by Alex Brummer, City Editor, Daily Mail
The media and the non-governmental organisation industry find it hard to focus on more than one Middle East story at a time. Even before Operation Protective Edge in Gaza had ended on 24 August 2014, attention had shifted to the horrifying rise of medieval ISIL, or Islamic State movement, in the Middle East and the way it was remaking a geography dating back to the Sykes-Picot deal of a century ago.
As Britain engages in a game of ‘should we or shouldn’t we’ bomb IS in Syria, amid the struggle to come to grips with who are its real friends in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestine conflict has largely been put on the back burner. Aside from a brief return to the headlines at the time of the Israeli elections, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly was skewered for using some injudicious language about Israeli Arabs, the Jewish state found itself peculiarly ignored.
It does not take that much for the old media and NGO habits to get back into gear. The very same trendy, anti-imperialist voices, which in a generation managed to besmirch Israel’s reputation so that it moved from plucky state surrounded by enemies to pariah nation, are back in the foreground. An upsurge of violence against Israeli citizens in the West Bank and Jerusalem has rapidly been followed by rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli populations and suggestions it is all Israel’s fault for playing silly games about access to the Temple Mount.
What is fascinating to behold is the return of the perceived anti-Israel warriors to the battle front. After an exile from Jerusalem that took her to Pakistan, Egypt and other war zones Orla Guerin, a brilliant and brave reporter, has been back on duty in the West Bank. In The Guardian, Mairav Zonszein, described as a journalist and translator living in Israel, was pitched into action to say: “The latest round of attacks is shocking, but no anomaly. There will never be quiet as long as one group of citizens are forced to live without rights and no way out.”
Just in case the message was not getting through to the readers of Jeremy (I can’t say the word ‘Israel’) Corbyn’s favourite paper, it has also hauled Marwan Barghouti to the barricades to declare: “The current escalation in violence did not start with the killing of two Israeli settlers, it started a long while ago and has been going on for years. Every day Palestinians are killed, wounded, arrested. Every day colonialism advances, the siege on our people in Gaza continues, oppression persists.”
It does not look as if the arrival of a new editor at The Guardian, Katharine Viner, has done much to change attitudes on the Middle East.
Just to complete the circle, one NGO – Human Rights Watch – which has tried to make common cause with the British Jewish community over anti-Semitism in Europe, also has popped up among the critics. One of its researchers (identified as a journalist) was caught up in a shooting incident and wounded. This provoked Kenneth Roth, the executive director of HRW into action with a lengthy press release: “Indiscriminate or deliberate firing on observers and demonstrators who pose no imminent threat violates the international standards that bind Israeli security forces. It is particularly troubling when those seeking to monitor the security forces’ conduct are among the casualties,” he said.
Roth may, of course, be right and it is tragic that one of its employees was hurt. That should never happen. But one of the principles that ought to be observed by all NGOs is that they gather the facts from all sides before going off on diatribe, otherwise their independence is immediately challenged.
What much of the reporting of recent events looks to have left out of the narrative is the role played by Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the United Nations on 30 September when he opened the door to a third Intifada by declaring, without consultation, that the Palestinian Authority would “no longer continue to be bound” by Oslo.
Netanyahu may for the moment have given up on peace talks, but it should be remembered that it was he, as Prime Minister, who orchestrated Israel’s withdrawal from large chunks of the West Bank, including Nablus, at any earlier stage of implementing Oslo.
The violence in Israel, Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories is, of course, appalling and our own Jewish community needs to be vigilant in case it refracts and escalates into the kind of anti-Semitism seen in the summer of 2014. But the media and NGOs need to have a sense of perspective.
The current violence is nasty and could get worse. But it is as nothing as the Saudi Arabian daily assaults on the Yemen. IS’ rampages in Libya. The drone attacks on IS and other terror groups by Russia and the West in Syria. Or the Russians getting cosy with President Assad, who has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens and driven millions more into exile.
A real sense of perspective is urgently required.