London, (Pal Telegraph) – On the 23rd of March, 2011, I was invited by the Royal Holloway Student body to debate whether we are too critical of Israel? The other participants included Douglas Murray, Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, Mark Macdonald from the Labour Friends of Palestine, and Sam Wetsrop, a young pro-Israeli activist.The heart of what we were debating was the role of the media, as mainstream media has consistently been targeted for its biased treatment of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Moreover, the dominant historical narrative adopted by many public officials is one closely aligned with the Israeli government. This debate and the exchange with Mr. Murray is particularly reflective of what the debate was seeking to address.
Douglas Murray frequently appears on British main stream media and is steadfast in his support for Israel and its policies of apartheid practiced against Palestinian children, elderly and women. Israel’s policies of apartheid are well documented by intergovernmental organizations such as the UN and non-governmental organizations around the world such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Israel has been charged with arresting, detaining and torturing Palestinian children and adults, irrespective of gender. Targeted assassination of members of political parties and others are also systematic practices engaged in since its creation in 1948. Finally, its collective punishment and crimes against humanity are well known to the International Community following the release of Judge Goldstone’scomprehensive and thorough report on so-called “Operation Cast Lead.” A campaign of genocide is the more apt appellation of that which was experienced by Palestinians.
Mr. Murray made it clear that he was not well-informed about the conflict, its history or current affairs.In his opening speech, which can be found on the following link: http://www.youtube.com/user/samakhab#p/u/4/aE4G0ELa2os, Mr. Murray said that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that secures the freedom of worship. He failed, however, to inform the audience that Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank are banned from reaching Jerusalem to pray. Also negligently ignored was the treatment received for those wishing to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, as reported on CNN on 13 August 2010. The Israeli army places restrictions for those wishing to pray in Jerusalem. “The restrictions apply to all men younger than 50 and all women younger than 45,” Rosenfeld and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. The full link to the story is as follows: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-08-13/world/israel.friday.prayers_1_israeli-police-holy-site-temple-mount?_s=PM:WORLD). It should also be noted that restrictions are also imposed on Palestinian Christians. Another link discussing the conditions on the right to practice religion, especially in Jerusalem, is: http://www.imemc.org/article/49305). There are many such stories that one can find on the internet and via social media sites. Articles and new stories that are not often found on or covered out-of-context by mainstream media.
The right to practice religion is not the only right infringed upon by Israel. Israel killed dozens of Palestinians in Jerusalem during Tunnels uprising; and, it failed to protect Palestinians targeted by a settler named Baroch Goldsteinin Hebron, who killed dozens of Palestinians while praying in 1994. These are just two examples of a multitude of others that could be given as examples. Despite all these examples, Mr. Murray defended Israel’s right to self-defense, which is based on the killing of Palestinians.
Mr. Murray lamented on the issue of so-called Palestinian rockets that have no real effect compared to those fatal bombs used by Israel. He cited thousands of rockets being fired from Gaza, but never mentioned the number of victims on the Israeli side. From 2005 till now, less than 30 Israelis were killed. On the Palestinian side, thousands have been killed. In the last Gaza onslaught of 2009, there were 1400 killed in 3 weeks, most of whom were children, women and the elderly. When addressing this, he stated: Israel destroyed schools and hospitals because Hamas used them to fire rockets. According to UNRWA, schools were never used as military positions by Hamas. UNRWA itself refused any Israeli allegation that its compound was used by Hams in 2009. He also failed to mention that UN premises were destroyed and drivers were killed in Operation Cast Lead. While justifying Israeli attacks against Palestinians, overlooked was the fact that the Goldstone Report Israel found Israel in violation of using indiscriminate force, collective punishment and other crimes that are considered war crimes under international law.
Insult was added to injury when Mr. Murray claimed that Hamas, who was not even in power before 2006,was an obstacle for peace. He further stated that Arafat was offered 98% of the land in Oslo, which is a historical mistake that even the Israelis do not utter. (http://www.youtube.com/user/samakhab#p/u/1/HOj9UtwmWC8). Hamas and Palestinians are not to blame. Rather,Israel and its policies of aggression and apartheid are the root cause of the lack of peace and an end to the conflict. According to Israel, Arafat was offered this percentage in Camp David I in 2000, via negotiating with Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak. However, the Oslo agreement was one part of a transitional agreement, before the final solution of peace.
His lack of knowledge regarding the history of the conflict was quite evident throughout the entire debate. When asked whether Israel has recognized Palestinians, Mr. Murray answered affirmatively. Israel has only recognizedthe Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative for Palestinians. It has not recognized the Palestinians as a people or a nation. The last two examples to be cited in this article, as readers can watch the debate for themselves, are where reference was made to the presence of checkpoints in and out of Gaza, and that freedom of movement inside Gaza results in suicide attacks inside Israel. There have neither been checkpoints inside Gaza since 2005 nor suicide attacks coming from Gaza.
While this article may appear to be a personal attack on Mr. Murray, it is not. He and the position represented by him are reflective of a larger problem witnessed in the public sphere concerning the Israeli-Palestine conflict. A young student at the debate read some UN facts from a newspaper article and queried Mr. Murray on where he received his information. While not answering the young man, he asked if that which was read came from the Palestine Telegraph Newspaper (PT). Of course it was not, as the PT is not a printed but an online newspaper. Still the whole incident raises an important issue pertaining to the existing bias of the reporting done in mainstream media and the dominance of the Israeli narrative in the public sphere. The recent attacks on Gaza are definitely reflective of this bias and the propaganda utilized to justify Israeli acts of aggression and apartheid.
Watch Full Debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbjVoi5-dL4
By Sameh A. Habeeb
A Palestinian Journalist based in the UK