Nazareth hit the international headlines for the
first time in this vicious war being waged by Israel mostly on Lebanese civilians.
Reporter Matthew Price, corseted in a blue flak jacket in Haifa, told BBC viewers
that for the first time Hezbollah had targeted Nazareth late on Sunday. "Nazareth
is a mostly Christian town," he added, managing to cram into a single sentence
of a few words two factual mistakes and a disturbing hint of incitement.
Whatever the precision of its rockets (and Nazareth's residents are certainly
worried enough about that), Hezbollah struck not at Nazareth but at a site some
distance from Nazareth a site of strategic significance to Israel, though
I cannot say more than that as we are now officially under martial law in the
Matthew Price was also wrong about Nazareth being a "mostly Christian town."
During the 1948 war in which Israel's army ethnically cleansed much of the
surrounding area of Palestinians, Muslim villagers fled to Nazareth in search
of sanctuary. Today, two-thirds of the city's 75,000 inhabitants are Muslim
or at least they are by the religious classification system imposed on all
citizens by the Israeli authorities.
Which brings us to the nasty element of incitement from our BBC reporter.
Several Israeli armaments factories and storage depots have been built close by
Arab communities in the north of Israel, possibly in the hope that by locating
them there Arab regimes will be deterred from attacking Israel's enormous armory.
In other words, the inhabitants of several of Israel's Arab towns and villages
have been turned into collective human shields protection for Israel's
Before the strike close to Nazareth late on Sunday night, several Arab villages
in the north had been hit by Hezbollah rockets trying to reach these factories.
No one at the BBC saw the need to mention these attacks nor the fact that "mostly
Muslim" villages had been hit. So why did the strike against Nazareth
and its mistaken Christian status became part of the story for the BBC?
Because Israel wants to portray Hezbollah, and its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah,
as a crazed Islamic militia, as fanatical Muslims who hate Jews and Christians
with equal vehemence. This is all part of Israel's claim that it is fighting George
Bush's "war on terror." Predictably, the BBC obliged by regurgitating
this piece of racist nonsense.
If anybody still doubts that Israel is shaping the news agenda of broadcasters
like the BBC, here was as good as the proof.
According to the jingoistic Jerusalem Post,
the Israeli Prime Minister's Office and the army are delirious at their success
in dictating the headlines and tone of foreign news broadcasts.
Ehud Olmert's media adviser, Assif Shariv, told the Post that the international
media were interviewing Israeli spokespeople four times as much as spokespeople
for the Palestinians and Lebanese. Another government adviser, Gideon Meir,
boasted: "We have never had it so good. The hasbara [propaganda]
effort is a well-oiled machine."
Which may explain why we know so little about what is happening in Lebanon and
Gaza and why we know so little about what is happening inside Israel too.
To remind you, I, like other residents of northern Israel, am under martial
law. As are the foreign journalists and in addition they are required
to submit their copy to the military censor. So all I can tell you, without
breaking the law, is that you are not getting the entire picture of what has
been happening here in the Galilee.
Certainly, a piece of news that I doubt you will hear from the foreign media,
although bravely the liberal Hebrew media has been drawing attention to the matter,
is that the "only democracy in the Middle East" has all but silenced
al-Jazeera from reporting inside Israel.
The reason is clear: until recently al-Jazeera had been running rings around the
local and foreign press.
Al-Jazeera is the Arab world's most serious and popular news gatherer, and
essential viewing for anyone who wants to get a realistic idea of the news from
both sides of the border. When I heard the missile strike close by Nazareth on
Sunday night, al-Jazeera told me what had happened a full half hour before the
Israeli media, and a day before my colleague Matthew Price.
How do they do it? Because most of their staff in Israel are Israeli citizens,
as well as being Palestinian Arabs. Their journalists belong to the forgotten
fifth of the Israeli population whose citizenship is Israeli but whose nationality
So not only do al-Jazeera's reporters know the northern patch of Israel like
home ground (because it is home ground) but they are also not cravenly waiting
for the Israeli Prime Minister's Office and army's spokesman to tell
them what is going on.
Watching al-Jazeera has been a revelation: it has dedicated a substantial portion
of its coverage to events inside Israel as well as in Lebanon, in stark contrast
to Israeli broadcasters who rarely use any of the footage from Lebanon.
Similarly, al-Jazeera faithfully translated Ehud Olmert's speech word for word
into Arabic, and then included a lengthy analysis from a local correspondent for
its viewers. Israeli broadcasters, on the other hand, repeatedly mistranslated
the televised words of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah into Hebrew and
English, removing context and his calls for negotiation.
Similar misrepresentations of Nasrallah's position in the foreign media presumably
reflected their over-reliance on the Israeli broadcasters.
But al-Jazeera's coverage inside Israel the Arab world's best chance
of being exposed to the Israeli point of view is being effectively shut
down. In the past two days, its editor has been arrested on two occasions and
another senior journalist was taken in for questioning. According to its reporters,
they cannot move from their office without being followed by the Israeli security
Why are they receiving this treatment? Because, according to Israel's only
serious newspaper, Ha'aretz, the country's Hebrew media have been inciting
against them. In particular Reshet Bet radio station, one of several wings of
the Israeli media loyal to the government, has been telling lies that al-Jazeera
is revealing classified information, namely the location of rocket strikes.
Is the claim true? According to Ha'aretz again: "Other TV networks,
including Israeli news services, made similar reports without suffering from
Freedom of the press rarely means much when governments go to war. The local
media usually consider it their patriotic duty not only to strip of vital context
the information they offer their viewers, but they often falsify the record
too. Much of Israel's media are clearly doing both jobs with some accomplishment.
But the fact that some in the Israeli media see it as part of their job to silence
journalists not as craven as themselves is the real eye-opener. Maybe they realize
al-Jazeera just makes them look like propagandists.
Nabila Espanioly, the director of a charitable
organization in Nazareth promoting women and children's interests, makes a point
worth remembering as the foreign and Israeli media huddle in the shelters of
Haifa and Nahariya interviewing terrified "Israelis."
In fact, they are talking not to Israelis but to Israeli Jews. The fifth of the
Israeli population who are not Jewish but Arab are rarely to be found hiding in
public shelters because the authorities neglected to build any in their towns
In other words, although the Israeli army has sited several important weapons
factories and military intelligence posts close to Arab communities in the north,
the Israeli government has not offered the Arab residents any protection should
there be fallout quite literally in the case of the Katyusha rockets
as a result.
This is another tiny facet of the discrimination endured for decades by the country's
Arab population that so rarely surfaces in media coverage of Israel.
Similarly oblivious to the ironies, the Israeli and foreign media have been running
heartwarming stories about how "Israelis" are opening their homes and
hearths to their compatriots fleeing the north. Again for "Israelis"
substitute "Israeli Jews."
No one I know here in Nazareth believes they would find much of a welcome in Tel
Aviv or Beersheva should they go looking for one. Which leaves them with nowhere
to run should they need to.
The only Arab communities out of the line of Hezbollah fire are those in the southern
Negev belonging to the Bedouin. But that is not much comfort. Most of the Negev's
150,000 Bedouin have been forced to live in squalid tents and metal shacks by
an Israeli government that bulldozes anything more permanent. The authorities
also deprive many of the Bedouin communities of water and all public services.
So sweating it out with the Katyushas may be the better option.
A final footnote one to ponder in the
quieter moments after the worst of the suffering is over. Those Israeli Jews
fleeing for their lives as they head south to the quiet so far at least
of Tel Aviv and beyond offer a small echo of events nearly six decades
ago when 750,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes by the Israeli
Israeli Jews have always taken the view and happily tell any outsiders as much
that the "Arabs" lost the right to their homes in the war of 1948
because they "fled" (in fact many were forcibly expelled, but let that
drop for the moment).
The Israeli government has adopted much the same view, even refusing to allow
the 250,000 of its own Arab citizens who are classified as internal refugees
their ancestors fled the fighting in 1948 but have citizenship because they stayed
inside what is today Israel to return to their original homes and land.
So how exactly should we regard those Israeli Jews now fleeing from Nahariya
and Haifa? Should they lose their homes, their land, and their bank accounts
just as the Palestinians did in 1948?