A response to Harriet Sherwood’s parting shot

Harry’s Place brings us the news that the Israeli Embassy in London has responded by letter to the long feature by Harriet Sherwood published in the Guardian’s weekend edition on February 8th which was previously discussed on these pages here

letter Guardian

Guardian promotes book by ‘one-stater’

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that Harriet Sherwood’s romanticised piece entitled “Gaza gastronomy” – which appeared under the ‘Food & Drink’ heading of the Guardian’s ‘Life & Style’ section  on May 14th 2013 – revolves around unveiled promotion of a book co-written by former Guardian contributor Laila el Haddad

El Haddad – known on Twitter as ‘gazamom‘ despite the fact that she was born in Kuwait, grew up in Saudi Arabia and lives in the United States – was also a polemicist for Ali Abunimah’s Electronic Intifadawhere she told tall tales of a “Gaza genocide” and “Gaza facing humanitarian crisis” for years on end. Her Guardian articles were no less over-dramatic as she informed readers that “Calling Gaza a prison camp is an understatement“. El Haddad obviously missed the irony of a person whose Guardian profile describes her as someone “who divides her time between Gaza and the United States” claiming lack of freedom of movement. 

It comes as no surprise to learn that el Haddad’s new book (like its predecessor) is published by the firm established by former Human Rights Watch MENA advisory board member and prominent Quaker Helena Cobban.  Neither is there anything strange about the fact that el Haddad is a policy advisor for the pro-BDS, pro-‘one-state’ Al Shabaka

Sherwood of course omits from her article any mention of the political views underlying and seasoning Laila el Haddad’s cookbook or her promotion of it at Israel Apartheid Week events and even during last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

el Haddad

el Haddad 2

But el Haddad’s views are an important part of this particular attempt at ‘soft’ campaigning being promoted and enabled by Sherwood. In a Guardian article from 2009 she stated quite clearly “I am a proponent of a one-state solution”. That ‘solution’, though often garnished with the language of ‘human rights’ and ‘equality’, has one aim: the dissolution of Israel and the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination.

Would the Guardian consider it appropriate to promote a cookbook authored by a proponent of the reversal of rights for women or gays? Of course it would not. But it does choose to deliberately ignore the basic ingredients of Laila el Haddad’s discriminatory recipe.


Guardian continues promotion of fringe BDS movement

On May 11th – three days after its initial publication of Stephen Hawking’s decision to pull out of a conference in Israel – we noted that the Guardian had already published eight items on the subject. 

Since then the tally of Hawking-related items on the Guardian’s ‘Israel’ page has risen to twelve, with an article criticising Hawking’s decision by Steve Caplan published in the Guardian’s science section on May 13th and an article of the opposing opinion on same date in the same section by Hilary Rose and Steven Rosewho are of course among the founding members of BRICUP – the organisation which seems to have played an instrumental part in Hawking’s decision. Two additional letters on the subject were published on May 14th and yet another on May 16th

And yet – nine days and twelve features later – the Guardian still has not found the time or the inclination to inform its readers of the real nature and aims of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of which BRICUP is part.

“The leaders of the BDS movement are ‘one-staters’: their ultimate hope is not to see the Israeli state and a Palestinian state existing peacefully side by side. Their aim – which is entirely transparent to those not dazzled by the faux human rights rhetoric – is one Palestinian state ‘from the river to the sea’, with – at best – a minority Jewish group making up part of its population.”

A key element of the BDS campaign is the rejection of what is called ‘normalisation': a term which relates to any activity which promotes dialogue, co-existence or joint Israeli –Palestinian projects.  An example of such rejection was recently highlighted when Fatah activists threatened Palestinian teenagers who had taken part in an EU-backed football match together with Israeli youths.

“But as soon as photos of the Palestinian and Israeli players appeared on a number of websites, Fatah activists denounced the event as a form of “normalization” with Israel.

Several Fatah activists posted threatening messages on the Internet against the Palestinian boys and girls who participated in the tournament.”

The accepted mainstream view of the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of two states – Palestinian and Israeli – existing side by side, hopefully in peace and co-operation. That view has been the aspiration of the international community and majority Israeli opinion for many years now and considerable efforts have been invested in trying to bring it about. It is, however, perfectly clear that peaceful co-existence cannot grow from the rejection of dialogue and co-operation – either on the football field, at academic conferences or elsewhere.

The fringe BDS movement, in common with other elements in the region such as Islamist extremists, rejects the widely held, normative aspiration of a two-state solution. The Guardian’s failure to make that point clear to readers of the barrage of articles promoting Hawking’s adoption of the minority, rejectionist view suggests identification with and empathy for the fringe elements seeking to undermine the accepted route to peace. Is that really the stance a true “Left liberal voice” would be taking? 


England Announces Squad For Israel 2013

This is a guest post by Richard Millett

We are just three weeks away from the start of the UEFA Under-21 Football Championships in Israel and on Tuesday England announced its squad, which is full of exciting players who will be using the tournament to try to force their way into the England first team. 

Eight teams are going to Israel and they have been drawn into two groups:

Group A: Israel, England, Italy, Norway.

Group B: Spain, Germany, Holland, Russia.

England will play Italy in Tel Aviv on June 5th, Norway in Petah Tikvah on June 8th and Israel in Jerusalem on June 11th.

In the semi-finals the winners of Group A play the runners up of Group B and the runners up of Group A will play the winners of Group B. The final will be in Israel’s capital Jerusalem on June 18th.

It will be exciting to see Wigan’s Callum McManaman linking up with Wilfred Zaha (soon to be going to Manchester United) and a good test to see how the players cope in 80 degree heat with the prospect of World Cup Finals in Brazil in 2014 and Qatar in 2022.

It will also be a good test for Israel’s youngsters who will be trying to break into Israel’s first team. Israeli football is as strong as it has ever been. The first team is currently 2nd in their World Cup qualifying group for Brazil 2014 and was not far away from qualifying for the World Cup Finals in South Africa in 2010. It will be interesting to see the Avi Cohens, Ronny Rosenthals, Eyal Berkovichs and Yossi Benayouns of the future.

One would expect a Spain versus Germany final but let’s hope for it being England versus Israel with England winning the final on penalties. [ Ed: We''ll agree to differ on that last point!]

Let Cif Watch be your eyes and ears for the festival of football that kicks off on June 5th as we hope to have regular reports on the unfolding drama. 

The England Squad for Israel 2013 is:

Goalkeepers: Butland (Stoke), Steele (Middlesbrough), Rudd (Norwich)

Defenders: Caulker (Tottenham), Clyne (Southampton), Dawson (West Brom), Lees (Leeds), Rose (Sunderland, loan from Tottenham), Shaw (Southampton), Smith (Tottenham), Wisdom (Liverpool)

Midfielders: Chalobah (Watford, loan from Chelsea), Henderson (Liverpool), Ince (Blackpool), Lansbury (Nottingham Forest), Lowe (Blackburn), McEachran (Chelsea), McManaman (Wigan Athletic), Shelvey (Liverpool), Townsend (QPR, loan from Tottenham)

Forwards: Zaha (Crystal Palace, loan from Manchester United), Marvin Sordell (Bolton), Connor Wickham (Sunderland) 




Guardian’s Milne diligently promotes Assad propaganda

It is the publication of thinly veiled ideologically inspired polemics such as the one by Seumas Milne on the subject of Syria which appeared in the ‘Comment is Free’ section of the Guardian on May 7th that has done so much to destroy that paper’s reputation as an organ of serious journalism.

Milne’s puerile student rag-style rant against “The West and its allies” predictably devotes a good deal of column space to Israel from its very beginning.

“If anyone had doubts that Syria’s gruesome civil war is already spinning into a wider Middle East conflict, the events of the past few days should have laid them to rest. Most ominous was Israel’s string of aerial attacks on Syrian military installations near Damascus, reportedly killing more than 100.

The bombing raids, unprovoked and illegal, were of course immediately supported by the US and British governments. Since Israel has illegally occupied Syria’s Golan Heights for 46 years, perhaps the legitimacy of a few more air raids hardly merited serious consideration.”

According to whom or what (apart from his own opinion) these alleged air strikes are “illegal” is an issue with which Milne does not trouble his readers, failing to produce any source or factual backing for his mud-slinging accusation. But even more jaw-dropping is Milne’s use of the word “unprovoked”. Obviously, Milne cannot be unaware of the existence of UN SC resolution 1701 which reiterates the previously recognised need to disband and disarm all militias – including and especially Hizballah – in Lebanon and prohibits the sale or supply of arms into Lebanon except with the authorization of its government. 

Milne’s description of an alleged defensive air strike on a banned consignment of advanced missiles destined for a terrorist militia which should – according to the UN – have been disarmed and disbanded nine years ago, as “unprovoked” is therefore ridiculous enough in itself. The fact that those weapons would be likely to be used against civilian targets in at least one Middle Eastern country makes Milne’s use of the words “unprovoked and illegal” nothing less than malevolent.

Next Milne comes up with a fine example of baseless rhetoric designed to paint Israel as a favoured protectorate of the West.

“But it’s only necessary to consider what the western reaction would have been if Syria, let alone Iran, had launched such an attack on Israel – or one of the Arab regimes currently arming the Syrian rebels – to realise how little these positions have to do with international legality, equity or rights of self-defence.”

In fact, we already know the answer to Milne’s ‘hypothetical’ question, and it is not the one he implies. Iran has – via its proxies Hizballah and Hamas, and enabled by its ally Syria – been launching attacks on Israel for well over a decade. The “western reaction” to thousands of Iranian made and/or financed missiles fired at Israeli civilian communities in the south of Israel since the Gaza Strip disengagement in 2005 has been an occasional tame and meaningless finger-wagging punctuated by shrill hypocritical condemnation whenever Israel takes action to defend its civilians. The same is the case on Israel’s northern border where around four thousand missile attacks were launched at Israeli civilians in 34 days by a terrorist militia which the international community had previously vowed – and failed – to dismantle. The “western reaction” to Israeli actions in defence of its civilians was, once again, hypocritical condemnation of those actions. 

In the subsequent paragraphs Milne tries to advance a patently ridiculous theme prevalent in Syrian regime propaganda whereby Israel has thrown in its lot with the rebel forces in that country. He also makes the accusation that Israel is “clearly intervening in the war”, based on deliberately contorted “evidence”.

“…  Israeli officials have been pushing claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons. Since Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line”, allegations of their use have become a crucial weapon for those demanding increased western intervention, in a bizarre echo of the discredited orchestration of the invasion of Iraq a decade ago.”

One senior IDF officer stated that there is reason to believe that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. To interpret that as “Israeli officials have been pushing claims” of course requires an exceptionally blinkered imagination, especially as British and French sources had made the exact same observations prior to Itai Brun’s statement. Milne continues:

“That effort came unstuck this week when the UN investigator Carla Del Ponte reported that there were “strong concrete suspicions” that Syrian rebels had themselves used the nerve gas sarin. The claim was hurriedly downplayed by the US, though the rebel camp clearly has an interest in drawing in greater western intervention, in a way the regime does not.”

Perhaps deliberately, Milne fails to inform readers that the UN quickly distanced itself from Del Ponte’s remarks.

” “The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict,” the U.N. said in a statement. “As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.”

Later on, Milne once again rolls out the Syrian regime propaganda:

“The irony of the US and other western governments – let alone Israel – once again making common cause with al-Qaida, after a decade of a “war on terror” aimed at destroying it, is one factor holding Obama back.”

Like his ideological heroes in Damascus, Milne probably does not for one moment really believe that Israel is collaborating with Al Qaeda or – no less absurdly – that Al Qaida would agree to join forces with Israel. Such nonsense is just part of the propaganda strategy of the Assad regime.

When such clearly identifiable absurdities come out of the Presidential Palace in Damascus, those who know the Middle East well are not surprised. Professional journalists take such bizarre claims in context. Political activists ideologically aligned with the Assad dictatorship repeat and even embellish such fatuities. 

With this article, Seumas Milne once again makes it patently clear to which of those categories he belongs. 

Harriet Sherwood’s Jerusalem gossip column

An article by Harriet Sherwood entitled  “Netanyahu flies into turbulence over $127,000 bed on plane“, which appeared in the Guardian on May 12th, once again gives the impression that some of that paper’s correspondents in Israel would perhaps feel more at home scribbling for a gossip column than having to trouble themselves with the heavier geo-political factors at play in the region.

If – like the vast majority of Guardian readers – you are not an Israeli tax-payer, there is no earthly reason why the story of $127,000 spent on in-flight sleeping arrangements for the Israeli Prime Minister should interest you. If you are an Israeli tax-payer, then you would have already heard or read that item of news being dissected from every possible angle by local media organisations for two days prior to the publication of Sherwood’s article.

So what do we learn from Sherwood’s report? Well, we can tell that some kind soul seems to have translated items on the subject from Yediot Aharonot and Channel 10 for Ms. Sherwood, but that she can copy/paste bits from a Jerusalem Post article in English all by herself. We also learn that Sherwood is apparently oblivious to the long-running animosity between Channel 10 – which broke the story – and Israel’s Prime Minister.

In addition, we see that Sherwood’s report on the number of people attending protest rallies against the budget on Saturday night appears to be rather generous. 

“The revelation comes amid growing resentment over an austerity budget proposed by the finance minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who won popular support in January’s election by promising to champion Israel’s financially squeezed middle class. Up to 15,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities on Saturday night in an echo of the massive social justice protests that swept the country two years ago.”

According to Ynet, a total of 12,000 people protested in the country as a whole. Ha’aretz reports 10,000 in Tel Aviv, 400 in Jerusalem, 200 in Haifa and 300 in Ramat Gan, whilst the Times of Israel puts the numbers at 10,000 in Tel Aviv and “hundreds” elsewhere. Yes, 12,000 is technically “up to 15,000″, just as £25 is ‘from £1.99′ but nevertheless, upping the number by 25% of the most generous estimates around is still disingenuous.  

Interestingly for someone apparently so fascinated by Israeli domestic politics, Sherwood did not bother to report on the remarks made by the new Finance Minister relating to the new budget. 

“Addressing allegations that his proposal would hurt his middle-class constituents and deliver yet more hardship to those to whom he’d promised an improvement, he wrote, ”These are fair questions that I would like to answer.” The budget cuts, he continued, were “just the first step,” which would quickly pass, followed by economic reforms that would lower the cost of living and “improve the life of the working man.” […]

 “So yes, the middle class is hurt, I don’t deny that for a minute, but at least this time it’s not the only class whose pockets are targeted,” Lapid said. He urged the public to exercise patience and wait for the reforms that would improve the people’s lives.

“I’ve been finance minister for a month and a half, during which I had to prepare a budget to close a monstrous deficit of NIS 35 billion. But even in the current budget we have created a string of programs that will fundamentally transform the economy. There will be a revolution in housing, in the job market, in the high costs of living. Can all this be accomplished in six weeks? Of course not,” he continued, likening the budget cuts to “an emergency maneuver to stop the bleeding.” “

Were Sherwood based in Luxembourg or Monte Carlo, we might be able to understand the ‘slow news day’ reasons for a six hundred and thirty-eight word article based on a local interest story which will be of little consequence to the majority of its readers. But she isn’t, and there is no such thing as a slow news day in the Middle East. 

Pictorial representations of Israel promoted by the Guardian

Over at the BBC Watch site we have a link to an interesting 2005 report by Trevor Asserson and Michael Paluch on the subject of the BBC’s use of images to depict the Palestinian – Israeli conflict and the way in which editorial decisions regarding which pictures to use can influence audience perception of the conflict. 

“We detected frequently used techniques for evoking sympathy or antipathy. Israelis were almost always depicted as armed, male and as soldiers. They were often disembodied, showing arms, legs, boots or weapons, but not faces. Palestinians by contrast were very frequently depicted as women and children. Palestinian men, when shown, were generally unarmed (even Policemen) and were often praying, kneeling or bowing.”

Of course the BBC is by no means the only media organization to use selectively chosen images in order to communicate subliminal messages regarding Israel and Israeli society. On the Guardian’s “Israel” page on May 11th we find a link to a feature from its sister paper The Observer entitled “The Observer’s 20 photographs of the week” and sub-headed “The best news and culture images from around the world over the past seven days”. 

Guardian Israel page 12 5

Among the twenty photographs from around the world, two come from Israel and both have a military theme. 

Observer 1

Observer 2

The caption to the first photograph reads:

“From a series of excellent images by Menahem Kahana, an Israeli soldier prays inside a net tent pitched close to Merkava tanks deployed in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has appealed for restraint after Israeli air strikes on targets near Damascus.”

It is possible to count seven more soldiers in that picture – none of whom are praying – but interestingly the reader’s attention is steered towards the one soldier who is. The suggestion of linkage between the IDF and religion is a popular theme with both photographers and editors – as shown, for example, by the BBC’s use of images to illustrate last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

The inclusion of the last sentence in the picture’s caption mistakenly suggests direct linkage between the alleged Israeli air strikes on consignments of Iranian weapons bound for the terrorist organization Hizballah and the presence of the tanks depicted in the photographs in the Golan Heights. In fact, tank crews have been training in the Golan Heights for decades, so the pictures can hardly be said to represent “news”. 

Another noticeable phenomenon in pictorial portrayals of Israel is the tendency of photographers and photo editors to over-represent the Orthodox stream of Israeli society, which even the highest estimates put at a mere 10% of the whole population. The Observer is apparently no exception: the previous edition of this photo feature also included two photographs from Israel (out of a total of 20) and both of those images concentrated on members of the Orthodox community during the festival of Lag B’Omer. However, elsewhere in Israel at the time, considerably more Israelis were celebrating the same festival by having bonfires, baking potatoes in the embers and toasting marshmallows. Images depicting those activities would of course have been more likely to prompt a sense of identification in most Observer readers. 

Observer 3

Observer 4

Images of Israel with a non-military and/or non-religious theme are to be found all too rarely among the growing number of pictorial features produced by media organisations. That fact is undoubtedly influencing public perception of Israel in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, and it is a factor to which photo editors need to address. 

Postcard from Israel – Beit She’arim


Burial cave of Rabbi Judah HaNassi

The ancient Galilee town of Beit She’arim is famous for having been one of the main Jewish centres of the second to fourth centuries CE due to the fact that one of its prominent residents was Rabbi Judah HaNassi, complier of the Mishna, who also headed the Sanhedrin and moved it to Beit She’arim from Shefar’am. 

In later life, Judah HaNassi moved to Tsippori for health reasons and the Sanhedrin moved with him, but according to his wishes he was buried in Beit She’arim. With the Romans having declared Jerusalem – and therefore the Mount of Olives – out of bounds for Jews in 135 CE after the revolt, Beit She’arim became the burial place of choice for the ‘who’s who’ of the Jewish world both in Israel and the diaspora  and a large number of impressive burial caves and catacombs rediscovered in 1936 display a wealth of interesting artwork, revealing the burial fashions of the Mishnaic Era. 











Postcard from Israel – Bahan

Kibbutz Bahan in the Hefer Valley in central Israel is the site of a park named ‘Utopia‘ which houses, among many other things, a wonderful collection of orchids – some 20,000 in all – including several rare species. 

Postcard from Israel – ‘Colour Red’

We have a single, short word in Hebrew- “HaMatzav” – which translates as “the situation”, but to any Israeli carries a loaded meaning which belies its brevity.

This past week, “HaMatzav” has been especially difficult, with incessant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on civilian population centres, attacks on our soldiers patrolling the borders (and not just in the south) and many of our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, called up and ready to do their part in trying to secure nothing more complicated than a normal life for their own families and their fellow citizens.

This week’s postcard will depart from our usual custom of visiting places of interest in our tiny country. Instead, the images here (taken from news outlets and social media) will try to give a sense of “HaMatzav” during the ‘Colour Red’ alerts which have been going on almost non-stop during the past week – and for the past twelve years.  

Israelis run to take cover as a warning siren sounds for possible incoming rockets in the Southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi. November 15, 2012. (Credit: Flash90)

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit Flash90

Israelis react and seek cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi November 15, 2012. A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, drawing first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 13 and the military showdown lurched closer to all-out war.  (Credit: REUTERS)

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit Reuters

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi November 15, 2012. A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, drawing first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 13 and the military showdown lurched closer to all-out war.  (Credit: REUTERS)

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit Reuters

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man with his three sons and a daughter huddled outside their car when they stop in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachai, 15 November 2012 as a 'Red Alert" sounds, signaling a rocket attack. At least one woman died in this town, and some say as many as three died when an apartment received a direct hit from a Grad missile fired by Palestinians militants in the Gaza Strip. (Credit: EPA)

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit EPA


‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit Reuters

‘Colour Red’ alert

Israelis run for cover in response to sirens warning of rocket attacks in the southern city of Ashkelon.

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit AFP

Sderot kids hiding

Tel Aviv residents bracing themselves as rocket alarm sirens sound.

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit Daniel Bar On

‘Colour Red’ alert. Photo credit Getty

Postcard from Israel – Sussita

Sussita – or Antiochia-Hippos, to call it by its Greek name – sits on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, towering 350 meters above Kibbutz Ein Gev. Founded around 200 BCE, during Roman times Sussita was one of the Decapolis – the ten cities.

The city was predominantly Christian from the fourth century until its destruction in the massive earthquake of January 749, after which it was never resettled. It boasts many features, including impressive fortifications, several churches and pagan temples, a commercial area, bath houses, a beautiful odeon overlooking the lake and a port on the lake shore below.

In 1951, an IDF outpost was established on the mountain which was until 1967 Israel’s easternmost point, merging with the Golan Heights. 

Sussita is still being excavated by Haifa University and, if you happen to be looking for ideas for a summer holiday with a difference, it is possible to apply to join the 2013 season already. 

Postcard from Israel – Tel Megiddo

If the building which houses the ticket office and museum at Tel Megiddo national park seems somewhat incongruous to its surroundings – being more reminiscent of the style of an English country gentleman’s residence, with its chimney and paned windows, than of the local architecture – that is because it was built by the British army after its victory against the Ottomans, including at the Battle of Megiddo.  So important was that battle that its Commander in Chief, Sir Edmund Allenby, was later awarded the title of Viscount of Megiddo .

Allenby was of course far from the first soldier to have fought an important battle on that site, as Tel Megiddo’s archaeological finds testify. But those discoveries – in 26 different layers – also tell stories of thousands of years of different civilizations and cultures at this important UNESCO world heritage site

Ancient palaces and stables, a public grain silo, Canaanite and Israelite city gates, an underground water system constructed by Ahab and a large religious complex including an early Bronze Age altar are among the treasures unearthed so far since excavations first began at Tel Megiddo in 1903. Today, the site is being excavated by Tel Aviv University and George Washington University (one can even sign up already for the 2014 season) and continues to reveal new discoveries.  

Related posts: Postcard from Israel – Tel Hatzor

Postcard from Israel – Succot

“You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt ” (Leviticus 23:42-43).

It is that time of year again: the week in which many Israelis become temporary architects and builders in order to construct a Succa (booth or tabernacle) for the festival of Succot

This being Israel, there are of course various schools of thought on the subject. Planks and old sheets or a prefabricated metal frame and ‘instant’ covering – perhaps even with windows? Palm fronds or bamboo mats for the roof? Home-made decorations or bought ones? On an existing balcony or in the garden? 

The results are as eclectic as the builders themselves. 

Harriet Sherwood’s polonium propaganda

Tawfik Tirawi

On September 29th the Guardian published an article by Harriet Sherwood in its ‘World News’ section entitled “Yasser Arafat’s exhumation may answer questions over his death“.

The article actually has no news value whatsoever: it consists of nothing more  than unfounded speculation and rumour of the kind already dismissed by more serious news outlets such as Le Figaro and the Jerusalem Post when Al Jazeera first ‘broke’ its Arafat-Polonium poisoning story back in July. 

But what Sherwood’s non-story does do is to allow the Guardian to present its main interviewee Tawfik Tirawi with a platform for unfettered propaganda. Thus Sherwood ends her piece with the following: [emphasis added]

“In the past, Tirawi has expressed scepticism over claims that Arafat’s food or water was poisoned. But, he insists, Israel’s siege of the Muqata contributed to Arafat’s death. “Regardless of how, of the way it happened, the Israelis killed Yasser Arafat. The situation that was around him, the living conditions. But it’s not an easy task to get at the truth. There’s a chance we might never know.”

So who is Tawfik Tirawi? Sherwood describes him as:

“…the head of the Palestinian committee investigating the death and one of those who was holed up with Arafat in the Muqata under Israeli siege for more than two years..”

But that is only part of the story. In fact, Tirawi has a very rich past as one of the people behind the organization and execution of the five-year terror war against Israeli civilians known as the second Intifada (barely mentioned by Sherwood in her article) which – a full eighteen months after it began, and immediately following the murders of 29 people in the Park Hotel suicide bombing – was the reason for the IDF’s entry into Ramallah. 

During the second Intifada, Tirawi was Head of the PA’s intelligence services in the West Bank. As such, he was directly involved in the organization of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and collaborated with the internationally recognised terror organisations Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

“In the course of Operation Defensive Shield the direct and acute involvement of Tawfik Tirawi, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, in orchestrating terrorist operation against Israel was revealed. Tirawi, who is a close confidant of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and has been with him in the Mukata’a since the IDF entered Ramallah, emerged as being directly involved in organizing attacks, providing financial aid to operatives involved in terrorist attacks and preparing them to carry out the attacks.

Tirawi’s men are also directly involved in terrorism and continue in the spirit of their commander. Thus, for example, on April 16, 2002 two explosive belts, one of them ready for use, were found in the home of Muhammad A’arj, a member of the General Intelligence Service and a resident of Kalandia refugee camp. Two suicide letters, battle vests, ammunition and red berets were also found.”

Tirawi is now a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee and as recently as last year was quoted as saying that Fatah has not abandoned armed conflict. In 2009, whilst in the role of Security Advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, he stated that “Jerusalem cannot be regained without thousands of martyrs”. 

“Tawfiq Tirawi: I am saying these things so that we understand that words are ineffective. Action is effective. Today, you have chosen to call [your course] “The Return [of the Refugees] and Jerusalem.” Believe me, brothers, whoever thinks that Israel will give us anything is deluding himself. And why would they give us anything? The Palestinians are divided, and the Arabs are weak. Any negotiations that are not based on a position of strength will not get you anything from the enemy. Indeed, why would they give us our rights as long as we are weak, divided, and dispersed?

Therefore, action [is what we need]. We do not have a position of strength on which negotiations can be based. However, as [former Israeli PM] Shamir said in 1993, if we want negotiations for the sake of negotiations, it can go on for decades.

But let me tell you, Jerusalem needs thousands of martyrs. If we live to see the day, and you become the leaders of the future, mark my words: It is impossible for Jerusalem to be restored to us without thousands of martyrs. Anyone who thinks that America will restore Jerusalem to us is mistaken. It will never restore Jerusalem to us. And if it does not give us Jerusalem, how can it possibly give us the Right of Return?

These are the two symbols that you have chosen as the title of this course. These two symbols require blood, action, efforts, resistance, and Palestinian unity.”

Such statements should, of course, be taken into account when trying to assess the end game of those intent upon rekindling the notion that Arafat was poisoned by Israel. 

“Suha Arafat said determining there had been a plot to kill her husband “will glorify more his legacy” and harden Palestinian resolve in any future negotiations with Israel.”

Tirawi’s committee is responsible for the collaboration with the Swiss laboratory which produced the information cited in the Al Jazeera report. The establishment of that ‘Investigatory Committee’ was a result of the second resolution passed at the Fatah conference in Bethlehem in 2009. The first resolution – agreed upon unanimously – stated that Israel was responsible for Arafat’s death.

One may therefore be justifiably sceptical of the impartiality of Tawfik Tirawi’s committee. 

Whatever the eventual scientific conclusions (if any) to the resurrection of the poisoning story by Al Jazeera and Suha Arafat,  one can be fairly sure of the fact that they will pale into insignificance next to the political hay which will be reaped as a consequence of Arafat’s exhumation. 

The Guardian, which recently gave an astounding display of its irresponsibility in the trigger-happy propagation of unfounded rumours of Israeli and Jewish involvement in the making of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video, appears – regrettably –  to have learned nothing from the ensuing events.

As one bout of cross continental rumour-fueled violence finally begins to subside, did Harriet Sherwood really think there was any journalistic merit in uncritically repeating the fact-free speculations and urban myths of a man with a rich terrorist past and self-professed violent intentions for the future?