150 Academics, writers, lawyers and activists say to the BBC - Stop Lying Over the Murders on the Mavi Marmara
The BBC has always been a creature of the British establishment. From the days when Lord Reith wouldn’t let the Archbishop of Canterbury broadcast an appeal for compromise during the General Strike (Reith supported the Tory determination to smash the Miners) to their current role as a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda (hasbarah).
Many people have sent in complaints to the BBC but that is useless and they rarely even acknowledge or reply to criticism, still less admit they are wrong. In essence about 6 years ago the Israeli government under Ariel Sharon threatened to cut off all links with the BBC and refuse them access to their briefings unless they changed their coverage from neutral (in Israeli eyes) to being openly supportive of their ‘anti-terrorist’ agenda.
So when it came to the murder of those on the flotilla instead of adopting the attitude that it is a no-brainer when it comes to a clash between the navy of the world’s 4th military power and a flotilla of aids activists, the BBC actually gave credence to Israel’s lying suggestion that this was a ‘hate’ ship full of ‘terrorists’. The BBC used repeatedly Israeli footage without acknowledging such, without explaining that it was spliced and edited and without also explaining that the film and recordings of the activists, including journalists, had been seized and to this day is stolen. Indeed Israel has stolen all their passports too, no doubt so it can engage in a bit more forgery when it comes to operations like Dubai.
And then you have correspondents like the brain-challenged idiot below who tells us that the Israeli military is ‘very well experienced at dealing with crowd control’. It’s like saying of the Nazis that, well yes, they had a great experience in handling Jews. Yes Israel has had great experience in shooting unarmed demonstrators. Why on the very day they murdered 9 on the Mavi Marmara they also shot the eye out of a 21 year old American Jewish student Emily Henochowicz in Qualandiya.
And note how the BBC use the term ‘murder’ if an Israeli is killed by Palestinians but ‘murder’ is not on their lips when Palestinians die (if they even acknowledge it). Their response is often that, ‘yes, we’ve interviewed lots of Palestinians or demonstrators’ but notice how they interview them. They don’t seek out information or explanations they seek to attack their version of the story. Yet when it comes to Mark Regev their interviewers are ill-prepared, not ready to make comparisons nor to draw attention to Israel’s overall repressive activities against all peaceful demonstrators. Indeed it hasn’t occurred to the BBC to relate the attacks upon and the demonisation of the demonstrators with Israel’s consistent attacks upon peaceful demonstrators. Instead the BBC has imbibed to its heart Israel’s slurs that all such demonstrators are really terrorists really, unlike those who hijack unarmed ships in international waters and shoot their passengers dead.
Nor has the BBC of course made reference to the footage coming out now which shows the real nature of Israel’s actions on the boats. That people on all the boats were roughed up and worse. The report of Swedish novelist Henning Mankell that he saw people being savagely beaten up has, of course, not been referred to.
Just imagine if the Iranians or North Koreans did this. Would the BBC be using the word ‘alleged’ to describe Israel’s actions? Would there be any reticence in describing the Iranian/N Korean ‘explanation’ for the deaths as fanciful if not lying. Once again the BBC has been exposed as the transmission belt for British foreign policy and therefore supportive of whatever Israel does.
This is why a group of us got together the idea of an open letter to the BBC’s Director General, Mark Thompson, which was sent last Friday. We don’t expect anything other than the usual BBC response – defensive and conspicuous only for what it leaves out.
One wonders whether they would have said of the Cumbrian murderer Derrick Bird that his murders were only ‘allegations’ – after all the inquest hasn’t yet said whether their deaths were unlawful. We all know they are, and we also know that the deaths on the Mavi Marmara were murder. Because only those whose mindset is that of Orwellian nightmares could possibly believe that this Israeli government, a government which includes naked racists and fascists, could possibly have any hesitation in murdering those they consider responsible for many of Israel’s woes.
Let us be clear. The Israeli government which is now about to introduce legislation making the Boycott illegal, as it has done commemoration of the Nakba, is hardly likely to hesitate to murder peace activists who are bring their starvation siege of Gaza into disrepute and who are behind the hated Boycott?
Read Mark Steel’s witty expose of BBC Speak!
The Director General, BBC 201 Wood Lane London W1Z 7RJ Dear Sir: Re: Complaint re BBC’s Coverage of Attack on Gaza Freedom Flotilla 31.5.10. We, the undersigned, wish to submit a complaint in respect of the BBC’s coverage of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and its murder of at least 9 activists on 31st May 2010. The BBC’s coverage of Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmora [MM] was even worse than its coverage of Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008/9 and your news coverage was little more than an extension of Israel’s PR offensive.
For example, in its first response to the murders on the MM, and repeated throughout the day, the BBC’s correspondent on BBC News 24 stated that:
“Well clearly when you've got as many as 600 people on board these ships at night in the high seas, it is a very very difficult situation and you can imagine a rather chaotic situation. Of course the Israeli military is very well experienced at dealing with crowd control. But certainly you've got live fire being fired as well as teargas canisters which is what is being reported was fired then that is a very dangerous situation in a crowded space.”If we deconstruct this apologia, there are certain obvious assumptions being made, as well as equally obvious questions unasked:
a. If boarding a ship at night in international waters, not merely the ‘high seas’, is such a ‘very very difficult situation’ then it begs the question as to why Israel chose to attack the ship at night. But since the BBC anchorman assumed that Israel had a right to do whatever it wanted to enforce its illegal siege, then attacking the ship and the activists on the MM at night would ensure that they are bewildered. It would also prevent what was happening from being witnessed by the outside world.
b. It is true that the Israeli military is ‘very well experienced with crowd control.’ That though is part of the problem. On the same day as the murders on the MM, a Jewish student from the United States, Emily Henochowicz lost an eye at a protest at a checkpoint at Ramallah. To be more precise, she didn’t ‘lose’ her eye. It was destroyed by a tear gas canister fired directly at her. But as you say, the Israeli army is ‘very well experienced’ when it comes to handling peaceful protest.
Our main points of concern with your coverage are: 1. The MM was fired upon before being boarded and there is strong evidence that two people had already been killed by shots fired directly from the helicopter before the descent of navy personnel. This would suggest that the plan was to provoke a confrontation from the start, as it cannot seriously be expected that people would do nothing to resist the boarders after shots had already been fired killing people. This evidence, e.g. from the world famous Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, has of course been ignored by the BBC, as have the reports of activists being beaten up and assaulted after having been detained. Of course if you start from the assumption that the Israeli military can do no wrong, then this is quite logical.
2. The BBC repeatedly showed throughout coverage of the affair a video of masked and armed Israeli navy personnel being attacked by activists on the MM, with one of them being thrown to a lower deck. At no time did the BBC give any indication of the provenance of this video still less give it any context. The BBC not only used an Israeli PR film, without mentioning its source, but it failed to inform viewers that alternative footage from the human rights activists aboard the ships was not available because Israel had taken especial care to confiscate all phones and cameras. The fact that the BBC did not think this evidence was relevant speaks volumes as to the BBC’s complicity in justifying the attack on the flotilla.
Any news organisation with an ounce of principle or integrity would have refused to use a tainted Israeli film unless film from those who were attacked was also used.
3. The BBC has also failed to comment on the fact that mobile phones, cameras and other possessions of the activists on board the flotilla have not been returned to their owners and the State of Israel has effectively engaged in larceny and theft. This is in addition to the theft of individual personal items of those detained by navy personnel.
4. The BBC repeatedly referred, in its hostile questioning of returning activists, to the fact that they had ‘provoked’ the attack on them. One wonders whether a householder would also be accused of ‘provoking’ a violent burglar? It is no longer fashionable to label as ‘provocative’ women who are raped, so why then is it acceptable to describe human rights and aid workers who are murdered or wounded as ‘provocative’ for having sought to breach an illegal blockade?
5. The BBC continues to use the launching of ‘rockets’ from Gaza into Israel as an excuse for every human rights abuse by Israel. In the BBC’s eyes these ‘rockets’ provide Israel with permanent immunity from criticism. The original reason for a blockade was the election of Hamas but we wouldn’t expect consistency from the BBC, still less any memory of the past. However, if you are going to make repeated reference to Israel’s pretext for attempted genocide, it is strange that you keep silent about the fact that in the past 7 years, such ‘rockets’ have killed 20 Israelis compared to the death of some 7,000 inhabitants of Gaza from Israel’s targeted munitions. Even the murder by Israel of 5 Gazans last week has not been mentioned by the BBC.
Perhaps the BBC might clarify whether it is official policy that the death of a Palestinian is not considered as newsworthy as that of an Israeli Jew since you rarely cover Israeli bombing raids or rocket attacks?
6. The BBC has failed to raise or emphasise, in its numerous interviews with Mark Regev, Israel’s PR spokesman, that Israel’s attack on the flotilla was an act of piracy and in complete defiance of international law.
7. The BBC has failed to raise with Israeli spokespersons why, if Israel’s justification for the murder of at least 9 activists was self-defence, why they object to an independent international inquiry. It would seem an obvious question to ask but BBC News doesn’t seem to have got round to considering why Israel objects and whether that might relate to the series of excuses that Israel has given for the latest carnage.
8. There is increasing proof that Israel is resorting to crude forgeries in the videos of the attack. For example it has admitted it cannot substantiate a voice, purportedly from the MM, telling the Israelis to ‘go back to Auschwitz’. Or maybe the BBC might consider the spoof racist video put out by Israeli civil servants? Or is forgery by the Israeli government’s PR chiefs not worthy of mention?
9. Hurriyet, the main Turkish daily, has printed photographs from recovered memory cards showing that, even as activists on the MM were under attack, they were medically treating injured Israeli attackers. Surely this is relevant when Israel insists its forces were subject to a ‘lynch mob’. Why is this also considered irrelevant or is it a case that it contradicts the message that Israel and the BBC wanted to get across?
10. At least 3 of those who died on the MM could have been saved, but were allowed to bleed to death by Israel. This is a war crime, as is an attack on unarmed civilians. Yet this has not been covered by the BBC. Again the BBC’s aggressive interviewers, who behave like poodles when questioning Mark Regev, don’t feel the need to raise such matters when confronted with Israeli spokesman.
11. About 7 years ago, the government of Ariel Sharon threatened to cut off relations with the BBC unless the latter changed its coverage. Reporters like Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen were moved or silenced. The BBC, instead of defending its reporters and its coverage, caved in after the BBC were barred from Ariel Sharon’s press conference in London. (BBC Says Sorry to Israel, 12.3.05. . We saw the fruits of the BBC’s capitulation when the BBC refused to broadcast a Disaster Emergency Committee Appeal for the people of Gaza in January 2009, since the whole thrust of the BBC’s coverage had been in support of the immiseration of the people of the Gaza.
The BBC has continually covered the siege of Gaza from the viewpoint of Israel rather than its inhabitants. ‘Terrorism’ and Hamas rather than freedom and democracy for Gazans have been the staple of BBC coverage. Not once has the BBC given any context, e.g. the election of 2006 where Hamas received the most support or the attempted coup by Egypt, the USA and Palestinian Authority or indeed Israel’s role in the creation of Hamas. Nor does the BBC refer to the fact that Gaza has been occupied for 43 years. The BBC have preferred the cartoon caricature version of Hamas, as supplied by Israel’s propaganda outlets, rather than looking at the repeated indications that Hamas would accept a genuine two-state solution. Hamas sets out conditions for peace.
The BBC regularly accepts, without contradiction, Israel’s claim to be the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’ It is strange then that it has failed to cover the attacks on Haneen Zoabi, a secular Arab woman and Knesset member who has been subject to intimidation and violence by fellow MKs and whose parliamentary immunity has been removed by the Knesset for having been a passenger on the MM and therefore a ‘terrorist supporter’. The BBC is content to repeat clichés about Israel and democracy but it consistently fails to inquire into the substance of this assertion, such as the growing attacks on Israel’s Arab minority. It is therefore no surprise that the racist demonstration, complete with cries of ‘Death to the Arabs’ outside the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv on 1st June, was not covered by the BBC. If Iran or North Korea had attacked a ship flying another country’s flag in international waters, the BBC would not have been so willing to buy into their lies and deceit. One suspects that BBC reporters would have had something to say if the above countries had refused an international inquiry, because they preferred to conduct their own investigation.
The BBC’s coverage of the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a classic example of what is known as double standards. We look forward to your assurances that your ‘understandings’ with the Israeli government will be both published and dispensed with as you are not, at the moment, providing neutral or balanced coverage of the situation in Israel/Palestine. It is time that you stopped being an echo chamber for Israel’s propaganda.
Dave Baker, Visiting Research Fellow Reader in Numeracy/Maths, London Institute of Education, Professor Mona Baker, Professor of Translation Studies, University of Manchester, Fiona Balaban (UK/Turkey) David Bangs, Environmentalist, Frank Barat, (Russell Tribunal on Palestine) Geoff Barr, Jinan Bastaki, (UAE) Dr. A.F. J. Bell (Australia) Paul Bemrose, GMB Trade Union, Richard Berks - Centre for Immunology & Infection, University of York, UK Greta Berlin (USA/France) (co-founder, Free Gaza movement) Jo Bird, Dr Martin Birnstingl, Patrick Black, Dr. Susan Blackwell, National Executive Committee member, University and College Union, Prof. Haim Bresheeth, University of East London, Andy Brown, Secretary, Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Simone Burns, Barrister, Dave Campbell, Val Cane, Brighton NUT, Jean Calder, journalist, Patricia Chaffee, (USA) Linda Clair, George Abendstern, Nigel Clark, Southampton, Ruth Clark, Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (retd), Jerrold Cohen, PhD (USA) Sheila Colman Mike Cushman, London School of Economics martin cutler, Dr Adam Darwish, University of Sussex, Lilian Joan Dell Barbara Denuelle, Dr Merav Devere, Brighton, East Sussex, William Dienst Jr. M.D., Washington, USA Carol Diggle Dr John Drury, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, University of Sussex, firstname.lastname@example.org Mark Elf, Dr Catherine Farnworth, Cornwall, Ashraf Fattah, Lecturer, University of Westminster, Mrs Jackie Fearnley, Radio 4 PM programme listeners panel, Jonny Feldman Alf Filer, Mark Findlay, Deborah Fink, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods [JBig], Naomi Foyle, Linda Frank, (USA) Garth Frankland Terry Gallogly, York PSC Jasmine Gani, Charles Gate, Calderdale Green Party, Olga Gora Nina Gora, Tony Greenstein, Brighton Unemployed Centre, UNISON, Dr Anne Grey, Mick Hall, Organized Rage, Ann Hallam, Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign, David Halpin, Dove and Dolphin Charity, Mira Hammad, Fajr Harb (Palestine) Dr Dalia Mostafa, Middle Eastern Studies, University of Manchester, Dr Rumy Hasan, Senior Lecturer, University of Sussex, Abe Hayeem, RIBA Martin Hemingway, Green Party Leeds, David Hillman, Prof Richard Hudson, FBA, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, UCL, Mary Hughes-Thompson, U.S./UK (co-founder, Free Gaza movement) Fazia Hussain, Regional Officer, Unite, Lucy M Johnston, Michael Kalmanovitch, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network , UK, Dr. Paul Kelemen, University of Manchester, Hudda Khaireh, Sadia Kidawi, Dr Stephen Leah Joe Lee, ISM, London. Leah Levane, Dr Les Levidow, Open University, Bruce Levy Ros Levy, Labour Party, Amnesty International, Moshé Machover Professor (emeritus), Kings College, London Ziyaad Lunat (Portugal) Jenny Lynn Beryl Maizels, Michael Mansfield QC, Barrister, Mike Marqusee, Zoe Mars, Chairperson, Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Professor Nur Masalha, Professor of Religion and Politics, St. Mary's University College and SOAS Bill MacKeith, Oxford, John Metson, Martine Miel, J-Big, Muna Mohamed, Keith Mollison Patrick Montague, Service Desk Manager, Lancaster University, Mohamed Ibrahim Mostafa, Patricia Morrison Siobhan Mooney, Labour Party, Kevin Moore, Executive Committee Member, IHBC Scottish Branch, Shena Moore Bahadur Najak Fiona Napier, UNISON , Simon Natas, partner, Irvine Thanvi Natas solicitors, Diana Neslen, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (personal capacity), Kathleen O’Connor Wang, USA (Free Gaza volunteer, passenger on Free Gaza boat, August 2008 and great grandmother) Annie O'Gara, Dennis O’Malley, 'Stop the War Coalition- Cambridge Branch' Ernesto Paramo, Felicia Parazaider, (USA) Dr Susan Pashkoff, Janet Pavone, Professor David E Pegg, University of York, Romayne Phoenix, Veronica Planton, Shae Popovich, (USA) Caroline Poland, Penny Porter Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Renate Prince, Jawad Qasrawi, NUJ, Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, Andrew Read, University of Manchester, Professor Dee Reynolds, Professor of French, University of Manchester, Dr Chris Roberts, Reader, University of Manchester, Professor Hilary Rose, Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics Leon Rosselson, Songwriter, Sandra Ruch, Daniel Russell, Halifax Liz Russell, Halifax Dr Mortaza Sahibzada, Michael Sackin, Green Party, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Professor Donald Sassoon, History, Queen Mary College, University of London, David K. Schermerhorn (USA) Sue Shaw, Brighton, East Sussex, Professor Avi Shlaim FBA, Professor of International Relations, St Antony's College, Oxford University Peter Smith Mary Starkey Heather Stroud, Malton, Steve Stroud, Malton Dr Derek Summerfield, Honorary Senior Lecturer/Consultant Psychiatrist, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London Simon Tate, Ruth Tenne, Israeli peace activist resident in UK, Dr Norman Traub , Southend Stop The War Coalition, Patricia Tricker Pip Tindall, Green Party, Yvette Vanson, Stanley Walinets, Pam Walton, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, [JBig], NUT Dr Monica Wusteman, Research Fellow, University of York (rtd), Professor James Dickins, Prof. of Arabic, University of Salford, Professor Myriam Salama-Carr, University of Salford, Ms. Iman Mahmoud, Dr Gabriela Saldanha, Lecturer, University of Birmingham, Ian Mason, Professor Emeritus, Heriot Watt University,
Mark Steel: Of course, they were asking for it
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
It's a shame they weren't more imaginative, as they could have said "We also discovered a deadly barometer, a ship's compass, which could not only be frisbeed at someone's head but even had markings to help the assailant know which direction he was throwing it, and a set of binoculars that could easily be converted into a ray-gun."
That would be as logical as the statement from the Israeli PM's spokesman – "We made every possible effort to avoid this incident." Because the one tiny thing they forgot to do to avoid this incident was not send in armed militia from helicopters in the middle of the night and shoot people. I must be a natural at this sort of technique because I often go all day without climbing off a helicopter and shooting people, and I'm not even making every possible effort. Politicians and commentators worldwide repeat a version of this line. They're aware a nation has sent its militia to confront people carrying provisions for the desperate, in the process shooting several of them dead, and yet they angrily blame the dead ones. One typical headline yesterday read "Activists got what they wanted – confrontation." It's an attitude so deranged it deserves to be registered as a psychosis, something like "Reverse Slaughter Victim Confusion Syndrome".
Israel and its supporters claim that Viva Palestina, made up of people who collect the donated food, cement and items for providing basic amenities such as toilets, and transport them to Gaza, wanted the violence all along. Because presumably they must have been thinking "Hezbollah couldn't beat them, but that's because unlike us they didn't have a ballcock and several boxes of plum tomatoes".
One article told us the flotilla was full of "Thugs spoiling for a confrontation", and then accused them of being "Less about aid and more about PR. Indeed, on board was Swedish novelist Henning Mankell." So were they thugs or about PR? Did they have a thugs' section and a PR quarter, or did they all muck in, the novelist diverting the soldiers with his characterisation while the thugs attacked them with a lethal spirit level?
But some defenders of Israel are so blind to what happens in front of them there's nothing at all they wouldn't jump to defend. Israel could blow up a cats home and within five minutes they'd be yelling "How do we know the cats weren't smuggling semtex in their fur for Hamas?"
If this incident had been carried about by Iran, or anyone we were trying to portray as an enemy, so much condemnation would have been spewed out it would have created a vast cloud of outrage that airlines would be unable to fly through.
But as it's Israel, most governments offer a few diplomatic words that blame no one, but accept the deaths are "regrettable". They might as well have picked any random word from the dictionary, so the news would tell us "William Hague described the deaths as 'hexagonal'", and a statement from the US senate said "It's all very confusing. In future let's hope they make every effort to avoid a similar incident."