I picked up a copy of John Lyons' memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem yesterday. Just a scan is enough to show that, despite its deficiencies (which can be left to another post), this is an important book. Lyons, of course, was The Australian's Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent from 2009 to 2015. Tellingly, The Australian, like the Fairfax press, has no such job category these days.
If Bob Carr's 2014 Diary of a Foreign Minister is the first book published in this country to blow the whistle on the malign impact of the Israel lobby on Australia's Palestine/Israel policy, Lyons' book is the first to do so on the lobby's equally malign impact on Australia's journalistic coverage of the Palestine/Israel conflict. As such it should be read (as should Carr's book) by every Australian with any pretensions to political awareness.
In addition to exposing this largely under-the-radar aspect of the Australian mainstream media, Balcony Over Jerusalem is also a chronicle of the quotidian barbarities inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel's military machine on behalf of its vile and expanding settler ultras.
To quote an example of each of these strands, a) the lobby's corruption of journalism, and b) the cruelty of the Israeli occupation:
a) "As SMH Deputy Editor, I found my phone began ringing with requests for meetings with leaders of the Jewish community... Usually the caller was Robert Klarnet, the public affairs director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. The board would later coordinate tours in partnership with the Melbourne-based Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). It has become almost a rite of passage for deputy editors of an major Australian news outlet to be offered a 'study trip' to Israel. Colin Rubenstein, the head of AIJAC, told me that AIJAC has sent at least 600 Australian politicians, journalists, political advisers, senior public servants and student leaders on these trips over the last 15 years. It is my assessment that by 'educating' rising media executives, the Israeli lobby has in place editors who 'understand' the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, I barely know an Australian newspaper executive who has not been on one of these trips." (pp 16-17)
b) "So much of this conflict happened quietly. From our balcony, if we looked really carefully at the rolling hills between us and Jordan, we could see a tiny Palestinian house 300 metres in front of us, in East Jerusalem. It had a single light, and two or three goats in the yard. From a distance, we got to know this family - its habits, its movements, its celebrations. We'd see the children head off to school each morning. During the day their father herded goats on the hill.
"The oldest child was doing his final year at school, and there's a Palestinian tradition that if a student graduates the family lets off fireworks. It's a way of letting the neighbourhood know the news. We knew what day the results of the final exams were due so we watched to see whether fireworks were let off that night. We saw several other homes in the valley celebrating - then came fireworks from the little house. The boy had passed.
"Then one morning the little house was gone. The Israeli Army had come while we were asleep and bulldozed it, claiming it was an illegal structure. The little house had been part of our lives. Sylvie, Jack and I decided to walk down the valley to speak to the family. The army had demolished everything except the stairway. When we arrived we found the owner sweeping it.
"It was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. A broken man sweeping his stairway to nowhere." (pp 9-10)