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A Sad Excuse for Objectivity: My Interview With the BBC, a Broadcaster in Israel's Pocket

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Barriers near to the main entrance of the BBC headquarters and studios in Portland Place, London, Britain, July 16, 2015
Barriers near to the main entrance of the BBC headquarters and studios in Portland Place, London, Britain, July 16, 2015Credit: \ Peter Nicholls/ REUTERS
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

LONDON — The interviewer’s questions on local BBC radio reflected another arena in which the Israeli government has scored a victory. After the preliminary “good morning,” first she asked the opinion of her Israeli guest about the public debate surrounding anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party. Unfortunately, I, the radio guest, fell for it.

I related to the question itself instead of saying: “Excuse me, but my expertise is not British politics but rather the Israeli occupation,” or “I’m still studying the matter. Let’s talk about Israel imprisoning two million people in the Gaza Strip,” or “The killing of almost 30 unarmed demonstrators by Israeli sharpshooters should concern British Jews and Israel’s other friends.” “What’s more,” I could have said: “There are probably a few Israeli soldiers with dual Israeli and British citizenship who are involved somehow, perhaps spokespeople, explaining in fine English to your colleagues why the demonstrators were killed according to the rules.” Instead air time that should have been devoted to Israel’s policies was wasted on questions that were in no way connected to me.

The second question, “How was it to live in Gaza?” was also a surprise and provided a lesson in how to ask an open-ended question. I failed again. I could have said that I lived in Gaza a long time ago. I could have said: “Let’s talk about something recent. For example, last week I gave the annual Edward Said memorial lecture in London. I spoke there about the methodical way in which Israel planned the Palestinian enclaves, as a domestic Israeli compromise between the desire for the Palestinians to disappear, 1948-style, and the realization that the geopolitical circumstances would not permit this. But there is a danger that nationalistic-messianic forces, whose strength in Israeli politics is growing and who are wizards at strategic planning, will push for mass expulsion of Palestinians beyond the country’s borders. To prevent this scenario, it should be discussed and warned against.”

From there, the interviewer moved on to the peace process and why the forces seeking to bring about peace have not managed to do so. My response, that Israel has done everything to thwart an agreed-upon solution based on the establishment of a Palestinian state, prompted my interviewer to ask whether it was not too simplistic to put all the responsibility on Israel. Crusading journalism was answered with Israeli rudeness: It’s not simplistic, I retorted. In a few minutes on the air, the listeners are receiving a summary of 25 years of research on Israeli policy, I said, and I cited the settlements as an example. If Israel wanted peace, it would not have expanded the settlements and imprisoned Palestinians in reserves.

A third surprise: The BBC journalist said: “But the Israelis say that it’s theirs.” Once again, I summoned up Israeli rudeness. “The Israelis will say that the moon is theirs. So what?” A few more words on the settlements, and then came the cherry on top. This is disputed territory, my interviewer said.

I don’t know whether she meant all the territory conquered in 1967 or Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control, which the Habayit Hayehudi party is working to annex as a first step. As I recall, even according to Britain’s conservative governments, this remains occupied territory that is meant to become a Palestinian state, and Israeli actions to forcibly uproot the Palestinian population there are a violation of international law.

More than the neutral questions, the interviewer’s choice of the term “disputed territory” instead of “occupied territory” shows that Israeli or pro-Israeli occupation-justifying propaganda has sunk in — in the guise of objective or neutral journalism. Use of the term “disputed territory” clearly means ignoring the fact that the Palestinians who live there are subjects who have been without rights for 50 years under Israeli rule. This is not a demonstration of professional neutral journalism. Instead it highlights an attitude of disregard of the natives, erasing them, if not out of identification with the Israeli rulers then out of fear that complaints will be lodged with BBC management.

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