"You cannot hope to bribe or twist
thank God! The British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there's no occasion to."
BBC discusses suffering of two Israeli families, ignores 200 Arab families
The BBC Today programme yesterday morning, Wednesday July 16th, had a short piece on the Israel - Hezbollah prisoner swap. The five-minute item demonstrated in an acute form the blind, effortless Israeli-centredness of their reporting, and an ugly implicit racism.
We analyse here a one minute extract. Speaking from inside Israel, BBC correspondent Wyre (pronounced "Weera") Davies described the arithmetic of the swap and then told us of the fears of the Israeli Government of a last-minute breach of faith by their opponents. There was no reporter on the Lebanese side of the border, and there was no attempt made to report the equivalent concerns of Hezbollah with regard to Israel's long record of treachery towards its Arab neighbour. However, this is unremarkable, merely an example of standard BBC-speak.
Wyre Davies continued:
"...but the Israeli Government will want to make sure it's getting back these two soldiers before it hands back the 199 bodies and the five, live Hezbollah fighters back to the Lebanese side."
Programme presenter, Evan Davis, then comes in:
"And It is a difficult day for the families we should say because...eh...
Any reasonable, English-speaking listener would expect "the families" Davis introduces to the discussion to refer to all the families, those of 199 dead fighters, five live Lebanese and two dead Israelis since we are, after all, listening to a BBC report of the swap. But no - BBC Today's Davis only means "the families" to refer to two, Israeli, families out of the 206 families involved in this swap.
Davis' full intervention was:
"And It is a difficult day for the families we should say because...eh...they haven't been convinced that the soldiers are dead...so they're really getting the whole news today."
What kind of mind set can only see the anguish of Israelis - "the families" - and completely ignore 200 Arab families, whose grief and loss get no mention? And how to describe the corporate culture that allows Davis and Davies, speaking on a telephone across continents, to share the implicit understanding that "the families" cannot refer to the natural grammatical referent, the immediately preceding 'two soldiers...and 199 bodies and the five, live Hezbollah fighters' but can only mean the Israeli families.
Wyre Davies in Israel responds to UK presenter Davis:
"Indeed, we have had no word of these soldiers for the last couple of years, there's been no Red Cross contact, there's been no video, there's been no letters between families as sometimes happens in these cases, so the families have been put on hold basically for two years and that is one thing that they will get out of this, they will be able to close a chapter and at least move forward even if they are only going to get back the bodies of the two soldiers."
"Wyre, thank you."
The suffering of the families of the two captured Israeli soldiers is explained, as is the closure that will come from recovering the bodies of their loved ones. But there are another 199 coffins - carrying dead Arabs - returning in the opposite direction to their loved ones. Don't Davis and Davies understand that Lebanese and Palestinians have also been unable to 'close a chapter' and 'move forward' as long as Israel held on to the dead bodies of their loved ones? Is this much greater well of Arab suffering not worthy of even a mention?
It would be absurd to expect Auntie BBC - the last tooth in her ugly old head drawn by the Hutton Commission - to hire the type of journalist who might mention the relief felt by Lebanese families at the return alive of their five sons from the Israeli prison system. After all, according to Amnesty International and other human rights groups, Israeli jailers routinely torture their thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
The BBC hacks on the Today programme can be expected to harshly interrogate any Palestinian or Arab spokesperson allowed onto their "flagship" programme. We equally know that Israeli apologists are generally given a pretty easy time. The smug team of Today, like the BBC in general, are increasingly as disciplined as any Soviet-era purveyors of the Party line in Pravda, for they know the red lines they cross at their peril; jeopardising their mortgage repayments is enough to keep them in line. Not for the miserable hacks in the BBC the fierce courage of so many of their bretheren around the world who face imprisonment and worse for standing up for justice.
They would never try to explain why the Palestinians among the 199 came to die on soil that their parents had been driven out of in 1948.
But still, yesterday marks a new low, albeit one soon to be surpassed. The naked racism of the extract above lies in the assumption that whereas Israeli families grieve for lost loved ones and should find closure, the same is not true for Lebanese and Palestinians. What did Davis and Davies think was in the 199 coffins? Meat?
Typically, the Today piece ends with Jeremy Bowen saying that "many Israelis are expecting trouble on the Northern border." The fears of most Lebanese that Israel will invade and devastate their country yet again are not allowed to intrude. The counterparts of these miserable hacks might have written in earlier times of how "many Germans are expecting trouble on their Eastern border" with Poland.
Amnesty International, Israel and the Occupied Territories: Mass detention in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions, 14 (May 2002).
On the BBC, see also:
20 no-go areas for the BBC on the issue of Israel & Palestine
For alternative views of the prisoner exchange, see
Lebanese Daily Star, Freed Deatainees Receive Heroes' Welcome
Al Jazeera, Middle East Mourns Fallen Fighters
Hezbollah's Al Manar, Sayyed Nasrallah Takes Part in Person in Celebration