A BBC Middle East correspondent has made the astonishing claim that the killing of three Israeli youths in the West Bank last month is somehow more appalling than “the other waves of violence that we report on across the Middle East.”
Kevin Connolly’s remarks, which seem to place the murders of three Israeli youths above the thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel during decades of illegal occupation, and above the slaughter in Syria and Iraq, were made during a live exchange on Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday.
Connolly was responding to a question from Today presenter John Humphrys as they discussed the discovery of the bodies of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach the previous day.
The content of Humphry’s question was highly unusual for a BBC program. The presenter put this to Connolly: “Many people outside the Middle East perhaps, might say, well, if you look at the arithmetic of death in the region, more Palestinians are killed by Israelis than Israelis are killed by Palestinians, but we make a much bigger fuss if it’s Israelis who are killed.”
The BBC’s Middle East correspondent replied:
I think that’s true and that’s a difficult issue … Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli security sweeps conducted across the West Bank, as the Israeli army searched for the three boys and for clues as to what happened to them, but I think Israelis would argue that the nature of this crime – these three boys were from a religious college on the West Bank – they were just hitchhiking home for the weekend — the nature of it, the brutal abduction, the murder, the fact that the families were left for two and a half weeks not knowing the fate of the boys — there was a special kind of chilling factor, a cold blooded calculation to that crime that slightly sets it aside from the other waves of violence that we report on across the Middle East.
So it is a difficult issue and I think we can’t make those kinds of mathematical equivalences and moral equivalences between deaths in different circumstances. All we can say is, this case has profoundly shocked and outraged Israeli society and political and military reaction from Israel will be calibrated on that sense of shock and outrage.
Connolly initially appears to tie in his own views with what “Israelis would argue,” before going on to very definitely speak for himself.
So what we have is a supposedly impartial BBC Middle East correspondent elevating three Israeli deaths above all others in the Middle East and justifying this elevation by claiming that the circumstances in which they were killed were uniquely awful.
Connolly is passionate in describing the pain he says is felt by “Israeli society,” but his reasons for what “sets [these killings] aside” from all others do not stand up to scrutiny.
He says “the boys,” as he repeatedly refers to them, were “just hitchhiking home,” the implication being that this was such a normal, innocent activity that it separates these killings from all others in the Middle East.
But what does Connolly think toddlers in Gaza are doing when an Israeli shell lands on their house and buries them under piles of rubble? What does he think young boys in the West Bank are doing when an Israeli soldier shoots them in the chest or head?
These children, too, are “just” doing something when killed. Yussef Shawamreh, 14, shot in the back by Israeli soldiers in March, was “just” collecting thistles with his friends. Saji Darwish, shot in the head the same month, was “just” tending his goats when killed. Where was Connolly’s passionate sympathy then?
The answer is, nowhere. The BBC did not even report on these killings, let alone give them daily coverage on Today, its flagship morning news program which influences the BBC’s news agenda for the rest of the day.
And doesn’t Connolly think there was “a special kind of chilling factor, a cold blooded calculation” to the Israeli sniper shootings of 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara and 16-year-old Muhammed Abu al-Thahir on Nakba Day this year?
These two boys were “just” minding their own business when they were picked out by Israeli snipers somewhere above them and shot dead in cold blood, their murders caught on CCTV.
Connolly, of course, knows all this, even if he has no sympathy or empathy for these particular victims. The disingenuousness he displays with his “just hitchhiking home” comment pervades his entire argument.
He knows, but decides to omit, that the youths’ final destination was the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, the largest collection of settlements eating away Palestinian land, and notorious for the extreme religious nationalism of many of the settlers who live there.
He knows too that the “religious college” they were coming from - the Shavei-Hevron yeshiva - is in occupied Hebron, where the lives of Palestinians are made a daily misery by violent fundamentalist settlers, many of whom live in the Kiryat Arba settlement where the yeshiva is located.
This settlement is described as “a hotbed of Jewish terrorism” by journalist and author Max Blumenthal, while the leader of Shavei-Hevron yeshiva, Dov Lior, was instrumental in having a shrine constructed to Baruch Goldstein, the settler who massacred 29 Palestinians as they prayed in a Hebron mosque in 1994. Another 150 were wounded in Goldstein’s shooting spree before he, himself, was killed.
Brutal collective punishment
Connolly’s deceptively innocent “just hitchhiking home” description is intended to mask a more complex reality, and that reality, as described above, is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
The killing of these three youths should not be set aside as unique or worse than other killings, as Connolly demands, but should be recognized in the context of the occupation, in the same way as the killings of Nuwara, Abu al-Thahir, Shawamreh and Darwish, also murdered in the preceding months.
But the BBC’s coverage of the abduction and murder of the Israelis over three weeks has consistently omitted to mention the occupation, allowing journalists to present their killings as having occurred, as Connolly puts it, “in different circumstances.”
The brutal collective punishment, illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which has been meted out to the Palestinian population of the West Bank since the teenagers went missing – army invasions of towns and villages, homes and universities ransacked by armed soldiers, more than 500 people detained and held without charge, Palestinians shot dead – has also not been presented by the BBC for what it is: a larger dose of the occupation than normal.
Instead, Israel’s excuse for this terror is accepted unquestioningly and uncritically by the BBC’s journalists, as Connolly demonstrates when he says to Humphrys that Palestinians were killed during “security sweeps conducted across the West Bank, as the Israeli army searched for the three boys and for clues as to what happened to them.”
Does the BBC’s Middle East correspondent really think that the Israeli army was looking for clues when it conducted night raids on civilian populations, abducted hundreds of Palestinians and destroyed the interiors of family homes?
Maybe he does, and maybe he thinks this is a normal and acceptable way of clue-hunting.
He certainly doesn’t posit the idea that Israel’s next steps in bringing the killers to justice should be judicial, not military, and that punishment should be reserved for the killers alone, and not dealt out to the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza.
Instead, he seems to have already accepted what may be coming from Israel, and explains it without condemnation to Humphrys: “this case has profoundly shocked and outraged Israeli society and political and military reaction from Israel will be calibrated on that sense of shock and outrage.”
Connolly’s statement to Humphrys was less than 200 words, but it encapsulates the whole of the BBC’s reporting in relation to the abduction and murders of Frenkel, Shaar and Yifrach, and the consequences for the Palestinians.
And in his apparent belief that these Israeli lives were worth more than Palestinian lives, and the taking of them therefore more shocking, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent sums up the BBC’s reporting on Palestine and Israel in general – reporting which every day shows itself to be less and less impartial and, consequently, less and less trustworthy.
The exchange between Kevin Connolly and John Humphrys can be heard here at timecode 02:10:14 (until Tuesday 8 July).
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