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BBC buries the bitter

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Just as English pubs used to pour mild ale over bitter in the once-famous drink, "half ‘n half," the BBC World Service yesterday camouflaged facts on Israel and Palestine–though at least it offers facts somewhere.   

BBC Newshour‘s Robin Lustig mentions "that the U.S. has "provided" Israel "billions of dollars in military and civilian aid," asking whether American support for Israel is becoming a "liability" for the U. S.  But Lustig omitted the word "Jewish" to describe the "controversial new homes" that Vice President Joe Biden condemned last March. Lustig lets reporter Jeremy Bowen do the realist heavy lifting, then drops all with a Zionist thud.

Bowen tells us that the "homes for Jews in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" are "illegal under international law."  Bowen informs us that "Meir Dagan, the boss of Mossad,” sees Israel turning from an “asset” to a “liability" for the U.S.  Bowen quotes "America’s favorite general," David Petraeus on the "anti-American sentiment in the Middle East” ”exacerbated” by U.S. support for Israel. Bowen adds: "Anyone…in the Middle East would take that as obvious, [even] banal." Bowen then cites a "leading strategist" (Anthony Cordesman) and his dictum: "It is time Israel realised that it has obligations to the US, as well as the US to Israel." 

So far, so good, but The Newshour report eliminates some of Bowen’s braver points–offered in his "Reflection" last weekend— including those triple taboos in U.S. journalism: the power of the Israel lobby, the $3 billion in military aid alone, and some lessons from U.S. history when our government imposed a few limits on Israel. Bowen announces what no U.S. corporate-public broadcaster dares: "If anyone doubts the power of Israel’s friends in the US….Take a look at [the AIPAC] website, which boasts that it attracts half the Senate, a third of the House of Representatives and ‘countless Israeli and American policymakers and thought leaders’."

Bowen assesses the future of U.S. relations with Israel by reminding us of the past: "President Obama [is making] an attempt to return to the kind of relationship that American [sic] used to have with Israel….The first President Bush” reproved P.M. “Yitzhak Shamir, over Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.  President Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian territory seized in the Suez war.  Once it was by no means automatic that America would veto criticism of Israel in the UN security council….Political times change. But some realities are constant, and one is that powerful countries like the United States will not act against what they believe to be their own interests."  Bowen perhaps underestimates how feverishly AIPAC stamps out such historical memory, and stymies Obama’s will to separate U.S. goals from Israel’s. Nevertheless Bowen names the forces now hobbling the Obama administration.  Bowen’s forecast of U.S. decisions may be optimistic, but Robin Lustig’s succeeding interview retreats to helplessness. 

In an exchange that ranges only from Y-Z on Israel, with Aaron David Miller and David Horovitz, Lustig fails to raise Bowen’s questions about U.S. strategic concerns.  More seriously, Lustig neglects ever to consider Palestinian needs.  Neither he nor his guests mention Israel’s attack on the humanitarian Mavi Marmara, kidnapping the entire flotilla of aid for Gaza. 

Instead, Miller and Horovitz focus on Netanyahu’s prestige and the "pomp" of his reunion with Obama.  Both Miller and Horovitz bemoan how Obama hasn’t reassured Israel since its love-fest with Bush II ended.  All three bleat about Israel’s "security needs" first, last, and always: never a squeak about Palestine’s much greater security needs.  They hype Iran as a supposed threat, exactly as the corporate-public press blew up the supposed menace from Iraq–before the U. S. literally blew up Iraq.  Horovitz intones, "you have to stop Iran and then you liberate the peace-making process." 

Always a different enemy of Israel for the U.S. to fell.  When will the BBC–or any powerful U.S. outlet–consider that by attacking Iran, we would once again "liberate the war-making process" for Israel?  The state would then be free to expand into the Greater Israel that Netanyahu and his party have long coveted.

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A later story in The Newshour, reveals a similar effort hindered by bias.

Robin Lustig announces: "Now, one of the loudest complaints that you hear from Palestinians living in Gaza is that the Israeli blockade of their borders is preventing them from importing construction materials."  Never mind that the average American “hears” nothing from Gaza, or that we’d hear more than mere "complaints" if anyone stripped Israel or the U.S. of building supplies. The BBC however does break through American censorship, checking on the result of Israel’s pledge to "allow some construction materials in [Gaza], but only if they’re for use by international organizations like the United Nations."  Jon Donnison asks Rafi Khasuna (sp?), who "runs one of the biggest construction companies in Gaza–or at least he used to," whether he has noticed any change in the past two weeks?" 

Rafi Khasuna answers sadly, "No change at all." 

That emphasis alone on Israel’s broken promise separates BBC from U.S. broadcasts. Donnison asks how much money Khasuna’s company is losing, “So you’ve lost millions of dollars." Khasuna answers bleakly, "Of course."

Jon Donnison retreats to the traditional line about the Israeli embargo of cement as a matter of self-defense, calling Hamas "of course an enemy of Israel," asking, "Could the things you use be used by Hamas?"  Rafi Khasuna assures Donnison firmly, "No, No, sir. This is not a logical reason," patiently explaining the obvious: that Hamas gets whatever it needs through the tunnels.

Donnison injects a bizarre slant: "You’re clearly a successful man, an ambitious man; you’ve done well.  How does it make you feel to be failing now?"  Why can’t Donnison ask, "Israel’s clearly a ferocious Occupier, who’s done ill, bombing your land to bits. How does it feel to be crushed by its siege now?"  Perhaps we should ask Donnison and the BBC–as well as the corp-pub U.S. press–"You’re clearly an ambitious man.  How does it feel to be failing at journalism now?"

That Donnison casts Rafi Khasuna’s deprivation by Israel as a personal downfall is inexplicable–even as it’s all too usual.  Whatever Israel does to Palestine, the story becomes how Palestinians are to blame.  That’s why Donnison misses the point when he opens his description of Gaza musing about a "pleasant scene," in Gaza’s tree-lined "Champs-Élysées."  Somehow overlooking all the rubble of bombed-out buildings, Donnison underscores how the street, like all in Gaza, is "riddled with potholes," informing us that "construction materials is one of the things that …Israel has strictly limited in Gaza." "Strictly limited?"  Israel absolutely prohibits cement and steel–still. More, Donnison overlooks the central truth: Palestinian heroism amid terrible deprivation creates what outsiders define as happiness . 

For his part, Rafi Khasuna answers that "I feel that there is no clear future for me or for my kids, or for my dreams for my family, or for my business also.–It’s blocked."

Susie Kneedler
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