Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

On October 14th 2012 an interview with the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen appeared in The Observer. In the course of the interview, Bowen brought up the subject of the incident in May 2000 in which his driver in Lebanon, Abed Takkoush, was killed whilst Bowen was covering the withdrawal of the IDF from South Lebanon. 

“…in Lebanon [while covering the Israeli Defence Forces’ withdrawal from the country], my driver, Abed, was killed by Israeli fire. I’d been talking to my literary agent on the phone. I got out of the car. My driver was on the phone to his son. I walked away with my cameraman. There was a huge explosion. I looked round. The car was on fire. My driver was killed. The next day, two colleagues were killed in Sierra Leone. I had all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance. I had counselling. It did help. I think I’m OK.”

Later in the interview, Bowen stated [emphasis added]:

“I’m haunted by the fact that when Abed was killed, I didn’t run back to the car. The Israelis would have killed me too if I had. But I still feel I let him down.”

The certainty with which that statement is made is significant. Bowen does not choose to say “I might have been killed”: he is sure about it – and he is sure about who would have done it. 

One may well consider this understandable in light of the very real trauma a person must experience having gone through such an event, and it is surely a terrible belief to have to live with. 

But given Bowen’s position as Middle East Editor – the gatekeeper of Middle East reporting – and his involvement in setting the curriculum for the Middle East module at the BBC’s College of Journalism, one must also wonder if Bowen’s belief still influences his outlook on the Middle East twelve years on.

One may also ask oneself how that belief is viewed by his colleagues. Do they too subscribe to Bowen’s convictions? Apparently some at least do. 

In an essay written as a chapter for a book about journalists who died in Iraq published by the International News Safety Institute, veteran BBC presenter Nik Gowing wrote the following: 

“There is a growing fear in our business that some governments – especially the most militarily sophisticated like the US and Israel – are sanctioning the active targeting of journalists in war zones in order to shut down what we are there to do – to bear witness and report what they are doing.

The fear is that an apparent culture of impunity by at least two nations is already actively encouraging others to believe they can get away with targeting and eliminating journalists, or at least turn a convenient blind eye to the issue. More than ever, we are inconvenient eyes and ears who monitor and report what some in power and command would much prefer we did not.”

That, of course, is a very serious accusation indeed, and not one which should be thrown about irresponsibly without concrete proof – which Gowing does not appear to be able to provide as his essay relies purely upon assumptions and conjecture.  

It is also an accusation which those familiar with the IDF from the inside will find nothing less than incredible. 

Gowing’s essay even goes on to suggest that Israel targets “peace activists” as well as journalists. 

“Such warnings and criticisms have led to no reversal in Israel’s apparent policy of indifference not just to media operations, but also to the activities of humanitarian workers and peace activists in sensitive military areas. Indeed, the apparent culture of impunity that began before the start of Intifada 2 has deepened, judging by the escalating number of attacks in 2002/3. This includes a steadily intensifying rate of deaths by shooting with no subsequent detailed investigations, or at least anything made public.

In November 2002, an Israeli army sniper shot dead the UN worker Ian Hook inside a UN compound in Jenin. Months later there was no IDF explanation of what Hook’s colleagues called “cold blooded murder” . There remain similar grave questions in at least three other cases. Firstly after the peace activist Rachel Corrie sustained fatal injuries when she was knocked to the ground and crushed by a military bulldozer in Gaza.Two weeks later a US colleague Brian Avery was shot and seriously injured. Then there were the massive brain injuries sustained by the young photographer and peace activist Tom Hurndall after he was shot in the head during a protest in Gaza.”

Worryingly, Gowing’s unsubstantiated claims have been passed on to new generations of journalists studying in British universities, either as reading material or in lectures such as this one at the LSE in 2004 in which he stated: 

“But the trouble is that a lot of the military – particularly the American and the Israeli military – do not want us there. And they make it very uncomfortable for us to work.  And I think that this – and I am giving you headlines here – is leading to security forces in some instances feeling it is legitimate to target us with deadly force and with impunity.” 

If the bizarre beliefs expressed by Jeremy Bowen and Nik Gowing are at all representative of the prevailing school of thought within the corridors of the BBC, then it is surely necessary to ask ourselves to what degree any BBC journalist can adhere to true impartiality on the subject of Israel if he believes, or has been led to believe by industry icons such as Bowen and Gowing, that the country is out to kill him and his colleagues. 

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21 comments on “Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

  1. The BBC is of course rather (now in-)famous for only getting things right, but in terms of objectivity alone, actual and perceived (not that they have, do or need to worry about any adverse consequences in that regard no matter what. And it shows now) I have always wondered how it was rationalised that a person with such an experience and views was deemed the ideal choice to ‘report’, as much on impressions as fact, from the most febrile part of the planet, between the ideologies squaring off against each other there.

    One is sure that explanation would, if ever provided, would be quite unique.

    What next? Osama’s youngest spelling Mark Mardell on the US elections… for balance?

    • Several journalists have been killed by Israeli fire.

      “James Henry Dominic Miller was killed by a single shot fired by a soldier from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on 2 May 2003 while filming a documentary in Rafah. The Israeli Military Police investigation into Miller’s death closed on 9 March 2005 with an announcement that the soldier suspected of firing the shot would not be indicted as they could not establish that his shot was responsible, though he would be disciplined for violating the rules of engagement and for changing his account of the incident. On 6 April 2006, the inquest jury at St Pancras Coroner’s Court in London returned a verdict of unlawful killing, finding that Miller had been “murdered.” After meetings with the Miller family, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, sent a formal request to his Israeli counterpart in June 2007 for prosecution proceedings to be enacted within six weeks against the soldier responsible for firing the shot. The requests were ignored by the Israeli government and prosecution proceedings were never enacted.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Miller_(filmmaker)

      • “An Italian photographer was killed by Israeli machine-gun fire in fierce fighting in central Ramallah yesterday. He was the first foreign journalist to be killed in the 18 months of the Palestinian uprising. A French photographer was injured by shrapnel yesterday and an Egyptian cameraman was hit when Israeli troops shot at his car – which was marked with TV signs – but the bullets were stopped by his flak jacket.”

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/mar/14/israel2

  2. Does he,do they, REALLY believe that they are in more danger from US and Israeli forces than those from any dictitorial government! I think this say something, something very disturbing, about the mindset of these (all too many of the total) journalists.

    • They seem to lose these concerns about Israel when reporting on Syria from Tel Aviv.

      Clearly they do know the difference between genuine danger and hyperbole.

      • I do believe that Israel has the largest # of foreign correspondants in the world. Lots of stories and it’s SAFE and Comfortable. Lots of security and 5 Star hotels. Not so safe or comfy on the Arab side.

    • Jeremy Bowen is quite full of self importance. He ignores the fact that in war zones non combatants risk being killed just because they are there. His arrogance seems to characterize many members of Great Britain’s media elite.

      • Sylvie; While I don’t doubt there is an element of self importance involved, all you have to do is compare the media coverage of Israeli actions to those of Syria and Iran. One could be excused if you believe most of the violence was on the part of Israeli security forces. The brutal supression of the Iranian Greens received far less coverage than any Palestinian demonstration. And despite 30,000+ Syrian deaths, most UN criticisim is still aimed at Israel. No Sylvie. What we are seeing is pure anti-semitism. There is a nearly hysterical undertone to to the media attacks on Israel.

        And just how much coverage is the media, and BBC in particular, giving to the non stop anti semitic statements madein the Arab media. And not just the media. This is comming from the leadership of multiple Arab and Muslim governments.

  3. ‘In an essay written as a chapter for a book about journalists who died in Iraq published by the International News Safety Institute, veteran BBC presenter Nik Gowing wrote the following:

    “There is a growing fear in our business that some governments – especially the most militarily sophisticated like the US and Israel – are sanctioning the active targeting of journalists in war zones in order to shut down what we are there to do – to bear witness and report what they are doing.’

    Let me guess. Nik Gowing is one of the standard ‘hate the west’ BBC types. ‘Growing fear’ he opines. As someone wrote about Assange, Russia does kill journalists. Assange didn’t publish anything derogatory about Russia.

    • Well said Clap. It’s of concern that this seems to be the standard mindset of far to many in the media. I also suspect that if the US or Israeli military’s wanted these guys dead, they would be DEAD!

  4. Bowen has demonstrated repeatedly that he is incapable of reporting on Israel without his own personal bias and views colouring the report. Lifting out a teddy bear from the rubble of a Hezbollah neighbourhood wasn’t journalism – it’s propaganda.

    There is indeed a personal tragedy which he went through, but one has to ask whether he is then the best person for the job.

    On a separate note, I just don’t think he’s very bright. Compare and contrast to the excellent and perceptive Tim Marshall on Sky, who always has a unique perspective to bring to the debate – Bowen just regurgitates every cliche and received wisdom of the BBC.

    • “Compare and contrast to the excellent and perceptive Tim Marshall on Sky, who always has a unique perspective to bring to the debate – Bowen just regurgitates every cliche and received wisdom of the BBC.”

      I find BBC reporting on the ME in general quite shallow. The dumbing down is almost patronising.

      • I agree with you 100%. The BBC’s coverage of the Middle East for the past couple of decades has been absolutely appalling. For me, it’s my last source for Middle East news and analysis. People like Bowen haven’t a clue what’s really going on. His take on events is very stereotyped and limited. I’ve lived in Israel for many years and what is portrayed on the BBC gives a very distorted picture to its viewers and listeners.

        • I’m not sure if the BBC is so fixated on Israel that it takes its eye off the massive ball that is the Middle East; whether its correspondants are – for whatever reason – not suited to the task or whether it surveys the public from its ivory tower and believes it incapable of understanding the fine art of the issues so they – the BBC – must produce paint-by-numbers level reporting.

          What troubles me with any one of these possibilities is that the British public seem not to know what they should know until almost the last minute. How long have we known about Iran? Yet ask many Brits and they’ll think it’s a recent development. In that sense, one can’t really blame the average Brit if his or her opinion is that Israel is impatient and potentially irresponsible.

  5. Bowen’s “… involvement in setting the curriculum for the Middle East module at the BBC’s College of Journalism.”

    He’s teaching would-be beeboids about the Middle East? Duvidl still wants to know how his own Arabic/Hebrew/Farsi language lessons are coming along? Duvidl would be happy to chat with him in Hebrew or Yiddish plus a few words of Amharic. He can also assure Jeremy that he and his interpreter would be in no danger, like Alan Johnston from the Dog Mush clan. Could Alan possibly give a guest lecture on the Middle East module at BBC TV Centre, former HQ of the late self-styled “King” Jimmy Savile?

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