Tuesday 14 June 2016

Analysing Trends in Mainstream Media Bias: RTE’s October Coverage of the 2015 Quasi-Intifada – Part One


Section 39/1, of Ireland’s 2009 Broadcasting Act, obliges broadcasters to ensure that news reports are “presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views.” However, RTE (Ireland’s public service broadcaster) was criticised repeatedly by an Irish pro-Israel advocacy group in its online postings, for the quality of its reportage of the onset of intensive violence during the Autumn period, which commentators often described as a prospective ‘Third Intifada’ due to the sharp rise in Arab-Palestinian attacks (stabbings, shootings and car-rammings) against Israeli civilians and security personnel. The period was also noted for an increase in protracted clashes or riotous Arab-Palestinian protests, which typically confronted Israeli forces.

While advocacy groups might be expected to be critical of news coverage that is not compatible with their views of a given issue that they represent, RTE’s news reporting on contentious issues has long been criticised by a variety of independent sources, as inaccurate, misleading, and selective in terms of the stories the Broadcaster chooses to feature. Some commentators have noted an anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-conservative slant in RTE’s coverage, which supports liberal-left stances and political parties, although hard-left political activists have argued that RTE is conservative. A senior member of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign also criticised RTE’s coverage as being racially prejudiced against Arab-Palestinians. That complaint is addressed in Part Two, in the section “Pro-Israel bias?”

This article discusses a quite large, albeit select, number of problematic examples of RTE’s television news coverage during October 2015, when coverage of the conflict was most prevalent, to attempt to represent the overall tone of coverage. Some brief examples of coverage from the middle of September to the end of November are also included. July-August 2015 coverage is also referenced to note trends in news reporting. With respect to journalistic practice, broad ethical problems concerning the conflict are also addressed. A concluding part of this series focuses in detail on two specific RTE reports, which are not discussed in Part One. RTE Player links of the principle daily television news programmes (Lunchtime News, 6.1 (6 O’clock) News, and 9 O’clock News) are only made available by the broadcaster for a limited period of time.

Background on the quasi-Intifada

While the region continued to experience significant levels of Arab-Palestinian violence, the onset of the Autumn 2015 period of intensified conflict is usually dated to the 13th of September, when Israeli security forces intervened at the al-Aqsa Mosque, to prevent an attack upon nearby Jewish worshippers closely adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, at the Western/Wailing Wall. Tensions grew during 2014/15 after certain Jewish activists sought changes to improve Jewish access, but Israel’s government refused to change the status quo, due to the fear that it would cause an Intifada.

The planned Arab-Palestinian attack at the Temple Mount coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and was also a likely reaction to a policy move by former Defense Minister of Israel, Moshe Ya’alon, because he outlawed the Mourabitoun and Mourabitat Muslim groups, which were instituted to persistently harass Jewish people visiting the Temple Mount, as well as the Wailing Wall. Israel’s intervention was seen as validating Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ repeated claims that the Mosque was under threat. Alexander Levlovich, was perhaps the first fatality, killed in a stoning attack the following day by an Arab-Palestinian gang, when driving through East Jerusalem.

The quasi-Intifada resulted in approximately fourteen-hundred recorded attacks of Arab-Palestinian origin between the months of September and December 2015. Attacks decreased in January 2016, with 169 recorded attacks, largely matching the rate of August 2015, in which there were 171 recorded attacks. October 2015 saw the peak of this wave of terrorism, with 620 attacks.

Inconsistent news coverage

RTE’s early reportage of the renewed violence in the region was highly partial. When RTE news editors chose to report on the heightened violence, news coverage consistently highlighted Arab-Palestinian victims, albeit with the exception of one news bulletin. Four Israeli civilians were killed, and several others seriously injured, in numerous stabbing attacks, from Thursday the 1st to Friday the 2nd of October. These attacks were newsworthy because their frequency represented a stark indicator of renewed societal conflict. However, RTE’s TV news team only afforded one brief and rather belated mention, in a single Saturday the 3rd morning news bulletin, without an accompanying news report.

RTE’s 9th October Lunchtime television news report similarly failed to mention the high frequency of anti-Jewish violence occurring in Israel during the prior 24 hours. Instead RTE continued a trend of leading reports on Israeli/Jewish violence visited on Arab-Palestinians, with what was a probable revenge attack, which lightly-to-moderately injured four Arab men in Dimona, Southern Israel, although the Israel Security Agency (ISA) later noted that the injury to one victim was severe, with another moderately wounded, and two others injured slightly. The report included footage of grief stricken women, who were identifiably Arab-Palestinian due to their garb. The inclusion of such footage would have led viewers to the impression that the men were battling for their lives.

Whilst it was newsworthy to report on one of the rare instances of violence perpetuated by a Jewish civilian on several Arab men uninvolved in the conflict, the failure to report on anti-Jewish attacks was particularly notable since a numerically similar attack also occurred on October the 8th, which resulted in the injury of four Jewish people.

RTE’s reportage of the violent upsurge is consistent with coverage of the conflict in preceding months.

The last major international news event to come out of Israel, and the disputed territory of Judea and Samaria/West Bank, was perhaps the July 31st Duma arson attack on the Dawabshe family home. RTE’s TV coverage of the Duma attack was substantial and highly problematic. RTE reporter Carol Coleman misrepresented the reasons for Arab-Palestinian violence in the aftermath of the attack, which had a distinctly sectarian-religious (Islamist) dimension associated with the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Coleman also failed to mention the associated incitement by the Palestinian Authority that often motivates such religious-sectarian violence, and presented reasonable security measures by the Israeli authorities as either a reprisal, or inciting a chain of escalating conflict.

The Broadcaster followed up on the Duma attack with reports on the death of the Dawabshe family’s father (8th August), and the death of the mother (7th September), both from burn injuries in the aftermath of the tragic arson attack. However, RTE’s television news department did not report on any of the attacks by Arab-Palestinians upon Israelis during the same period. Besides a failure to report on post-Duma Arab-Palestinian reprisals against Israelis, there was just one report on growing violence at the Temple Mount (13th September), which led with the Israeli intervention at the al-Aqsa Mosque.

RTE-Player screen-grab of revolving news text,
RTE News Now channel, Oct 15, 2015

Conflating aggressors with victims

News-presenter introductory comments for reports, typically described the growing death tolls, with numerical comparison between Arab-Palestinian deaths and Jewish-Israeli fatalities. However, such comparisons usually failed to note the widely divergent circumstances in which these deaths took place, with Arab-Palestinian deaths typically occurring in violent confrontations with army and security personnel, or during terrorist incidents. Sometimes the follow-on reports would clarify the preliminary remarks by the news-presenters but more often they did not. Such conflation is misleading at a most fundamental level because the resurgent violence relates to the matter of who is doing what to whom, e.g. an October 20th 6.1 News report mingled aggressors with victims:
Presenter Sharon Ní Bheoláin: “The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has said his trip to the Middle-East today reflects the global alarm over the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Carole Coleman [voice-over of video featuring rioting youths]: “As the frustration felt by Palestinians continues to spill over into the streets, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had this message for the young people…”
RTE-Player screen-grab, RTE 6.1 News, 20-October-2015, Carol Coleman report,
with captioning: "As the frustration felt by Palestinians..."

RTE would continue to lead news stories with the death and injury of Arab-Palestinians individuals, through the latter part of the period of violent escalation in November, and the nature of the fatalities would still be conflated. For example, news-presenter Eileen Dunne stated that “a surge in violence has resulted in the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians”, in the 23rd November 9 O’clock news programme.

RTE described violent riots, which have the explicit intent of clashing with police and soldiers, as “protests”. Protests are commonly understood to be largely peaceful events, which are usually borne of moral concern. The use, by the media, of such a term was especially unjust when there was a growing awareness that this episode could have represented the onset of a new Intifada, which was driven across Arab-Palestinian society by a wave of religious intolerance, with substantively anti-Semitic overtones.

RTE’s 10th October morning news text reported that the “IDF shot dead six Palestinians at the border of the Gaza Strip”. That morning’s news bulletins stated that “Protests have spread across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Northern Israel after a day where six Palestinians were killed at the border of the Gaza strip…” The segment was short, at no more than 30 seconds, so it is unfair to expect it to be comprehensive, but it nonetheless misled with profound omissions in the description of the violence.

The segment failed to mention that the violence was initiated by Arab-Palestinians, and that further stabbing attacks in Jerusalem were committed against Jewish civilians. RTE also failed to mention that the Arab-Palestinians at the Gaza border were engaged in violence directed at a heavily armed military zone, that they were affiliated with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that this riotous event was linked with Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ Gazan leader, who declared a new ‘Intifada’ shortly before the clash.

On the 11th October, the text-based news highlights on RTE’s ‘News Now’ channel, featured an image of grief-stricken Arab-Palestinian women, also found on the RTE website, with the accompanying words: “France has said the escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem was ‘extremely worrying and dangerous’”. The use of such an emotive image, with the accompanying text, places indirect blame on the Israeli authorities for the rise in Arab-Palestinian fatalities. The image inevitably carries with it an inference that those killed were substantively innocent, when many of the fatalities targeted, and sometimes murdered, Jewish civilians.

RTE did not qualify which grouping was initiating violence against the other, even of the past events that led to the 2014 Gaza war, Operation Pillar of Cloud. The November 30th morning ‘News Now’ bulletins reported that Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s “killing was part of a cycle of violence that led to war between Israel and militants in Gaza.” RTE failed to address which group initiated the sequence of events, despite 16 months passing, and misrepresented the character of those events. The brutal murder of Abu Khadir on July 2nd 2014 was likely a reaction to Hamas’ kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), but war in Gaza developed as a consequence of increased rocket attacks. Some believe the attacks from Gaza increased as a result of the mass arrest of Hamas’ operatives in Judea and Samaria, but a programme of mass arrest to save three teenagers does not correspond with a “cycle of violence”. Neither can Abu Khdeir’s death be thought of as a major event leading to eventual war since the particular warring groups were not involved, and the Hamas-sanctioned rocket escalation had already begun before the 2nd July date of murder.

A notable departure

RTE’s television news department first acknowledged that Arab-Palestinians were targeting Jews in a spate of stabbing and other attacks, two weeks after the dramatic intensification, in a brief October 12th Lunchtime News report (“Palestinian man shot dead by security forces in Israel”), which stated:
“A Palestinian man suspected of attempting to stab a police officer in Jerusalem has been shot dead by security forces. It was the latest in a series of knife attacks in the past fortnight, mainly by Palestinians targeting Jews. Police said the officer was unhurt as he had been wearing a protective vest. On Friday, four people – two Israeli-Arabs and two Palestinians were injured in an apparent revenge attack.”
Oddly, the RTE report again referenced the several days-old stabbing of four Arabs, which, according to reports, largely resulted in moderate injuries. By contrast, RTE never displayed an impetus to balance reports of Jewish violence with reference to the Arab-Palestinian equivalent. Instead, it downplayed the latter.

For example, RTE’s Lunchtime, 6.1 and 9 o’clock news broadcasts (11th Oct, 10 mins) solely reported on the deaths of Arab-Palestinians:
“An Israeli airstrike on a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip hit a nearby house, killing a Palestinian woman and her daughter. This marks an escalation in recent violence, which has seen several Israelis killed and a growing number of Palestinian deaths. The increase in violence has increased fears of a new Palestinian uprising.”
There was no mention of the other attacks during the 11th of October, where, for example, an Arab-Israeli man injured four Israelis in a combined car and stabbing assault. RTE also failed to report the attempted suicide bombing by an Arab-Palestinian woman, which was disrupted by Israeli security personnel, despite the fact that the story garnered significant attention due to its circumstance.

Passive voice

RTE reports typically led with descriptions of Israeli security forces shooting dead Arab-Palestinian aggressors, or of Israeli security measures in reaction to the intensification of violence.

At times, a variant of grammatical passive voice was used in the construction of sentences for RTE’s descriptions. Such sentence structure often occurs in mainstream media reportage of the Israeli conflict. Passive voice allows authors more control over narratives, whereby the responsibility of any agent for instigating events can be obfuscated. With passive voice, the instigating group of a conflict situation can be presented as having been subjected to the actions of other parties to that conflict. It is objectionable, for confusing which side is responsible for the broad-spectrum violence, and for directing blame at those attempting to reduce the effects of the destructive acts. For example, news-presenter Brian Finnerty, Lunchtime News, 16th October reported:
“In the past month, the violence has claimed the lives of eight Israelis and more than thirty Palestinians, some of them suspected of carrying out attacks, have been killed by Israeli security forces.”
Undue skepticism

Statements, such as the above, present a double-standard, where murders, or attempted murders, were treated with scepticism, but not the reactions by the authorities. An element of scepticism is appropriate when dealing with claims made by different groupings in a state of conflict, and media reports correctly use the terms ‘alleged’ or ‘suspected’ when addressing criminal acts by individuals/groups that are not yet affirmed through legal process. Nonetheless, journalists commonly make legitimate determinations of fact, based on the security of accessible evidentiary material, and on very high probabilities, where, for example, clear intent can be ascribed to violent/criminal events. It had been firmly ascertained that a significant number of Arab-Palestinians were killed by Israel’s security forces, but it has also been ascertained that a substantive proportion of those killings were in immediate reaction to terror attacks, as the toll of Jewish casualties, and available video material to a number of the attacks, demonstrates.

With further scepticism, Carole Coleman’s October 20th Lunchtime News report describes a house demolition as “Israeli soldiers dismantling a Palestinian home in the West Bank. The army claims it’s the home of a militant who carried out a stabbing a year ago killing a woman.”

The report refers to the demolition of Maher al-Hashlamoun’s house. Al-Hashlamoun is in actual fact is a member of Islamic Jihad who was found guilty of committing several terrorist attacks, one of which led to the murder of a twenty-six year old Israeli woman. By convention, RTE attribute crimes to individuals who have been found guilty of such acts by courts of law. However, Coleman’s report would lead the viewer to suspect that the demolition is undeserved in some way, because al-Hashlamoun is supposedly innocent, or that his crimes have been insufficiently ascertained.

Notable omissions

The attacks during this period were never described as having a terrorist intent. Yet RTE is not adverse to using the term in relation to similar attacks in the West, most recently with the Belgium attacks.

RTE’s 16th November morning and Noon ‘News Now’ bulletins reported on a gun attack against Israeli troops, when the home of terrorist Mohammad abu Shahin (alternatively spelt ‘Shaheen’) was demolished in response to the murder of Danny Gonen, a Jewish hiker, during the month of June. The news-presenter stated:
“Palestinian medical sources have said Israeli troops shot dead at least two Palestinians during a gun battle in the Occupied West Bank. The Israeli military said in a statement that troops had come under attack during the operation to destroy the home of Mohammad abu Shahin… Some twenty other Palestinians were wounded in the incident as troops demolished the home of a militant whom Israel had said had killed an Israeli man in June.”
The report did not note that Shahin (Shaheen) had previously been found guilty of conspiring to commit a terror attack for which he was imprisoned between 2006 and 2008, and had more recently confessed to committing numerous other attacks. He is a member of the Fatah/Tanzim Force 17 elite terror unit. Israel’s Supreme Court issued a stay of demolition in October to evaluate the case, which was subsequently passed, while another demolition application was rejected.

Abbas’ incitement misrepresented

A 14th October 9 O’clock news report by Carole Coleman (“Two Palestinians shot dead in latest spate of attacks in Israel”) led with the deaths of Arab-Palestinians involved in a terror attack, and used material from her earlier reports that day, analysed in part two of this article. Coleman added:
“This evening Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas held firm, saying that Palestinians would continue to struggle for the project of nation or state-hood. He spoke of the right to self defence but called for non-violent resistance.”
This is an inaccurate representation of Abbas’ speech, which did not in fact call for a de-escalation of violence. The speech endorsed the ongoing Arab-Palestinian violence, which he characterised as a defensive measure, and presented solely as a reaction to supposed Israeli aggression, particularly against the al-Aqsa Mosque. Abbas attempted to present an Arab-Palestinian teen, who engaged in a stabbing attack, as a martyr akin to Mohammad al-Dura, a story that has been utilised as a widespread source of incitement in the Arab world. Coleman’s description may have been based on the inaccurate accounts provided by a number of news-wire services. The article ‘He Said/They Said: Mahmoud Abbas October 14th speech, and the Mainstream Media’ provides a detailed account of the speech.

The speech was in keeping with the Fatah Party’s production of a substantive amount of material encouraging violence, while demonising Israeli soldiers. Coverage of trenchant PA/Fatah incitement, and associated conspiracism involving the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, was entirely absent however.

By contrast, RTE’s coverage of a speech by Israeli prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on October 21st, was very negative. The speech garnered international attention because Netanyahu asserted Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini had a principle role in encouraging Hitler to wholly adopt a programme of extermination against Europe’s Jewish people but soon clarified that he had no intention of exonerating Hitler. Some of RTE’s reports did include that clarification, whilst other reports did not. The revolving text on the ‘News Now’ channel stated: “Netanyahu provokes holocaust row” — a title also applied to RTE’s syndicated website coverage of the controversy. The article ‘Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini’s Initiatory Role in the Extermination of European Jewry’ provides a detailed account of the way in which the international media misrepresented history to criticise the PM.

Obfuscation of identity

The 13th of October may be remembered as a peak in the anti-Jewish violence of the period, due to the high number of civilian casualties. The varying identities of attackers, and their victims, is of crucial importance in reports of sectarian strife, but the atypical wording of RTE coverage suggests there may have been attempts to confuse the issue. Morning and Noon news-bulletin reports, on the 13th, stated:
“In Israel at least two passengers have been killed in separate attacks on buses in Jerusalem. The first person died in a gun and knife attack on a bus in the East of the City. Police later shot him [indistinct word]. In the second, a man drove a car into a bus and then started stabbing passengers.”
These reports were peculiar for avoiding the use of identifying words like ‘Jew’. ‘Israeli’, ‘Arab’, and ‘Palestinian’, etc., even though early reports from Israel clearly delineated the identities of the attackers and their victims.

Michelle McCaughren’s October 13th Lunchtime News report differed by expressing notable sympathy for the victims. The victims of the bus attack are described as “terrified passengers who had no means of escape”. However, she continued to use impersonal descriptions like “attackers”, “men”/“man”, and “pedestrians”. She suggested one attack, involving the car-ramming of pedestrians, was indiscriminate, where the assailant got out and supposedly stabbed “anyone” who was nearby. Although McCaughren did mention that the attack took place in an Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood, she did not clearly address the fact that Jews were targeted, including a Jewish Rabbi, who would be visibly Jewish, and that the assailants were Arab-Palestinians. Attempts to obfuscate certain identities is common in the mainstream media. The appendix has a full transcript of the report.

McCaughren’s report spent almost as much time on one of the Arab-Palestinian attackers as that of the many victims, by featuring police video of a crowd apparently kicking a would-be attacker at a Tel Aviv bus stop. The report included an extract of a speech by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, telling Israeli citizens to calm down. The selection of such content suggested that the fears of the Jewish citizenry was unjustified, and/or that they were over-reacting. The report did not mention that the mayor explicitly blamed Arab-Palestinian incitement for the murders, earlier that day.

Carole Coleman’s October 19th Lunchtime News report (“Israeli forces impose tighter restrictions in Jerusalem and West Bank”) also focused to a lengthy extent on the fact that some Israelis, who had just witnessed a terrorist incident at a bus station, then attacked another suspected attacker who would later be found to have been uninvolved. While the reprisal is worthy of comment, far greater attention was paid to this incident than the terrorist attack that initiated the subsequent event.

“Palestinian territories”?

RTE (and other media outlets) typically use the terms “occupied Palestinian territories” or “Palestinian territories” for Judea and Samaria/West Bank, and “Palestinian areas of Jerusalem” for East Jerusalem, etc. For example, the RTE ‘News Now’ screen-text (‘News’ section, October 19th), stated “The Israeli government has announced tougher security measures to tackle unrest in Israel and the Palestinian territories”, while Coleman’s October 14th Lunchtime News report referred to “Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem”. It is markedly different to the term “Arab East Jerusalem”, which does not infer an expected or legally/morally justified national identity. The term is prejudicial however much it may be used by the United Nations.

The areas of East Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria/West Bank, are politically contested territories, which have largely been ruled by empires for millennia. There has been no legitimate prior sovereign in these regions since the defeat of the Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire, in 135 AD. Many do consider the territories to be occupied. However, the British Mandatory text defines all territory West of the Jordan river as necessarily being designated for “the Jewish National Home”, with only territory East of the Jordan river having the option of alternate applications (Article 25), with good reason since the contested territories represent the cultural and religious core of the Jewish homeland, constituting the first and second cities of Judaism (Old (East) Jerusalem and Hebron), along with its holiest of shrines and places of worship.

Some experts effectively treat Jordan as having held legitimate title but the State waged an unprovoked war of aggression against Israel, when the Jewish State first declared independence in 1948. Thus, it is clear that Jordan illegitimately occupied these territories, and so such an act cannot be a basis for valid territorial claims against another so aggressed. Moreover, the entire thrust for peace, with UN Security Council Resolution 242, the final status talks of the Oslo Accords, etc., make it clear that negotiations with the interested parties are to be the basis for a peace settlement. To describe these territories as entirely “Palestinian”, and as “occupied”, without qualification, pre-empts such a process.


An example of language usage — transcript of the 13th of October 2015 RTE Lunchtime News report:
John Finnerty: “In Israel at least three people have been killed and thirty others wounded in a series of knife and gun attacks. It comes on a day of rage declared by Palestinian groups. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will convene an emergency session of the security cabinet later today to discuss the recent surge in violence.”
Michelle McCaughren [reporting]: “The attacks took place as early morning commuters made their way to work. The assailants used guns and knives, and in one instance drove a car into a group of pedestrians in an ultra orthodox neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The driver then got out, and wielding a knife, attempted to stab anyone standing nearby. The most serious incident took place earlier in the capital when two men stormed a bus. One opened fire and the other used a knife on terrified passengers who had no means of escape. It resulted in multiple casualties. One of the attackers was shot dead by police. The other was seriously injured.
In a suburb of Tel Aviv an angry crowd gather around a man suspected of trying to stab another man at a bus stop. A video distributed by the police shows him being kicked and beaten as he lies on the ground. Calling for greater security measures, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, appealed for calm. He said all citizens must know that they cannot take the law into their own hands. The public must calm down and let the security forces do their job.
These types of incidents have increased in frequency in recent weeks and appear to be random and sporadic. The security forces say they are difficult to predict and even more difficult to bring under control.”

Published at Crethi Plethi.

Analysing Trends in Mainstream Media Bias: RTE’s Coverage of the 2015 Quasi-Intifada – Part Two

This article provides an analysis of two RTE television news reports, during the Autumn 2015 period, when a sharp rise in Arab-Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, and security personnel, occurred. Broad issues of normative journalistic practice are also discussed. The preceding part of this series analyses, more broadly, a relatively large number of other RTE reports broadcast during the same period. RTE Player links of the principle daily television news programmes (Lunchtime News, 6.1 (6 O’clock) News, and 9 O’clock News) are only made available by the broadcaster for a limited period of time.

Carole Coleman reports

An 14th October Lunchtime News report by Carole Coleman, appears to have partly or indirectly justified the Intifada-esque conditions in Israel and the disputed territories of the Judea and Samaria/West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, by laying undue blame with the authorities opposing the then-resurgent bout of violence. Appendix One features an excerpted transcript of the news-report.

RTE-Player screen-grab, revolving news text,
RTE News Now channel, 14-October-2015

Israel’s security measures are described prejudicially in the report. In the introduction, the news presenter claims the security measures will “seal off” Arab neighbourhoods, while Coleman describes the measures as “blockades”, which misleadingly evokes the actions applied to Gaza. The revolving screen-text on the RTE ‘News Now’ channel also stated: “Israeli police to seal off Arab parts of Jerusalem”. However, the security measures were not remotely as draconian. Roadblocks and ‘stop and search’ measures were put into place. Residents were not being prevented from travelling outside of their communities, nor were people being prevented from travelling into the relevant neighbourhoods.

Coleman’s report features quotes from two individuals: an Arab resident who was hostile to Israel, and a representative of an anti-Israel NGO. Coleman did not quote an alternate perspective for the report.

An Arab man, identified as ‘Khader Ishkirat’, a resident of Jabel Mukaber, provided his views on the new security restrictions. He described these measures as “collective punishment”, and presented the restrictions as somehow contravening the pursuit of a two-state peace solution. However, Coleman’s report failed to note that the Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood is an Arab-Palestinian village in the environs of Jerusalem, which has earned notoriety, both as a flashpoint of violence, and due to a number of its residents having engaged in particularly vicious acts of terrorism, which include what was the then-current violent upsurge. Jewish residents have experienced substantive violence, due to their proximity to the village.

RTE-Player screen-grab, RTE Lunchtime News, 14-October-2015, Carol Coleman
 report, featuring Sari Bashi, of the NGOs Gisha & Human Rights Watch

Sari Bashi, identified as a representative of Human Rights Watch, also offered highly critical views on the security measures. Bashi however is better known as the co-founder and Executive Director of anti-Israel NGO Gisha.

Bashi does not have a reputation for presenting balanced critiques on the Israeli-Jewish/Arab-Islamic conflict. She defended the reputation of notorious terrorist Shawan Jabarin. Moreover, Gisha’s critiques erased the context of Israeli military actions as constituting reactions to Hamas’ rocket bombardments from Gaza. The NGO also baselessly charged that Israel was violating the rights of students from Gaza.

Misrepresenting the root causes of the conflict

The most problematic aspect of Carole Coleman’s report is the overt attempt to lead its audience into a simplified understanding of a protracted conflict, which stands in contravention with basic established fact, when choosing to blame the current spate of violence principally on settlements and the failure of peace talks, whilst ignoring the most pernicious religious sectarianism that has pervaded this conflict, which existed long before Israel became a reality. The report finds Israel blameworthy, despite the attacks being aimed indiscriminately at Jewish civilians, as well as soldiers and the security services.

This quasi-Intifada erupted following Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ intensive incitement, featuring false claims of an intent by the Israeli authorities to change the status-quo of the Temple Mount, and harm the al-Aqsa Mosque. The claims were echoed by the PA itself, for example, to quote a near-concurrent PA broadcast:
“The story of the Temple is nothing but a collection of legends and myths for political reasons. They [Jews] have set Palestine and Jerusalem as their goal, and have used the myths in the service of their declared goals of occupation and imperialism. In the spirit of the delusions and legends, they try to get rid of the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and establish their so-called ‘Temple’ — the greatest crime and forgery in history.”
Mahmoud Abbas set the stage for the violence in his speeches, which were notably supportive of the increasing violence at the Mount. To cite a speech from the 16th of September:
‘His honor [Abbas] saluted the Murabitin (those carrying out Ribat, religious conflict/war to protect land claimed to be Islamic) and stated: ‘Every drop of blood that has been spilled in Jerusalem is holy blood as long as it was for Allah. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded, Allah willing.’ … and stated: ‘The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.”’
Furthermore, the modus-operandi of stabbing terror attacks had been widely linked to several speeches by leading Muslim-Arabs.

Arab members of the Israeli Knesset also led incitement drives, claiming Jewish people have no right of worship on the Temple Mount.

Likewise, a survey of concurrent Arab-Palestinian opinion demonstrated that most oppose the two-state solution, based on the principle of two-states-for-two-peoples. Only 30% supported a one-state solution where Arabs and Israelis possess equal rights. No less than 58% were against the recognition of Israel as a nation for Jewish people, that carried a mutual recognition of Palestine as a nation for Arab-Palestinian people.

Palestinian leaders rejected a two-state solution, and peace with Israel, in 2000, 2001 and 2008, the latter of which afforded near 100% of all Palestinian Authority territorial demands with mutually agreed land-swaps. If Arab-Palestinians were truly despairing due to a lost quest for their independence, they would instead punish their own leaders for repeatedly undermining that process.

The report ignores a phenomenon that led to a century of anti-Jewish Arab-Palestinian incitement at all levels of society. It led to pogromic episodes that began circa 1920 in Jerusalem, some 47 years before the Six-Day war. Likewise, the Second Intifada erupted following PA incitement over false claims of Jewish designs on the al-Aqsa Mosque. At the time Arafat believed a bizarre conspiracy, where Israel would engineer an earthquake to destroy the Mosque.

RTE-Player screen-grab, RTE Lunchtime News, 14-October-2015, Carol Coleman report,
captioned: "Palestinians also cite increased encroachment on the al-Aqsa..."

Reiterating sectarian propaganda

Most surprisingly, Coleman appears to endorse the Arab-Palestinian conspiracy that Jews are somehow undermining the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, when she stated “Palestinians also cite increased encroachment on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City…” She did not state that this is a disputed claim. Netanyahu has repeatedly asserted that there is no attempt to change the ‘status quo’, nor does there appear to have been any notable increase of visits to the Temple Mount. The prior year’s figures show only a marginal number of Jewish people being allowed access to the Temple Mount. Israel has done nothing to provoke such fears. The conspiracy is also supremely unlikely, since prior fears over the site were unfounded.

Coleman claims the al-Aqsa Mosque, and its environs on the Temple Mount, is holy to both Muslims and Jews. The Temple Mount is an extremely large site, which is of course holy to the Jewish faith, but the actual structure of the Mosque, and its environs (the al-Aqsa compound), is no more holy to the Jewish faith than that of any other holy structure to an unaffiliated religion. The al-Aqsa Mosque sits on the Mount to the far-south. It is of less relevance to the Jewish faith than the Dome of the Rock, (located in the middle of the Mount), since it was built in the area where the Jewish Temple once stood.

Orla Guerin, a former RTE journalist, also inaccurately claimed, at the BBC, that the Mosque itself is also holy to Jews. Such assertions may be borne of a lack of knowledge, but both journalists are noted for possessing strong anti-Israel viewpoints. This stance reinforces one aspect of the Arab-Palestinian conspiratorial narrative, namely that Jewish people supposedly desire to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Arab-Palestinian narrative on the issue is wholly implausible, with for example the BBC’s Nawal Assad fancifully asserting that the al-Aqsa Mosque effectively sits on the whole of the Temple Mount, and so the supposed desire to rebuild the Temple necessitates the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Despite often invoking the notion of the Temple Mount ‘status quo’, RTE has failed to explain to its audiences what the term meaningfully constitutes. The ‘status quo’ is the denial of religious rights for the Jewish faithful on their holiest site, whilst ceding control of the Mount to the Islamic Waqf. To explain the conflict as substantively constituting one religious groupings resistance to another religious grouping’s assertion of their most basic of religious freedoms, would greatly undermine the claims of Coleman, Guerin, and so many others in the mainstream media, that the upsurge in violence was stoked by a desire for independence. This choice can be understood as an intentional manoeuvre, because it neatly fits RTE’s complete failure to report that the upsurge coincided with wide-ranging Islamic conspiracism, stoked by Abbas and other leaders.

Opposition to basic rights infers that the violence is motivated by Israel’s existence as a predominately Jewish nation situated in the historic House of Islam (Dar al-Islam). Such violence was a feature of Israel’s existence before it took possession of Judea and Samaria, in a defensive war against Jordan and other neighbouring Arab-Islamic states. The violence that concurrently emanated from Gaza cannot justifiably be deemed to be a direct consequence of living under a claimed occupation.

Pro-Israel bias?

Raymond Deane, a leading founder-member of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, publicly stated on his Facebook page that he complained to RTÉ about the radio-equivalent of the same programme. He accuses Coleman of having a pro-Israel bias, and asserts that the report presented a racist attitude toward Arab-Palestinians:
“On today’s News at One on RTÉ Radio 1 (14th October), your reporter Carole Coleman asserted that while “7 Israelis have been brutally murdered,” 30 Palestinians merely “died in the ensuing violence.”
This is not merely an unprofessional formulation, but a formulation so outrageously biased as to border on racism. To begin with, it omits context: the ongoing, daily violence of the Israeli state against the illegally occupied, colonised and besieged Palestinian people. Secondly, it decontextualises “the ensuing violence”, as though it just happened out of the blue without anybody being responsible. Thirdly, it fails to itemise the acts of “ensuing violence”, most of which constituted “brutal murder” by the Israeli security forces and by armed colonial settlers, whose presence in the West Bank and occupied/annexed East Jerusalem is illegal under international humanitarian law.
It is clear that Carole Coleman views the deaths of Israelis (which I do not condone) as a matter of far greater significance than the deaths of those oppressed, persecuted, dispossessed and colonised by the Israeli state – hence my sense that her formulation is inherently racist.”
However, Coleman’s formulation was largely accurate. The Israelis murdered were civilians who were going peaceably about their business. They were murdered solely for having an identity that their attackers disapproved of. As Associated Press reported on the 16th of October:
“Over the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. In that time, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 labeled by Israel as attackers, and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops.”
These clashes are often described in the mainstream media as ‘protests’. However, such events are in fact violent confrontations with troops and security personnel.

It would be prejudicial to conflate the unprovoked murder of one grouping, with the fatalities of another grouping that voluntarily chose to aggress, and by extension the associated deaths of the latter grouping, typically leading from protracted episodes of violent confrontation and riot. Interestingly, Coleman’s description strayed from the norm at RTE, for example, an October 20th Lunchtime News report features the sort of conflationist language that may meet with Deane’s approval:
“UN Secrteary General, Ban Ki-moon, is meeting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today, in an effort to calm tensions which have seen at least 42 Palestinians and 8 Israelis killed.”
Deane charged that the description of Israeli and Arab-Palestinian deaths ‘decontextualises “the ensuing violence”’, before making the charge of occupation, whilst invalidly claiming that Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, contravene International Law. However, Deane takes the remarks on the death toll out of context. Coleman’s report does cite those very issues as causal factors, when she stated that the quasi-Intifada has been enacted: “…by Arabs upset by Israeli occupation”, adding that “The causes of the turmoil include settlements and the failure to achieve a Palestinian state.”

Deane claimed that he is not justifying the death of Jewish civilians, but his efforts to explain Arab-Palestinian violence as a result of the very worst of supposed Israeli actions, namely as reactions by the “oppressed, persecuted, dispossessed and colonised”, is a distinct apologia for terrorism, as might be expected given the extremism of many of his prior expressions of support for the Arab-Palestinian cause.

Deane’s criticism is without foundation. A significant amount of criticism of the media from anti-Israel voices, originates with a desire to see the Jewish State demonised to a greater intensity in the media, since such criticism is often directed at media sources that are explicitly pro-Palestinian, for example, the Guardian, and the New York Times, with activists creating fake bias apology editorials.

November’s peaks and troughs

RTE’s TV coverage of the conflict became more infrequent during the month of November. The rate of the ongoing attacks had declined significantly, but still occurred at an atypically elevated level, with 326 recorded attacks, of which 249 utilised firebombs. Reports were brief other than that of the 12th of November. Israeli undercover agents raided the Al Ahli Hospital Hebron, in the PA administered zone of the city, to retrieve Azzam Shalaldeh, a Hamas operative who had stabbed a Jewish resident two weeks earlier.

The event was the second featured story in morning bulletins. Revolving screen text for the ‘News Now’ channel stated: “Israeli agents shoot man in hospital”. The raid became the headlining story for the Lunchtime News show, and subsequent afternoon news bulletins, which featured a report by Brian O’Donovan. News-presenter Aengus McGreanna stated “Undercover Israeli soldiers raid a hospital in the West Bank and kill a Palestinian man” in the opening headline for the Lunchtime show. The 6.1 News also highlighted a very similar report.

The report included numerous comments, and fact-based claims, by Arab-Palestinian individuals, but did not feature speakers presenting an alternate Israeli position. Despite a detailed report of the event itself, O’Donovan merely stated “There’s been a wave of violence in Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, since the start of last month” as context for the concurrent wave of terrorist attacks and rioting.

O’Donovan’s report features footage of the detained Arab-Palestinian man’s brother, claiming that his relative, Abdullah, was shot dead for merely looking at the Israeli agents, after having been told to stay in his part of Azzam Shalaldeh’s hospital room. This assertion diverges with the claim by the Israeli authorities, that the relative was shot dead for attacking the operatives. The viewer is presumably supposed to believe the former claim, since similar reports on the 9 o’clock News programme, and the 11 PM news bulletin, excluded all mention of the Israeli assertion, whilst affording the brother’s account absolute credibility. O’Donovan stated:
“During today’s operation, the suspect’s cousin was shot dead, and his brother witnessed it all.”
The late exclusion of one perspective was made despite available reports that the Shalaldeh family had partially retracted the claim that Abdullah had not attacked the Israeli agents.

The report featured the director of the hospital, Dr. Jihad Shawar, stating (by translation) “This is a clear breach of international laws and ethics. It is well known that hospitals are a safe place for everyone.” The claim that it is against international law to detain any individual while at a hospital is an unusual assertion, but the claim was not challenged. The Third Geneva Convention ‘relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War’, is the most widely cited international statute on the matter of the fair treatment of prisoner combatants. However, the Convention, does not apply to illegitimate combatants, principally defined as individuals who do not follow the normative rules of engagement. It does not apply to those who engage in terrorist attacks, such as the intentional targeting of civilians uninvolved in a conflict. Moreover, Azzam Shalaldeh was not being held in custody by the Israeli authorities while in hospital.

The story was newsworthy, but it is difficult to account for such intensive media focus on what was otherwise a busy day for domestic news stories, when the same news editors had largely ignored the insurgent Arab-Palestinian violence for several weeks. The video footage of disguised Israeli agents might be newsworthy, and indeed O’Donovan introduces the report with the words: “A dramatic armed raid captured on CCTV”. Yet visually dramatic Arab-Palestinian attacks on Israeli security personnel were also caught on video during the same period, but they did not garner attention at RTE. The broadcaster’s interest in the hospital-raid story was so significant that two suicide bombings in Beiruit, which at the time were known to have killed in excess of 37 people, and wounded hundreds more, played second-fiddle in the later news programmes.

The BAI ‘Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs — Guidance Notes’, July 2013 (pages 8 – 9), note that news material should be accurate, unbiased, and lack prejudgement. Unfortunately, both RTE reports featured have breached these principles to a very substantive extent.


An excerpted transcript of the 14th October Lunchtime News report by Carole Coleman:
Presenter Sharon Toban [RTE studio]: “Israel’s cabinet has authorised police to seal off Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and soldiers have been deployed in response to a worsening spate of violence. Seven Israelis and thirty Palestinians have been killed in the past two weeks.”
Carole Coleman [narration and associated video footage]: “Israeli border police erecting road blocks in Arab East Jerusalem. They are stopping Palestinians for inspection — checking cars for anything that might be used to cause mayhem. The blockades sanctioned by Israel’s cabinet have been prompted by a wave of violence, stabbings and car rammings carried out by Arabs upset by Israeli occupation.”
“Many residents disagree with sealing off Palestinian areas.”
Khader Ishkirat, a resident Jabel Mukaber: “The collective punishment will not achieve the goals of the Israeli government. The only way to achieve the goals of a peaceful way of living between the Israelis and the Palestinians is to establish the two-state solution.”
Coleman continues: “Human Rights Watch fears the blockade will make things worse.”
Sari Bashi, Human Rights Watch: “Given the history of abuse and neglect by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem, it’s only going to exacerbate tensions between residents and police. It’s exactly what we don’t need.”
Coleman continues: “Seven Israelis have been brutally murdered in the past two weeks. Thirty Palestinians have died in the ensuing violence.”
“The causes of the turmoil include settlements and the failure to achieve a Palestinian state. But Palestinians also cite increased encroachment on the al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, an area holy to both Muslims and Jews.” […]

Published at Crethi Plethi.

Saturday 11 June 2016

The Shapes of Casual Western Anti-Zionism

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R), Gen. Narkis, in Old Jerusalem
(ILAN BRUNER 7/6/67,
GPO; shared under the CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Those that criticise Israel particularly harshly over the Jewish State’s handling of the conflict, often argue that ‘Jews should know better’ or words to the same effect. This stance appeals to a protracted history of persecution and genocide in Europe, which reached a peak with the Holocaust.

This seemingly reflexive bias can find expression in some unexpected places. Godfrey Graham, a seasoned cameraman who worked in current-affairs programming at RTE, since the early period of the Broadcaster’s transmission service, described several filming engagements in Israel for his memoir ‘Forty Years Behind the Lens at RTE’, published by Ashfield Press (Dublin).

This relatively detailed article focuses on a number of paragraphs in Graham’s memoir — a book that was clearly not intended to be an exposition of the conflict. There does not appear to be a substantive animus held by the author toward Israel, for he describes his general experiences in quite positive terms. Yet the relevant paragraphs present a clear narrative, which forcefully asserts that the Jewish people of Israel are morally blameworthy, while the Arabs of the region are not. Thus, it represents a good example of the commonplace casually anti-Zionist views often expressed in the West today.

What Israeli-Jews ought to do

Of a visit to Israel in the early 1980s, Graham described (pages 142–144) a pleasant meeting with Chaim Herzog (President of Israel between 1983 and 1993), who was born in Belfast and had strong links with Dublin which were discussed in a convivial atmosphere. However, Graham’s tone darkened when it came to the matter of the conflict:
“We visited refugee camps, where Arabs had been moved to temporary camps in 1944. There is a picture of a very dignified gentleman living in appalling conditions, who made wooden farm instruments and had a philosophical approach to being in the camp but hoped that one day he would have his home and his land back.

The fact that Jerusalem has a strong Arab quarter and that all the great religions are represented there with some important shrines, seems to point to the fact that, ultimately, it must be a capital city that represents all the great religious traditions and not just the city for one dominant tradition. This would seem to me the only fair way forward. Just as the Jewish people longed for a homeland, they should be the first to see the need Palestinians have for a homeland, too.”
In what sense did Graham deem Judaism to be the “dominant” religious tradition of Jerusalem? Clearly he views Judaism’s apparent dominance to have been instituted illegitimately under Israeli rule, rather than being as a consequence of Judaism’s greater ties with the city than that of any other faith, where, for example, the Torah mentions Jerusalem hundreds of times, while it is not named at all in the Koran. Graham’s stance naturally leads to the conclusion that Israel is trying to “Judaise Jerusalem” as many anti-Israel activists allege.

The Jewish populace of East Jerusalem (including the famous Jewish Quarter of the old city) was ethnically cleansed in 1948 by Jordan. The Christian populace of East Jerusalem declined dramatically in the following decades, choosing to emigrate to other parts of Jordan and abroad. We can see that a “dominant” Islamic “tradition” can abuse its power, but, after the Six Day war the Arab populace of Jerusalem has grown at double the percentile rate of the Jewish populace (155% Jewish and 314% Arab) between the years 1967 and 2010. The Christian populace has only grown marginally, and in view of the rapid growth of the Arab-Islamic populace now just represents 2% of Jerusalem, but the dramatic decline under Jordanian rule has been reversed.

While Graham was active in the media, he would have surely been aware that Old (East) Jerusalem was off-limits to the regional Jewish populace because Jordan, which occupied the territory until 1967, prevented Jewish people accessing religious sites (including the Wailing Wall, which is one of the last structural remnants of the Temple Mount compound), in contravention with the Armistice Agreement of 1949 between the two nations. Under Jordanian rule, many Jewish religious sites were repeatedly desecrated and destroyed in violation of Article 8 the agreement, as repeatedly brought to the attention of the United Nations.

After East Jerusalem’s recapture, Levi Eshkol, the Israeli prime-minister of the time, promptly declared that the holy sites of all faiths in Jerusalem would be protected, as would their freedom to worship at such sites. Moshe Dayan famously ceded control of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to the Islamic Wafq, and established the precedent of giving Muslims exclusive rights of worship on the Temple Mount Compound. This is a matter of the utmost sensitivity to the Islamic faith — hence the rioting when Ariel Sharon visited the site, a visit that was used as an excuse by Arafat for the commencement of the Second Intifada, which was still a major news story at the time of the publication of the memoir.

Therefore, under the rule of the Jewish State there is a seemingly unique situation where the leaders of the “dominant tradition” actually repress their own religious rights to placate another religious grouping, which has a longstanding hostility toward the “dominant tradition”. This Islamo-supremacist denial of the most basic of Jewish religious rights also extends to attempts to claim the Wailing Wall for the Muslim faith, an effort that began in the 1920s to the present. Historically, related Islamic conspiracism surrounding the Temple Mount has led to acts of genocide (1929), and the continued incitement thereof. Yet the accusations that Israel is an “apartheid” nation continue unabated with the anti-Israel movement.

It is difficult to see how Graham can suggest that the Jewish people of Israel have not attempted to facilitate an Arab-Palestinian homeland. This stance would necessitate ignoring such well-established facts as Arafat walking out of the Camp David talks (2000), the Taba talks of 2001, etc., which offered all of Gaza, almost all of Judea and Samaria, and a large swathe of East Jerusalem with substantive control over the Temple Mount. It should be noted that Jordan/Transjordan already constitutes more than three-quarters of what was originally envisaged to be the “Jewish National Home” and as such represents the established nation for the Arabs of the region. When speaking of a “homeland” for Arab-Palestinians, Yasser Arafat’s assertion, when he spoke to reporter Arianna Palazzi in 1970, is relevant:
‘From the Arab standpoint, we mustn’t talk about borders. Palestine is nothing but a drop in an enormous ocean. Our nation is the Arabic nation that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and beyond it… The P.L.O. is fighting Israel in the name of Pan-Arabism. What you call “Jordan” is nothing more than Palestine.”’
Criticism of Jewish-Israeli morality

When visiting Israel to film a Gate Theatre production of iconic Irish play ‘Juno and the Paycock’, Graham decided to again focus on supposed Jewish-Israeli immorality in relation to the plight of the Arab-Palestinians (page 226):
“While in Israel, our team got an opportunity to visit the profoundly moving sculpture depicting the Holocaust. That image will remain with me forever. We visited a refugee camp where Arabs had been told way back in 1948 they were going for a temporary period. The tragedy of the displacement of the Arab people is something the Israelis should understand, given the Jewish experience and their long journey to find their homeland. We met one man (his picture is presented on previous page) who had spent most of his life in this ‘temporary’ refugee camp. He had tremendous dignity and lived in just two very small, bear rooms but, despite his horrible experience, retained a gentleness of spirit that inspired all of us who met him. I often wonder whether he is still alive.”
This paragraph begins with a rather detached image evoking the subject of the Holocaust, which is contrasted with another image of an Arab-Palestinian refugee, before expounding on the latter subject. Graham seems to be intentionally reinforcing his point with this juxtaposition — that there is a lacking in the substance in the national morality of the Jewish-Israeli populace, since they, of-all-people, should understand the suffering of another group, given the way in which Jewish people were persecuted.

Graham fails to explain why “Arabs had been told way back in 1948 they were going for a temporary period” to a refugee camp, He appears to refer to the many Arab-Egyptian and Arab-Palestinian people who left a newly independent Israel at the instruction of Arab invaders so the Jewish State could be more easily destroyed, with the promise that they could soon return (within a few weeks) once the deed was done. Others left out of fear of reprisals once the Arab forces began to fail in their objective. This is a crucial point that goes to the very heart of pan-Arab aggression and existential rejectionism. Graham’s assertion may be indicative of perceptive bias, where vital facts are disposed because they do not comply with a certain narrative, or the omission may be more intentional, because it would greatly undermine attempts to hold Israeli-Jews responsible.

Graham described an Arab-Palestinian refugee in understandably sympathetic terms but this man, and his contemporaries, suffered because the Arab-Islamic world refused to accept Israel’s existence, and instead chose to wage a war of aggression. It is their misfortunate that the sole Jewish State in existence was not destroyed, and that the Jewish people did not face genocide — a very real threat made by Azzam Pasha in 1947. The so-called “Nabka” (Catastrophe), where between 472,000 and 650,000 Arab-Palestinians were displaced, could have been avoided if the Arab world recognised the right of Jewish independence with UN Resolution 181, in what constituted just a small portion their ancient ancestral homeland, in a rather small fraction of the original British Palestine Mandate, instead of waging an unofficial sectarian war from 1947 to 1948, and invading one day after Israel declared its independence in 1948, with a coalition of seven armies.

The Arab states refused Arab/Arab-Palestinian refugees citizenship, and curbed their basic rights. Israel feared they would become a fifth column in the absence of peace, but still offered to take back 100,000 at the Lausanne talks of 1949, to which the Arab nations refused. Nevertheless, 50,000 refugees did return under a family reunification programme, as well as a further 75,000 displaced by the Six Day War. Israel also absorbed vast numbers of Jewish people fleeing persecution in Arab lands. Thus, if Graham wants Jewish people to accept the notion of an Arab-Palestinian homeland (which they have), then that request must be justly conditional upon Arab-Palestinian society accepting Jewish self-determination in Israel. Otherwise, strife is merely continued, albeit at a higher intensity a la the defacto nation of Gaza.

Graham only mentions Arab-Palestinian terrorism in passing, when relating Chaim Herzog’s humorous remark that the SAM rockets fired by “Palestinian factions” (pages 143 – 144) were in range of his Tel Aviv home: “He said that a SAM could make a huge mess of your fruit trees if you were not careful.”

Paradoxically, Graham criticises the now-independent Jewish-Israelis who have a homeland, for not understanding the displacement of the Arab-Palestinians from the 1948-49 War of Independence. Yet it has long been a key demand of Yasser Arafat’s PLO to push for a so-called “right of return” to nullify Israel’s existence as a principally Jewish State. The two conditions are mutually exclusive so it seems Graham is indirectly criticising Israeli-Jews for not seeking a loss of their own homeland, their own self-determination, and religious freedom, free of the persecution visited upon them by the Islamic world for over a millennia, which peaked with their oppression, genocide and expulsion from the Arab-Islamic world between the 1920s and 1970.

An authentic homeland?

Graham appears to doubt the strength of the historic links between Israel and the Jewish People, since he describes the re-establishment of Israel as their “long journey to find their homeland”. In an earlier paragraph Graham talks of “the Jewish people” having “longed for a homeland” [emphasis added].

Graham may have in mind Theodore Herzl’s early flirtation with the idea of establishing a Jewish safe-haven in South America, because it was further away from the locus of the imperialist ambitions of the Western powers, which saw opportunities to carve up the territories of the ailing Ottoman Empire, and also avoided Palestine’s geographical proximity to the Russian Empire which had brutally oppressed its quite large Jewish populace. However, the defacto Zionist movement’s return to Palestine preceded Herzl. It seems the secular-minded Herzl may not have fully appreciated the scale of the importance of Palestine to the Jewish people — an importance that led to migration back to the homeland hundreds of years earlier, long before the Zionism movement was devised, and so Herzl’s idea was abandoned.

A passing knowledge of Jewish culture and history demonstrates that the Israeli State is located on part of the ancient homeland of the Jews. They constitute an indigenous people, which numerousobjective genetic studies have demonstrated. It explains the fact that Jerusalem features so strongly in the Torah, in prayer and in sayings, and, as such, are morally entitled to live in a region from which their ancestors were displaced, by successive pagan, Christian and Islamic empires. This is rather more than merely “a” homeland, that the Jewish people journeyed to “find” after fleeing the Christian West.

Published at Crethi Plethi.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

He Said-They Said: Mahmoud Abbas October 14th speech, and the Mainstream Media

Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas (AP)

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, delivered an important televised speech to Arab-Palestinian society on October the 14th last year, during the height of a newly resurgent period of violence, which some commentators thought to be the opening salvo of a new Arab-Palestinian intifada or uprising. AFP (Agence-France Presse) described the speech in an article entitled “Abbas says he backs 'peaceful' struggle against Israeli occupation”:
"Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday he favours "peaceful, popular resistance" against Israeli occupation, amid a two-week wave of violence that has killed more than 30 people on both sides.
In a speech broadcast on official Palestinian television, his first since the outbreak of the violence, Abbas spoke of the Palestinian people's 'right to defend ourselves' and 'pursue our national struggle'."
The ‘Abbas favours “peaceful, popular resistance” against Israeli occupation’ sentiment was echoed in other mainstream syndicated news services. Aron Heller, of the Associated Press, wrote:
“In a brief speech Wednesday, Abbas called for a peaceful "national struggle." He also threatened to submit a case to the International Criminal Court against what he called Israel's "extrajudicial killings" of Palestinians.”
That same day RTE’s 9 PM news programme featured a report by Carol Coleman (“Two Palestinians shot dead in latest spate of attacks in Israel”) which presented the speech thusly:
“This evening Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas held firm, saying that Palestinians would continue to struggle for the project of nation or state-hood. He spoke of the right to self defence but called for non-violent resistance.”
Al Jazeera America stated:
"Addressing Palestinians for the first time since the violence began, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said in a recorded televised speech he supported 'peaceful and popular' struggle against Israel."
The Xinhua News Agency similarly emphasised Abbas’ supposed desire for a meaningful peace, while in an article carrying the headline “Palestinians still extend hand for real peace process: Abbas”, the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) also described the speech in peaceful terms.

What Abbas really said

The reader would rightly understand such descriptions of the speech as the first seeds of a de-escalation of violence. However, the speech was received very differently in Israel.

Most sectors of Israeli society, including some segments of the more “dovish” left, condemned Abbas’ speech. Indeed, the leader of the liberal secular Yesh Atid party lambasted the speech in the strongest possible terms.

Which perspective on the speech is correct? A full English translation provided by the Jerusalem Post (much of which is reproduced below) amply validates the criticism that emanated from Israel.

In the paragraph below, Abbas does indeed speak of “non-violent popular resistance” but he simultaneously endorses the past violence of the PLO, to which he repeatedly refers:
“We will continue our legitimate national struggle, which is based on our right to defend ourselves and on non-violent popular resistance and political and legal struggle. We will work with needed patience, wisdom and courage to protect our people and our political and national achievements, which we have achieved after decades of hard work and persistence through a long path of martyrs, injured people and prisoners.”
He continues, describing this violence or terrorism as the “price of our freedom” which will soon come:
“It’s true that we paid a big price through the blood of our martyrs, the injured, the tears of our mothers and the pain of our prisoners. However, it’s the price of our freedom, which is around the corner…”
Abbas speaks of tearing up the Oslo Accords, the foundational agreement between the PLO and Israel allowing for Yasser Arafat’s return to Ramallah in 1993 from exile in Tunisia, which facilitates shared security measures (Article II), the transfer of taxes, water resources etc., to the new Palestinian Authority:
“We will together continue with you our national, political and legal struggle. We will not remain hostage to the agreements that are not respected by Israel, and we will continue to join the international organizations and treaties”
Abbas claims that Israel did not respect the Oslo Interim Accord, a view that he has often asserted. However, grave and longstanding breaches by the PLO undermine the notion that the terror group was ever serious about peace. An upsurge in terrorist attacks during the 90s undermined the possibility of final status negotiations. The newly established PA police force did not fulfil their security obligations under Oslo II, the PLO charter was not changed to recognise Israel (Article XXXI, section 9), nor were the undertakings to stop using paramilitary forces (Article XIV, section 3) and incitement to violence (Article XXII) upheld. Abbas also continues to breach the agreement with unilateral moves to achieve statehood without negotiation.

The speech ends with the threat of continued violence and an exhortation of those Arab-Palestinians involved in the violence and terrorist acts:
“Here, I invite you my great people, wherever you are, to, unite and be wary of the occupation schemes designed to abort and terminate our national project. We will never hesitate to defend our people and to protect them this is our right.
A tribute to the martyr’s… greetings to the wounded, greetings to the prisoners.”
In an earlier part of the speech, Abbas describes the conflict in apocalyptic terms, and blames Israel solely for the violence:
“The Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, land and holy places continues to escalate. The racist barbarism exacerbates the ugliness of the occupation, in a way that threatens peace and stability and the igniting of a religious conflict that would burn everything, not only in the region but perhaps the whole world. […]
We are clearly saying that we will not accept a change in the status quo of al-Aksa Mosque compound, as we will not allow any Israeli schemes aimed at compromising its holiness and Islamic identity to pass. It’s our exclusive right: for the Palestinians and Muslims everywhere in the world.
We are asking for our rights, justice and peace, we do not commit aggression on anyone and we do not accept aggression against our people, our nation and our holy places”
Abbas describes the clashes on the Temple Mount in purely defensive terms. When speaking of self-defence, Abbas is justifying such violence which, paradoxically, is seen in defensive fashion by many of the faithful within the Islamic world. Muslims have claimed that the Jewish people of Israel are attempting to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque. This trend began in 1929 when the then-Mufti of Jerusalem incited genocide, leading to the mutilation and slaughter of many Jewish civilians, especially in Hebron – the second holiest city within the Jewish faith. Abbas’ audience would not be deaf to the power of his words, which he often reiterated, as for example in an October 8th statement:
"Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says the Palestinians will not be 'dragged' into more violence with Israel, but says his people stand with those 'protecting Al-Aqsa mosque.'
Speaking to business leaders on Thursday in Ramallah Abbas says he is committed to 'peaceful popular resistance,' though he backs rioters who recently barricaded themselves inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and clashed with Israeli police on the Temple Mount."
Whilst describing the clashes on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif in defensive terms, he nonetheless reiterated in the October 14th speech that Muslims had sole rights over the contested religious site, asserting that “it’s our exclusive right: for the Palestinians and Muslims everywhere in the world.”

Abbas not only repeated the patently false charge that the Israeli State wished to change the status quo of the Temple Mount, a claim originating in the 1920s, which evolved after Israel retook East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, an assertion that initiated the Autumn 2015 spate of violence (as well as the Second Intifada), he heightened the political temperature by falsely claiming that Israel was the aggressor of this violence, and that Israel is destroying homes - an action against the financial rewards provided by the Palestinian Authority for encouraging terrorism by providing substantial financial incentives.

Ahmed Manasra’s martyrdom

And yet the baleful quality of such sentiments was nothing new for Abbas – the section of his speech that caused real controversy was the claim that Israel murdered a youth called Ahmed Manasra:
“We will not give up to the logic of brute force, policies of occupation and aggression practiced by the Israeli government and the herd of settlers who are engaged in terrorism against our people, our holy places, our homes, our trees and the execution of our children in cold blood as they did with the child Ahmed Manasra and other children from Jerusalem.”
Ahmed Manasra is a thirteen-year-old Arab-Palestinian, who engaged in an indiscriminate stabbing spree with his fifteen-year-old brother in a Jewish neighbourhood of East Jerusalem called Pisgat Ze'ev, as vividly caught on CCTV footage. Manasrah stabbed a thirteen-year-old Israeli boy multiple times, rendering him clinically dead upon arrival at hospital. Abbas’ claim was easily refuted with the publication of an image of Manasrah recovering in an Israeli hospital after he was injured when struck by a car. Yet Abbas attempted to present the Arab-Palestinian teen who engaged in a particularly savage stabbing attack as a martyr akin to the falsified Mohammad al-Dura case, a hoax that has been used as a widespread source of incitement in the Arab-Islamic world.

A day before Abbas’ television speech, one of Abbas’ spokesmen also claimed Manasrah was executed and compared the youth with al-Dura:
“Presidential Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina stated that the execution of child Hassan Manasrah in front of the media, as child Muhammad Al-Dura was executed in the year 2000, is an abominable crime, and the legal, humanitarian and political responsibility for it is on the Israeli government.”
The fabrication seemed to work. Micah Halpern, of the New York Observer, noted the effect caused by this lie:
‘Mr. Abbas used expressions like “Israeli aggression” against the Palestinian people, their holy places and their homes. He spoke of the “executions of children like Ahmed Manasra.” He actually calls terrorists victims and heroes. And the Arabic press backs him up.
Here are two Arabic press news headlines. The first one reads: “Palestinian Child Bleeds to Death While Israeli Police and Civilians Watch, Shouting Insults.” The second reads: “Teen Shot by Israelis Stomped On, Left to Bleed to Death.”’
US news channel MSNBC reinforced Abbas’ account of Ahmed Manasra’s falsified martyrdom whilst Vice News minimised what was a particularly savage stabbing attack, by claiming that it was merely an attempted stabbing. However, controversy over Manasra’s would lead the PA to amend their translation of Abbas’ speech, which was changed to say that Manasra and other children were “shot at in cold blood.”

Words of defence as words of aggression

The very considerable divergence between the international media’s presentation of the October 14th speech, and its interpretation in both Israel and the Arab world, related to basic descriptions of the content of the speech and how Abbas’ claims ought to be understood in view of the ongoing conflict.

Abbas’ speech did not subtly suggest a de-escalation of violence, or express a favouring for non-violent methods. His call to action was starkly framed by images of Israeli aggression and murder, supposedly designed to prevent the basic rights of Arab-Palestinian people to live in their homes, to worship freely, and to achieve political freedom. How could the media justify describing the speech as endorsing non-violent methods to gain statehood? Perhaps because Abbas’ speeches use language that conjures up superficial notions of humanism. To analyse the first of two sentences most indicative peaceful intent:
“We are asking for our rights, justice and peace, we do not commit aggression on anyone and we do not accept aggression against our people, our nation and our holy places”
This sentence uses the noble words “peace” and “justice” but Abbas does not voice any criticism (however feeble) of the then-recent spate of Arab-Palestinian terror attacks against Jewish civilians. Instead Abbas claims that the Arab-Palestinian collective does not “commit aggression,” but rather that Israeli authorities and Jewish people living in Judea and Samaria (AKA the West Bank) are aggressing against them in the renewed violence. By contrast, when a reprisal attack occurred, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “strongly condemned the harming of innocent Arabs” and warned those resorting to violence would be brought to justice. The Western ideal of justice, with the iconic image of the scales of balance representing fairness, has no real meaning in Abbas’ world.

Abbas’ notion of “rights” is also problematic because it is politically loaded by decades of conflict-propaganda. The primary longstanding Arab-Palestinian demand is for the so-called “Right of Return”, which is couched in the language of human rights, even though it has no legal basis or moral justification – rather it is an effort to nullify Israel’s existence as a principally Jewish State through demographic means, despite being wholly incompatible with the longstanding "two states for two peoples" approach to the peace process.

The supposedly peaceful stance of sentence two reinforces the difficulties in the first quoted sentence:
“We will continue our legitimate national struggle, which is based on our right to defend ourselves and on non-violent popular resistance and political and legal struggle.”
This sentence talks of “non-violent popular resistance,” which likely refers to the wide-scale riotous violence which is typically described as “protest” by the media. Furthermore, the statement distinguishes between this form of action and the “right to defend ourselves.” Thus, AFP’s claim that Abbas "favours "peaceful, popular resistance" is clearly incorrect. He actually legitimised ongoing sectarian violence, which often targeted Jewish-Israeli civilians, as an inherent right of self-defence.

In a November 16th broadcast on PA television, Abbas explained his intent. He described the attacks as part of a “peaceful uprising” (seemingly because some of the attacks did not use military hardware), and admitted to calling for terror attacks:
“We said to everyone that we want peaceful popular uprising, and that’s what this is. That’s what this is. However, the aggression of firing bullets has come from the Israelis.”
A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research also found that a majority of Arab-Palestinians believe that Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, supported the terror attacks.

When leaders express such obvious counterfactuals as the claim that the Arab-Palestinian collective “do not commit aggression on anyone,” then their statements must be treated with scepticism and be duly scrutinised. This ought to be deemed a significant ethical issue, particularly during a period of substantive conflict. Where there is a parallel endorsement of ongoing and prior acts of terrorism, it necessarily follows that the use of words like “peace,” “peaceful struggle,” and “defence” can only be legitimately viewed in propagandistic terms.

Lethal results

In keeping with Abbas’ description of Arab-Palestinian violence as defensive, whilst Israel and segments of the regional Jewish populace commit acts of aggression, an incendiary August 1st 2015 speechasserted that “the story of the [Jewish] Temple is… the greatest crime and forgery in history,” and as a means to allow the Jewish People to conquer historic Palestine and “get rid of the al-Aqsa [mosque].” In September Abbas spoke on a PA television channel, heaping blessings on the Murabitin/Murabitat (defenders or guardians of the faith), which the PA and Islamic Movement in Israel hired to harass non-Muslim visitors at the Temple Mount. He added these now-infamous words:
“we bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they (the Jews) have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”
These words were followed all too predictably by an intensified period of violence, with numerous Arab-Palestinian terrorists citing these very reasons for attempting to kill Israeli civilians or security personnel, for example, Muhannad Halabi, a nineteen-year-old university student, who murdered two Israelis and injured a further two, including a two-year-old. He wrote on a Facebook page:
“What is happening to al-Aqsa [mosque] is what is happening to our holy sites, and what is happening to the women of al-Aqsa [the Murabitat] is what is happening to our mothers and women. I don’t believe that our people will succumb to humiliation.”
Halabi decided to kill because he was outraged at the arrest of murabitat for abusing Temple Mount visitors, an act by the Israeli authorities that he characterised as aggressive, and as a “humiliation”. His parents would also praise their “martyred son” for “avenging” those of the Muslim faith on Temple Mount “against the impure enemies.”

Besides constituting one of many examples of the Islamist supremacism so defining this conflict, as forcefully reinforced by the tone of incitement during the period, the terrorist views his act as defensive, which the Arab-Palestinian authorities reinforce in conceptually bizarre ways. Thus, terrorists who attack, injure and/or kill are commonly described as defenceless when they themselves are killed in acts of self-defence, which is used to fuel further violent intent to attack Israeli civilians and/or security personnel.

This peculiar form of reasoning is founded on a century of Arab-Islamic rejectionism, based on the notion that the Jewish people have no right of self-determination in the region, regardless of how small the territory might be that they may possess. For example, the 1964 PLO Charter rejects UN Resolution 181 (Article 17: “The Partitioning of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of Israel are illegal and false…”). In effect any violent response to Israel is an act of self-defence, while Abbas still refuses to accept the existence of Israel, especially as a Jewish state. This longstanding Arab-Palestinian perspective explains why so many perceive acts of aggression to be acts of defence. Article 15 of the PLO Charter (or ‘Palestinian National Charter’) makes it clear that war, violence and even terrorism against Israel is viewed in purely defensive terms:
“The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine. Absolute responsibility for this falls upon the Arab nation––peoples and governments…”
It is quite clear that much of the lexicon of terms utilised by Arab-Palestinian leaders have been highly distorted by conflict-propaganda, and so these terms should be understood differently to that of their commonly understood usage. This fact would not come as a surprise to seasoned journalists familiar with the effects of incitement. However, after the major upsurge in violence, with various Fatah leaders and spokesmen celebrating and endorsing such acts of terror, the regional mainstream media bureaux did not read Abbas’ 14th October speech with any level of scepticism. The PA president is rarely presented as anything other than a moderate politician by the media, a peacemaker who doesn’t have a partner for peace with a supposedly-intransigent Israel.

Over a period of months, the mainstream media would continue to present the surge in Arab-Palestinian violence as a despairing response to failed peace efforts, rather than as a consequence of Islamist supremacism and/or extreme nationalism. Some media experts even believe that religious sectarianism etc. is irrelevant when attempting to explain this violence, contenting themselves by reiterating Arab-Palestinian talking points.

And yet surveys demonstrate that Arab-Palestinian society continues to believe that the al-Aqsa compound is in grave danger, despite the fact that the site has been in Israel’s possession for nearly half a century, and continue to favour the elimination of Israel, which would be replaced by a nation where Jewish people would not share equal rights with Arabs.

Published at the New English Review.