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MIDDLE EAST WATCH
A case of Israel-bashing on the BBC
BY DAN KENNEDY

The tenuous truce between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart on August 19, when a suicide bomber boarded a bus in Jerusalem and blew himself up, killing 21 people. Two terrorist organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, took responsibility. Israelís August 21 response ó the missile-guided assassination, in Gaza, of Ismail Abu Shanab, a leader of Hamas ó may or may not have been wise. But surely Israel deserves some credit for showing relative restraint, given the horror that had taken place two days earlier.

No such credit was forthcoming from the embattled BBC, however. The morning of Shanabís assassination, on the BBC World Service program Newshour (heard locally at 9 a.m. on WBUR Radio, 90.9 FM), host Alex Brodie embarked on a stunning display of Israel-bashing.

After an update from reporter Simon Wilson, Brodie turned to Tzipi Livni, Israelís minister of immigrant absorption. The BBC makes neither transcripts nor online archives available. But I was able to take notes from a tape of the broadcast at the Boston offices of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Brodie had just one question on his mind: how could Israel possibly blame Hamas for the Jerusalem attack when the suicide bomber was from Hebron, a West Bank city under Israeli control?

Livni began by charging that the Palestinian Authority, now nominally controlled by the new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has done little to fight terrorist organizations on the West Bank and in Gaza. "Unfortunately, they are only talking about the need to do something," she said. "They did nothing. And that is why it is the responsibility of me and my colleagues in the Israeli government to fight terrorism. And thatís what we are doing, still hoping that the Palestinian Authority will do its part under the road map ó"

Brodie: "Okay, let me ó the Palestinian Authority, of course, will point out that the man responsible for that suicide bomb in Jerusalem came from Hebron, which is entirely under the control not of the Palestinian Authority but of the Israeli army."

Livni: "No, this is something that they cannot claim, because they took responsibility to fight the infrastructure ó"

Brodie: "No, but ó just, just answer that question, please. Itís true, isnít it, that Hebron is not under the control of the Palestinian Authority ó"

Livni: "The Israeli government was willing to give four new cities to the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. This is not requested by the road map, but we thought this will be something that encourages the Palestinian Authority to fight terror. Now, unfortunately, we could see in the last two months that terror is something that can be stopped by the Palestinian Authority ó"

Brodie: "Could ó could you just address this particular question? Iím sure you have an answer to it."

Livni: "No, no, I donít."

Brodie: "But ó Hebron, where this man came from, is under the control of the Israelis, not the Palestinians."

Livni: "But the Palestinian obligation ó this is not a suicide bomber that wake up in the morning, decided to go and kill innocent Israeli civilians. It is organized by terrorist organization named Hamas, which none of their ó itís not a political leader, it is terrorist that was killed by us today. This is a terrorist organization, controlled and organized. So if ó we are not talking about one Palestinian getting up in the morning decided to kill Israeli children. We are talking about organized terror, and they took responsibility on it. So ó [lots of cross-talk] ĎListen, youíre responsible for it,í is something that I cannot accept ó"

Brodie: "Okay, so your answer ó let me help you here ó let me try and help you here for clarityís sake. Your answer to that question about Hebron and control is that itís not a matter of one, itís a matter of the organization that provides the suicide bomber with the explosives and that organization is everywhere ó Gaza, the West Bank, and what have you."

Livni: "Of course. Of course. Thank you. Yes."

Despite the relatively civil note on which the interview ended, Brodie had managed to perform an immense disservice: steering the entire exchange away from the terrible crime that had been committed against Israel in favor of repetitive, idiotic badgering over whether the Israeli government itself bore some responsibility because the suicide bomber came from a city under its control. Talk about blaming the victim.

But Brodie wasnít finished. His next guest was Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, in Ramallah, on the West Bank. "I asked him," Brodie intoned portentously about the previously recorded interview, "is this the end of the road map?"

"Iím afraid, for the time being, this is indeed the case," Shikaki was heard saying. "The targeting of this particular person [Shanab] in Gaza indicates that the Israelis were trying to provoke Hamas to act from Gaza, and most likely that action could very well be some rockets being sent across the border to Israel. Most likely, in the next 24 hours or so, the Israelis will respond by entering Gaza. Mr. Shanab has been the most moderate figure in Hamas leadership. And I think the fact that they went after him, not some of the other more militant leaders, indicate that they were simply after a target, that they were simply after provoking Hamas."

So even after Hamas and Islamic Jihad had taken credit for the Jerusalem attack, Shikaki was talking about Israel tearing up the road map by targeting "the most moderate figure in Hamas leadership." And, of course, it would be Israelís fault if Hamas launched a rocket attack from Gaza.

Brodie never challenged Shikaki. Not even a little. Amazing. And appalling as well.


Issue Date: August 29 - September 4, 2003
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