For many years, the trend in reporting on world affairs seems to increasingly be that Israel is held to different standards than those which apply to its neighbours. Earlier this week, the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, concluded a piece on the threat posed to Christians in the Middle East by radical Islamist groups like ISIS by gratuitously adding this final quote:
“Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened, not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing.”
And that was that.
No elaboration and no detail. In Israel, where unlike anywhere else in the Middle East, Christian communities are safe and growing in numbers, Bowen plucks a threat out of nowhere whilst discussing a region where Christians and others are being massacred and churches are being burned down. This also includes in Gaza where Hamas rules and to whose terrorist leader Khaled Meshaal, Bowen recently gave oxygen with a fairy floss interview and also including in the West Bank where the once thriving Christian community in Bethlehem has dwindled into a small minority under Palestine Authority rule. Of course, despite the BBC Charter requiring impartiality, Bowen has long been known for imparting an anti-Israel bias.
Similarly, during last year’s 50-day war against terrorists in Gaza, almost unprecedented protests against Israel’s defence against Hamas rockets fired at its citizens from heavily populated parts of Gaza took place in city centres around the world. And yet, when Saudi air strikes in Yemen target and kill civilians, when the Syrian despot barrel bombs his own people or when IS massacres Yazidis in Iraq and even Palestinians on the outskirts of Damascus, there is deathly silence in those same streets and the stories of the slaughter are either consigned to the “world news in brief” section, or ignored altogether.
The story of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, whose numbers have reduced from 200,000 before the civil war to just 16,000 and where ISIS has taken over while advancing towards Damascus (killing 9 and beheading 2) has been most instructive. The minimal amount of coverage given to the deteriorating situation in the camp and these murders and the lack of outrage has led many to wonder why people only care about Palestinians when Israel is somehow involved?
There has been discussion about the situation in the UN, there has been media coverage, and there has been condemnation from various world leaders, but it is nothing compared to condemnation aimed at Israel, despite the fact that Israel was defending itself against terrorist organisations hell bent on its destruction who put their own people at risk of harm by attacking it from populated areas including schools and hospitals.
There are two different schools of thought about the current situation in Yarmouk and the reaction from the international community. The first view comes from journalists such as Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and British journalist Brendan O’Neill who both argue that the fact that Israel is not involved is the reason why the world is less interested in the Palestinians of Yarmouk. Abu Toameh also puts forth the argument that even though Palestinian leaders themselves have strongly condemned the atrocities in Yarmouk, they are more interested in pursuing their campaign to punish and delegitimise Israel than to negotiate or demand a better “deal” for their brothers and sisters in Syria.
The second opposing viewpoint came in a New Republic article from Batya Ungar-Sargon. She argues that by complaining about how ISIS gets a “pass” for its actions, Israel cops flak for unwittingly suggesting “that the actions of the two are somehow comparable because they’re both contributing to a Palestinian humanitarian crisis”. She goes one step further and says,
“why aren’t people demonstrating over ISIS’ Yarmouk offensive? It’s rather simple. People protest against Israel because it’s not like ISIS – for starters, it’s a sovereign state. People don’t get outraged at terrorists because that’s what terrorists do: commit terror. So pouring into the streets to protest ISIS would be foolhardy”.
On this logic, it is little wonder that nobody was protesting against Hamas last year: They were just terrorists being terrorists.
However, this argument misses the point of the other perspective. It should not matter who the “perpetrators” are. If people care so much about the Palestinians, then they need to start caring about them outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If not, then they will continue to be the “unlucky” ones, as Khaled Abu Toameh put it.
Strangely enough, at a time when Palestinian refugees were suffering from slaughter in the Yarmouk refugee camp and their leadership lobbied to expel Israel from world soccer, out popped the Fairfax Middle East correspondent with what sounds like another fairy tale about the world’s most lied about country, Israel.
Ruth Pollard has never been a stranger to omitting any side of a story that portrays Israel in any way other than negatively and it must have been difficult for her to report a few weeks ago on the Amnesty International report that deemed every single Hamas rocket a war-crime, particularly since she has routinely tried to make out as if these little “home-made” rockets were harmless and ineffective. In her piece in the Age on Tuesday entitled, “Palestinian child labourers reap grim harvest on Israeli run farms” she returned to form by parroting a recent Human Rights Watch report on the alleged use (and abuse) by Israeli settlers of Palestinian child labour.
Now, the exploitation of children by anyone is problematic and deserves to be exposed and condemned but one must ask where has Pollard been in recent years when, for instance, these findings on the worst forms of child labour abuses by Palestinians were exposed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
Worse still is the story about Hamas using Palestinian children to assist in building their tunnels which they used to conduct terrorist activity from Gaza into Israel and of the 160 or so Palestinian men and children who died in the process. Surely there was fertile ground for Human Rights Watch report or a story from Pollard?
But let us go to this particular Human Rights Watch report entitled “Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank” consisting of 74 pages accusing Israelis of exploiting Palestinian children working on Israeli agricultural farms in the West Bank.
Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor has produced a stunning rebuttal in which he points out a number of issues which demonstrate the sloppiness not only of the report itself but also of the journalists (such as Pollard) who are happy to report on it without challenging it on a single point.
The main premise of Steinberg’s rebuttal is that the claims are “entirely unverifiable and based solely on interviews. HRW provides no evidence that it even attempted to confirm any of the claims, many of which quote children, independently”. According to an Israeli official –
“It is a horrific lie. There is no justification for employing children, not just morally and legally but financially as well.”
If HRW wanted to go all the way in this report, they should have at least further investigated the veracity of the claims.
Steinberg also points out three major problems with the report including methodology, minimising intra-Palestinian exploitation and their true agenda – punishing Israel.
Another interesting point is that the original photograph on the front cover supposedly depicting a Palestinian working on an Israeli farm seems to be a part of a series photos taken on a Palestinian farm in 2010. Which raises the question of how much credibility can be placed on HRW when it can’t produce photographic evidence on the subject of its allegations and instead uses stock photos from Reuters without checking the origin? What makes things even more laughable is that replacement photograph is no better but we already know that the Israel bashing industry does not really care about getting their photos or their facts right. Such things are beside the point.
The same thing goes for the fate of Palestinian children exploited by other Palestinians, Palestinians slaughtered in the Yarmouk refugee camp, Christians and others oppressed and murdered by jihadist thugs in the Middle East or by Yemeni civilians hit by Saudi rockets because after all … No Jews is no news.