Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Gallia Lindenstrauss, Sarah J. Feuer and Ofir Winter analyse ‘The Perils of the Turkey-Libya Maritime Delimitation Deal’.

“The November 27, 2019 signing of the maritime delimitation agreement between Turkey and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, has heightened concerns among many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. The deal will negatively affect Turkey’s relations with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel; pose further challenges to the already questionable plans for the EastMed pipeline; and raise the stakes for outside actors involved in the Libyan civil war, likely prolonging the conflict there. It may, however, have a boomerang effect from Ankara’s perspective in that it strengthens Egypt’s determination to become an energy hub for the region.”

2) Writing at Commentary magazine, Jonathan Schanzer discusses ‘The new rocket threat to Israel’.

“If Israel doesn’t find a way to halt Iran’s PGM project, the very character of its wars will change. Despite a steady stream of attacks perpetrated by their enemies in recent years, the Israelis have not needed to fight long or particularly bloody wars. Instead, they have been conducting limited operations. Israel has, in fact, often been able to determine the beginning and end of these flare-ups. Iron Dome’s ability to neutralize rudimentary rockets has made that possible. But now, with PGMs in play, Israel may no longer be able to dictate the terms of conflict when its enemies want one.

And let there be no doubt: They want one.”

3) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at ‘The Riddle of Baghdad’.

“Last week, five rockets were fired at the Ayn al-Asad base in Iraq’s Anbar Province.  The base is a facility housing US troops.  Ayn al-Asad is something of a symbol for the 5,000 strong US presence in Iraq.  […]

Two days  later, Katyusha rockets were fired at the Balad airbase, 70 kilometers north of Baghdad.  Again, this is a base where US forces and contractors are stationed.

There were no casualties in either attack. They were the latest in a string of similar incidents which have taken place on US facilities in Iraq since the beginning of the year. These attacks have a number of things in common, other than that they are directed at US personnel and facilities: they appear to be intended for now to send a message rather than to cause injuries or fatalities among US troops.

They are also notable in that no force or organization has taken responsibility for them.”

4) David Hirsh argues that ‘Corbyn’s legacy is that political antisemitism has re-entered the British mainstream’ at the Fathom Journal.

“Corbyn’s movement has left behind many thousands of people who have been educated to believe that between ‘us’ and ‘socialism’ sits the formidable obstacle of Jewish power. The rage and shame that they are feeling after their humiliating defeat should not be under-estimated. For many it will be a key formative experience. Political antisemitism has re-entered the British mainstream, and it is not going to just disappear. There is reason to believe that on the populist left people who have been learning to understand the world through antisemitism will find ways to actualise that in the development of antisemitic social movements.”

 

BBC News avoids the term ‘occupation’ in Cyprus gas report

A report titled “Turkish drone fuels tension over Cyprus gas claims” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on December 16th.

The report begins by informing readers that:

“A Turkish military drone has arrived at a base in Turkish-backed northern Cyprus to help controversial gas exploration projects near the island.

A Turkish military official said the drone would escort its drilling ships. There are two – the Fatih and Yavuz – in the area, despite strong criticism from Cyprus and its EU partners.” [emphasis added]

It goes on:

“Turkey alone recognises the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”

Readers are provided with a similarly worded map:

Later on an attempt is made to provide some historical background:

“The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have been separated by a UN buffer zone since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to a military coup in Cyprus backed by Greece.”

Interestingly – but predictably – the words ‘occupation’ and ‘occupied’ do not appear anywhere in this report. As has been the case in past BBC reporting, there is no reference in the report to “illegal settlements” or “international law” despite the fact that it was Turkish state policy to facilitate and encourage the immigration of Turkish nationals to Cyrpus during the latter half of the 1970s.

In contrast to BBC coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, readers do not find any pronouncements allocating disputed territory to one side or the other in the style of the frequently employed terminology “occupied Palestinian land” and “Palestinian territory” and no mention is made of the presence of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus. Moreover, the previous BBC policy of describing northern Cyprus as being ‘controlled’ by Turkey appears to have been abandoned.

Readers are told that:

“The Republic of Cyprus, Greece and Israel are also exploring for gas.

In July [sic] a new “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” (EMGF) was launched by those three countries, plus Egypt, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority. However, Turkey was excluded.”

The EMGF was actually established in January 2019.

The background to the story includes agreements reached in late November between Turkey and the interim government of Libya which are described as follows:

“Last month, Turkey and the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the region.

The Memorandum of Understanding aims to protect the rights of both countries against any “illegal” encroachments by other players in the region.

In a separate memorandum, Turkey and the GNA agreed on military co-operation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government was “ready to provide all kinds of support to Libya”. He met GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul on Sunday.”

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus adds:

“Turkey’s deal with the Libyan government in Tripoli extends Ankara’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to touch that of Libya. This effectively cuts off Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and the Palestinians from Greece and Italy, threatening planned energy pipeline projects in the region.

Egypt objected. Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador and received support from the EU.”

Writing at the FDD, Aykan Erdemir provides a more helpful explanation:

“Turkey signed an agreement with Libya on November 27 in an attempt to redraw maritime boundaries in the volatile eastern Mediterranean. […] the Turkey-Libya deal will fuel further tensions by threatening Greek, Cypriot, and Egyptian control of their territorial waters. […]

The deal seeks to create a maritime corridor between the two countries, stretching from southwest Turkey to northeast Libya. This corridor would cut through a zone currently claimed by Greece and Cyprus, which are planning a future gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean gas fields to markets in Europe – a project that would help the continent reduce dependency on Russian gas. Ankara’s attempt to dictate new boundaries directly challenges the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece. […]

Tensions among Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia were already high due to Turkey’s exploration and drilling for gas within Cypriot territorial waters. Since a 1974 coup attempt led by Greek army officers, Turkey has occupied the northern part of the island, where Turkish Cypriots maintain a self-proclaimed independent state recognized only by Ankara. After the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus discovered natural gas within its EEZ, Turkey has repeatedly attempted to drill in Cypriot territorial waters. The Turkish government claims its drilling is necessary to ensure equal shares for Turkish Cypriots in gas revenues, but its incursions into Cypriot and Greek waters have escalated tensions with Athens and Nicosia, forced the European Union to consider imposing sanctions, and left Ankara with few allies in the region.”

The BBC report’s explanation of what its opening sentence described as “controversial gas exploration projects” is as follows:

“Turkey has long challenged the Republic of Cyprus government’s exclusive drilling rights in the region. Turkey is now stepping up oil and gas exploration of its own.”

And:

“The Republic of Cyprus argues that Turkey has no right to drill for hydrocarbons off its coast.

Turkey says its drilling operations are taking place inside its continental shelf, and therefore comply with international law.”

That ‘he said-she said’ portrayal of the dispute clearly does not provide BBC audiences with the “depth of analysis” required “to build people’s understanding” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.  

Related Articles:

Not all ‘occupied territories’ are equal for the BBC

When the BBC News website reported an enduring conflict without a narrative

BBC double standards on disputed territory in evidence again

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “Arab Spring: the Second Coming?”.

“The current instability in Algeria, Sudan and Libya has led to some excited western media coverage heralding a second chapter of the Arab Spring.  Those celebrating should be careful what they wish for. The Arab uprisings of 2010-11 and the subsequent years began with great hope but with the partial exception of Tunisia, left only strife, war and state fragmentation in their wake. One can only wish the protestors much luck, while noting that the record suggests that societies lacking civil society traditions and institutions are unlikely to achieve better governance through mass action.”

2) The ITIC reports on “Hamas’s financial aid to the wounded and the families of those killed in the Return Marches”.

“Right from the outset of the march project, Hamas realized that the marches were exacting a heavy toll of dead and wounded, many of them Hamas operatives, who were killed or wounded in clashes with IDF soldiers near the security fence. Therefore, the treatment of the wounded, and assistance to the families of those killed, has preoccupied Hamas since the start of the marches. Despite its economic difficulties, Hamas allocated large sums of money, initially amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, which subsequently rose to hundreds of thousands and reached millions of dollars. Senior Hamas figures reiterated the importance of the aid, and made sure to visit the wounded, including those hospitalized abroad. Hamas’s concern for the wounded and the families of those killed is also intended to encourage the continued participation of the Gazan population in the marches and halt the public criticism of its negligence in caring for the wounded, which began to be voiced as the marches continued.”

3) At Legal Insurrection, Petra Marquardt-Bigman discusses “Anti-Israel bias at Human Rights Watch”.

“Israel has refused to renew a visa for Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch (HRW) to remain in Israel as a human rights worker, based on his long history of anti-Israel activism. This has caused a storm of controversy and lawsuits, leading to the fair question: Is Shakir entitled to a work visa to promote human rights if what he really is promoting is anti-Israel activism and the destruction of Israel?

Not surprisingly, the international media has taken Shakir’s side.”

4) Jonathan Schanzer lays out The Gaza Conundrum at Commentary Magazine.

“The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) currently facilitates the entry of thousands of truckloads of goods to enter the Gaza Strip every day, even as a military blockade remains in place to block dual-use materials and sophisticated weaponry from the Gaza Strip. In other words, Israel has two policies. One is to isolate Hamas, and the other is to allow services to be rendered to the Gazan people.

Israel, for the sake of calm, has even engaged with the Turks and the Qataris, despite both countries’ avowed anti-Zionism and support for Hamas. It has permitted them to provide funds and other assistance to the coastal enclave. Gaza’s suffering continues, however, because Hamas continues to divert funds for commando tunnels, rockets, and other tools of war. And under Hamas rule, there is not much political space to challenge these policies. Anti-Israel sentiment is the only permissible form of protest. This has only served to further radicalize a population that has for years been fed a steady diet of hate.”

Related Articles:

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer analyses the background to “Generals Vs. Islamists in Libya”.

“While the fight may appear to be simply a tussle for resources and power between an ambitious military man and a government of shaky legitimacy, the chaotic Libyan battle is in fact a proxy war pitting clients of two key power axes in the Middle East against one another. For this reason, its outcome is of interest to Western powers – and to Israel.

To understand this, it is necessary to observe who is supporting whom in Libya. Haftar and his LNA have benefited since 2014 from the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. […]

On the other side, Turkey and Qatar (and the now-deposed Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir) are strongly supportive of the Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood associated elements that share power with the government in Tripoli.” 

2) At the JCPA Pinhas Inbari takes a look at the new PA prime minister’s economic policy.

“The Palestinian Authority returned hundreds of millions of shekels that the Israeli government deposited into its accounts in recent months, it was revealed on April 29, 2019. Israel traditionally collects tax revenues for the PA on Palestinian purchases, but when Israel began deducting monthly the sum of 41.8 million shekalim, equivalent to the amount the PA pays in terrorists’ salaries and grants, the Palestinians declared they would refuse to accept any of their monthly payment. Israel’s unilateral deposit into the PA accounts was a response to the growing concern of a financial collapse of the Palestinian government.

In parallel to the rejection of the funds, the Palestinian Authority declared it would not cover medical costs for Palestinian medical patients sent to Israeli hospitals.”

3) At the ITIC Dr Raz Zimmt has a profile of “Hossein Salami The New Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps”.

“On April 21, 2019, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, appointed Hossein Salami to the position of the new Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC); Salami is the eighth commander of the force. Salami, who served as the Deputy Commander of the IRGC over the past decade, replaced Mohammad-Ali Jafari, who served at the IRGC Commander since September 2007. […]

Over the past decade, Salami has emerged as one of the IRGC’s prominent commanders, mainly due to his hardline statements reflecting adherence to the principles of the Islamic Revolution and the strategic goals of the Islamic Republic on issues related to internal and foreign policies. He gained attention for his extreme rhetoric and defiant statements targeting the United States and Israel, and consistent rejection of any possibility for compromise or concessions on the part of Iran in light of Western demands and growing pressure on Tehran.”

4) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has produced a new video about “the connection between Judaism and Israel”.

 

Yom HaShoah

יום הזכרון לשואה ולגבורה תשע”ט

Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2019

In Libya:

“In 1942 the Italians, who had already determined to adopt a more radical policy against the Jews, used the Jewish community’s enthusiastic welcome of the Allied soldiers as a pretext to punish the Jews of Libya for their betrayal. Mussolini determined to disperse or remove the Libyan Jews; this campaign was called “sfollamento”. The sfollamento of the Libyan Jews was different depending on the area in which they lived. In the Cyrenaica area, the Jews were divided into three groups according to their citizenship:

  • Jews with French citizenship or under Tunisian protection were to be sent to concentration camps in Algeria and Tunisia;
  • Jews with British citizenship were to be sent to camps in Europe. Though initially they were thrown into detention camps in Italy, once the Germans occupied Italy in 1943 they were taken to Bergen Belsen, in Germany, and Innsbruck-Reichenau, an affiliate of Dachau, in Austria;
  • Jews holding Libyan citizenship, especially those from the Cyrenaica region, were to be deported to concentration camps in Tripolitania, the most infamous of which was Giado (Jado). […]

Giado (or Jado), on the border of the desert, 235 kilometers south of Tripoli, was the most brutal of the camps in Libya. Jado was a former army camp, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Its commandants were Italian, and the guards were Italian and Arab policemen. By June, 1942, the Italians had deported, in stages, a total of 2,584 Jews to Jado; all but 47 of them were Libyan Jews. Living conditions in the camp were miserable. The camp was overcrowded – tens of families slept in a space of four meters and separated only by bedding and blankets. Daily food rations consisted of a few grams of rice, oil, sugar and coffee substitute. Men over the age of 18 were sent out everyday to forced labor. Water shortages, malnutrition, overcrowding, and filth intensified the spread of contagious diseases. Inmates buried the dead in a cemetery on a hill outside the camp which had been an ancient Jewish cemetery. On top of this wretched existence, the Italian guards of the camp enjoyed humiliating the Jews. Out of the almost 2,600 Jews sent to Jado, 562 Jews died of weakness and hunger, and especially from typhoid fever and typhus. This was the highest number of Jewish victims in Islamic countries during World War II.”

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC reports on the “Nature and Functioning of the Supreme National Authority of the Return Marches and Lifting the Siege”.

“A year has passed since the return march project began. Preparations for the project began in early 2018 as an initiative of social activists and organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. In the early stages, when the idea was being formulated, the organizers of the march claimed that the events would not be of a political nature, that official representatives of the various organizations would not participate, and that there would be no violence. Hamas supported the idea of the marches, but preferred to remain behind the scenes in the initial preparation stage. However, Hamas quickly took over the reins and took control of the return marches, even before the first march took place, on March 30, 2018. The longer the marches continued, the greater the importance attached to them by Hamas.”

2) At the INSS, Sarah J Feuer analyses the unrest in North Africa.

“With the apparent defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS), the approaching end to the civil war in Syria, and sovereignty returning to Iraq, the Middle East has appeared to settle into a relative, if tense, calm. Across North Africa, however, where the upheavals began eight years ago, recent weeks have witnessed a growing unrest reminiscent of the Arab Spring’s early days. Though ostensibly unrelated, the removal of longtime autocrats in Algeria and Sudan, and an emerging strongman’s bid for hegemony in Libya, collectively point to competing visions for a post-Arab Spring order whose fate remains uncertain.”

3) Writing at Bloomberg, Daniel Gordis argues that “Israel’s Election Didn’t Kill Hope for Peace. It Was Already Dead.

“Many Israelis still hope for peace, and many (though a steadily decreasing number) still favor a two-state solution. But few imagine that there is any chance for either in the coming years. U.S. President Donald Trump has long promised to deliver the “deal of the century,” but Israelis are largely of two minds on that: Many believe it will never see the light of day; most of the rest think that because the Palestinians have already declared the program “born dead,” it makes no difference what Israelis think of it.

There is no “deal” now or in the foreseeable future primarily because the Palestinians have still not made peace with the idea that a Jewish state is here to stay. When Hamas, which controls Gaza, started its “March of Return” last year, it promised that the march would mark the beginning of the “liberation of all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.” The march, in other words, was simply the latest chapter in Hamas’s drive to destroy the Jewish state.”

4) At the JCPA Pinhas Inbari takes a look behind the scenes of the formation of the new PA government about which BBC audiences have yet to hear.

“On April 13, 2019, Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh announced the formation of his new Palestinian Authority government. The announcement followed earlier reports he was going to ask President Mahmoud Abbas to give him an extension to complete his task of government formation. […]

The reason for the extension was that he wanted to meet the challenge of defining the government as a broad, Palestinian “PLO government” as pre-announced. He also wanted to include personalities from the diaspora who had been invited to Ramallah.

However, the leading factions of the PLO – the Democratic Front and the Popular Front – are allied with Hamas, and they refused to participate. The Fatah faction in the West Bank rejected the “outsiders.”  They wanted all of the portfolios to be kept in local Fatah’s hands – except for a few, such as Riad Malki, a PFLP associate.

For this reason, Shtayyeh’s administration is not a “PLO government” as pre-designed, but only “just” a government.”

 

Weekend long read

1) A reminder that those wishing to make a submission to the BBC’s public consultation concerning its editorial guidelines have until November 12th to do so.

Background reading concerning the consultation – including details of where to send a submission – can be found here.

The BBC’s proposed draft of the revised guidelines can be found here. Of particular interest is Section 11 – commencing on page 122 – titled ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’. As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s record of adhering to its existing guidance on ‘Language When Reporting Terrorism’ is inconsistent.

The existing editorial guidelines (published in 2010) can be found here.

2) The ITIC reports on Hizballah’s designation as a transnational criminal group by the US.

“In October 2018, the US administration adopted a series of legislative and law enforcement measures against Hezbollah and all those supporting it. These measures have met with broad bipartisan support in Congress and have been approved by President Trump. These measures provide law enforcement agencies with an improved “toolkit” in the struggle against Hezbollah and the international crime in which it is involved. […]

Aside from Hezbollah, four other international drug and criminal cartels based in Latin America were included in the list. In order to manage the struggle against these leading groups, a special task force headed by the Deputy Attorney General was set up, with the participation of prosecutors and experts with experience in the war against drugs, terrorism, organized crime and money laundering.”

3) General Michael Hostage and Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Corn take a look at “Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges“.

“Hezbollah today is highly competent, adaptable and lethal. Its forces have gained invaluable battlefield experience in Syria and amassed more weaponry than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, including at least 120,000 rockets and missiles. This is more than all of Europe’s NATO members combined, and ten times as many as when it last went to war with Israel in 2006. […]

Despite this quantum leap in its capabilities, Hezbollah is under no illusion about its ability to inflict military defeat on Israel. It will not seek victory in the valleys of Lebanon or the skies over Israel, but in the court of public opinion.”

4) The FDD reports on a recent ISIS attack in Libya which did not receive any BBC English language coverage.

“Islamic State (IS) militants on October 28 launched a surprise attack on al-Fuqaha, a small town in central Libya, killing at least four people, including the mayor’s son and two police officers, and kidnapping 10 others. Both the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the U.S. Embassy strongly condemned the deadly attack and called for the immediate release of those kidnapped. The attack is the second major terrorist incident in two months, reflecting IS’s commitment to the guerrilla warfare strategy it has adopted in Libya after the loss of its coastal stronghold of Sirte in December 2016.”

Weekend long read

This week’s long read focuses on recent Middle East related stories which did not appear on BBC channels.Weekend Read

Having ignored recent reports of a visit by the head of ISIS’ Sinai branch to the Gaza Strip, the BBC also refrained from covering reports concerning financial transactions between it and Hamas. Alex Fishman at Ynet reports:

“Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip has been transferring tens of thousands of dollars a month to the Islamic State group’s Sinai branch over the past year, via one of its emissaries. […]

Hamas is paying the Islamic State militants in Egypt to secure weapons shipments being smuggled through the Sinai to Gaza.

The shipments primarily consist of explosive propellant material that Hamas needs in order to make rockets. As such the money is going towards smuggling both military equipment and material needed to build Hamas’ military infrastructure.”

At the Washington Institute, Ehud Ya’ari writes on the same topic:

“Over the past two years, IS Sinai helped Hamas move weapons from Iran and Libya through the peninsula, taking a generous cut from each shipment. Hamas relies on Bedouin guides to avoid detection by the Egyptian army and reach the few tunnels that have survived Cairo’s aggressive flooding and closure campaign. In this manner, IS Sinai acquired the advanced Kornet antitank missiles it has used to sink an Egyptian patrol boat off the coast of al-Arish and destroy several tanks and armored carriers stationed in the peninsula’s northeastern sector. Hamas has also provided training to some IS Sinai fighters and assisted with the group’s media campaign and online postings.”Belgian rifle art

Interestingly, a recent BBC report which supposedly “tracked” the journey of weapons from Libya to the Gaza Strip did not actually explain to readers the mechanisms of arms smuggling through Sinai.

Also at the Washington Institute, Aaron Y. Zelin and Oula A. Alrifai report on ISIS in Southern Syria.

“Much attention has been given to the Islamic State’s military and governance activities in northern and eastern Syria, but there has been less focus on its slow and steady growth in the southern theater. Since July 2013, it has been building a presence in a number of locales around Damascus, with the eventual goal of taking the city. While such aspirations are still far beyond the group’s military capabilities, it has actively rolled out soft-power strategies. Focusing on the Islamic State’s activities in the north and east of Syria could prevent a complete understanding of what it is attempting to accomplish.”

The Tower reports from the US on the ‘Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015’.

“A bill that seeks to impose mandatory sanctions on banks that knowingly conduct business with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 425 – 0 on Wednesday, The Hill reported. The proposed legislation is now heading to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

The measure would direct the Obama administration to report on the Lebanon-based terror group’s drug trafficking and organized crime activities, as well as outline its global support networks

It would also require the administration to determine any telecommunications companies that contract with Al-Manar, a TV station affiliated with Hezbollah.”

And at the Times of Israel, Avi Issacharoff writes about Hizballah’s changed approach to publicizing its casualties in Syria.

“The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah has seen between 1,300 and 1,500 of its fighters killed in battles in the Syrian civil war, which means that together with the wounded it has lost as much as a third of its fighting force, according to Israeli estimates.

Some 5,000 of the organization’s members have been injured in fighting alongside regime troops against rebel groups, including the Islamic State.[…]

Recently, Hezbollah has been publishing details of its members killed in Syria and is not trying to hide its losses, in contrast to its policy during the early years of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in 2011.”

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Listeners to the June 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ were told by presenter Max Pearson that the next broadcast would include “the Israeli view” of the Six Day War.

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

However, by the time “next week” came around, “the Israeli view” had been side-lined and Pearson introduced the June 21st item (from 13:33 here) as follows:History Hour 21 6

“Next, as promised last week, we’re going to get a second personal view of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in June 1967. We’ve already heard a graphic account of the Palestinian experience of the conflict which pitted the Jewish state against the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria so it’s only right and proper that we hear now from the other side and that other side doesn’t just mean those living in Israel. There was at the time a Jewish population scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to someone from the Jewish community in Tripoli who was forced to flee when anti-Jewish riots broke out in Libya.”

Of course with the previous programme having been devoted to the stories told by two Palestinian interviewees, a truly balanced presentation of the Six Day War would have included accounts from Israelis equally affected by the war at the time. Such accounts could have included an explanation of the sense of impending disaster which gripped Israelis in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war and the feeling of fighting for their very existence. It could also, for example, have recounted the experiences of those who had been expelled from their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem or Gush Etzion nineteen years previously by Jordan and told stories of the first visits by Israelis to the holy sites from which they were barred throughout the years of Jordanian occupation.

But curiously, the BBC chose to tick its impartiality box by comparing apples to oranges. Whilst the story of the Libyan Jewish community is obviously important and interesting – and its airing a very rare event in BBC broadcasting – this is not “the other side” of the narrative heard the previous week by BBC audiences.

The same item by Louise Hidalgo broadcast on ‘The History Hour’ also appeared in the June 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ – available here – where it was described as “…the second of two programmes about the effect of the Six Day War between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan”. Hidalgo’s presentation of the background to the outbreak of conflict is as follows:Witness 19 6

“The war started in early June. Tensions had been rising for months, as had anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel made the first strike – in self-defence, it said – and in six days had defeated the Arab armies. They were six days that would change the shape of the Middle East and have repercussions far beyond the borders of the countries actually involved in the fighting.”

Hidalgo’s very superficial and brief reference to “tensions” of course does nothing to inform listeners of the real background to the conflict and the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai – but notably it was deemed necessary to inform them that “Israel made the first strike”.

Hidalgo presents a brief history of the Libyan Jewish community but fails to mention that some Libyan Jews were also sent to Nazi concentration camps in Europe and that pogroms against Jews in Libya actually took place three years before the establishment of the State of Israel.

“Jews had lived in Libya since before the time of the Romans. At its height the community had numbered about forty thousand but during the Second World War thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa by Libya’s colonial ruler Italy and after the creation of Israel in 1948 many left after riots in which more than a hundred Libyan Jews were killed. By June 1967 there were only about four thousand Jews left in Libya. By the end of that month almost all of those too had gone.”

Hidalgo also makes the following claim, ignoring the already existing context of years of persecution and anti-Jewish violence long before the Six Day War broke out.

“Demonstrations in Arab capitals that started as shows of support for the Palestinians quickly turned in Tripoli and elsewhere into attacks on Jews.”

Towards the end of the item listeners are told that:

“By the end of June 1967 there were only around 200 Jews left in Libya and across the Arab world tens of thousands more left countries that many had lived in for generations.”

Unfortunately, the story of those tens of thousands – and the hundreds of thousands more who had to leave Arab lands before them – is rarely told by the BBC and whilst this account from a Libyan Jew is undoubtedly worthy of broadcast in its own right, it is however not a true representation of “the other side” of the story promoted in the previous week’s programme.

 

BBC Arabic on Jews from Arab lands

BBC Arabic recently featured a programme and an article about Israeli Jews with origins in Arab countries, by Omar Abdel-Razek, titled “Arab Jews in Israel between marginalisation and integration”. The audio version can be heard here and the written version read here

Fortunately, the wonderful ‘Point of no Return’ blog has a much better version of the written article than automatic translation can provide, together with valuable insights. 

“On the plus side : the programme humanises Jews in Israel, and interviews some who voice mainstream views – notably, Eli Avidar and Levana Zamir, who deftly quash the idea of a return to Arab lands while these are being poisoned with antisemitism. On the minus side, the programme adopts a far-left discourse, assuming ‘Arab Jews’ were exploited by Ashkenazim as a labour reservoir and stripped of their culture. […] The mere fact that the programme calls them ‘Arab Jews’ diminishes their separate Jewish identity.”

Particularly interesting is this unsourced statement in the written article: [emphasis added]

“History records that Arab Jews in Israel live between marginalization and integration, but that most of them did not embrace the idea of ​​Zionism before the establishment of Israel.”

It is, of course, impossible to know the views of all of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands who arrived in Israel both before and after the establishment of the state, but certainly this one-dimensional, Eurocentric view of Zionism does not take into account movements such as E’ela BeTamar which saw thousands of Yemenite Jews make their way to pre-state – and pre-mandate – Palestine between 1881 – 1882, inspired by the spiritual belief in the importance of their re-settling of their ancient homeland which was one of the precursors to the Zionist movement.  

Contrary to the impression given in the article, the immigration of those Yemenite Jews actually pre-dated the arrival of European Jews, so whilst many did end up using their existing experience of working in agriculture, their arrival in the country was certainly not purely “as an alternative to Arab workers in the plantations of European Jews”.

Neither does this version of history take into account the existence of Zionist societies in Arab countries such as Morocco, where the first branches were established only a few years after the 1897 Basel Conference. 

Another one of those Zionist societies was located in Tripoli, Libya, and in the early 1930s one of its members – a young man named Mordechai – managed to obtain from the British Mandate authorities one of the much-coveted, rarely issued ‘certificates’ for legal immigration to Palestine for himself, his wife and their first-born son – on account of his being a carpenter: a trade given priority. Pictured below are some of the tools which in fact enabled him to overcome the obstacles to immigration set in place by the British which Zionists from all over the world – including those from Arab lands – faced at the time. 

SONY DSC

Mordechai was this writer’s partner’s grandfather and the fourth generation of his offspring is now growing up in Israel.

Once again invoking a bizarre version of history, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“There are those who believe that they were forced to migrate [from Arab lands] after the escalation of the Palestinian Arab conflict.”

Mordechai’s daughter-in-law could cast some light upon that particular distortion, having experienced the pogroms in Libya in 1945 and in June 1948. It was after the latter bout of violence that her family – after hundreds of years of living in Tripoli – made hurried arrangements to move to the new Jewish state, as did over thirty thousand others. That exodus did not take place because of a “belief” that they were being “forced to migrate”, but for practical reasons of survival. The minority of Libyan Jews who remained in the country were subjected to increasing discrimination.

“1. Jews cannot vote, attain public offices nor serve in the army or police.

2. The government is authorized by law to take title to the “properties of certain Jews.”

3. Jews are prohibited from acquiring new property.

4. Jews cannot receive passports or certification of their Libyan nationality. If a Jew wants to leave the country he may obtain a special travel document which does not indicate that he has Libyan nationality. If he does not leave within six months after receiving the document, it expires and he automatically loses his nationality and property rights.”

The Six Day War in 1967 brought renewed pogroms against Libya’s few remaining Jews – and an end to 2,500 years of Jewish presence in that country. 

It is highly regrettable that the BBC chooses to entrench inaccuracies concerning Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews from Arab lands in this manner – particularly when its target audience is obviously the Arabic-speaking world.