July 10th, 2007
The balance of its coverage in the many months before “shock and awe” was disgraceful but BBC chutzpah did not betray it. Media Lens noted the following in an instructive letter to the then head of BBC News, Richard Sambrook, dated 1 January 2003: „A BBC News Online search for 1 January 2002 – 31 December 2002 recorded the following mentions: Noam Chomsky, 5. Noam Chomsky Iraq, 1. Donald Rumsfeld, 302. Donald Rumsfeld Iraq, 164. Richard Perle Iraq, 6. Denis Halliday, 0. George Bush Iraq, 1,022. Tony Blair Iraq, 651. Tony Benn Iraq, 14. George Galloway Iraq, 42. Dick Cheney Iraq, 102.“
You have noted the Halliday/Bush ratio.
On 31 January 2003, I was on the bridge of a cargo vessel I had chartered to take ourselves and 50 tonnes of first class food and other aid to the poorest families in Gaza. I was being interviewed on camera by a young reporter from BBC Spotlight South West. The ship was to slip its moorings the next day. I explained that I was doing it to focus attention unresolved conflict (dreadful euphemism for genocide, in fact) and to demonstrate our common humanity. I went on to say that the second purpose was to stand for peace and reason against the unreason and destructiveness of the looming war on Iraq.
“Stop the recording. We cannot include that, Mr Halpin. There is no balancing comment,” the reporter said.
I replied that we had suffered wall to wall warmongers like Perle, Edelman, Wolfowitz and their like on the BBC for months. My voice would move the balance by a fraction in the opposite direction.
The camera rolled, the same words were said, and again the interview was stopped. The interview was only allowed to proceed with the future incineration of Iraqi children excluded. The ITN interviews, on the other hand, included this second reason for the voyage of the Dove and the Dolphin. It was obvious that the BBC reporter had been given his battle orders.
The kindly Alan Johnston, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, was kidnapped on 12 March 2007. That caused widespread alarm, although the risks were known. It later emerged that he was being held by the Army of Islam. I am told that this clan “army” had been allied early on with Hamas until it was enticed into the grouping favoured by Israel and the West. Demands were made later for the release of certain Muslim leaders that had featured strongly in Western propaganda. It seemed likely that the purpose of his incarceration was to add to the chaos and thus to the instability designed to unseat Hamas, although many thousands of assault rifles, other weapons and ammunition were the main ingredient. The BBC, journalists worldwide and his many friends demonstrated for his humane treatment and prompt release. I echoed this in March before cameras and microphones on behalf of the seven doctors whom I led; we had just spent a useful 30 minutes with a gracious and thoughtful Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
All the Palestinians we met were upset for Alan. And then came his joyful and noisy release on the 4th of this month. Now he feels the Scottish winds on his scalp, having swapped the din and heat of Gaza for the greens of Argyll.
In the early hours of Thursday 5 July, an Israeli special forces unit penetrated about 1 km from the eastern border of the Gaza Strip towards the Al-Bureij refugee camp – refugees from the nakba, the catastrophe of spring 1948. Hamas resistance fighters responded and a gun battle ensured. The Israeli occupation forces called in tanks and aircraft. A cameraman who was filming for the Al-Aqsa channel was shot and fell. Further shots were fired as he lay.
A Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance was destroyed. That cameraman has since had both legs amputated and resides in the intensive care unit of the Al-Shifa hospital with the many others injured by the most modern weaponry.
Although I have no power as a UK citizen and BBC licence payer, I emailed the BBC News website, the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, and two other BBC correspondents in the area. I quoted these links [link-1 and link-2] and said: “The BBC should report the alleged details about the shooting and the ambulance and crew. It should honour Alan as a journalist by reporting the facts, uncomfortable as they might be to Israel. For truth, David.”
I know of no such report from the BBC but a report by the International Herald Tribune is detailed. It reports that the International Federation of Journalists, in a statement from Brussels, Belgium, denounced Israel for what it said was „a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a journalist“.
A Reuters video entitled “Shot while filming a gun battle” shows a supine man with the microphone sticking up from the camera by his shoulder while more bullets pluck at his body. It advised viewer discretion and stated the facts: a Palestinian camerman is hit by a volley of bullets while filming clashes between Israeli occupation soldiers and Palestinian resistance fighters in Gaza.
Having seen the video and read the written evidence, listen to Major Avital Leibowitz saying: “He was a legitimate target, you can’t wait to see whether he pulls out a gun or not.” It has to be said that he was not wearing a distinctive jacket but then James Miller and Tom Hurndall were wearing very distinctive jackets before they were gunned down by the Israeli troops.
We ask the BBC again to honour Alan Johnston by reporting the several likely war crimes committed this last Thursday [5 July] and to press for an international investigation of them. Could not “embedded” journalists in the Green Zone be treated as members of a militant group using Liebowitz’s rules.
I am told by one of many trusted friends in Gaza that Imad Ghanem, this now legless cameraman, often led the demonstrations of journalists clamouring for Alan’s release.