Publish it not…the Middle East Cover-Up: Foreword
No alien polity has so successfully penetrated the British government and British institutions during the past ninety years as the Zionist movement and its manifestation as the state of Israel. From the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, in which the British Foreign Secretary said his government “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” (before Britain had taken possession of Palestine from the Ottomans), through the twenty-six year history of Zionist exploitation of the British Mandate at Arab (and British) expense, to Britain's scuttle from Palestine in 1948 and the creation of Israel and the catastrophe for the Palestinians, and up to present-day connivance by the United Kingdom government with America's unremitting political and media support for Israel and its daily violation of international laws and conventions on Palestinian lands, the Zionists have manipulated British systems as expertly as maestros, here a massive major chord, there a minor refrain, the audience, for the most part, spellbound.
Some thirty-five years ago, the journalist, Michael Adams, and the Labour politician, Christopher Mayhew, made a unique and bold attempt to explain in writing this cuckoo in the nest of British politics. Both ardently supported a just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and were shrewd observers of the tactics of successive Israeli governments and their battalions of supporters to influence and suborn Britain's civil structures, including government, parliament and the press. They wrote Publish it not…the Middle East Cover-Up to set out for the public in graphic episodes of reportage and personal experience the restraints the Israelis and their friends and lobbyists were imposing on freedom of speech and action in this country. Both men suffered serious setbacks to their careers, a risk anyone in public life takes who dares to speak out against the machinations of the Israeli state, not only against the Palestinians it oppresses and abuses within its own borders, as well as in the occupied territories, but against any person or institution it reckons is standing in the way of Zionism's progress or interfering with the “correct” exposition of the Zionists' own very special versions of the past and the present.
When Adams and Mayhew wrote this book, in 1974 and 1975, they were in a hopeful mood, despite the litany of pressures, lies and dirty tricks they were recording and despite the almost unrestrained success with which Israel was going from strength to strength. The world, especially the West and most of all the United States, lay adoringly at its feet, supporting it at all costs, viewing it as a latter-day Sparta fighting against the odds, against the relentless hordes of the Arab and Islamic world.
The reason for the authors' optimism was that in 1973 this Israeli juggernaut had been, albeit temporarily, slowed down in what the Arabs call the October War and Israel the Yom Kippur War (the latter title having predictably caught on widely in the West). Hope seems to have stirred mightily in Michael Adams's breast as he wrote in his introduction to the book that Western public opinion had been seriously misinformed about the Middle East (which was true) and that the war – in which the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal and the Arab Gulf states and Iran deployed the oil price weapon – “proved the critics' argument that if the Arabs were denied a just settlement in Palestine they would go to war to get one.” It was the last time the Arab regimes were to deploy effectively any weapon, military or economic.
The two authors together wrote (in Chapter Nine), “Israel's capacity to survive [in the long-term] without making far-reaching concessions… seems very doubtful… Israel has established herself, and expanded her territories, on the basis of her dominant military power. But since October 1973 the balance of power has shifted significantly against Israel and the shift seems likely to continue in the same direction.” Michael Adams (in Chapter Eight) thought that unless Israel resolved the problems of occupation and second-class citizenship for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, usually described in the West as “Israeli-Arabs”, “the impression is likely to gain ground in the world that Israel in its present form is indeed a country without a future.”
I take nothing from the dedication and expertise of these two men when I say that this showed how dangerous it was, and is, to indulge in wishful thinking about any early end to the inexorable progress of the state of Israel at the expense of its neighbours, no doubt, as Michael Adams seems to imply, eventually at its own expense and probable failure (but not just yet).
* * *
After their book was published, Adams lived thirty more years and Mayhew twenty-two to see for themselves how misplaced that optimism was. In fact, neither writer had to wait anything like that long to see his hopeful prophesy begin to be undermined. Four years after the October War of 1973, two years after this book was published, President Sadat had made his ill-advised trip to Jerusalem – for once the overworked adjective “historic” is applicable – offering himself as an Arab hostage to Israeli fortune. Within another year, Egypt had traduced its Arab allies with the Camp David Accords, an American-supervised formula for a bilateral Egyptian peace with Israel. Against much Israeli resistance, these agreements were linked to a plan to give autonomy to the Occupied Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and became in 1979 the first peace treaty between an Arab state and Israel. Israel, in return, gave Egypt back the Sinai peninsula, which it had seized in its 1967 blitzkrieg against its Arab neighbours. In other words, the Arab reward was to retrieve some of its own stolen property.
As it turned out, after much diplomatic fan-dancing and Israeli intransigence, the Palestinians got nothing.
Arab options in the confrontation with Israel were thus reduced to the diplomatic (and therefore ephemeral, given Israel's international clout), Egypt being the only Arab state that could pose any military threat of consequence; and the core of the Middle East conflict, the Palestinian problem, remained unresolved, as it does to this day.
Israel was quick to reassert itself. Three years after Publish It Not arrived on the book stalls, Israel invaded Lebanon and put surrogate Lebanese militiamen in control of a great swathe of the Lebanese South, with close Israeli army support. In 1982, Israel, with continued impunity, reinvested its presence in Lebanon dramatically and brutally, invading half the country, up to Beirut, killing seventeen thousand Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, and enabling a massacre by Lebanese Christian militiamen of up to a thousand undefended Palestinians and Lebanese in the Sabra-Shatila refugee camp in Beirut's southern suburbs, which Israeli forces had surrounded. Meanwhile, the Israelis continued to consolidate their hold on the occupied territories. In late 1982, they annexed Syria's Golan Heights, captured in 1967. By 1988 they had seized more than fifty per cent of West Bank and East Jerusalem lands and properties for Jewish settlements. In the late 1970s, Israel – now governed by the right-wing Likud Party, led by the former Jewish terrorist leader Menachem Begin – stepped up its interference in and intimidation of the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, alarmed by the growing popularity and power of local officials aligned with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Operating with little or no restraint, Jewish underground gangs blew up and generally menaced democratically elected pro-PLO mayors. The Israeli occupation forces manipulated informers, quislings and Islamists to try to undermine the PLO, which was manifestly secular in those days. Israel's encouragement of Islamic groups was later to rebound with ominous consequences, both for Israelis and Palestinians. Short-term, tactical expediency has always been Israel's weakness.
The authors' optimism is the only misjudgement by Messrs Adams and Mayhew, and they are not the only ones, this author included, who have been tempted to see justice imminent. Many of us did so after the Gulf War of early 1991 and the Madrid peace conference later that year, when Israel was hauled to the conference tables with pro-PLO interlocutors and Syrians; again, flags were put out at the Oslo accords of 1993, when President Clinton drew Yasir Arafat and Yitzak Rabin into that awkward handshake on the White House lawn, Israel finally recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organisation and seeming to promise to make space for a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza and in Arab East Jerusalem in return for its own peace and security.
How we were fooled. How often we are still fooled. (How wry would have been the expressions on the faces of Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew had they lived to see revealed, in August, 2005, that during the 1950s, British civil servants, without the knowledge of their political bosses, supplied Israel with the heavy water vital to its construction of nuclear weapons.)
So often, the Palestinians seem to make it, deals promised, just solutions dangled, their noses pressed to the window, their case made, as by the authors of this book and a thousand journalists, writers, aid workers, diplomats, United Nations officials and (some) sympathetic Western politicians. How inevitably are their aims and hopes undermined as realpolitik is brought to bear in Washington, with Britain and the other Western states compliant, while the Israelis and their friends steal more land, destroy more futures and lives, and work to extinguish the Palestinian identity, even presence, in the Holy Land.
The essence of this book is to show how some of these Zionist deceptions were accomplished in the United Kingdom, how it was done being not so very different from how it still is done. Much has changed since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the authors' main spells of duty. Some aspects of life with the Zionists have changed for the better, many more for the worse. Substantially, the plight of the Palestinians, the militaristic arrogance and aggression of the Israelis, their comrades and cronies, the subservience to Israel of the United States and its ever-amenable allies in the West, and the pusillanimity and weakness of the Arab states are more pronounced than ever. When Adams and Mayhew wrote there was at least the space for a Palestinian state and hints of even-handedness in the international community; the Palestinian movement was taking its place as a political force in the region; international reporting was improving; politicians were waking up to the facts; Arab states seemed to be mobilizing.
Now, I am afraid I would have to tell the two writers were they able to hear me that the forces they so bravely resisted are stronger than ever.
* * *
I first went to the Middle East, to Beirut, for the BBC in June, 1974, the year the authors started their book. Like many, perhaps most, of my generation of correspondents and other interested visitors I arrived with the lightly slung baggage of someone who had bought vaguely into the Zionist myth: that Israel was a beleaguered democracy fighting bravely to defend a social democratic system against the massed Arab regimes, all sworn to destroy the little state.
Reading Publish it not after a lifetime in the Middle East, I realize why in those days we swallowed all this. Israel had worked its spells well, with a lot of help from its friends: these lined the benches of parliament, wrote the news stories and editorials, framed the way we saw and heard almost everything about the Middle East on TV, radio and in the press. History, the Bible, Nazi Germany's slaughter of the Jews, Russian pogroms, the Jewish narrative relayed and parlayed through a thousand books, films, TV plays and series, radio programmes, the skills of Jewish writers, diarists, memoirists, artists and musicians, people like us and among us, all had played their part. As Christopher Mayhew writes in Chapter Five, the bias in broadcasting was (and still is) “a true reflection of our cultural prejudices, which are founded on half-remembered and inaccurate impressions of the Old Testament, the Crusades, the era of British colonialism, and most of all by our sense of guilt over the way we Europeans have behaved… towards the Jews.”
Before I started reporting on the Middle East, pro-Israeli bias in British institutional life had been deep and wide, as the authors here elaborate. The Labour Party identified closely with Israel. Harold Wilson, Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 and again in the mid-1970s, was a dedicated, uncritical Zionist. (Israel rewarded him with his own personal forest.) Soon after he left office in 1970, he delivered a speech in Israel attacking Resolution 242, the United Nations Security Council resolution of 1967, conceived and drafted by his own British government's diplomats and ministers, which called on Israel to relinquish the occupied territories. Two-Four-Two was and is the internationally accepted basis for any just settlement of the Arab-Israeli struggle. It is hard to imagine even Tony Blair, in or out of office, challenging Resolution 242 in front of an Israeli audience, inside Israel or anywhere else.
The Labour parliamentary back benches of the post-war years contained a claque of vociferously pro-Zionist MPs, red in tooth and claw, shouting down anyone who spoke up for the Arabs inside the House of Commons or out, a “dominating influence… in the Labour Party,” writes Christopher Mayhew in Chapter Three. He tells hair-raising stories in this revealing chapter of this Labour Party tradition: how a British Defence Minister gave permission to Haganah, the illegal Jewish army in Mandatory Palestine, through the medium of a Zionist Labour MP, to blow up bridges between Palestine and Jordan; how, in 1944, the Labour Party National Executive Committee advocated officially the transfer of Palestinian Arabs from what was to become Israel: “Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in,” said the Party's ruling body.
Mayhew speaks of the “relentless way in which those of us who choose to speak up for the Arabs have been harassed by our opponents.” This would not happen now, on either side of the House, and the fervent Zionist Labour MPs, some of them little better than bully-boys, Richard Crossman (not a Jew), Ian Mikardo, Maurice Edelman, Emmanuel “Manny” Shinwell, Sidney Silverman, Konni Zilliacus et al, are, mercifully, not only no longer with us but have not been replaced, not in such virulent form.
Labour now boasts a hard-working array of MPs who work for justice in the Middle East, though Parliament is not without its troubles. The Liberal-Democrats showed extraordinary cowardice in removing from their Front Bench one of their best MPs, Jenny Tonge, in 2004, when she tried to explain in personal terms how she could understand what might motivate a suicide bomber. In this twisted and fearful world of trying to deal with Israel, explanation becomes support, and analysis encouragement, or even incitement.
But the improvement in Parliament is almost irrelevant. The pro-Zionists are more polite, and the Arabs have more effective friends; the balance is better. But how much does Parliament matter? The executive behaves as it likes, independent of parliamentary influence and more and more in the clutch of the Prime Minister's cabal of advisers and cronies and therefore Washington (the Foreign Office, where real expertise lies, has largely been sidelined). Successive British governments have claimed to see and want to treat Palestine-Israel differently from the way the Americans do, but rarely if ever defy the United States in this arena. Their influence, whether unilaterally or through Europe, remains minimal, and a drag on more progressive attitudes inside the European Union, in France, Italy, Greece and Spain for example.
Not all the actions taken against anti-Zionists were verbal, written or the subtle behind-the-scenes rearrangement of diplomatic and political furniture in the Israeli interest. In Chapter Four, Michael Adams describes the disgraceful personal and physical attacks on Marion Woolfson, the eminent Jewish Scottish journalist who has for so long fought against the machinations of the Israeli lobby and opposed the concept of a Jewish state; and the arson and other crippling attentats on a printing business in South Wales that dared to print pro-Palestinian leaflets and the respected specialist journal founded by Adams, Mayhew and Anthony Nutting (a former Foreign Office Minister and Arabist), Middle East International, which survives as one of the few reliable British sources of news from the region.
It is arguable that such crude manifestations of Zionist anger are no longer necessary, though suspicions remain deep in the British-Arab community and its associates that Israel, often through its embassy, is by no means averse to more deeply played dirty tricks, putting into foul play its Intelligence arms and their close associations with western spy networks. The drugging and kidnapping of the unfortunate Mordechai Vanunu, the man who revealed in detail the scale of Israel's nuclear weapons programme, is one such case.
Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew would be both amused and depressed to see how the Israeli lobby recycles old myths, canards about Palestinians and Arabs and explanations of the very creation of Israel that were refuted many years ago. Israel's apologists are not afraid or embarrassed to repeat untruths, despite the fact that its own historians, Avi Shlaim, Illan Pappe, Tom Segev and the Palestinian-Israeli Nur Mashala, to name but four, have torn to tatters the fabric of lies and half-truths. (It was Benny Morris who first broke new ground by revealing the truth of the origins of the Palestinian refugees, and their largely forced expulsion in 1948, but he has to be distinguished from his fellow “new historians” since his retrospective approval of ethnic cleansing by the Zionists, and his observations that the dispossession of the Arab Palestinians in 1948 had not been comprehensive enough.) One old favourite that in late 2003 I heard one of the Israeli Embassy's apparatchiks spouting to an audience of university students (who knew he was telling lies) was that in April 1948 Arab leaders, through Arabic-language radio stations, had urged Palestinians to leave Palestine. The reality is that Arab leaders urged exactly the opposite. Walid Khalidi, perhaps Palestine's most eminent historian and scholar, tapped and exposed this for the lie that it was in 1959, and the Irish writer, Erskine Childers, corroborated Professor Khalidi's findings in 1961. Both men had scoured Arabic newspapers and BBC/American radio monitoring of the time and found that not only had Arab and Palestinian leaders made no calls for the Palestinians to leave, but had urged them to stay and had, in some cases, played down Jewish forces' atrocities so as not to alarm the Arab population.
It remains absolutely imperative to the Zionists' case to this day that the Palestinians left of their own volition. In this way, their more vital case that they must never be allowed to return carries more conviction. What Adams and Mayhew, then, and I, now, are concerned about is not that the Zionists still make this case, however spurious, but that so many politicians and journalists in the West still swallow it.
Other distortions have entered the lexicon of Middle East discussion and go unchallenged by the careless or innocent who discuss the problem. In mid-2005 I heard yet again an Israeli government official tell the BBC that the Arabs attacked Israel in June 1967. He went unchallenged. As anyone who has cared to study the facts has known since the evening of June 5 1967, Israel on that morning attacked and won the war against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians in six fighting days. Israel can argue that it was provoked and threatened; but it was not attacked. Similarly, in October 1973, when the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal into Sinai and the Syrians went into the Golan Heights they were not attacking Israel as such, they were trying to reclaim lands they had lost to Israel in 1967. Israel's helpers explain the invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 as a response to PLO terrorism launched across the Lebanese border, though there had been a cross-border ceasefire brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States in place for nine months. It all goes towards presenting Israel as the aggressed, menaced, vulnerable entity in the region, a concept the West, and especially the Americans, largely accept.
It works well. Even the “right of return”, the Palestinian refugees' absolute and internationally legal right to go back to their homes, is re-worked into the language of paranoid persecution, “throwing the Jews into the sea.” In February 2005, a BBC news presenter, interviewing a reporter in Jerusalem, threw a question at him in this form: “And there are still plenty of people who want to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth?” The reporter replied, “There are, led by Hamas…” The language is provocative and loosely stated and while it is true that many Arabs would like to see Israel gone, most of them, including Hamas, have repeatedly shown that they know in practical terms this is not a possibility, and most of them have no urge to “throw Jews into the sea.”
Were the question ever asked, “is it not the case that Israel has very nearly wiped Palestine off the face of the earth and is proceeding successfully towards that end?” the presenter might find himself the object of harsh criticism inside and outside the BBC. The lobby has not only altered our language but our innate attitudes.
Another myth constantly recycled in the face of historical evidence is that had the Arab armies not invaded Israel the day after the state was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, the Palestinians would have been able to stay safely in their homes and the UN partition plan dividing Palestine neatly into Arab-governed and Jewish-governed entities would have proceeded harmoniously. This ignores the fact that by mid-April, in fighting that had gone on between Arabs and Jews since November, 1947, up to a half the Palestinians had fled their homes, usually under the most harsh threats and physical attacks. The massacre by the members of two Jewish terrorist gangs (Irgun Zwei Leumi and the Lehi, or Stern Gang) of more than one hundred Palestinian civilians in Deir Yassin, a small and defenceless village in West Jerusalem, happened on April 9, 1948. It was hailed by such luminaries as the Irgun leader and future Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, as a prime mover in flushing the nascent Zionist state free of Arabs. In case anyone wishes to pass this off as an aberration by terrorists, an elite brigade of the nascent Israeli army, Palmach, played a part in enabling the massacre. Indeed, terrorizing Arabs out of Palestine was, at best, or worst, depending on how one sees it, a much-needed plank in the Zionist plan for the region, whether part of a long-term plan or a bonus end-product of an upheaval that matched schooled and skilled militias and battle-hardened Jews against a badly organized and basically agricultural community; well-organized and well-armed fighters with air power against a motley of ill-trained Arab armies, all of them subject to weapons embargoes and, in the case of the only decent fighting force, the Jordanian Legion, British and Zionist manipulation.
The Palestinians and the Arabs never stood a chance; but the casual reader would never know it, thanks to the deft manipulations of the truth by Israel and its many and powerful supporters.
Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew ask (and reveal): who perpetuates these historical misunderstandings, thus prolonging and intensifying the imbalance in the Middle East?
The answer remains, the Zionist lobby in all it devious forms. Since 1975, when the authors went into print, the official and institutional ranks of the Zionists in Britain have mounted and continue to mount campaigns of disinformation that dwarf their efforts of thirty and forty years ago. The parliamentary Zionist bullies of the Labour Party of the 1950s and 1960s have faded away, but the work goes on, less obviously but much more effectively, not just in selling the Israeli package to the ordinary British people but also in changing the nature of British Jews' perceptions of themselves and their relationship to Israel. Or, to put it another way, Israel's alleged centrality in the life of a British Jew.
Organizations such as the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) have hundreds of thousands of pounds at their disposal, much of it coming directly from the United States, which sends a third of its whole, global foreign aid budget to Israel's six million citizens (the real figure, including loan guarantees, tax breaks for charities and defence deals, could be as high as $10,000m annually, a sum which puts well into perspective last year's USAID contribution of $8,800,000 to India's population of 1,100m. Or, well over $1,500 per capita for Israelis, about $8.00 for an Indian).
This great flow of funds bypasses most ordinary Israeli citizens and poor and needy Jews in Israel and elsewhere and goes straight to the projection of Zionist causes and colonialism wherever it might be needed. These funds prop up, here in the United Kingdom, not just BICOM, but organizations such as Labour Friends of Israel, close to the heart of Tony Blair, the Jewish Agency (whose raison de vivre is to get as many Jews as possible to go to Israel), the World Zionist Organisation, Paoli Zion, a Labour Party affiliate, the Council of Christians and Jews, which keeps the Church of England leadership at Lambeth Palace in close self-restraint about Israel's crimes against Christians and Christian institutions.
There are many more. One is the Union of Jewish Students, which elbows and induces Zionistically inclined undergraduates towards influential positions in British public life, especially the media, the banking sector and information technology.
Perhaps the most long-standing and egregious of these organizations, dating back to the early nineteenth century, when Zionism had still to be invented, is the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This influential lobby of the Zionist Great and Good is an important example of how Israel is working its magic here. Originally, the Board would have looked after Jews and Jewish interests. After all, it does not, as it claims, represent British Jewry; it represents Jews who attend synagogues and are members of Jewish institutions, and vote for the Board's content, which means, in effect less than half of the roughly quarter of a million Jews in the United Kingdom.
What has happened to the Board and is happening throughout Jewish institutions here is that they are more and more being identified not with the interests of their own people here, and with Jewishness and the religion of Judaism as such, but those of the Zionist movement and therefore of Israel. What has changed since Publish it not came out thirty years ago is that in the eyes of these institutions the game is afoot to make Jewish interest synonymous with the Israeli interest. This happens in many ways, in parochial education, free trips to Israel, paid-for “gap” years or months with the Israeli Army for Jewish students – the emphasis is not on Judaism, it is on Zionism.
Soon after the Aqsa Intifada started in 2000, and led us, whomever we like to blame, into the gory business of a low-intensity war between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel realized quickly and rightly that its massive military assault on the Arabs, and its negation of the principles of Palestinian self-rule leading to independence, might be misconstrued in the West, and it might suffer a public relations crisis similar to that of 1982, when Ariel Sharon launched his invasion of Lebanon and the resultant slaughter. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a high-powered outfit that has great, some would say a decisive, say in American arms of government, legislature and opinion, and has no such ironclad and aggressive equivalent in Britain, came to London to advise BICOM. The message was clear: be aggressive; pester and menace the media and the politicians in all their forms; go to court; never let up; let no adverse image or mention of Israel go unchallenged, however true, however perceived. In a word, the only story is our story: make sure everyone knows that.
If Adams and Mayhew had been appalled at the Zionist intrusions they suffered in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, they would have been paralysed by the sheer aggression of the Zionist movement here, especially concerning the media after 2000 and the success it achieved with its tactics, aided and enhanced beyond the Israeli government's wildest dreams by the combination of Palestinian ineptness, Arab governments' pusillanimity, the attack on America by Osama Bin Laden's agents in September 2001 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the “War on Terrorism”. For Israel's government and Zionist lobbies the first five years of the Millennium could have been made to order.
The Israelis and their friends fight fiercely, expertly and without quarter. Nowhere is this more true than with the press and broadcasters. Michael Adams, with deserved asperity, writes well and widely about this. When he was writing for the mainstream British press in the 1960s the dice were loaded against anyone trying to tell the truth about Israel's actions in Arab lands, particularly in the euphoric aftermath of the 1967 war. Israel had triumphed over its Arab neighbours, seizing much Arab territory, much of the most vital of which, in Syria and Palestine, it retains to this day nearly forty years later, and shows no sign of relinquishing. One of Adams's stories about Israeli excesses after the war, the destruction of three Arab villages near Jerusalem for allegedly strategic reasons (see Chapter Five), was suppressed by The Guardian; in the end he was left no choice but to withdraw his services from the newspaper (the editor, Alistair Hetherington, had taken the words of his pro-Israel friends in high places over those of the newspaper's own reporter). The Guardian was not the newspaper it is today.
The BBC was in the late 1960s and early 1970s as bad, if not worse: patronizing or just plain misreporting the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular, and tipping the balance in favour of pro-Israeli views and commentators, its presenters and editors in London more at fault than the reporters in the field. The BBC, then as now, was deft at defending itself with stonewall claims of “balance” and “fairness”, as perceived in the corridors and boardrooms of Broadcasting House, advising those who rang or wrote to complain that their communications were most welcome and their views logged – in effect, “Thank you and good night.” At the BBC, all was and is for the best in the best of all BBC worlds. It was to be many years after Publish it not that the Arabs and their supporters started to emulate their opponents' ability to reach inside the BBC, to know the individual programme editor or line manager or producer or board member or senior manager, his home address and home and extension numbers, a process the book's two authors set in train when they and others like-minded founded the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and took the fight to the Zionists, albeit with a fraction of the funding and support Michael Adams might have been excused in 1975 for optimism about the press and broadcasting, to whose practitioners he set such a brave example. Media attitudes were changing. When I arrived in Beirut in the mid-1970s the foreign press corps there were being forced to absorb the Palestinian story at first hand – from guerrillas and their leaders, refugees, students, academics, local newspapermen, agency reporters and photographers, editors, businessmen, financiers, and bank clerks, Arab diplomats and dissident floaters from the far shores of the Arab world. In the 1970s, as they fought for their survival in Lebanon and for a place contiguous with Israel, from where they could attack it and try to re-enter it, the Palestinians practically ran Beirut. No-one approved of everything the Palestinian movement and its members did, and many disapproved publicly of much; the press corps had its rows with the PLO and its apparatchiks; but at least it heard and took in the Palestinian narrative and communicated it to the outside world (much to Israel's distress).
In what I look back on as a Golden Age of Middle East reporting, Western news bureaux in Beirut, Cairo and Amman, with access to Baghdad and Damascus, helped the world see the Arabs' and Palestinians' situations through their own prisms, while in no way falling into the trap of blindly admiring the Arab regimes or falling for the blandishments of their politicians. The difference between those who reported the Arab world and many of those who in Adams's day sat in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was that we were critical and challenged what we were told, often to our cost. Most of us had far more trouble from the Arab governments and even from their murderous agents than we did from the Israelis.
In Israel itself, in the years after the Mayhew-Adams book, the Western media began seriously to reshape their Middle East coverage. Many of the most influential British news organizations removed their often locally bred Zionist reporters who had done such a selective job in reporting their country from the 1950s onwards, and replaced them with outsiders. I found myself both in Israel and the Arab world among journalists of many nationalities, European, American, Commonwealth, who had arrived in the Middle East with many of the same pro-Israeli corpuscles in their veins as I had had in 1974 only to find that a few weeks in Israel, or viewing its government's or army's behaviour as it were from over the fence, turned them into horrified witnesses of the Israeli state's aggression and acquisitiveness, often to the bafflement of their less well-informed and more brainwashed producers. Many of these Western reporters were Jews from America, Canada, Britain and France; but they were not Zionists and, had they been so inclined, became rapidly less so watching Israel at first hand.
The BBC never, in all the twenty-five years I reported or commentated for them from or about the Middle East, ten of those years as Middle East staff correspondent based in the region, interfered with the gist of my analysis or the facts of my reporting. Most of my colleagues in ITV and the British print media would have acknowledged much the same forbearance. We reported vividly and honestly on such campaigns as the two Israeli invasions of Lebanon, the occupation of south Lebanon, the massacres that followed the invasion in 1982 and 1983, the first uprising, or Intifada, in 1987, and the dismal saga of the West Bank and Gaza, where Jewish settlers were commandeering more and more Palestinian land and water and terrorizing the inhabitants with Israeli army support, and had encircled and dominated most of Arab East Jerusalem, a process which is accelerating, widening, deepening and consolidating nearly twenty years later.
For all this candid journalism from inside Israel and outside, few positive results accrued, or, if they did, as in the early 1980s, they were quickly reversed and negated. As the ardent Palestinian activist and author Dr. Ghada Karmi remarked so tellingly in a public meeting in London some years ago, the Palestinian narrative seems perpetually to be processed by a faulty computer. The stories of 1948, 1967, refugees, routs, assassinations and massacres, Tel al-Zaatar, Beirut 1982, Sabra-Shatilla, the Intifadas, the breaking of bones, Jenin, Nablus and Hebron, land seizures and apartheid measures, the Separation Wall, which acquires for Israel yet more Palestinian territory and separates scores of thousands more Palestinians from their own lands and livelihood – all are told and highlighted on the screens to great acclaim and shock but then “automatically deleted”. The Jewish narrative persists and is hammered home in all its aspects; the Israelis deploy history, or often “history”, ancient and modern in their cause and do so relentlessly; the Holocaust is brandished as if it had somehow been a Palestinian responsibility or an excuse to defy international laws, morals and norms; money intended for Holocaust survivors is cynically diverted in the billions of dollars to furthering Zionism's aims and claims, especially vis-à-vis Arab lands. In contrast, the Palestinian tale limps along, disappearing from political notice if not public memory as Israel reasserts its influence or, sadly, the Palestinians fail to capitalize on their own strengths or yield to their organizational weaknesses.
In late 1990, for instance, Yasir Arafat wasted three years of the Palestinian uprising and the truths it had revealed to the world by throwing in his lot with Saddam Hussein. A few years later, with the United States putting pressure on Israel to make a proper peace, the Israelis outmanoeuvred everyone by escaping down the Oslo route to continued colonization of the Occupied Territories. Yasir Arafat misguidedly co-operated in this doomed process as well.
When I think of how hard so many honest journalists have worked to set the Israeli-Palestinian record straight in the fifty years since Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew broke new ground and their own professional backs doing it, I realize how little effect it has all had on our political leaders. They meander through the thickets of the Middle East, displaying either ignorance or indecision, helpless against the power and prejudices of the United States and its subservience to Israel and Israeli interests. This phenomenon Michael Adams perceived early in his career and railed against, almost in despair, throughout his life.
Perhaps this can be written off as political reality – regrettable and short-sighted, but the way of a cruel world. This should not, however, be the case with British TV and radio, who are constitutionally bound by their charters and conditions to provide the British (and overseas) public with fair and properly balanced coverage. Both BBC and ITN (though not Channel 4 News) fail in their duties here, and the most important of these is the BBC, to which the majority of British people turn for their understanding of what is happening in world affairs.
Michael Adams was having trouble with the BBC nearly forty years ago. In Chapter Five, which present-day critics of the BBC will read with a wearying sense of déjà vu, Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew record how in the 1960s research into programmes such as The World At One (and research into the Today Programme last summer and autumn reveals similar results) showed that the BBC gave far more time to pro-Israeli spokesmen and pro-Israeli views than it did to the pro-Arabs or to Arab perceptions. Mayhew makes one most telling point about bias, still true of the BBC, especially its main domestic radio and TV channels. He writes, after a meeting with the then Director-General of the BBC, Charles Curran, to discuss Middle East coverage:
little thought had been given to the distinction between conscious and
unconscious bias. Most of the [BBC] company [appeared to have] the naïve
belief that they or their staff would be charged with deliberate bias… they
had not studied, and were not alert to, the serious problem, which was that
of unconscious bias.
Incredibly, more than thirty years on, the BBC is making yet another effort to study these problems but seems after a year or so of research to be none the wiser or better. At a recent meeting I attended with the head of BBC news, the head of radio news and the BBC's new Middle East editorial supervisor it was evident that, publicly at least, they could not see what was wrong with the corporation's coverage, its failure to report properly on the continuing misery of the Palestinians; the preponderance of pro-Israeli views and condescending if not hostile attitudes on the part of studio presenters and reporters to the Arabs; the failure to recount accurately the cycle of cause and effect in the deadly struggle between a sophisticated, high-technology state war machine and a primitively armed occupied population, between the oppressor and the oppressed; the reluctance to accept that most of the time it is Israeli actions – deliberate provocations – that shatter periods of calm; the use of lurid language to describe Palestinian attacks and atrocities as compared with the bland and anonymous language (“targeted killings”, for example, “security fence”, instead of “illegal assassinations” and “Separation and Enclosure Wall”) deployed to portray Israel's excesses; the BBC's rarely alluding to the basic fact that the “the territories” are militarily occupied, and the lands therein continuously being expropriated from their rightful owners, which is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Charter and in the eyes and judgments of all international bodies.
In the very phrase “Arab-Israeli dispute” organizations like the BBC continue to imply that this is some age-old quarrel over lands that goes back into the mists of time, like that of Owen Glyndwr and Edward Mortimer in the English-Welsh borderlands of the fourteenth century. In fact, the “Arab-Israeli dispute” is much simpler than that and something with which the British should be familiar: settler-colonialists stealing the lands and stamping on the rights of the indigenous people.
In effect, the mainstream media refuse to report the struggle for what it is: for Palestinian freedom, pledged by the British and the League of Nations more than eighty years ago, and against colonialism and dispossession.
I have little room for detail here. These fault lines in the BBC's and ITV's coverage have, however, been detailed in many journals and books, the best being the scientific study done by Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Group, Bad News From Israel (Pluto Press, 2004), but also, inter alia, by researchers and writers at Arab Media Watch, by myself in various talks and newspaper articles (in The Guardian and The Observer) and in a chapter in Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq, edited by David Miller and also published in paperback by Pluto (2004), and by the indefatigable Paul de Rooij, to name but a few of the many who draw the BBC's misrepresentation of the Palestinian-Israeli issue to the attention of its policy-makers and editors.
The problems lie not so much in specific BBC or ITV documentaries or current affairs specials, which have on occasion acquitted themselves well, though they, with time to take care and exercise more judgment, are often as guilty as the news programmes; it is the news bulletins and daily analyses, with their continuing, seemingly endemic negative thrust as regards the Palestinians, their deference to the “authority” of Israel and its functionaries and their teams' failure to base their understanding of the story on the root cause of the conflict – the Palestinians' right to self-determination rather than Israel's security. All this does much to malign and undermine the Arab case. As Mayhew says, this is unconscious rather than conscious bias, something in the British soul creeping to the surface, out of our upbringing and our history and our view of “the other”. This is also evident in insidious self-censorship, in which a reporter senses a way of pre-empting the anxiety of his bosses or the ire of the Israelis or both by crafting his story in a bland and therefore misleading manner: “Land which the Palestinians say is occupied…”; “disputed” instead of “occupied” territories, a phrase that still crops up on the BBC, though the circumlocution is legally and morally indefensible; the misrepresentation of the numbers of Jewish settlers on the West Bank and in Jerusalem; the failure to get into the public British consciousness the nature of the vast Separation and Enclosure Wall Israel is building around and into Palestinian territory, dividing and isolating its people and further damaging their already enfeebled economy.
This is still called by the BBC “a security barrier”, conjuring up in the viewer's or listener's mind the image of a temporary structure the local police might put up to fence off a crime scene or to deter football hooligans.
This is all the more tragic because I know that British broadcasters reformed their attitudes in the twenty-five years or so between Publish it not and the year 2000. I can remember but one serious instance, in 1988, when the Israelis were pestering my foreign news editor to water down the BBC's coverage of a riot on the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem (one of Islam's holiest sites, known incorrectly as the Temple Mount). He cracked, understandably, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to insert an Israeli denial into the text of my story, which would have meant me contradicting my eye-witness account. What other efforts against me, if any, the Israelis deployed I never knew and, apart from a few very minor incidents, during a quarter-century reporting the Middle East I was unaware of any internal pressures. None of my BBC colleagues complained either.
What has changed since 2000 is worth examining.
With the failure of the Oslo peace process and the effective collapse of the two-state enterprise in 2000, at Camp David under the auspices of Bill Clinton, the subsequent outbreak two months later of what is now known among Palestinians as the Aqsa Intifada, after the Aqsa mosque on the Haram al-Sharif, where it began, and the disproportionately brutal response by Israel's armed forces, the Israelis were immediately aware that their reputation was in danger of attracting the same sort of international opprobrium it suffered during and after the 1982 Lebanon invasion and massacre at Sabra-Shatila and during the first Intifada of the late 1980s.
They deployed massive resources through their London embassy, using friends and lobbyists to cajole and put political and moral pressure on institutions like the BBC, it being much easier to do so now that most of the world's media had based their Middle East news offices and residences inside West (de facto Israeli) Jerusalem. The Israelis there leaned hard on reporters and bureau chiefs. In London, they peppered producers and editors with pro-Israeli propaganda, complaints, suggestions for stories and schmoozing lunches, the cocktails flavoured with menace. One experienced Middle East correspondent told me that a Today Programme producer once rang him in the BBC Jerusalem office to get him to follow up a story-line suggested by the Israeli Embassy. There can be little doubt that such suggestions multiplied when, in late 2000, the BBC sent a new and inexperienced team of reporters to Jerusalem.
The events of September 11, 2001, the suicide bombs, the campaign against and invasion of Iraq all helped colour British broadcasters' view of the world, reinforcing their readiness to see the “savagery” of the Arabs and to recognize and exaggerate the allegedly aggressive militancy of Islam. The BBC's leaders tried hard to resist the attacks by Tony Blair and his henchmen, led by Alistair Campbell, on its Iraq war coverage in 2003, but were cruelly defeated by the whitewash of Tony Blair's spin doctors and their nefarious works in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq war by Lord Hutton, the establishment-embraced Conservative Ulster judge, in 2004. Lord Hutton seemed to have heard only the evidence of the government's apologists, and the BBC took the blame for its reporting of Iraq and the circumstances surrounding it.
This induced new levels of nervousness in the Corporation and heightened caution in any dealings with the Middle East and Arabs. The BBC Governors and Board of Management were especially worried about licence fee levels and BBC Charter renewal. It showed in the reporting of Israel-Palestine. Dr. Karmi's faulty computer was in play again. As after Lebanon in 1982, the Intifada of 1987-91, the Baruch Goldstein massacre of Arab worshippers at the Mosque of Ibrahim in Hebron in 1994, the assaults against Ramallah, Hebron, Jenin, Nablus and the Occupied Territories from 2000 onwards, the Palestinian story was being deleted, or at least misrepresented. The BBC's appointment in 2005 of a Middle East Editor based in London, a new post provoked by the myriad complaints that flow daily into the Corporation about its lacklustre Middle East coverage, might help put its reporting back into proper balance; then again, it might not. Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew would share my scepticism.
Meanwhile, we read our responses from the Corporation with the same disbelief at its obtuseness as Mayhew did when he received this, after a complaint of pro-Israeli leanings to The World At One in late 1973 from Jim Norris, Assistant Secretary and Head of Secretariat, the then Director-General's powerful minder and trouble-shooter: “….journalists doing an honest job in this country have to take account of the fact that Israeli or Zionist public relations are conducted with a degree of sophistication which those on the other side have rarely matched… an accurate reflection of publicly expressed attitudes on the issue may well inevitably reveal at times a preponderance of sympathy for the Israeli side.” In other words, says Mayhew, “the BBC should not concern itself with striking a balance between the arguments for the Israeli viewpoint and the arguments for the Arab viewpoint, but should reflect the greater power of the Israeli lobby.”
I doubt that the BBC of the early twenty-first century would be so openly crass. But the way it reports the Palestinian-Israeli struggle does just what Norris suggested, reflecting the view of the strong over the weak, the state over the non-state, the possessor over the dispossessed. Any righting of the balance, or trying also to see the story through the Palestinian viewfinder, a senior BBC executive told me in 2004, “would be to make the BBC into campaigning journalists.” In other words, in the BBC's view, reporting the Palestinian story the way it is amounts to “campaigning”.
In institutional broadcasting there is a climate of fear. Executives do not like to be accused of anti-Semitism, which is the ready-to-hand smear the Zionists and their friends have available if they think Israel is receiving a tough press.
Journalists and their bosses do not like to be harangued. They like a quiet life. They know how influential the lobby is and how well-placed are its agents in and around government and business and in the ranks of the good and the great. They want their institution to survive. In this noble cause the truth about a sensitive issue may have to go hang for a while. The BBC's duty to report honestly, as it did, say, in South Africa twenty years ago or Bosnia in the 1990s, is sacrificed on the altar of the Corporation's survival. The suits circle the wagons. The protection of the institution comes first, before its primary duty of honest reporting, rather as the United States armed forces deem “force protection” – safeguarding their own soldiers' lives at all costs – a higher duty than the security of those around them.
Just as Michael Adams was “disappeared” from mainstream Middle East reporting, so was I from the BBC. After a three-part series I wrote and narrated for Radio 4 and the World Service in 1998, My Land Is Your Land, the Israelis and their supporters launched a massive write-in at and to all levels of the BBC complaining about my interpretation of the state of Israel's creation in 1948, the accompanying catastrophe (nakba) of the Palestinians and the fifty years that had followed. When I put up a further programme, a BBC commissioning editor was heard to say at a meeting that I was “parti-pris”, a libellous statement to make about a professional journalist with nearly thirty years BBC service under his belt. After I joined CAABU, the Israeli lobby put enormous pressure on the Corporation either not to use me at all as a commentator/reporter or to spell out on my every appearance the fact that I was on the board of CAABU. This made me appear as a propagandist; the awkward nomenclature was too long for presenters to cope with; gradually I slipped from the scene, my work as a TV/radio broadcaster virtually over.
I then found out in 2002 that BBC management had circulated a memorandum to all producers and editors that if I ever appeared it was never to be mentioned that I had ever been the BBC's Middle East Correspondent, in case my views were associated with those of the BBC. This, together with my growing indignation at BBC Middle East coverage and the general desuetude of public service broadcasting, softened the blow of my departure from the scene. I was luckier than Michael Adams, who was ten years younger than me when the Zionists put the fatal squeeze on him at the very height of his powers.
* * *
We are back where we were before Adams and Mayhew wrote their book in 1974/5. In fact, the situation is worse; we are further back. Despite what I see as a long and healthy intervening period of honest – well, honestly attempted – coverage of the Middle East between the early 1970s and the end of the millennium, and signs that Britain's political establishment and the public were beginning to take notice of the region's realities, the Israelis have shown us their enormous powers of recovery and their extraordinary ability to exert their weight on British governance and institutions, twisting arms until our leaders cry “'nuff” and comply.
Against the odds, the years of good reporting and the continued efforts of a few serious newspapers and journals, the web, and a handful of outspoken honest politicians and others in public life, monitors, aid workers, international activists, have brought a massive shift in British public opinion to support of Palestinian freedom and a solution just to both sides. Adams and Mayhew and all of us would welcome this as a worthwhile result of our and their efforts. But it is not enough by a long shot. This shift in public opinion has made little impact on Britain's political leaders and the chiefs of its most influential institutions. They continue to bow before the Zionists as assiduously and effectively as they did forty, fifty, ninety years ago, an attitude enhanced by dutiful British subservience to Zionism's great sponsor, the United States of America. It is hard to believe that there is any longer the dewy-eyed zeal of the Arthur Balfours, Lloyd Georges and Winston Churchills for the idea of Israel, or any sense that this troublesome entity in the Middle East is actually of any strategic use to Britain, as may have once been thought. (Now, surely, it is a liability rather than an asset.)
Is it guilt? Weariness in the eye of the unrelenting storm of threats, bullying, influence-peddling and propaganda? Keeping in with the US at all costs? All of these, and more? But what?
Nowhere in Publish it not is this Zionist force and its captive hold on the British establishment quite satisfactorily explained. I cannot explain it myself. Middle East scholars to this day argue over the essential reasons for Balfour's Declaration. There are scores of reasons for it, and for Zionism's hold on the United Kingdom, but they do not seem to add up to one convincing one. As far as that goes, it does not matter to Israel. The Jewish state can congratulate itself on the fact that the best efforts of Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew and those of us who have tried to follow their example have come to nothing.
The cover-up in the Middle East continues to this day, more obvious than ever, the Big Lie bigger, its promulgation more intense, the all-powerful United States more committed than ever to the prosecution of Israel's interests at the expense of all others, neighbours, allies, friends, enemies, even its own, American best interests.
Israel is not only guaranteed military and economic superiority over its neighbours by its hyper-power protector in Washington, it is now a full partner in the “war against terror”, in the American drive to install US-style democracy across the Middle East and Central Asia, and in the Western defences against the perceived legions of Islamic extremists, inside our Western societies and at our Eastern approaches and frontiers. Thus Israel can remain assured that its crimes and misdemeanours will continue to be condoned, any strictures confined to words not actions, and the aspirations of the Palestinians to freedom and safety inside recognized borders ignored, with our nation's complicity
Is there any change in sight that might, were Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew alive today, seem to justify for them the misplaced – or perhaps, mistimed – optimism they displayed in 1975, when Israel seemed to be at a disadvantage?
One aspect of Britain that has changed radically since then is the advent in this country of an articulate and engaged Muslim and Arab population: Asians, Arabs, Africans born and raised here. They are beginning to join political life, to make their voices resonate in the mainstream media and to enter academic and professional life. The political leadership is having to take notice of them. Their views on the invasion of Iraq and Britain's feeble stance on Palestine have already made electoral differences, most notably in the 2005 general election. Young professional groups and people, British, hyphenated British and immigrant alike, are monitoring the politicians and the media as closely as their pro-Zionist rivals.
Their impact is inchoate as yet, but their influence is gaining strength rapidly. They are as aware of the corruption and hopelessness in many of their mother countries and cultures as they are of the biases endemic in British institutions. It is encouraging that rather than spout aged and discredited lies about their pasts, these young people are engaging with the world as it is, throughout Asia and the Middle East, in Europe and the US, not as they might wish it to have been or imagine it once was. Some, it is true, have been seduced by siren calls and subversions of the Islamic message. Terrorism has been a terrifying result. But these are not the chosen refuges of most of the Muslim and Arab citizens who are making their life in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Were the message of Publish it not more firmly appreciated and accepted by Britain's ministers and editors, the likelihood of young people turning down these tracks would be much more severely constrained.
What most of them are looking for is a response to their anxieties and recognition by Britain's leaders and opinion-makers that justice in Palestine, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Kashmir, or Chechnya, is a safer and more productive policy than ill-thought interference and military posturing and kowtowing to a misguided superpower.
In 2006 Publish it not will have a whole new potential readership, a phalanx of people who barely existed at its original publication, to whom Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew can now speak.