed by the various warring factions (Muslim and Christian). It would result in a substantive amount of the Christian populace fleeing West, such as to the United States, where a great deal of its middle-eastern populace is of Lebanese Christian origin. The continuing instability of Lebanon, and the surging power of Hizbullah, maintained pressure on the largely Maronite Catholic populace, which ceased to represent a majority by the 1990s. Today, Lebanese Christians are thought to only represent 30% of the populace although estimates vary.

Iran became closely involved in Lebanese affairs, circa 1980, giving considerable support to the ‘Amal Movement’, a terrorist Shi’ite group, and especially Hizbullah, which the Shi’ite State helped establish and greatly developed, in the name of resisting an Israeli presence. Islamist Hizbullah is oft seen in the Arab world as a proxy of Iran, rather than authentically Lebanese. Some smaller Sunni factions also received support from several Sunni-Arab nations but they tended to possess a pan-Arab or nationalistic orientation rather than a strong religiously sectarian identity.

Iran, and especially Syria, would maintain influences in the territory, which ultimately broke Lebanese Christian power. Syria would finally withdraw its presence in 2005, only for Hizbullah to tighten its military and political grip on the country.

The Civil War ended with Lebanon becoming a stricter kind of consociational (bi-national) state, where a new constitution dictated a strictly apportioned Islamic-Christian rule but Hizbullah effectively hold the reigns of power. Shia groups weakened rival Sunni militias and built up their forces in Southern Lebanon, pushing the Lebanese army aside. Hizbullah was the sole militia allowed to continue its activities after the end of the Lebanese Civil War. It brought chaos to the region, with continued strikes on Israel, and has effectively created a state within a state, with the capacity to collect taxes locally, whilst fuelling the international drugs trade.

Lebanon can be regarded as a stark precursor of the conflicted Middle East seen today, where Sunni and Shia openly challenge each other, while the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East face extinction in the short to medium term. Lebanon’s history, where Muslim rulers persecuted Christian minorities for more than a millennia, guided one community leader in 1947, Archbishop Ignace Moubarac of Beirut, to illustrate the region’s simmering religious sectarianism for Western leaders, in which he paralleled the fate of Christians and Jewish people in the Middle East, when at the mercy of Islam. It is perhaps a message that many leaders in the West have yet to comprehend, or prefer to ignore.

Enter war and UNIFIL

Israel invaded Southern Lebanon in March 1978, in response to a succession of PLO terrorist attacks from the mid-to-late 1970s. One attack by the PLO, dubbed the ‘Coastal Road Massacre’, resulted in the murder of 38 Israeli citizens, including 13 children, and the wounding of 76 others. Israel made an alliance with Major Saad Haddad’s ‘South Lebanon Army’ (SLA), which developed in Lebanon several years earlier (initially known as the ‘Free Lebanon Army’), to combat the instability caused by the PLO’s actions. The Christian militia was aided by Israel, since both had a mutual interest in opposing the PLO.

Israel achieved a rapid military success, driving the PLO away from the nation’s border. UNIFIL forces stepped in to facilitate an orderly withdrawal, and maintain a peaceable border area. Israel would withdraw in late 1978, and pass control to the quasi-official ‘South Lebanon Army’, which was established by a commander of the Lebanese Army, Major Saad Haddad, after the failure of the national army in the region. Haddad would be dismissed from the Lebanese Army the following year for proclaiming control of South Lebanon.

However, both UNIFIL and the SLA would fail to control South Lebanon. The PLO would reassert a capacity to assault Israel. In 1979 the PLO started shelling Northern Israel indiscriminately. In the summer of 1981, the PLO furthered its indiscriminate artillery barrages, which caused sustained harm to Northern Israel. A ceasefire was agreed but the PLO violated it repeatedly. The PLO also attacked Israel from Jordan, and targeted Israeli diplomats in Europe. This violence would ultimately instigate the 1982 Lebanon War, in which Israel sought to permanently expel the terror group.

Ireland’s UNIFIL troops were harassed by the SLA, which deemed UNIFIL to be interlopers, but would nonetheless co-operate much of the time. Combat fatalities would not occur until April 1980, when relations with Israel declined in a dramatic fashion, after the SLA killed two UNIFIL troops, in the aftermath of a battle that had led to fatalities on both sides.

Brian Lenihan, Snr, (1930-95), Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs
(held the ministerial office in 1973, 1979-81, and 1987-89) 

The Bahrain Declaration

The then president of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, visited Bahrain in February 1980. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan, Senior (1930-95) held talks with his Bahraini ministerial equivalent, on February 10th, where they drafted a joint communiqué, which principally dealt with the Arab-Palestinian concern, as well as other diplomatic and economic issues. Lenihan also delivered a speech in Bahrain severely criticising Israel. The two would effectively become known as the ‘Bahrain Declaration’, and would set a sort of precedent in Western politics, with Ireland becoming the first EEC member-state to advocate for the inclusion of the PLO in a peace process toward statehood.

Lenihan called for the establishment of a Palestinian State, and called for Israel’s withdrawal from all territory captured in 1967. The Declaration cited “relevant” Security Council resolutions to support the stance, which misrepresented the substance of territorial issues appertaining to UN Security Council Resolution 242. The Declaration asserted that the PLO are the legitimate representatives of the Arab-Palestinian people toward the formation of a State, but it did not make any reference to terrorism or Israel’s security needs. At the time, this was an unusually hard-line stance for a Western state, which more closely followed the views of the Soviet and Islamic blocks at the United Nations. The Bahrain Declaration was the forerunner of the EEC’s ‘Vienna Declaration’ of 1981, which also reiterated the PLO’s legitimacy, despite its continued belligerence. Shortly before the Venice Conference, Arafat reiterated that PLO/Fatah’s “aim is to liberate Palestine completely and to liquidate the Zionist entity politically, economically, militarily, culturally and ideologically.” The terminology suggested an intent toward ethnic cleansing and perhaps genocide.

Controversially, Lenihan asserted that the PLO was no longer a terrorist organisation, describing Yasser Arafat as a “moderate”, for which the Irish minister saw a “full role” in negotiations. Lenihan’s announcement that the PLO had become a legitimate organisation occurred just with the close of a decade in which a vast number of infamous attacks on Israeli citizens occurred. Lenihan made these prognostications at a time when Irish UNIFIL troops were dealing with the effects of the PLO violence in Lebanon. Yet this notion of a supposed moderation was very much in evidence in Lenihan’s speech.

Lenihan also claimed that the Irish Republican Army had no involvement with the PLO. The proposition is clearly false. At a time when the Northern Irish Troubles was of supreme import to the Irish State, it is extremely improbable that the advance of this denial was anything other than a knowing untruth furthered by the Foreign Affairs Minister. In an era of many IRA terrorist attacks on the Island of Ireland, it may be assumed that the denial had the intent of lessening the PLO’s image, as a terrorist entity, with the FM’s Irish audience.

Lenihan’s assertions were so out of kilter with the observed reality of the time that they came across as an absurdity. The speech caused considerable anger in Israel, and at home in Ireland, where Dr. David Rosen, Ireland’s Chief Rabbi, voiced criticism. Dr. Rosen stated that Ireland’s stance may increase the already volatile tensions in Lebanon, and was critical of what he saw as the motivations of the Irish government, which he believed was driven by a need for oil. This was not an unreasonable assumption in the aftermath of the 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis, which attempted to punish the West, after Arab forces failed to defeat Israel. Frank McClusky, leader of the Labour Party, was of the same belief. However, Senator Noel Mulcahy suggested the Rabbi was threatening Irish UNIFIL troops posted in Lebanon.

When the pro-Palestinianism of Lenihan’s ‘Bahrain Declaration’ was challenged, the minister stated that the PLO would not be recognised by Ireland until they recognised Israel’s right to exist. However, Lenihan had already recognised the PLO as legitimate representatives. In 1993, a consular Fatah (PLO) Arab-Palestinian Delegation would be given permission to establish in Ireland. Yasser Arafat (the PLO chairman) recognised Israel in an official letter to then prime-minister, Yitzhak Rabin, that same year. However, the PLO Charter continues to call for Israel’s destruction through armed struggle. The process of updating the Charter was deliberately fudged by Yasser Arafat during the latter part of the Oslo talks process. It is telling, perhaps, that the Declaration was made in Bahrain, a state that does not recognise Israel’s right to exist.

An extract of the Bahrain Declaration - Palestine & Mid-East Section
(Source: 'Eurabia', a pan-Arab European lobby group, Dublin branch)

Irish support for Palestinianism, including Arafat’s PLO, would remain considerable. Brian Lenihan himself told Arafat, during a visit in 1993, of the “genuine warmth in Ireland for you and your cause” [Ireland-Palestine lecture] which points to Lenihan’s own approach during the fraught UNIFIL years, and rather unashamed support for a particularly virulent terror movement.

By contrast, formal Irish relations with Israel would remain non-existent, for a protracted period of time. Ireland only recognised Israel in 1975, being the last state in the EEC to do so, and was the sole country in the European Union without an Israeli embassy until 1996. Ireland is not only supportive of Palestinianism but has displayed a distinct hostility toward Israel with respect to other matters. A year after Bahrain, Ireland strongly condemned the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s nuclear weapons facilities.

UNIFIL killings

Ironically perhaps, the presence of Irish troops at the Lebanese border caused new and substantive diplomatic tensions. The soldiers were placed in the midst of a civil war, where the pressures from warring sides can lead peace-keepers to pick one side over another, potentially ending in disaster.

Something of a diplomatic crisis would ensue two months after the Declaration. On April 7th, the SLA shot an Irish soldier during a protracted gun battle near At Tiri. The soldier would die from his injuries on the 16th of April. The Irish State would lambast Israel for the death because Israel had an allegiance with the group. The Irish authorities were concerned that their diplomatic machinations had greatly increased tensions with the SLA, and would apply substantive diplomatic pressure upon Israel in the following weeks. The following day, the Israeli government would assert that Ireland’s foreign policy stance on the Arab-Palestinian/PLO issue was distinct to its role in UNIFIL — the former would not prejudice the latter.

However, Major Haddad publicly demanded financial compensation, or the bodies of two Irish soldiers, for the death of an SLA member, the 19 year old brother of one Mahmoud Bazzi, who was killed by UNIFIL during the clash. On the 18th, three Irish soldiers were abducted, two of which were murdered by Bazzi (Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne — John O’Mahoney survived). There was much speculation that the recent killings were a response to the Bahrain Declaration. Menachem Begin, Israel’s prime-minister, condemned the killing of the troops. Sholmo Agrov, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, forcefully denied that the killings had any relation to the Declaration, during an interview on RTE radio, several days afterward. Ireland would also obtain a European Council statement of condemnation, in response to the killings.

There are varying beliefs on whether the Bahrain Declaration was a causal factor in the killing of Irish troops. It has been noted that Haddad’s troops were involved in significant conflict with UNIFIL prior to the Declaration. Before 1980, Ireland had a reputation as a nation unusually sympathetic to the PLO. In 1979, at the UN General Assembly, Michael O’Kennedy, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, called for a comprehensive solution of the Arab-Palestinian issue, involving the PLO. Yet the violence in April 1980 represented something of an escalation. It is difficult to lay blame for the killings at Israel’s door, because the murder of Barrett and Smallhorne was motivated by a personal grudge, as demonstrated in a confessional interview and Bazzi’s subsequent trial — of note, John O’Mahony, the sole survivor, stated that at one point an Israeli intelligence officer attempted to dissuade Bazzi from either continuing the abduction, or killing the soldiers, before giving up and leaving. However, it is quite likely that the sharp diplomatic impact of the Bahrain Declaration would have had some bearing on Haddad’s harsher treatment of Irish forces. In 1980, the Irish would have more comprehensively resembled enemies, rather than mere impediments.

Dr. Rory Miller, a senior lecturer at King’s College, who authored several books on the Middle East, notes that Irish troops were thought to be prejudicial:
“Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Irish regularly called in the Israelis to threaten them and discipline them over the treatment of Irish UNIFIL troops… There was a lot of animosity, as would happen on any tense border. There are two sides to this story. The Irish troops were no less guilty of turning a blind eye to Arab violence than any other UN troops. On the other hand, I have spoken with a number of IDF liaison officers who worked with UNIFIL and they all praise the professionalism of their Irish counterparts.”
The view that some or many Irish UNIFIL troops did not maintain the highest standards of neutrality, which their role would require to minimise tensions, and the potential for clashes with local factions, was a belief also expressed in the Irish media and within the Irish Parliament. It has been claimed that some Irish forces went as far as to assist the PLO in efforts to cross the border into Israel. Whether or not such claims are valid, and while the generalised criticism expressed in some quarters may be an inequitable representation of the conduct of many UNIFIL soldiers, the notable Palestinianism of successive Irish governments, not least with the issuance of the ‘Bahrain Declaration’, would have contributed to the notion that a favouritism for the PLO was prevalent amongst the Irish contingents in Lebanon. Chief Rabbi Dr. David Rosen was perhaps correct in stating that Irish foreign policy manoeuvres placed UNIFIL soldiers at undue risk, in a time of bitter civil war within Lebanon.

Some have asserted that belief in a culture of anti-Israel bias at Ireland’s UNIFIL troop is reinforced by the fact that a notable number of former troops went on to become anti-Israel activists, for example Dr. Ray Murphy, a former army captain and NUI Galway law lecturer at the ‘Irish centre for human rights’ which has presented lectures by PFLP terrorist Shawan Jabarin, who currently leads anti-Israel lawfare NGO al-Haq. Another former UNIFIL officer, journalist Tom Clonan, has repeatedly accused Israel of ‘massacre’ and ‘war crimes’, while being aware of the chaos of war causing harmful effects to civilian populaces, without the necessary cause of intent being present.

Colonel Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the UN Goldstone Commission, displays an attitude toward Israel that disconnects from very basic reality. Travers denied that Israel acted in self-defence, with respect to the 2008-09 Gaza War, stating that Hamas had maintained a ceasefire! He also stated “so many Irish soldiers had been killed by Israelis… a significant number who were taken out deliberately and shot.” He may be referring to the claim that an Israeli intelligence officer was present shortly before Mahmoud Bazzi killed two UNIFIL solders, on April 18th 1980. One of the victims, John O’Mahoney stated (14:11 mins) in the documentary ‘Peacekeepers: The Irish In South Lebanon’ (critiqued in another section below):
“Shouting in Arabic, my brother, my brother, and he [Bazzi] was wearing a black vest. Now Tom Barrett said to me, he said you know, black vests it means death. He [Bazzi] took the three of us out, and he took us up the steps and across the veranda, and an Israeli Intelligence Officer was trying to negotiate with him but next thing he just walked away, he walked away Bazzi opened fire.”
O’Mahoney affirms that the Israeli officer attempted to dissuade Bazzi from the killings, but appears to have possessed no authority to compel the militiaman, in a building housing other members of the SLA. Travers served in Lebanon so must be intimately acquainted with the events of that day. It appears that Israel is only directly implicated in the death of one Irish UNIFIL soldier throughout the entire mission, one Corporal. Dermot McLoughlin, killed in 1987 due to the effects of a tank shell.

Moral culpability

The question of these deaths, and several others in the intervening years, would worsen Ireland’s near non-existent diplomatic relations with Israel. Yet Ireland’s reaction was not remotely as trenchant toward Arab-Palestinian and Islamist groups, when found blameworthy of the killing of Irish UNIFIL forces. In April 1981, the PLO killed two Irish solders. Private Hugh Doherty was killed, and Private Kevin Joyce was taken prisoner, to be murdered subsequently. The Irish State was substantively more reticent in dealing with this situation, even though Arab-Palestinian sources appear to have cynically used Private Joyce’s death as a source of propaganda, perhaps holding onto his corpse to prevent his burial. Joyce’s body was never to be found.

If anything, the attitude that Israel was necessarily responsible for the actions of Major Haddad, and the South Lebanon army, and the intensity of Ireland’s criticism, merely reinforced the view that the Irish authorities possessed a strong bias. Israel and Haddad were allies, operating in a not-dissimilar way to that of Syria which was allied to the PLO, and Iran being allied at the time to Amal. Yet there was no substantive condemnation of Syria for the actions of the PLO at the time, nor subsequently toward Iran.

Whilst a given party can rightly be criticised for its allegiances, it is a step too far to hold them directly responsible for the actions of the aligned party, unless they were complicit in directing such a policy. There may still be some level of indirect responsibility, if the actions of one party to an alliance knows the other party will use their assistance for ill. From a moral perspective, where one party aligns with a more destructive party, blameworthiness toward the former party must ultimately apply if their alliance is intended to mount acts of territorial aggression, or if it is an alliance that is entirely voluntary (not strictly necessary) in nature. Israel needed allies in South Lebanon because UNIFIL were not fulfilling their obligations to bring conditions of peace. Otherwise it would be considerably harder to protect civilians at its border, with the likely resultant increase in civilian casualties in Northern Israel, which the PLO and Hizbullah targeted with some success. Thus, the alliance was justified. By contrast, early Syrian and later Iranian alliances were entirely voluntary, and largely intended to aggress against Israel, regardless of its presence in Lebanon.

The route Ireland took with its diplomatic conduct toward Israel, reduced the idea of the SLA, fighting a civil war against the PLO and other Islamists, to that of mere puppets. The stance was not factually valid. It is possible that Ireland did so to further distance themselves from Israel at a diplomatic level.

Economically informed diplomacy

The weak diplomatic response by successive Irish governments, to the PLO’s numerous attacks on Irish troops serving in Lebanon, during the early to mid 1980s, was especially puzzling because it was widely known that the PLO had interacted substantially with the Provisional IRA since the late 1960s, helping turn the republican terror group into an efficient killing force, which also posed a threat in Southern Ireland. Since the mid-1970s, Irish governments had taken substantive measures to suppress the republican group’s activities, e.g. the formation of a closed criminal court to prevent intimidation.

The answer may have some relation to the fact that the PLO, and its related groups, were sponsored by numerous Arab nations, and it would be diplomatically inopportune to cause upset to a group of notoriously sensitive despots, over a matter so close to the greatest Arabist cause of the era, particularly when attempting to enter their national markets, with agricultural produce (Ireland became a significant supplier of beef), etc. There is some justification in concluding that the Irish State paid little heed in its diplomacy, in the pursuit of narrow economic interests, with regard to the safety of the UNIFIL troops.

Ireland’s trade with the Middle-East multiplied in the 1970’s, and by the early 80’s it was rated at sixty-fold that of Israel, while the security of oil supplies was a major preoccupation (Keatings, Patrick. ‘European foreign policy-making and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Ireland’. 1984. Martinus Hijhoff. Page 20) for the Irish State, in the aftermath of the 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis. Trade issues were detailed when foreign affairs minister, Brian Lenihan visited Bahrain, an issue of particular import when Ireland was going through an economic crisis that would lead to substantive political instability through the early 1980s. There was even an openness to the establishment of an Iranian embassy, in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis. It was also argued at the time that Taoiseach (prime-minister) Charles Haughey had developed a taste for political activism, arguably to improve Ireland’s standing on the international stage.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

The issue of bias, across the UNIFIL contingents, does seem to have been a reality. For example, in 2000, UNIFIL was complicit in Hizbullah’s fatal abduction of three IDF soldiers. UNIFIL obstructed the IDF investigation, by denying the existence of security tapes which could have helped discover the abductors. UNIFIL later acknowledged the existence of the tapes but refused to supply them for several months. The cars are believed to have been turned over to Hizbullah. In 2010, it was reported that the Norwegian contingent actually broke two Lebanese terrorists out of an Israeli jail, and disguised them in UNIFIL uniforms. During the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah conflict, UNIFIL broadcast detailed reports of Israeli troop movements, numbers, and positions on their website, while not reporting similar details concerning Hizbullah.

The 2006 Lebanon War, began in the aftermath of Hizbullah kidnapping Israeli troops, and launched indiscriminate rocket strikes against Israel’s civilian population centres. Approximately 300,000 to 500,000 Israeli civilians fled Northern Israel due to Hizbullah’s attacks. UNIFIL MKII was instituted after the war, to disarm Hizbullah, and form a twenty kilometre buffer zone at Israel’s border. UNIFIL failed to do so on both counts. The Iranian proxy has in fact dramatically enhanced its weapons arsenal, with a reported missile armament estimated to be at least 100,000, which may include chemical and biological weaponry. Senator Francesco Cossiga, a former Italian president, asserted that Italy’s UNIFIL force arranged to ignore Hizbullah’s procurement of weaponry, as long as the terror group desisted from attacking the UN ‘peace-keepers’.

Unfortunately, even in the post-9/11 world, Ireland’s soft approach to Islamo-terrorist groups would remain. Hizbullah has continued to harass UNIFIL troops, but Ireland, and the EU, have not remonstrated with Iran. Some speculate that the increased harassment, directed at particular UNIFIL national groupings, coincides with their respective nation states criticising Iran.

Ireland was a leading force in the diplomatic opposition to Hizbullah being designed a terrorist entity by the European Union, despite terrorist attacks having occurred on European soil, particularly a bus bombing in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli civilians and one other driver. Hizbullah was involved in the killing of the largest number of US citizens before 9/11, has openly expressed genocidal ambitions toward world Jewry — killing a huge number of Jewish people in Argentina, and finances its activities with international drug trafficking on a rather grand scale. Ireland’s diplomatic move was seen as unusual, given that Germany, France and Spain, which have substantive UNIFIL forces, supported Hizbullah’s terrorist designation.

Irish UNFIL Death tolls, and the media influence

Dr. Rory Miller has noted that Irish media coverage of the UNIFIL (I) troop presence was notably anti-Israel in tone, which tracked and arguably strengthened the resolve of the Irish authorities to find Israel blameworthy. The tone of coverage by elements within the media is illustrated by a Travers interview:
“… because so many Irish soldiers had been killed by Israelis, (some too by Palestinians and/or their Lebanese cohorts), with a significant number who were taken out deliberately and shot (in South Lebanon), slowly but surely, the body-bag phenomenon came into effect, and suddenly Ireland is now perceived as almost entirely pro-Palestinian.”
The views expressed in that statement may be sincerely held, but it tells more of the impressions presented by the Irish mainstream media than of actual fact. 45 to 47 Irish UNIFIL soldiers died between 1978 and 2000. Narratives on the conflict do not note that most soldiers actually died from accidents. The impression given by the media is often otherwise, due to a peculiar focus on Israel’s supposed misdeeds. That most should die from accidents is perhaps unsurprising, in view of the fact that the Ireland had between 45,000 and 50,000 UNIFIL members serving in Lebanon, at varying times, over a 22 year period, serving in rugged terrain, sometimes with aged transit vehicles. Most notably, four soldier would accidentally die on February 14th 2000. Another Irish soldier murdered three of his colleagues in 1982.

Statistics are difficult to obtain but, Robert Fisk’s article (reproduced in Defence Forces Review, 2008) ‘At-Tiri, or Bosnia Avoided: The Irish in UNIFIL 1978 — 95’, notes that:
“an examination of the non-accidental casualties in Irelands thirty five Infantry battalions over the seventeen years of their service in UNIFIL suggest that the Irish have suffered in equal proportions from all parties to the conflict in southern Lebanon. Although the UN does not provide such statistics — nor I think does the Irish army — my own figures show clearly that of the fourteen Irish soldiers killed in action or murdered in cold blood, seven were killed north of the SLA-UNIFIL ridge-line and seven to the south. Six Irish soldiers were killed by Haddad’s militiamen, one by the Israelis — this was Corporal Dermot McLoughlin, killed by Israeli Merkava tank round on 10 January 1987 — five by the Hizballah and two by Palestinians. Of the five who died at the hands of the Hizballah, four were killed by landmines, the fifth Corporal Peter Ward, by a Hizballah militiaman at Al-Jurn on 29 September 1992. These details would suggest that Ireland suffered half its combat/murder casualties at the hand of Israel and its allies and half at the hands of Israel’s Palestinian and Hizballah enemies — grim but persuasive proof, I think, that the Irish battalions did not take sides in the south Lebanon war.”
Fisk attributes 14 of the 38 soldiers killed up to that point, as having died in combat. He appears to over-count fatalities attributed to the SLA by two — in 1999 there was one other fatality attributed by the SLA, Private. William Kedian, making five killed by the SLA in total. Fisk, a journalist noted for his staunch anti-Israel viewpoints, would never do Israel any favours with regard to statistics, so he cannot be said to be minimising fatalities attributed to Israel.

It is rather dubious to argue that the Irish UNIFIL contingent was balanced because the death tolls are roughly equal. Fisk may have adapted a common defense of media organisations, which argue that their news content must essentially be neutral because there are complaints about their coverage from both sides of a given issue. The argument is fallacious, because it ignores the potential validity of complaints. They can be legitimate or illegitimate, with the less moral of pressure groups expecting the media to unduly adopt their narratives. Likewise, UNIFIL’s reputed bias for the PLO/Hizbullah etc., could be enforced with threatening behaviour and killings. Fear is the essential tool of successful terrorist organisations. Hizbullah have a history of intimidating UNIFIL, if they deem them to insufficiently malleable, or for wider political considerations, even though UNIFIL has conducted itself favourably toward the group. 

The broad media’s position is revisited with Robert Fisk’s stance in a retrospective article (UK Independent, March 17th 2001), in which he describes the killers of some Irish troops as “Israel’s murderous little proxy force, the ‘South Lebanon Army’”, while other killers are artfully labelled as “Dissident Palestinians”. Despite the passage of time, the tendency in media coverage, to blame Israel over that of other groups, would continue into the UNIFIL II phase. The 1980 murder of two Irish UNIFIL soldiers in Lebanon, by Mahmoud Bazzi, was given extensive treatment by RTE’s investigative show ‘Prime Time’ (RTE1, December 1st 2015). The report did not note the identity of the group, nor even its well-known name, despite the feature’s length. It merely noted that the organisation was an “Israeli-backed militia”.

Crude propaganda

RTE’s documentary, ‘Peacekeepers: The Irish in South Lebanon’ (produced and directed by John Higgins, and Shane Brennan), was notable for providing such an anti-Israel slant that it would be difficult to distinguish its content from that of the more virulent forms of conflict propaganda. Despite the benefit of hindsight, the documentary forwarded many of the falsities presented by the Irish media through the years, which unduly focus on Israel-related wrongdoing to the near-exclusion of all else.

The programme failed to mention any violent attacks on Ireland’s UNIFIL troops by the PLO, with Dr. Ray Murphy stating that the South Lebanon Army caused virtually all of the conflict issues with Irish UNIFIL troops. The documentary misrepresented the identity of the first UNIFIL casualty, by distorting the timeline. With undue rapidity, it presented UNIFIL forces as battling the SLA near At Tiri, and so effectively presented Stephen Griffin as Irish UNIFIL’s first fatality, having some Israeli-related cause. However, the first UNIFIL fatality was Gerard Moone, who died in a “traffic Accident”. After Moone’s death, Thomas Reynolds would die of another traffic accident that same year, and Private Philip Grogan drowned the following year. The documentary focused on Israeli/SLA actions but failed to mention that more than two-thirds of all the Irish UNIFIL deaths occurred due to non-combat issues, primarily accidents.

The programme discussed in significant detail the killings by the SLA’s Mahmoud Bazzi, and the death of another soldier in 1999 during an SLA attack. It is likely that roughly equal numbers were killed by both sides. Yet, on the opposing side, the documentary would only mention the killing of a single soldier by Amal, even though Amal is associated with an intentional IED hit, which killed three troops in 1989, claimed to be a cover-up: an independent governmental report stated that “deficient assessment” was the cause. There was no mention of the killing of two soldiers by the PLO in 1981, one of which was ‘disappeared’, and could not be found after years of investigation by the Irish Defence Forces.

When recounting events relating to the initiation of war, the documentary repeatedly obsecured which side aggressed against the other. For example, the narrator stated that both the PLO and Israel were engaged in a series of “brutal attacks” during the late 1970s, noting an attack that killed 34 Israelis, which it compared with the death toll from the Israeli invasion of 1978, which conflated civilian and terrorist death tolls, to infer that the invasion was disproportionate. Similarly, the narrator failed to note that Hizbullah aggressed against Northern Israel, with successive missile attacks in 1995/96 on civilian populaces, leading to a substantive military response in 1996, dubbed ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’ — merely referring to a series of “lethal attacks” after the breach of a three-year cease-fire. The documentary failed to note that Israel apologised for a strike on a building housing civilians, which Tom Clonan described as a “deliberate” attack, an act that he described as a “massacre”, despite recent admissions that there were IDF failures on the ground.

The documentary stated that Israel did not withdraw in 1978. Ray Murphy, Robert Fisk, and others, asserted that Israel did not go along with the UNIFIL mandate. Lara Marlow, a noted anti-Israel journalist, sarcastically asserted that it took Israel 22 years to withdraw. Murphy made a similar claim. However, Israel did withdraw in late 1978, handing over control of the territory it took to the SLA. If Israel had remained in South Lebanon then it could hardly have reinvaded again in 1982.

The narrator also stated that Lebanese groups, Hizbullah and Amal, were established to “resist” the Israeli occupation from 1982. However, Hizbullah is a proxy of Iran, created by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, to bring conflict to Israel, and has engaged in anti-Jewish terrorism across the world. Amal was founded in 1974, some eight years before the longer term Israeli occupation. The programme also failed to note the continued assaults by the PLO on Israel, which forced the 1982 Israeli invasion.

The programme failed to note the widespread belief that Irish troops favoured the PLO, and would in fact affirm the opposite — that the Irish were an “honest broker”. Ray Murphy stated that the Irish UNIFIL troops felt a natural sympathy for the poor Shia locals, but there was no mention of the fact that Lebanese Sunni and especially Christian groupings have been marginalised by conflict.

Tom Clonan, argued that if it were not for the UNIFIL Irish troops, killing would be on a scale similar to Syria. This was a peculiar observation for the ‘security analyst’ with the Irish Times to make, because Lebanon is a much small nation, with a populace five times smaller in 2011 (4.4 million) than pre-war Syria (22 million), or eight and a half times smaller than 2011 pre-war Syria, at 2.75 million before civil war commenced in 1975. If the populace of the two nations (before conflict commenced) is taken into consideration, the tolls (150,000-250,000 over 15 years, and 400,000 over five years - March 2016 UN estimate) would suggest that the Lebanese Civil War had at least as great a proportional impact upon its people. Yet the Lebanese Civil War would rarely be mentioned in the documentary, despite its importance to the conflict. Clonan, asserted that “the Irish people can be genuinely proud of the troops”, but the documentary’s praise (brave professional individual soldiers notwithstanding) should be tempered by the entirely factual observation that UNIFIL has miserably failed twice in its purported objectives.

The documentary latterly referred to the killing of a Spanish UNIFIL soldier, in a January 2015 Israeli missile strike. The documentary featured footage and narration from an ITN report on the event, detailing the substantive measures employed by Israel, presumably to present it as a disproportionate attack. However, the documentary did not mention the attack was in response to the killing of two Israelis (in the Shabba Farms region), nor the fact that the IDF had come under repeated attack from across the Lebanese border. The documentary spoke of UNIFIL precautions in the aftermath of the attack but did not discuss the quite recent intimidatory efforts by Hizbullah, which nearly led the EU to pull its troops out of Lebanon.

Published at Crethi Plethi.