Thursday, November 03, 2005

One State, Two State, E8

From Bili'in to Hackney

Bili'in is a Palestinian village which faces the loss of its lands to the Israeli "security barrier" - what protestors have called the Apartheid wall, though Annexation wall might be more to the point. Snaking through the West Bank the "separation fence" is separating Palestinians from their lands and livelihoods.
Why don't the villagers protest? They have been protesting, and they have been joined on their protests by some Israelis opposed to what their government is doing. These have ranged from teenagers in Anarchists Against the Wall to veterans like Uri Avneri, who came on his 80th birthday, when the troops opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors.

As Steve Marks was saying at the Hackney Empire concert on Tuesday, after we listened to "The Singer of Wind and Rain", about Palestinians refusing to be uprooted, when people ask why the Palestinians don't try non-violent resistance, he asks if they have never heard of Bil'in. But then he realises that they probably haven't, because the news media here never reports what's happening at places like Bili'in.

I've just seen a message passed on by Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, calling people to another demonstration in Bili'in, this Friday. Local people and their supporters "will hold another creative non-violent march to the construction site of the Apartheid Barrier. The main theme of this week's demonstration will be prisoner solidarity. Due to the recent night-time raids by the Israeli military, seventeen non-violent protestors from the village currently remain in Israeli detention. These arrestees are being accused by the Israeli authorities of damaging the foundations of the barrier and throwing stones.Over the past eleven days, the Israeli military has conducted a series of arrest raids during the night in Bil'in. Going house to house, they have been rounding up activists known to participate in the non-violent demonstrations, keeping the entire village sleepless and distressed in the process. International Human Rights Observers last Monday night witnessed and filmed the illegal (under Israeli law) use of a Palestinian civilian as a "human shield" by the Israeli military (footage available upon request). One on occasion, the Israeli military distributed a leaflet in Arabic warning the villagers that although they have "allowed the people of the village to conduct non-violent protests against the construction of the wall on their lands" they consider the damaging of the barrier "violence against security property" and warned them that "the daily lives of the villagers will be disrupted as a result of such acts".Among the Palestinian non-violent activists arrested are a 14 year old child, a 16 year old child and three brothers from one family. Only one of those arrested -who was taken by the soldiers in order to pressure his brother to turn himself in- has been released so far. Mohammed al Katib, a member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil'in said: "they go after the young and vulnerable in order to intimidate them into giving information about otheractivists in the village".In response to the latest invasion on Monday night, Bil'in residents together with a few Israeli and International volunteers again poured out of their houses and confronted the military, singing and chanting.The Israeli force subsequently withdrew from the village."

Steve mentioned that turn-out on Tuesday. But we've seen nothing like it on telly.

"Balance" at the Beeb

The BBC is conducting a "survey" to find out whether people consider its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict fair and impartial. The usual professional lobbying outfits like BIPAC (British-Israel Public Affairs Committee) have weighed in, and I expect the Beeb will set what they and some pro-Arab voices say either side, before concluding with a smug grin that it is "balanced". Meanwhile editors and reporters will be put on their toes....

The BBC overseas service is closing some of its European language programmes in order to expand Arabic broadcasts at the behest of the Foreign Office, but the Corporation is independent of government, of course.

Remember the nightly teatime coverage we had of the Gaza settlers protests? It might have been scripted by the right-wing settlers it was so slanted (interviews with dutifully tearful settlers, barely a mention that they were being given alternative homes and handsome compensation, not a thought for the people driven from Jaffa and Majdal-Askalon who fill the refugee camps in Gaza).. Well, if the BBC wants "balance", how about just a fraction of that publicity for the people protesting at Bil'in? It does not have to be every evening, just now and then, on peaktime news, instead of waiting for some documentary spot late on Sunday night?

It's not only the West Bank that gets under-reported.

On Wednesday evening, BBC South East viewers were treated to an item about the concert premiere of The Skies Are Weeping. (Only 24 hours after the concert. Aren't modern news media marvellous). We got a shot of what looked like the choir rehearsing (at least I couldn't see the audience), a glimpse of Cindy Corrie who had flown in from the 'States, and a few words from composer Philip Munger, saying he wished more young people would stand up for what they believed in.
So far, so good.

But then after telling us that the premiere in Alaska (where Munger lives) had to be cancelled because of threats to performers, the BBC reporter told us from across the road that "three Jewish groups" (no use of the word "Zionist", though it was the Zionist Federation and allies) were protesting. Shot of people giving out leaflets, who happened to be Jews Against Zionism, not protesting the concert but opposing the Zionist protest. That wasn't mentioned.

More important, as I've pointed out to the BBC, their report did not mention that the concert organiser and soprano was Debbie Fink, who is of course Jewish, or that the sponsors included several prominent Jewish people in the arts, such as Harold Pinter, Miriam Margolyes, Morris Farhi MBE, and Susie Orbach. Plus the Jewish Socialists' Group, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians. A large part of the audience was Jewish, certainly outnumbering the Zionist protestors, and the evening included an Israeli-led group, the Tsivi Sharrett Ensemble, introduced by compere Steve Marks, who is also Jewish.

The BBC report gave a Mr.Hoffman of the Zionist protestors a soundbite about ""the other Rachels killed by suicide bombers", as though Rachel Corrie was responsible for killing anyone, but last night's concert was specifically dedicated for ALL the people lost to the Occupation.

I have pointed out some of these facts in a complaint to the BBC, suggesting that their report gave a distorted picture. I might have accepted that this was just down to poor reporting by an uninformed BBC correspondent, but I have now heard from Debbie Fink, who fresh from her concert triumph was busy teaching yesterday (even activists have to earn a living). Debbie had been interviewed by the BBC report, but ... "They omitted my interview, in which I did say I'm Jewish, ...I was more annoyed about that than them not mentioning that I organised it....."

Debbie will make her annoyance known to the BBC, and I hope others do so too.

"Totally" reported the protest but not the concert, which is not unexpected from them; but surely the BBC allowing the protestor to speak but censoring out the star sets a new low standard in show reporting! This would be bad enough if it was just down to inexperienced reporters and inefficiency. But with 24 hours between recording and broadcasting the item we must assume it was deliberate editing, in line with policy.

This then, is BBC "balance": on the one side you have Palestinians and peace protestors, on the other side Jews, but don't mention that the Jews are Zionists or that far more Jews are on the other side with the peace concert, let alone organising and participating in it.

This suits the Zionists, of course (though to judge from the pathetic dozen or so they managed on Tuesday, not many of them were happy about this unseemly protest). The more extreme and thuggish the Zionist, the more he insists on speaking for all Jews, and you can't be a Jew if you're not a Zionist.

But it also fits an all-too common Establishment way of thinking (or avoiding thought) which I imagine is rooted in Britain's colonial history. People are divided into tribes, under recognised chiefs, and neatly pigonholed for the conveniance of bureaucracy. Your views are supposed to be predictable from your ethnicity, part of your inherited "identity". Try to think for yourself, step out of line, or unite across the boundaries, and you're a nuisance.

If you're not going to conform with what your leaders say, how will you be controlled? How can you talk about peace, you'd all be cutting each other's throats if you did not have the great White Master supervising you! Besides, if you lot don't conform to rule, what about the others, look at the example you're setting!

We all know the saying divide et impera, divide and rule, but I'm not saying there's a conspiracy. When you have a habit that has persisted over so many years, it does not require consciousness to continue it, but it would to break from it. I may be attaching too much significance to one small example from the BBC, but I could cite others. Don't take my word, just watch and listen, and see if you can't detect similar patterns in politics and the media.

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