Some 5,000 rowdy demonstrators chanting anti-Israeli (and, in some cases, blatantly anti-Semitic) slogans brought traffic to a virtual standstill outside the BBC’s central London headquarters in Portland Place last week. They were protesting what they claim to be the BBC’s “pro-Israel” bias.
The next day, the BBC flagship Today radio news program (a program which is near compulsory listening for the British political elite, including the prime minister), ran an item on the demonstration, examining the absurd proposition that the BBC – which for decades has been at the forefront of providing a worldwide platform for Palestinian extremists (one correspondent, Barbara Plett, even admitted on air that she cried in sorrow when Yasser Arafat died) – was in fact “pro-Israel.”
“Are the protesters right? Have we been biased at the BBC in favor of Israel?” BBC anchor Mishal Husain asked her guest Greg Philo, professor of Communications and Social Change at Glasgow University.
Philo responded: “I’ve had many senior journalists at the BBC saying they simply can’t get the Palestinian viewpoint across… the Palestinian perspective is just not there.”
Leaving aside Husain’s own bias against Israel, which was well documented by watchdog organizations at the time of the last major Hamas-Israel flare-up in November 2012, the claim by Philo, and the choice to use him as the studio guest, is bizarre.
As I write these words, one week ago this morning, at this very hour, I was sitting in Bethlehem’s Palestinian Authority police headquarters. I had been sent to a separate room, an adjacent office to the one where phone and passport had been taken and remained. In spite of my objections, in spite of the PA interrogator’s pledge of hospitality, personal texts were being read. Under the watchful eye of a de facto guard, I crossed my legs, shut my eyes, relaxed with deep breaths and wordlessly prayed. It was Thursday morning, 19 June 2014.
For the past six months I have been living in Beit Jala. It is a mostly Christian community in the Bethlehem District. The Church of the Nativity was a fifteen minute walk from my room. Like the little town of Bethlehem, Beit Jala is on the other side of Israel’s security barrier. According to Oslo agreements, it is part of Area A, under governmental control of the Palestinian Authority. Still, it is common to see Westerners on the street. Bethlehem is visited by more than a million tourists every year. Most, I think, do not understand they have left the umbrella of Israel’s sovereign protection. With the exception of a few risk-takers, none of these visitors are Israeli. It is against the law for them to be in the Bethlehem district. Large red signs are posted at area entrances. They read, “This road leads to Area ‘A.’ Entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden. [It is] dangerous to your lives and is against Israeli law.” Surprising to many of my friends, I felt safe. Until last Thursday morning.
Distraught and defiant, the mother of young “Zionist Muslim” from Nazareth Mohammed Zoabi said Wednesday that he has received threats from Muslim extremists in “the territories” and from Arab countries following his recent Facebook video, expressing support for the three Jewish youths abducted by Hamas.
In an interview on Tel Aviv’s 102FM radio, the mother of 17-year-old Mohammed said her son came under a barrage of threats after uploading the video to Facebook.
“My son is being threatened,” she said, “and it is not a temporary thing. I know what this is about, they cursed him as if he were the enemy of the entire Arab population. They did not care that he is a 17-year-old boy, they did not respect his opinion.”