Following stories about Bowen’s experiences in Bosnia and Bangladesh, Peter Allen turned the conversation (at 01:45:27) to an incident which will be familiar to long-time readers because Bowen has recounted it on various platforms on numerous occasions in the past.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Allen: “The turning point for you, I guess, came with the death of your driver, your friend, your producer Abed Abu [unintelligible] in Lebanon.”
Bowen: “Yeah…in 2000 when the Israelis were pulling out.”
Allen: “You thought you’d set up for a piece to camera, wasn’t it?”
Bowen: “I was gonna stop…the Israelis were leaving Lebanon after an occupation in the south that had lasted more than 20 years. And there was this guy Abed Takkhoush who had worked with the BBC for many years and he was very experienced and he loved doing what he was doing and we had…I was working as well with a Lebanese cameraman – a guy called Malek. And Malek and I we stopped to do a piece to camera by the border wire – you could see into Israel. And we didn’t want to get anywhere close to the retreating troops because, you know, a retreating army leaving is always dangerous. But I didn’t enough think…I didn’t think enough about the fact that they could shoot at us from the other side of the border wire. I thought because we were a long way back from the troops they wouldn’t.
But a couple of minutes after I got out with Malek there was a bright – you know, early summer day – there was a huge explosion and I turned round. And it was filmed because we were trying to do the piece to camera at the time it was…and there was a big explosion behind me and then I could see…he leapt out through the window – not leapt: he managed to force his body out –I mean he was on fire. And I said to Malek ‘come on, let’s get up there’ and he said ‘no, no; don’t go up there Jeremy because believe you me he’s dead. He may have had the strength to get out but he’ll be dead now and if you move up there they’ll kill you too’. And eventually I did try and move up there, they opened up in our direction with a heavy machine gun from the tank and a colleague from the Times, his driver had heard the radio traffic in Hebrew and they had said ‘we’ve got one, we’ll get the other two with a heavy machine gun’. So I know that if I’d gone up there I’d have been killed or badly hurt but I still feel bad that, you know, I didn’t have a Hollywood ending, you know, or rather he couldn’t.”
Allen: “You had to shelter under a rock while you made…”
Bowen: “Yeah, yeah we were stuck there, we were shouting to him. I was under cover trying to keep out of trouble myself and shouting out to him and he didn’t answer. In fact in the end…the Lebanese Red Crescent take the bodies off the road in these situations and they couldn’t get up there for hours and hours and hours until they…I think they…through the UN. They coordinated a, you know, a mission to pick up the body between the UN and the Israelis. But the Israelis claimed that we were terrorists. I don’t believe that there was any sign that we were terrorists. I think that they were just trigger happy. And I even went to see a…a general in Tel Aviv when I got back to Israel – I was living in Israel at the time – and he said ‘look, look you’ve got to imagine what it’s like. There were three young boys in that tank. They were terrified. They’d had warnings there’d be…there’d be…ah…terrorists in the area’. And you know I thought where do you start with all of that? You know the fact is that my colleague, my friend, got killed. I think that they…we did a big investigation and we showed that they were shooting quite a lot at civilian vehicles. I think maybe what they were trying to do is to keep people back from the army as it went back. But you know we shouldn’t have stopped. I mean that was my fault for stopping.”
Allen: “At the time you thought it was safe. I mean…”
Bowen: “I thought it was safe.”
Allen: “You felt you were indestructible in those years; you thought it won’t happen to me.”
Bowen: “Yeah and I was wrong.”
Allen: “And that changed it. That changed everything.”
Israel did not of course ‘claim’ that Bowen and his crew “were terrorists”. As the IDF’s investigation into the incident at the time showed:
“…in the early morning hours of that day an intelligence alert was passed to the tank crew regarding the possibility of the firing of rockets by terrorists at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. The tank crew identified a vehicle and in it people in civilian clothing and suspected that they were a terror cell with equipment to fire anti-tank missiles. In line with the protocol the tank crew passed on the information to the appropriate bodies and was given permission to open fire. Later, said the IDF spokesperson, it transpired that a tragic mistake had been made and that a BBC film crew had been mistakenly identified as a terrorist cell.”
The interview included questions from listeners and later on (at 01:51:58) Caroline Barker read one of them.
Barker: “…Jeff says ‘how hard is it to stay impartial in your reporting after you’ve seen your friend killed?'”
Allen: “And of course you’ve had accusations, haven’t you? Plenty of accusations from the Israelis.”
Bowen: “Well the last few weeks, after a story – the most recent story I did over there which was about a young woman who’s been accused of all sorts of things and is in prison awaiting trial after she slapped a soldier. Ahm…so yeah; I’m very used to that. Actually I think it’s remarkably easy.”
The “recent story” to which Bowen refers is of course that told in his filmed and audio reports concerning Ahed Tamimi (see ‘related articles’ below) in which he concealed an actual charge of incitement against her while disingenuously leading BBC audiences to believe that Israel is charging her with terrorism offences because of “a slap”.
And yet, Mr Bowen still claims that keeping to professed BBC standards of impartiality is, for him, “remarkably easy”.