Friday, January 22, 2010

The Colonel and his sympathy, on the Beeb

IT'S a year since the BBC shocked people by refusing to broadcast a charities emergency appeal for the people of Gaza, and once again the corporation has shown its peculiar notion of "balanced" coverage, with a Newsnight report on Tuesday, January 19, of a visit to the besieged and battered area by British Iraq war veteran Colonel Tim Collins.

It could almost have been a sponsored broadcast, produced by an IDF television unit, but of course the BBC would not take anything like that. Still, to set the tone we got the Ulster-born Colonel being received by an Israeli police officer who happened to hail from north London, and was naturally a Spurs supporter. Nice touch, whoever arranged it, reassuring for UK viewers, they won't have to stretch their stereotypes too much to sympathise, we all like football, unlike those nasty Palestinians -whose Gaza stadium was targeted by the Israelis, and whose under-19 team were denied visas to play and train in Britain.

Colonel Collins had made the obligatory visit to Sderot, the Israeli town on once-Palestinian land that was most in range of improvised kassem rockets. The IDF set up a media office there before the Gaza war, so no need to meet those Sderot residents who said Israel's blockade and bombing of Gaza was hitting innocent people, and not protecting them, let alone making peace any likelier.

While the Colonel could sympathise with the Israelis, for 'responding' to rocket attacks, he did not find much time for people in the Gaza strip, many of them refugees from what is now Israel, who had four decades of occupation, then nearly four years of blockade. He was shown the tunnels that people had dug, and some weapons said to have been brought through them. That people have had to use the tunnels to smuggle food and other essentials was not considered important.

By way of refuting the Goldstone report, which said weapons were not stored in the mosques which the IDF destroyed, Colonel Collins gave his professional opinion that one of the mosques showed signs of secondary explosions, suggesting munitions had been stored inside.

As for an Israeli tank shelling a doctor's home, in which some young women were killed, Colonel Collins was understanding. The squadron of tanks “may have felt threatened” from their position on high ground in broad daylight

Well, Colonel Tim Collins is a military man himself. He made his name with an eloquent speech to troops going into Iraq, though before that he had served in his native northern Ireland, and for part of this time with the elite Special Air Services operating in border areas.

Accused by a US Army reservist of mistreating Iraqi civilians and prisoners of war, Collins was cleared after an investigation by the Army's Special Investigation Branch(SIB), and he successfully sued two newspapers for libel. What comes out in his book "Rules of Engagement" however is how he trained his men for tough house to house fighting, and using white phosphorus grenades. The allies had initially denied using white phosphorus other than for lighting an area. The Israelis denied dropping white phosphorus on built up areas in Gaza, even though this could be seen on television.

Promoted to colonel in Iraq, Collins was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire for his service there, in October 2003. But in January 2004 he resigned his commission, accusing the Ministry of Defence of bureaucracy, underfunding, and lack of support over the mistreatment allegations. Leaving the army in August that year, he was soon involved in politics, supporting David Davies' bid to lead the Tories, and himself tipped as a potential leader for the Ulster Unionists. Besides giving his criticisms of the Iraq war he has complained that police in northern Ireland are being constrained from a tough enough response to terrorism.

The colonel is not all talk. He is the Chief Executive Officer of a security company, New Century Consulting, offering governments advice and help in intelligence-led counter-insurgency. "New Century offers solutions that disrupts security threats emanating from the destructive activities of insurgent, criminal, narcotic and other networks which undermine a stable environment. Our aim is to enhance the capabilities of governments and their agencies to penetrate and dislocate these networks through the introduction of training and mentoring techniques and practices proven in other conflict and challenging environments".

Tim Collins' fellow-countryman Viscount Montgomery put down Palestinian rebels in the 1930s only to find himself ten years later having to deal with the Jewish variety. For Colonel Collins, it is not so complicated, Israelis have a state and government, recognised by Britain, Palestinians do not, therefore they are the insurgents, and with his background and business, the colonel can't have had too much difficulty deciding where his sympathies lay.

But what about the BBC? Do they feel they have fulfilled their mandate giving this Ulster colonel's views such space, to balance against what Justice Goldstone had said? True, they can point to a good Panorama programme by Jane Corbyn the night before Tim Collins was on. This concerned the way Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes in Jerusalem, and replaced by settlers. But what about Gaza? Viewers may wonder why we had to wait until the Egyptian government deported George Galloway, before the news announcer mentioned as a hurried afterthought that the MP had been leading an aid convoy which had finally made it through into Gaza.

Last week a delegation of 60 parliamentarians from 12 European countries, including Britain, went to Gaza to see the devastation caused by the Israeli attack, and the continuing blockade which is keeping out materials for rebuilding. (A writer in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz commented on the irony that Israel was getting good publicity by sending a mission across the world to Haiti, when it could do at least as much good by sending a hospital into Gaza, to help those injured by its own actions). Leading the MPs was Labour's Gerald Kaufman, who is of course Jewish. Kaufman condemned the Israeli siege as "evil", and said that Israeli commanders who had used white phosphorus ought to charged with war crimes.

Not a word of that on the BBC.

Celebrated Iraq war veteran's view of the Gaza conflict

Ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem - blogger on Jane Corbyn's report

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