In case anyone didn't know, there's a war been happening in full swing over these last few weeks. Over 1400 civilian victims. Massive damage through air strikes inflicted by an immensely powerful military machine claiming to be out to defeat terrorism, although the terrorists have been armed with relatively insignificant weapons. Mosques with congregants at prayer in them have been bombed. In some of the most horrific of the endless air strikes, whole families have been wiped out in a moment. There are those who claim the actual numbers of civilian casualties are even greater-- maybe over three thousand. It's almost impossible to get at the truth, because there's the tightest control of press access. And there's a large and smooth-talking PR machine working at justifying the military onslaughts in the name of defeating terrorism.
And now, over the past fortnight there have been levels of protest not seen in the British MSM and on British streets since the 2003 protests over the Iraq War brought over a million onto the streets of London in the largest political protest ever staged in Britain.
Yes, the numbers have been much smaller. But one of the demonstrations mustered over 100,000 people. And some smaller offshoots of the demonstrations taking place almost daily have grown violent, smashing up branches of Starbucks, based on urban myths that Starbucks profits go to finance the bombing. There has been a steep rise in attacks on Jews and Jewish organizations. Students, sometimes supported by academic staff have begun a series of occupations in some of our most prestigious universities, demanding various forms of sanctions, particularly divestment and an end to any academic co-operation, together with support for the resistance organizations, as they call the terrorists. One of our most prestigious schools, the London School of Economics, has caved in, issued a joint statement with the occupiers and agreed to set up a committee which will consider proposals for divestment submitted by the students and anyone else who cares to.
But the protests have gone way beyond that. Day after day, the BBC, Channel 4, ITN and the quality newspapers across the board in the UK have run one report after another carrying horrific stories of carnage against civilians. Normally placid leader writers, columnists and commentators have been beside themselves with rage. We have had a government minister claiming the BBC is being cowed by the Israeli government into refusing to publicize a fundraiser for desperate war victims. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior cleric of the Church of England (headed by HM Queen Elizabeth) has spoken out against the refusal. The Religion Editor of the Daily Telegraph, in a normally sedate corner of the British press, has expressed his disgust and nausea. The Prime Minister and senior government ministers have expressed enormous concern and horror about levels of civilian casualties. Opposition spokesman have joined them in condemning the air strikes and the devastation wrought as utterly disproportionate and unjustifiable, particularly in the light of large numbers of child casualties. There are repeated calls from all political parties for an investigation of whether this use of such powerful and deadly weapons against a civilian population has constituted a war crime. In a debate in Parliament last week, the great majority of members who spoke condemned the use of disproportionate force. The leader of the third largest political party has called for the UK and the European Union to impose sanctions.
The curious thing is, that the protests, the media outcry and the Parliamentary outrage haven't been about the war at all. That is, the war I've described in my first paragraph. That's a war in which British forces are playing a full part, including launching repeated air strikes and devastating use of sophisticated ground weapons on civilian areas in which terrorists conceal themselves. That's the war in Afghanistan.
The protests and the outrage have all been directed at Israel's actions in its Cast Lead operation against the Hamas regime based in Gaza.
And it's even more curious that the near disinterest in what's happening to the civilians of Afghanistan at a time when British hearts are being so stirred for the people of Gaza has been virtually unremarked on in British media commentary.
Why is this?
Consider the fact that the whole of the UK is on one time zone; one news cycle. Till just a couple of decades ago, there was only one monopoly radio broadcaster, the BBC. Almost anyone over 40 who grew up in the UK grew up and set down their political compass according to the BBC's carefully constructed and loving self-congratulatory view of its role as an impartial and balanced purveyor of news. In terms of the resourcing of its news operations, funding through a hefty annual tax placed on every household using a radio or TV, it's always tended to set the terms of the debate. Because of the way in which the tax-based funding facilitates training, a huge proportion of broadcasters with other networks spent some of their formative years training at the BBC, and acquiring its left liberal mindset. The BBC until very recent years had a profoundly respectful and deferential attitude towards government and particularly the armed forces.
You only have to compare how the BBC has been reporting the role of British troops in the Afghanistan with its approach to reporting the actions of Israeli troops in Gaza to gain an appreciation of the utterly different approaches. When the BBC reports what British troops have been doing, it focuses on reporting the military aspirations, the fighting soldier's account of his values and experiences and the successes against terrorists. Bad news is when a roadside bomb blows up a British soldier.
When it comes to what's been going on in Gaza, BBC reporters overwhelmingly go for weeping parents and children, preferably against a background of ruined houses. Whether it's India or Israel, the BBC tends to slip into lecturing mode, much as mainstream UK politicians do.
The population of the UK may now be one of the most culturally diverse in Europe, but its elite--including the elite who get to mould the news agenda as reporters, commentators, editors and producers, tend to have attended a narrow range of schools and Universities (notably Oxford and Cambridge). Nobody actually tells them what to think or write.
But given their shared upbringing, their imbibing of respect for BBC and MSM traditions, they bring to reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the de haut en bas condescension and lecturing attitudes that are nimbly satirized in this clip. Many have additionally acquired through their undergraduate days a New Left Marxist slant to their elitist disdain, bringing with it a sympathetic understanding of the concept of terrorism as "resistance" and a shining belief that any group espousing it with the support of their local populace cannot be defeated. A New Left slant is going to slant any reporter or senior politician towards seeing any powerful nation as a potential war criminal simply by using powerful technologies against opponents who have what appear to be rudimentary weapons. And taking on the concept of "resistance" usually seems to involve becoming impervious to the concept that stationing your fighters and your weapons where children, families and other innocent civilians live is a war crime.
And is the presence of 3,000,000 UK Muslims who are thought to need appeasement the real reason for the pro-Palestinian slant? I really don't think so.
Back in 1982, the UK press and politicians went into a similar spasm over the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Islamist politics were nowhere to be seen.
Then again, you can find ministerial statements expressing grave concern about disproportionate Israeli actions. Horrific reports of yet more civilian casualties buried under the ruins. A Jewish anti-zionist MP and former minister making passionate speeches denouncing the "repulsive" government of Israel (Sir Gerald Kaufman, seen in the clip above, above saying virtually the same things in 2009) .
Oh, wait a minute. That was the UK press and the political elite reporting on the IDF action against Hamas and Fatah terrorist groups in Jenin, following a huge spate of suicide bombings which ended the lives of hundreds of Israelis, back in 2002.
Not the Israeli government. Not the Israeli armed forces. But Israel.
Why? Here are the reasons he offers:
Chickening out of showing an appeal for charitable aid for Gaza is hardly on a scale with using white phosphorous on its civilians and shooting its children in the back of the head,but the moral weakness that the BBC exhibits in hiding behind claims to impartiality induces the same sort of nausea.
My knowledge of Christian doctrine is admittedly rudimentary, but I rather thought there was some commitment amongst its adherents to speaking (or writing) the truth, and having some regard to evidence and its quality before ascribing guilt to anyone, let alone a particular country. Here, he seems to be implying that these actions have not only taken place, but they are the systematic and deliberate policy of Israel against the population of Gaza.
Maybe he sees his stance as moral strength.
One over the top Church of England cleric might not amount to much. But the Rev. Pitcher is no ordinary cleric. He's the Religion Editor of the Daily Telegraph. As such, he's accorded a blog on the Daily Telegraph website to broadcast his views to a huge worldwide audience. One wonders what sort of principles and judgement he brings to his post as Religion Editor.
And besides, the Church of England is an established Church--the official Church of the British state. It has huge rights of involvement in British legislation and policy consultation at every level, from the twenty six bishops with seats in the House of Lords, to the CofE-packed local area "SACRE" committees which are appointed to recommend and approve compulsory religious education programmes in all UK secular state schools. Daily religious broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 give pride of place to Church of England speakers and clerics.
The international Red Cross said Tuesday that Israel has fired white phosphorus shells in its offensive in the Gaza Strip, but has no evidence to suggest it is being used improperly or illegally.
The comments came after a human rights organization accused the Jewish state of using the incendiary agent, which ignites when it strikes the skin and burns straight through or until it is cut off from oxygen. It can cause horrific injuries.
The International Committee of the Red Cross urged Israel to exercise "extreme caution" in using the incendiary agent, which is used to illuminate targets at night or create a smoke screen for day attacks, said Peter Herby, the head of the organization's mines-arms unit.
"In some of the strikes in Gaza it's pretty clear that phosphorus was used," Herby told The Associated Press. "But it's not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it's being used in any other way."
Is the Reverend Pitcher aware of the ICRC Report, or does he just reproduce atrocity stories without bothering to ask himself any questions about whether they are reliable?
As for the "shooting children in the back of the head" atrocity story, has it not occurred to the Rev. Pitcher that if it were true, there would be ample evidence through hospital records and photographs and now that the press are able to enter Gaza, any such evidence would be being trumpeted to the heavens by a press keen to publicise atrocity stories about Israel? Perhaps he got his information from this article in the Daily Telegraph. But even that article ends by stating that the accusations that Israeli soldiers shot a number of children in the head cannot be verified. And if you read the account, it's not at all clear that such shots, even if they happened, were deliberately aimed at children with intent by Israeli soldiers. Of this being in any way a deliberate policy of Israel, you will look in vain for any evidence of that, apart from routine and totally unevidenced propaganda statements from pro-Hamas supporters.
Clearly, the Rev. Pitcher isn't a man to let such cold questions of rational analysis stand in the way of such intense emotions as disgust and nausea where Israel is concerned.
However, we need not jump to the conclusion that the Rev. Pitcher is anti-semitic. After all, on his blog he has published a post expressing his admiration for the self-proclaimed pluralist, tolerant stance of the minority group of non-orthodox Jewish religious movements in the UK. So he couldn't possibly be anti-semitic when it comes to his approach to the Jewish state, could he?
There's huge coverage in the UK media of the current BBC refusal to broadcast the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) relief appeal for humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
It's being carried on all the UK online media-- editorials as well as news reports, including the BBC News website--as if the refusal is an inexplicable, inhumane and even disgraceful decision.
But perhaps the most extraordinary and revealing perspective of all comes from the comments being made by a phalanx of high level UK government ministers. Both Hazel Blears and Douglas Adams, International Development Minister urged that the decision be overturned. However, Ben Bradshaw, the Health Minister, went well beyond them in a live broadcast of "Any Questions?" on Friday 23rd January. His comments included these statements, which can be verified from this clip, about eleven minutes in:
First, the one about delivery - the British government is giving £25m to Gazan relief, we don't have a problem getting it in. There's no reason why there should be any problem getting the relief in.
"Secondly, this nervousness about being biased. I'm afraid the BBC has to stand up to the Israeli authorities occasionally."
Asked by Jonathan Dimbleby, the chair of "Any Questions?", whether he was saying that Israeli pressure was behind the BBC decision not to broadcast the appeal, he said he didn't think it was, but went on to make these statements which clearly show that he does believe the BBC has made its decision because:
"Israel has a long reputation of bullying the BBC... The BBC has been cowed by this persistent and relentless pressure, and they should stand up to it."
So here we have a UK government minister claiming Israeli bullying has systematically cowed the BBC, and that it is so successful in doing so that it almost never stands up to it. Does he offer any evidence? No, he does not. Does the UK government support what its minister says -- effectively that the Jewish state exerts some degree of control over the main UK news organization?
On the other hand, there's no shortage of evidence from analyses of BBC and other media coverage of the Gaza conflict of a great deal of anti-Israel bias by key correspondents and news reports.
Via Harry's Place, there's evidence that there is now a concerted campaign, developed in relation to the Gaza conflict at a very recent conference under Hezbollah auspices in Beirut, that the Iranian proxies, with Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, to include campaigns around "humanitarian relief" as ways of promoting their long term war against Western-style democracies. Central to the conference was building alliances with radical western hard left groups under the common banner of support for "resistance". The SWP-Radical Islamist controlled Stop the War Coalition. And here from the current issue of SWP propaganda sheet "Socialist Worker" are the key messages:
Palestine has become a unifying force across the globe. That was the main sentiment of a conference against imperialism that took place in Lebanon last weekend.
The meeting brought together activists from the Middle East and the rest of the world, including Britain’s Stop the War Coalition and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France.
The conference was dominated by messages of defiance in the face of Israel’s assault from the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements.
Osama Hamdan, the representative of Hamas in Lebanon, told delegates that the Palestinian resistance inside Gaza would “continue to confront Israeli troops”.
Hamdan said that “our fighters have managed to halt the Israeli offensive, and would continue to battle until the troops withdraw”.
He called on the Arab regimes to back the resistance and European governments to cut all links to Israel.
“We do not trust Mahmoud Abbas,” he said in reference to the Palestinian Authority leader. “He does not represent the Palestinians.”
In a message to the global movement, Hamdan said, “The resistance will survive because all the free people of the world support us.
“Our fighters are drawing hope from the solidarity they are seeing across the world.”
The conference debated the practical measures to help the Palestinians’ struggle.
“Humanitarian appeals are now part of our political struggle,” one delegate told the conference
All the UK media have been reporting a large scale protest about the Gaza appeal refusal outside BBC headquarters in central London. But as can be clearly seen from the clip above, none of the reports have made clear that this was no spontaneous protest by would-be charitable humanitarians. For a start, it's obvious that almost all the banners concerned are the standard issue of the current SWP/Stop the War campaign-- Stop Gaza, Free Palestine. If you have the patience to watch the whole clip, you'll hear the repeated orchestrated chants, which soon switch from "Shame on the BBC" for "From the Jordan to the sea, Palestine will be free" and the other standard slogans which make it quite clear that this is a campaign for the destruction of Israel, not the relief of Gazans. You can hear a commentator asking protesters why they are taking part. The overwhelming majority state that they're there because they want to see the "whole of Palestine' freed from occupation--meaning all the land which is the state of Israel, not just territory under Israeli control since 1967.
In the BBC's case, is this somehow the result of being cowed by the bullying of the Israeli government? Will Ben Bradshaw explain exactly what evidence he has of his claims about Israel having this effect on the BBC? And why are none of the media carrying his accusation?
I've now heard that the SOAS student union is occupying the School's prestigious Brunei gallery with the aim of attacking a current exhibition there (nothing to do with Israel).
It's clear that their agenda goes far beyond anything to do with Gaza.
It refers to "the occupation of Palestnian Land" but also to a much wider agenda.
I'm writing this from my iPhone, so I can't do a fully informative post, but Harry's Place has the whole story-- link on the sidebar of this blog.
Now here's the really fine thing.
I know about what's going on because I got a forwarded email from a J Darlington, who's one of the leaders of SOAS UCU. The email is signed "Long Live Palestine".
In response, a poster at Harry's Place has suggested pro-Israel activists go and occupy his tutor room.
I think that's intended as a joke, but I profoundly disagree with that suggestion.
The way to fight academic thuggery and political infantilism is not by adopting the same methods in response.
I'm a member of UCU. I stand for free speech in academic settings, with the exception of overt incitement to carry out physical attacks and to intimidate others.
I am sure the vast majority of the staff and the students at SOAS support free speech and opposition to attempts at bans and occupations of this kind too.
Meanwhile, what are the SOAS authorities and UCU going to in response to J Darlington's support for academic bullying and the suppression of free speech?
The Students' Union at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), one of the UK's highest ranked university centres for the study of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, has voted to demand the cancellation of a lecture series organised to mark the centenary of Tel-Aviv.
The series has been organized by SOAS' Professor Colin Shindler, the UK's first professor of Israeli Studies, who has also been a friend of mine for over twenty years.
The students of SOAS include a very large number of from Arab and other Middle Eastern countries and others who are passionately supportive of the Palestinian cause. But SOAS during most of the recent history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict has also been a place where those students and those from its Hebrew and Israeli Studies centre attend lectures on the Middle East conflict and the history and culture of zionism and discuss the issues in a spirit of scholarship and free enquiry.
Ironically, the Students' Union website carries a constitution proclaiming its commitment to free speech and its absolute commitment to opposing discrimination. That was voted in in 2006, after a previous history of attempts by some student groups to intimidate Jewish students in the name of anti-zionism. Throughout that history, the SOAS directorate firmly opposed such action and subsequently adopted a "Freedom of Expression" code which all who are members of the School are expected to sign up to.
But this latest action has been taken by the Students' Union in the name of boycotting Israeli academics in response to the current Gaza conflict, because they are amongst those who have been invited to lecture in Colin Shindler's Tel-Aviv centenary series.
Here's an even greater irony. The series started last term (and resumed for the current term on Monday night, despite the Student Union banning vote). Amongst the speakers were the Palestinian Authority ambassador, who was formerly a well-respected academic at Bethlehem University, as well as an anti-zionist Israeli academic.
Here's Colin Shindler's statement, issued before the vote was taken, demonstrating his impeccably and consistently sustained record of peace activism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
Our lecture series
‘Tel Aviv at 100: 1909-2009’ began last term and followed the normal pattern of
lectures that we organise around a theme each year.
Shlöer of Southampton University started the series when he spoke about his
academic studies on the history of Tel Aviv. The Palestinian Ambassador,
Professor Manuel Hassassian, formerly of Bethlehem University gave a paper on
‘Tel Aviv and Ramallah: The Next 100 Years’. Professor Reuven Snir, an
anti-Zionist Israeli Professor from Haifa University spoke about Arabic
literature in Israel. This term, academics from Tel Aviv University were due to
speak on the same theme on non-contentious subjects such as architecture and
music. The first lecture this evening is by Professor Anita Shapira, on of
Israel’s leading historians on the early history of Tel Aviv.
It is therefore
terribly unfortunate that these lectures, planned months ago, have coincided
with the terrible events in Gaza.
Any call for
cancelling this series will be seen as not based on opposition to the
centenary, but on the participation of Israeli academics. A resurrection of the
attempt to boycott academics simply because they are Israeli regardless of
their opinion about the tragedy in Gaza. SOAS as an institution and the British
government have always strongly opposed and condemned such a boycott.
rightly do not suppress different narratives and different opinions. Its ethos
is that the violence of the street should not be brought into the classroom. On
a personal level, it is something that I hold to dearly and even if I am in a
minority of one, I will adhere to this and not bow to any intimidation.
I have never called
for the cancellation of a lecture at SOAS even if the views expressed were not
to my liking – such as the participation of a Hezbollah representative in a
recent conference or the talk, given by the hijacker, Leila Khaled in the past.
In the ten years that
I have been at SOAS, I have always worked hard for my students, regardless of
their opinions and background. I will continue to do this.
I hope that colleagues
will not discriminate against students whose opinions on the Israel-Palestine
conflict they do not agree with.
These are difficult
times for all of us. I am grateful to the many colleagues – whether they share
my views or not – who have contacted me. Let us hope that the killing ceases
this week and we can attempt to rebuild the bridges between us.
Last night, I was at SOAS to hear presentations by Colin Shindler and Dr Emmanuele Ottolenghi on Israel and the Gaza War. The lecture theatre was packed. The presentations were excellent. The post presentation questions and discussions were courteous and attentively listened to. Amongst the SOAS student respondees at the end was a woman in Islamic dress who said she deplored the Student Union vote, and strongly supported free speech. And there was also the ardent pro-Palestinian activist who demanded to know why the Palestinian perspective had not been included. But then, as Colin Shindler pointed out, this was a special event presentation on Israel and the Gaza War. And the activist had spoken as if there was one single Palestinian perspective, although the presentations had discussed the ample evidence of the strongly divergent politics of different Palestinian parties, particularly Fatah and Hamas.
Clearly, the issue is not just about attempting to ban Israeli academics, though that's appalling enough. It's a clear cut attempt to boycott any public academic presentation about Israel, however unrelated to the Gaza conflict, or even the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it's also about an attempt to impose a one-story Palestinian account, despite the academic evidence of a divergent, complex politics amongst Palestinians and their allies.
So much for the SOAS Students' Union. Sources at SOAS also tell me that Colin Shindler has been put under a great deal of pressure to cancel the series by leaders of the SOAS branch of UCU, the academic staff union, of which he is a member. Will SOAS UCU now act in favour of or against free speech?
But you've only got to listen to speakers from Forward Thinking in full flow to see that they are in fact apologists for Hamas. Greenstock stressed that Hamas' charter commitment to the destruction of Israel is to be regarded as purely rhetorical, because their 2006 election manifesto did not include the elimination of Israel as a goal. The latter part of his statement is quite true. It just leaves out the equivalent statements of commitment to increasing jihad and ending "the occupation" which I've documented in my previous post today. And astoundingly, Greenstock actually claimed that the rockets currently being fired at Israel were not being fired by Hamas, but by Fatah and by Islamic Jihad.
Unsurprisingly, this particular statement was not nailed by the Today presenter.
But in case you're in any doubt, listen to the speech in the clip above from Dr Azzam Tamimi, who is Hamas' leading public speaker in the UK today, notorious for his statement some years back that he would love to blow himself up by carrying out a suicide bombing in Israel.
It was made in the course of a London anti-Israel rally over the weekend, to loud cheers of encouragement from his audience. It shows what sentiments lie behind the "We are all Hamas" slogans being chanted in demonstrations in London outside the Israeli embassy every day, and being brandished against the pro-Israel rally in London yesterday.
It does nothing less than celebrate Hamas terrorism, declare the "good news" that the Hamas military machine is unweakened, and that Israel will cease to exist through its resistance.
So doesn't this count as "glorification of terrorism", illegal under British law? Somehow, I doubt if the UK authorities will do anything to stop this particular voice of Hamas continuing his incitement of would-be jihadis in London.
I don't know how exactly what proportion of the people of Gaza voted for Hamas, but my understanding was that they got 90% of the local vote in the 2006 election.
I remember reading the Hamas manifesto at that time and being appalled at what it promised-- a commitment to continuing attacks against Israel plus a sort of sub-Gandhian rejection of anything that smacked of capitalism in favour of local hand-woven industries.
Oh, and it also promised to change the Palestinian curriculum and all cultural activities to reflect the Islamist vision, in place of the secular marxist Fatah one that it replaced.
Hamas, while under the PLC dome, will propagate the culture of resistance among the Palestinian people in addition to the love of Jihad. The Qassam Brigades, armed wing of Hamas, and its weapons will stay solid and solely pointed at the Israeli enemy for as long as the occupation on our land lasts".
"The armed wing will increase in quality and quantity, and its weapons will be effectively upgraded to drive the occupation out of our Palestinian lands.
"We are proud to be the servants of the Palestinian people, and we shall extend a helping hand to families of our martyrs, wounded, and jailed heroes. And we will use all means in our possession to liberate our prisoners, including kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and officers.
It's all too commonly argued that the Palestinians, and especially the Gazans, only voted for Hamas because of the corruption of Fatah. But no electorate can take selective responsibility, saying I only voted for this part of the manifesto, so the rest of it isn't anything to do with me. It can hardly absolve the Gazans from responsibility for electing a government whose aims and priorities clearly put attacking Israel with increasing ferocity at the top of the agenda.
And A'Zahar turns out to have given a very faithful and accurate outline of what Hamas proceeded to do.
By mid December of 2008, none of the people of Gaza could have been in any doubt about the commitment of Hamas to carry out attacks, including the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and the bombardment of Sderot and other Israeli towns with rockets. And by then, they had seen the brutal Hamas coup which had led to the summary execution and even hurling off buildings of large numbers of their Fatah rivals.
As the clip at the top shows, they seem to have turned out in absolutely vast numbers to celebrate Hamas' twenty first anniversary. I doubt if there were less than 100,000 present. And it seems to have been an event for men. It hardly seems likely that the women of Gaza were less supportive of the general mood of festivity. And towards the end of the clip, you will see children centre stage, dressed in Hamas uniform and head banners, toting real machine guns, glorifying the jihadist cause.
That mass rally took place on 14th December, just two weeks before Israel launched its retaliatory attacks, and at a time when over fifty rockets a day were being launched at Israel. Not included in the clip was the incident in which a Hamas man dressed up as Gilad Shalit and moaned in Hebrew that he wanted his mummy and daddy, mocking the supposed weakness of both the prisoner and the Israelis. I doubt if anyone walked out in disgust.
No. I certainly don't want to gloat over the death and destruction now raining down on Gaza. And of course there are many who did not vote for Hamas, albeit only a small minority of the population.
It's so often argued that Hamas should be recognised by world governments, because it was democratically elected. Somehow, there's never any going beyond the requirement to recognise Hamas and hold the electorate responsible for the military catastrophe they're voted for by electing a terrorist group committed to ever increasing acts of jihad, including kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
How indulgent would liberal commentariat opinion be if the electorate of Britain were to vote solidly for the BNP because they were fed up with the way Labour had been running the economy and then found they were landed with a racist, fascist dictatorship whose militant manifesto promises embroiled them in a disastrous war with a powerful neighbour?
But that's exactly what has happened in Gaza.
And, yes, I do think the adults of Gaza have to take the lion's share of responsibility for the horrific situation they and their hapless children now find themselves in.
By that time, the chant I kept hearing repeated on a megaphone from the small group of opposing protesters was:
Judaism yes, zionism, no! The state of Israel has to go!
So much for their supposed aim of supporting the Palestinians and protesting the Israeli action in Gaza.
And as for "Judaism, yes", hardly convincing when they were flourishing posters of Hassan Nasrallah, famous for saying things like:
"the state of the grandsons of apes and pigs – the Zionist Jews" and "the murderers of the prophets."
The UK commentariat today is positively operatic in condemning Israel for the shelling of the Jabalaya UN school.
Here's some extracts from Mary Liddell, in the Daily Telegraph, in full cry, recycling some hoary anti-semitic resentments and assumptions about supposed Israeli power over the US, and making gratuitous reference to David Miliband's ethnic Jewish roots as she goes :
Israel has attracted much sympathy from those who don't buy the argument that there is anything disproportionate in its response to Hamas aggression. Some westerners have gazed at images of limp bodies as if they are the mortal remains of some lesser breed of child.....
In the dying days of his presidency, Mr Bush stuck to his guns, condoning Israel's attack on Hamas. Most consider his orthodoxy discredited: they're right. The danger is that the pendulum may swing towards a world that uses Bush's tainted absolutism as an excuse to abstain ever from saying what is right and wrong. At least we knew where Mr Bush was coming from. Behind Barack Obama's silence lies the suspicion that the incoming president will be almost as much in hock as his predecessor to the powerful Israeli lobby.
This is not quite fair. Mr Brown has called repeatedly for a ceasefire. He has worked with the French and Egyptians to halt hostilities and secure an end to the blockade that has strangled Gaza. The PM has come close to expressing the revulsion he must feel at watching families annihilated. He can fairly claim not to have sat on the fence, as Tony Blair did when Israel attacked Lebanon.
Mr Brown, who has (limited) form on getting tough, told the Knesset last July that Israel mustpursue peace with its neighbours. David Miliband, the grandson of Jews who escaped theHolocaust, recently infuriated Israel by demanding, rightly, that food and cosmetics imported byBritain from illegal Israeli settlements should be labelled accordingly....
Bring back the politics of denunciation. Yes, Hamas is a vicious neighbour. And yes, the West also has dubious warfare on its conscience. But nothing excuses acts so sickening that, if perpetrated by a less-blessed state, they would be reviled throughout the world as war crimes. Once again, the world has declined to tell Israel, in terms, that it has no divine mandate for destruction.
As you'll have noticed, there's a passing reference to Hamas as--"a vicious neighbour". Is that all? Road rage over parking habits, perhaps? Planting Leylandii hedges? The odd bit of nasty name calling? The idea that years of Hamas war crimes including suicide bombings and 8,000 rocket attacks, quite apart from firing from the heart of civilian Gaza might be behind the reason for the Israeli military action is not on her horizon. Limp bodies on the Israeli side of the border don't seem to have existed.
Today, her column, in the course of raging condemnation of Israel, waxes on about how the Hamas rockets were all the fault of Israel's blockading Gaza. Only, as this beautiful bit of fisking by Marcus at Harry's Place demonstrates, they can't have been. Because Hamas has been committing the war crimes of suicide bombing and rocketing Israel in quantity long before the blockade was established in the wake of the Hamas coup over the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
None of that information is going to stop the tide of anti-Israel statement from the self-righteous of the UK. The prize, though, has to go to another chap with form, Chris Davies, Liberal MEP for North West England, and formerly a leader of the Liberal European Parliament group, until he was sacked for writing anti-semitic emails to one of his Jewish constituents who wrote to complain about his one-sided attacks on Israel.
Kudos to The Spectator for picking up Davies' raving response to Israel's bombing campaign against Hamas, in which he repeatedly plays down Hamas' rocket attacks whilst branding Israel as having "fundamentally racist" policies. The irony is that he builds this round his own profoundly demeaning perception of the Palestinian side as a donkey on a rope, which he then defines without a shred of evidence as the view of the Palestinians held by the Israelis:
Those of us who are horrified by the killing in Gaza are forced to criticise its grossly disproportionate nature rather than condemn it outright.
The reality that this obscures is that the Israelis have the Palestinians tied like a donkey on a rope. They deny the animal much that it needs, they poke it and humiliate it. From time to time the donkey kicks out. The Israeli response is then to shout ¨Bad Donkey,¨ and to hit it, and hit it, until it is cowed and subdued. The failure of the West is to bring in the police and make an arrest for mistreatment of an animal!
The racism that goes to the heart of the Israeli approach is to assume that the Palestinians can be beaten and beaten until they are subdued and will then do what they are told. It fails to recognise that the Palestinians might respond to such treatment in exactly the same way as Israelis would – with defiance.......
It is time for Liberal Democrats to call a halt to the attempt to ride two horses and to try not to upset the Israeli lobby. Our support for the Palestinian cause is well enough known amongst those (by no means all!) in the Jewish community who will not countenance criticism of Israel. It is not well enough known amongst the majority who are appalled by Israel´s behaviour.
We should make clear that we will campaign tooth and nail for a viable and independent Palestinian state and will demand an end to deals with an Israeli government that bases its policy approach on a stance that is fundamentally racist.
Positively heroic, Mr Davies! Perhaps you know quite a few donkeys who fire rockets and mortars from the middle of cities and indoctrinate and send youngsters off to Tel-Aviv as suicide bombers. But I expect Baroness Tonge will step up and outdo you any day now.
All this evening, I've been checking out UK and Israeli versions of today's incident at Jabalya in which 30 Palestinians died after a hit by Israeli fire close to a UN-run school.
Throughout the evening, all the main UK media websites (BBC News, Times, Independent and Guardian) headlined and reported the story as one in which the Israeli forces made an out-of-the-blue strike on a school in which civilians were sheltering.
Reports of more than 40 killed in and around UN shelter
And here's the way The Independent is still reporting the incident at 11:00pm:
Israeli tank shells killed at least 40 Palestinians today at a UN school where civilians had taken shelter, medical officials said, in carnage likely to boost international calls for a halt to Israel's Gaza offensive.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was looking into information on the incident at al-Fakhora school in Jabalya refugee camp.
People cut down by shrapnel lay in pools of blood on the street. Witnesses said two Israeli tanks shells exploded outside the school, killing at least 40 civilians - Palestinians who had taken refuge there and residents of nearby buildings.
But all the key Israeli news media English websites since the early evening have been telling a very different story. And it's one in which the strike took place because Hamas were firing mortars from the school at the Israeli troops. In other words, a clear multiple war crime of using a neutral NGO site--a girls' school-- and treating the Palestinian civilians as human shields. And a situation in which Israeli forces are justified in firing back in self defence according to international law.
Here's one of the Ha'aretz accounts:
Palestinian officials had initially said that 40 people were killed in the attack, but UN sources put the number at 30 killed and 55 wounded.
An IDF spokesman said that troops had fired mortar rounds at the school, after militants barricaded inside shot mortar shells at the Israeli forces.
"Initial checks ... show that from inside the school mortars were fired at Israeli forces," a spokesman said. "In response, the forces fired a number of mortar rounds into the area."
The army said that the bodies of numerous Hamas militants were found inside the school following the attack.
The attack brought the Palestinian death toll to nearly 600 in Israel's 11-day offensive on the Hamas-ruled coastal territory.
Two tank shells exploded outside the Gaza school, spraying shrapnel on people inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants. In addition to the dead, several dozen people were wounded, the officials said.
Medical officials said all the dead were either people sheltering in the school or local residents.
The Ynet news site, like Ha'aretz, also reports that Israel has a video demonstrating the Hamas firing and may use it as a basis for making a complaint to the UN:
An inquiry into the incident revealed that the IDF soldiers acted according to procedures and fired back at gunmen firing mortar shells from the school. The investigation also revealed that Hamas launching cells were operating within the school. The shells landed outside the school yard.
IDF and intelligence sources said that Hamas was attempting to hide the circumstances of the incident. Members of the organization were also killed in the strike.
The army released a video showing the terrorists firing mortar shells from the school yard, and the cabinet is considering using the video in a possible complaint filed with the UN.
The cabinet will meet again Wednesday to discuss the continuation of the military operation in the Strip.
Sources in the IDF said earlier that several Hamas gunmen were inside the UNWRA school, including Imad and Hassan Abu-Askar. The army also said that a rocket launching cell had been firing rockets at Israel from the school.
It's possible, of course, that these IDF reports are so much spin, designed to cover up a disastrous and tragic mistake. However, Hamas has quite a track record of using schools as a base from which to fire mortars at Israel, as the video clip above, from late October 2007, shows.
But what's striking is the way in which the UK media chose to remain silent about these key responses, although they were readily available on public Israeli media over many hours.
After hours of simply reporting the school strike as an arbitrary and unprovoked attack by Israeli forces on Palestinian civilians sheltering, and accompanying it with Palestinian and UN commentary expressing outrage, the BBC Radio 4 10pm news programme began adding the Israeli version. As well as the outraged Palestinian, UN and EU commentators, the programme added a lengthy interview with Mark Regev on behalf of the Israeli government in which he gave the IDF's explanation. The BBC presenter also went on to subject an outraged Gazan Hamas spokesman a grilling over why they consider they are justified in using civilian populations as human shields.
Most interesting has been the shifting and evasive responses of John Ging, the head of UNRWA, the UN's standing organization responsible for UN aid to Palestinian refugees. In the Guardian report, he condemns Israeli action, but then goes on in highly convoluted language which effectively admits that Hamas were actively engaged in firing in the area:
John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that three artillery shells landed at the perimeter of the school where 350 people were taking shelter. "Of course it was entirely inevitable if artillery shells landed in that area there would be a high number of casualties," he said.
Asked whether there were Hamas militants in the area at the time of the attack, Ging said it was the scene of clashes "so there's an intense military and militant activity in that area." He said UN staff vetted Palestinians seeking shelter at their facilities to make sure militants were not taking advantage of them. "So far we've not had violations by militants of our facilities," he said.
This last statement seems rather far-fetched since Reuters last May reported that the headteacher of a UN school was openly feted by Islamic Jihad as having used his expertise to develop and run a rocket making operation--and that the UNRWA officials had required the school not to discuss information about his involvement:
Qiq's body was wrapped in an Islamic Jihad flag at his funeral, pictorial posters in his honour still bedeck his family home this week, and a handwritten notice posted on the metal gate at the entrance to the school declared that Qiq, "the chief leader of the engineering unit", would now find "paradise".
That poster was removed soon after Reuters visited the Rafah Prep Boys School, run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. Staff there said on Monday that UNRWA officials had told them not to discuss Qiq's activities.
No one from the United Nations attended the funeral or has paid their respects to the family, relatives said, adding that Qiq's widow and five children had heard nothing about a pension.
Spokesman Christopher Gunness said UNRWA, which spelled its teacher's surname al-Geeg, was looking into the matter.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy towards politics and militant activities in our schools. Obviously, we are not the thought police and we cannot police people's minds," he said.
He added that staff were also regularly instructed not to engage in political or militant activities of any kind.
The Israeli army said its April 30 attack at Rafah, close to the Egyptian border, hit a workshop used for making rockets and other improvised weaponry. An Israeli intelligence source told Reuters that Qiq was involved in developing rockets and mortars.
Yet Qiq, a physics graduate with eight years' experience of teaching at UNRWA schools, was also described by colleagues as a rising star in education. Relatives said he was promoted to run the school last year, with the title of deputy headmaster.
It’s absolutely horrifying. The people of Gaza are terrorized. They’re traumatized. And they are trapped.
On the humanitarian front, a million people across the Strip are without electricity, because we’ve been unable to get fuel in, though we did get some fuel in today to the main power plant that’s been shut down since Sunday. At least a quarter of a million people, probably more, are without running water. Our food distribution centers have, all but two of them, managed to keep going, and all but five of our eighteen health clinics have opened.
But when I hear Israeli politicians—excuse me—say that there is no humanitarian crisis, there are plenty of supplies in Gaza, Israel’s obligations as an occupying power do not end when they dump a handful of trucks on the edges of the fence that they’ve built around Gaza. We have to have a humanitarian strategic breathing space around certain facilities so that we can get goods in at the sufficient quantities, namely the Nahal Oz crossing point for industrial-level fuel. And if we can’t gstet that in, then these one million people without electricity will continue to be without electricity. And we need to get in grain, wheat grain, at the main conveyor belt at the Karni crossing, an industrial-sized crossing. Without that, our food stocks will run out in the next forty-eight hours, and people, particularly those cut-off communities around the fighting in northern Gaza, face the serious threat of hunger.
There is a humanitarian crisis, and it ill-behooves Israeli politicians simply to say there is no shortage of anything in Gaza. There is a shortage of wheat, and there is a shortage of fuel, and that means that people are facing a humanitarian crisis.
It's well worth reading the rest of the debate in which he comments, because it's so clear, that although he ritually condemns the Palestinian rocket firing, he keeps returning to the theme that it's entirely Israel's fault and that even though he condemns the rockets, Israel's response is disproportionate because so many fewer Israelis have been killed than Palestinians. This echoes the fallacy that proportionality of military response to attacks in international law is to be equated with securing equal numbers of casualties. He effectively acts as an advocate for the Hamas regime without ever mentioning the name of Hamas. Like Ging, his language when he condemns Israel is vivid and packed with hyperbole. He avoids explicitly naming or condemning any group of Palestinians but rather condemns "rocket attacks" as if they were self-starting and unattributable events.
UNWRA officials aside, the BBC News website now carries a video clip and a sound clip of the Mark Regev response from the BBC Radio 4 10pm news programme claiming that Hamas were firing from the school and in doing so committing war crimes.
But what took them so long? Why is there such a huge time gap for the UK media when reporting Israeli perspectives when the information has been available on public websites over many hours? And why are Palestinian and UN perspectives seized on and headlined uncritically almost as soon as they're issued?