Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian of the same day, (19/1/08) afforded the reader a textbook contrast between factual and informative journalism on the one hand, and pure PR on the other. In the former category, came Under a state of siege, by the Middle East correspondent for the SMH and The Age, Ed O'Loughlin. In the latter, came Deep inside the plucky country, by The Australian's Foreign Editor (and recipient of the State Zionist Council of NSW/Zionist Federation of Australia/World Zionist Organization-sponsored Jerusalem Prize), Greg Sheridan.
O'Loughlin and Sheridan are planets apart, with O'Loughlin's feet firmly on planet Earth, and Sheridan off in deep space on a planet all his own.
Palestinian (Swiss) Cheese
O'Loughlin tours the Israeli-occupied West Bank in the company of an Israeli human rights activist. He reports that the territory is rapidly in the process of being transformed into "an archipelago of disconnected Arab enclaves, controlled by walls, fences and checkpoints which Palestinian people and goods cannot cross without Israeli permission," while "in the settlements and on the bypass roads...Jewish settlers...enjoy freedom of movement and superior rights and protections to the indigenous Palestinians."
He quotes independent Palestinian MP and winner of the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize, Hanan Ashrawi to the effect that "The settlements and walls and roads and tunnels are the superimposition of an Israeli reality over Palestinian land, a grid put in place to control Palestinian movement, resources and land, that is making it impossible to build a Palestinian state." And he talks to a settler, Arieh King (one of 450,000 in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem), who wants a West Bank without Arabs, and to Rabbi Ascherman (of Rabbis for Human Rights), who opposes King and his kind. O'Loughlin is a correspondent who simply and honestly bears witness to the politicide of the Palestinian people. Sheridan, on the other hand, is there to sell us the Zionist dream.
Abba Eban, a former Israeli foreign minister, once opined that "Propaganda is the art of persuading others of what one does not believe oneself." I suspect that Sheridan believes every word he's written, therefore, let me introduce:-
The opening paragraphs of Gullible's account of his most recent Israeli gig is a corker. Rivetted by "the countless gum trees that populate Israel"... "exotic Australian settlers in the land of the Bible," he experiences a distinct - but profoundly irrelevant - patriotic surge: "It's as if a single ghost gum represents every Australian soldier who ever fell in the Middle East, through all the many decades that Australian soldiers have been fighting and dying there." Hilarious! Wonder if he had his Akubra on?
Gullible informs us that he had attended "a seminar at Ariel [an Israeli settlement] on the international media's treatment ["biased & hostile" of course] of Israel." "The world media," he laments, "cover the Palestinian territories and only cover Israel as a brooding and malign presence in the territories," and Israel itself is "under-reported," even when "only a few years ago terrorists were murdering 1500 of its citizens a year."
Hm, "1500" Israeli citizen deaths in Israel, year after year, presumably since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000? Do the math for 2000-2005 (5x1500=7500) and, according to Gullible, Palestinian terrorists/suicide bombers slew 7500 Israelis in 5 years! And that's not including those Israelis (troops/settlers) slain in the occupied Palestinian territories. Crikey, this even tops all 5315 Palestinian (4228), Israeli (1,024), and foreign (63) Intifada-related deaths from 2000-2007 at 5315! [Source: Israeli-Palestinian Fatalities Since 2000 - Key Trends, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 31/8/07]
Enter stage LEFT, the "biased and hostile" international media in the form of the BBC: Their data, Analysis: Palestinian suicide attacks (29/1/07) estimates the number of Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombers for 2000-2005 at 522, while OCHA's estimate of Israeli civilian deaths at the hands of suicide bombers in Israel is just 460 (402 civilians/58 security forces personnel).
Gullible's religious prejudices emerge in his caricature of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem is an eternal city: the centre of Judaism, the fountainhead of Christianity and an important site for Islam." Good one, Gullible! "Visually it is quite stunning, its character maintained by the most enlightened civic ordinance on record: that all new buildings must be constructed of white Jerusalem stone." Ah, Israel, you've done it again! Except that it was the British who were responsible for the original stone construction regulation, and the Israelis who have reduced the the role of stone to a mere cladding material. Nor is it quarried in Jerusalem, but mainly from the bedrock around the Palestinian cities of Hebron and Ramallah. [See Eyal Weizman's chilling 2007 book Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation.]
"Tel Aviv is predominantly secular Jewish, with very few Arabs and ultra-orthodox Jews." Gullible, of course, doesn't tell us that that's because the Palestinian Arab villages of Abu Kabir, Manshiyya, Summayl, Shaykh Muwannis and Salama (along with their inhabitants) were wiped off the map in 1948. [See http://www.zochrot.org/]
"The Druze are a small separate, Arab religious group found in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Within Israel they are fiercely loyal to the state of Israel...and serve in the Israeli army with great distinction..." Nowhere near as "fiercely loyal" as Gullible though: at Israel's http://www.ynetnews.com/ we read in Rift between Israel, Druze growing (18/1/08) that "patriotism in the Druze community is quickly waning," because, says a Druze MK, Israel's Druze are waking up to the fact that service in the army as a path to equality with Israeli Jews is "a mere illusion," and that "we are first and foremost Arabs." Ouch!
Flying over "illegal" Bedouin encampments in the Negev Desert, Gullible informs us that "The problem they cause is for those trying to get education and social services to their children." Those boody Bedouin! Must the white man forever shoulder his burden? Gullible, of course, evinces no awareness whatever of the Bedouin's history of evictions and deportations, or the current Israeli campaign of uprooting (or aerial defoliation) of their crops in an effort to force them out of their encampments and into sterile development towns. No, he's literally and figuratively above all that.
In the Israeli- occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Gullible sees bunkers from which "Syrian soldiers...would fire...at workers on the kibbutz below" in the bad old days before the miraculous victory of 1967. Now you might justifiably expect a real journalist, as opposed to a PR peddler, to question what his Israeli minders are telling him. Take veteran UK Middle East correspondent David Hirst, for example. In his comprehensive and deadly accurate 1977 history of the Middle East conflict, The Gun and the Olive Branch, he described his own response to the seductions of Israel's Golan Heights myth: "A post-war visit to the windswept, battle-scarred plateau was a moving experience - at least it was for those of this writer's fellow tourists, probably all of them, who accepted what our guide told us...about the Syrian guns which used to rain destruction on the farmers peacefully tilling their fields in the valley below...However, the guide did, with an air of complicity, tell us one unexpected truth. 'We are now entering what used to be the demilitarized zone,' he said, 'regular soldiers were forbidden to enter it. Of course, we got around that by sending them in disguised as police. But that's another story.' It is another story, a long one, and naturally he did not tell it." [211-212] Hirst does though, detailing the premeditated Israeli campaign of illegal encroachments and provocations that acted as a "curtain-raiser to the June War." Gullible, the tourist, is content with what the guide tells him.
Then he's off to see "Jewish settlements in the West Bank," first filling us in with some invaluable historical background: "After the 1967 war, when Israel was attacked by a coalition of its Arab neighbours, Israel took territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza," some of which "is necessary for security." Gullible thus relays yet another Israeli myth: that the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 was an act of self-defence by Israel against a Hydra-headed Arab existential threat. The reality? Israel was just itching for a blue with Nasser's Egypt. Listen to the latest research by Israeli historian, Tom Segev: "Some time before the crisis with Egypt, Allon [leader of Ahdut Ha'avoda and ethnic cleanser of 1948] had developed a theory that Israel's strategic circumstances necessitated a preemptive attack. In his 1959 book, A Screen of Sand, he described in great detail the danger that the Arabs might destroy Israel's air force on the ground. In an interview that was not supposed to be made public for many years, he claimed he had written this only to avoid complications with the Israeli censor: in fact, he had meant that Israel should destroy the Arab air forces. He called this 'active defence', or 'preemptive counterattack', and he maintained that 'there is no substitute for aggression, in the positive sense of the word'." [1967: Israel, the War and the Year that Transformed the Middle East p 312] Allon's theory informed Israel's 4/6/67 decision to launch an unprovoked preemptive strike against Egypt: "Warhaftig [minister of religious affairs] asked...how they [cabinet] could present an Israeli first strike as a response...Allon thought that the prime minister could announce to the world's heads of state that the Egyptians had attacked, and minutes later Israel would respond. The prime minister would risk a lie, but only historians would know the truth...The resolution that evolved asserted that Israel was acting against 'the ring of aggression tightening around it'." [1967 p 336] Gullible's "attack" by a "coalition" of Arab states is a variation on this discredited theme.
To justify Israel's refusal to give up the occupied West Bank, Gullible asserts that, in "the two places it has done that, in southern Lebanon and Gaza, the result has been disastrous. [Israel] was subject to thousands of rocket attacks from southern Lebanon until it went to war with Hezbollah and now every day Qassam rockets are fired from Gaza at nearby Israeli civilian towns..."
First, let's clarify what he's saying about Lebanon: that in the years between Israel's forced withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 and its 2006 rampage, "thousands" of rockets had rained down on Israel. Not so, I'm afraid. According to Hezbollah expert, Professor Augustus Richard Norton of Boston University, "Generally...this six-year period was a relatively quiet, peaceful time by historical standards, and this was frequently commented on by Israeli officials prior to the summer of 2006. The more serious clashes tended to occur in the Shebaa area of the occupied Golan Heights...Hezbollah also began firing Katyusha rockets, mostly into the occupied Golan Heights, with a few episodes of Katyusha firings into Israel proper as well. Although several dozen incidents occurred over the last 6 years, in almost every case, according to Israeli sources, the culprits were Palestinian fedayeen, not Hezbollah." [Hezbollah, p 91-92]
Second, Gaza: neither the infinitely greater and more lethal rain of Israeli shells and missiles on Gaza, nor the Hamas Government's cease-fire offers comes within Gullible's blinkered purview. Israeli dissident, Uri Avnery has written, "If the Qassams were really bothering our political and military leaders, they would have jumped at the [December 07 Hamas] cease-fire offer. But the leaders don't really care about what's happening to the Sderot population, out on the geographical and political 'periphery', far from the centre of the country. It carries no political or economic weight. In the eyes of the leadership, its suffering is, all in all, tolerable. It also has an important positive side: it provides an ideal pretext for the actions of the army. The Israeli strategic aim in Gaza is not to put an end to the Qassams. It would still be the same if not a single Qassam fell on Israel. The real aim is to break the Palestinians, which means breaking Hamas." [Help! A Cease-fire! 22/12/07]
Despite spending "days driving up and down the West Bank" and visiting "as many Jewish settlements as I could," Gullible was unable to find even one "belligerently bearded Jew with a knit skullcap on his head, a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other," concluding that Israeli settlers are unfairly stereotyped. While the stereotype exists, he believes, "they are a minority." "The settlers I met lived where they did...mainly [because of] the lower cost of housing, the communal lifestyle and educational opportunities and sometimes because of a desire to be connected to biblical lands." Just regular guys it seems, nary a fanatic among them - except that their presence on occupied Palestinian land is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and makes a mockery of the concept of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
Of Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, Gullible avers that "no Israeli government will give up central suburbs such as Har Homa and Gilot [sic: Gilo]." Too risky! "For an Australian it is almost impossible to imagine the smallness of the distances involved. Gilot was routinely fired on by snipers in Bethlehem several years ago...[which] is like Sydney's Surry Hills being fired on by Redfern..."
Ahem! Let's take a closer at these fearsome "snipers." Palestinian pastor, Mitri Rihab, writing of the period October/November 2000 in his 2004 book, Bethlehem Besieged, says, "It was becoming routine that in the night, a few armed young Palestinian men would appear in the outskirts of town and fire a few bullet rounds at a Jewish settlement that wasn't even in the range of their fire. What they were doing made no sense to the majority of the population, since the shooting had no political reason or justification. Most of Bethlehem's residents were against these acts, and many viewed the young men as potential criminals or gang members who thought of themselves as some kind of Palestinian Rambos. Not only was it impossible for the bullets to reach the other side, but the Israeli soldiers used the shooting as justification to fire back with heavy artillery on the civilian neighbourhoods." [p 95-96] And that is why Gilot cannot be given up!
Gullible concludes predictably with the traditional Zionist shrug: If only the Arabs/Palestinians would give peace a chance, then "compromise on borders might be possible." Alas, "too many Arab...and Palestinian leaders are playing for the long-term and still believe that in time they will wipe Israel off the map."
In reality, of course, is that the Zionist movement has always played for the long-term and has almost succeeded in wiping Palestine off the map.