Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC, is quite right to refuse to broadcast the appeal of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) for humanitarian relief for Gaza, but not for the reason he thinks.
He is under the impression that it will damage the BBC’s reputation for impartiality in reporting the Israel-Palestine question, but the fact is that the BBC does not have any such reputation, having for years been institutionally pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. The reason that his decision is brave and right, however, is that many of the 13 charities that make up the DEC are even more mired in anti-Israeli assumptions than the BBC itself.
Mr Thompson rightly appreciates that the issue of humanitarian relief in this conflict is quite unlike humanitarian relief for victims of a tsunami or a famine.
Who adjudicates on which victims to support via such charitable aid – and according to whose political morality? Why did the BBC not launch an appeal for the victims of collateral damage during Nato’s bombing of Serbia in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign? And had it done so, would it have given money to ethnic Serbs as well as to Kosovars and Bosnian Muslims, all of whom were “cleansed” during the Balkan wars of that decade? What about the victims of insurgencies and counter- insurgencies in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Chechnya or Georgia? Or Israeli victims of the next Hamas suicide attack? Indeed, what about the Palestinian victims of Hamas’s hideous human rights abuses, still so shamefully under-reported by the British media as a whole?
And who are these supposedly impartial charities who are attacking Mr Thompson’s (albeit belated) attempt to uphold the Corporation’s traditional standards? While groups such as the British Red Cross and Christian Aid are generally impartial in other areas of the world, that cannot be said to apply to their role in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, where they regularly view the conflict through a deeply partisan lens.
In the months prior to the decision by Hamas to end the six-month ceasefire and resume rocket attacks, these charities issued a flood of one- sided denunciations aimed at Israel. Their campaign repeated tendentious and often highly inaccurate terms such as “collective punishment” and “violation of international law”. On March 6, 2008, CARE International, Cafod, Christian Aid and Oxfam (among others) published a widely quoted report under the headline “The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion”. The authors did not bother to hide their political bias against Israel, repeating standard Palestinian political rhetoric and including claims that Israeli policy “constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children” and is “illegal under international humanitarian law”.
The report was wrong on many counts, including allegations over the availability of food and basic necessities, which were later contradicted by both the World Bank and World Health Organisation, neither of which are exactly Israeli stooges. The fact that Hamas chose to pursue war with Israel rather than the welfare of its people, was not covered in these reports. There was no sense that any of these claims might be disputed by the other side or by genuinely neutral observers.
During the three-week war, Oxfam and other charities were extremely active in the ideological campaign that highlighted Palestinians as the sole victims and Israelis as the sole aggressors. Numerous Oxfam press statements included language such as: “The international community must not stand aside and allow Israeli leaders to commit massive and disproportionate violence against Gazan civilians in violation of international law.”
Violence against Israelis, including deaths, are virtually ignored by Oxfam officials, who have referred to “collective punishment illegal under international humanitarian law yet tolerated by the international community”. For those of us who reject such gross ideological bias, which absolves the Hamas leadership for a confrontation which they openly sought, such statements by charities are unacceptable and should not be rewarded by the BBC.
The final issue is the fraught one of the practicability of actually distributing the aid on the ground. After Hamas seized total control of Gaza in June 2007 there have been many well-documented reports of Hamas officials diverting assistance for themselves. On February 7 last year, for example, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that “at least ten trucks with humanitarian aid sent to the Gaza Strip by the Jordanian Red Crescent Society were confiscated by Hamas police shortly after the lorries entered the territory”. Journalists also reported that the aid was “unloaded in Hamas ministry warehouses” and that a similar seizure took place in January 2008.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, used to say that Hamas was like a bird that needed two wings to fly – the armed branch, but also the charitable-welfare side of the organisation. Do the 13 charities and their political allies that are so vocally attacking the “cowardly” BBC really have the guts and wherewithal to do a proper audit on how those monies might be spent in today’s Gaza Strip? I, for one, do not believe it.
(by andrew roberts, The Times, 25 January 2009)