The British journalist Hannen Swaffer (1879-1962) once stated that “[f]reedom of the press in Britain means freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to”.
In Brian Whitaker’s article of August 4th the freedom to print prejudices was taken to new heights as this Middle East ‘expert’ allowed himself to become so consumed by his own obvious distaste for Israel that his ‘analysis’ turned into nothing more than a ridiculous tirade.
“The problem with the fence is that when the Israelis erected it following their withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, they did not follow the border line exactly. In places, they adjusted the route for convenience and military reasons. “
Immediately one understands that either Whitaker has never set eyes on the Israel – Lebanon border or if he has, he completely failed to comprehend what he saw. As explained on these pages several times over the past few days, there are of course two fences. There is the actual border fence, known as ‘The Blue Line’, the route of which was designed and codified by UN cartographers in the year 2000 when Israel announced that it would withdraw from Lebanon. At the time, the Lebanese government refused to take part in the marking of the border, but on June 16th 2000 the Secretary General of the UN reported to the Security Council that Israel had withdrawn from all Lebanese territory according to UN resolution 425 (1978).
The topographic conditions along this border are such that in many places, due to the hilly terrain, patrolling the actual border fence would be technically very difficult. Israel therefore constructed a second fence, within its own territory, with a dust road running alongside it to make the movement of troops and vehicles necessary for the patrolling of the border more efficient. In some places, there is land between the international border and the Israeli fence which is Israeli territory and is known by the term ‘enclave’. It is in one of these enclaves that the IDF was engaged in clearing vegetation when Tuesday’s attack took place.
I do realise that readers already understand this point perfectly well, but obviously Brian Whitaker is not quite as quick as the rest of us (or has some ideological motive for resisting these facts) because, even though by the time his article came out, the circumstances leading up to the attack were perfectly clear (and verified by the UN), Whitaker still continued to promote his own erroneous version of events.
“Now you might think that the sensible thing for the Israelis to do about these relatively unimportant patches of land would be to forget about them – which, initially, is more or less what they did.”
However, according to Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz, since the 2006 war “the IDF has changed its policy toward the enclaves, and it insists on maintaining a presence there, in order to exercise Israeli sovereignty there”.
Naturally, Whitaker fails to mention that the cause of the 2006 Lebanon war was the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, from inside Israeli territory by Hizbollah terrorists who hid in overgrown vegetation in precisely such an enclave. Fortunately Israel has learned the lessons of that incident and now tries to make sure that such an event cannot be repeated, although the significance of this is obviously lost on the Guardian’s resident Middle East ‘expert’ who goes on to writing the following:
“Israel may well have been acting within its rights, but was it really a wise thing to do for the sake of a few bushes? Wars have started over less.”
Obviously unable to contain his scorn and disdain for all things Israeli, Whitaker trivializes the IDF’s attempts to minimize the chances of another Hizbollah attack (and the possibility of subsequent escalation into a full-blown war) by referring to the brush-clearing operations as though they were some kind of life-style choice:
“So, from time to time the Israelis cross their not-exactly-a-border-fence to do a spot of gardening (a video on the BBC website shows them using a vehicle with an extending arm for this purpose). It was one such gardening expedition that led to yesterday’s fighting.”
Oh dear Brian; your prejudices are seriously on show by now. But Whitaker cannot stop himself from digging and goes on to state that:
“Regardless of whether Israel should have been occupying southern Lebanon in the first place, pulling out without an agreement was stupid. But Israel does have a propensity for this sort of unilateral action (witness the “disengagement” from Gaza).”
No mention of Lebanon’s refusal to take part in the demarcation of the border (let alone come to a peace agreement with Israel), no mention of the UN’s role in defining precisely where the border was drawn, or that Israel’s pull-out from Lebanon was actually exactly what UN resolution 425 demanded. One can only imagine what Whitaker’s reaction would have been had Israel not left Lebanon ten years ago, but of course those of his persuasion can always find reason to damn Israel even when it takes an action for which they have been previously in favour, just as they can always ‘contextualise’ the malicious behavior of those they perceive to be the righteous party in the conflict.
Whitaker’s article reveals the extent of what happens when politically inspired cognitive dissonance inspires an “analyst” to deny the obvious, so much so that he goes on to state that:
“To focus on that would be far better than arguing over who fired the first shot on Tuesday.”
Of course apart from Whitaker himself, no-one is arguing who fired the first shot and no-one without a serious axe to grind is claiming that the IDF was engaged in an “over-the-fence expedition” as Whitaker terms it – not even the UN.
Whilst Whitaker’s excruciating contortions to make this incident fit into the Guardian World View, regardless of the facts, undoubtedly make for highly entertaining reading, they are of course far removed from both news reporting or credible analysis. One can only regret that a supposedly serious newspaper has allowed its Middle East analysis to descend to the level of a Monty Python sketch; to paraphrase what was said about a different Brian:
“He’s not a Middle East expert; he’s a very naughty boy.”