The Barrier in Harriet Sherwood’s Mind

On her maiden visit to Israel my very English mother sat down to her first breakfast and spread a piece of bread with what she assumed was raspberry jam. Neglecting to appreciate that on another continent things may not always be as they first appear, she took a bite of ‘harissa’ – a red paste made out of chilli peppers. At that moment she learned that like anywhere else in the world, this is a place in which one’s own preconceptions based on existing knowledge are not necessarily relevant.

Harriet Sherwood’s recent report from Ghajar is another example of what can result from the adherence to inapplicable preconceptions, particularly when mixed with deeply entrenched prejudices.  As we are only too aware walls and fences (though exclusively when constructed by Israelis) are quite a popular theme at the Guardian. In this article too, Sherwood takes the ‘Berlin Wall’ theme and develops it way beyond any logical proportion and without context.

It is true that the villagers of Ghajar are themselves promoting the ‘Berlin Wall’ theme in connection to their current plight – I heard them use the concept myself when I visited Ghajar last week –  but they are doing so as a metaphor for their discontent about the proposed division of their village and possible resulting enforced separation of families. Sherwood, however, takes this particular phrase and uses it to turn what is a very complex situation into a dumbed-down version of events laden with her own preconceptions. The primary message she communicates to her readers is that Israel is building yet another big bad wall and that Arabs will suffer as a result.

‘Just Journalism’ has challenged Sherwood’s employment of the ‘Berlin Wall’ theme in a very competent analysis of her article which is well worth a read. Sherwood’s preconceptions obviously do not permit her to address the much more interesting wider issues which make up the Ghajar story, presumably because to do so would compromise the trite ‘black and white’ version of the Middle East conflict which she takes care to pump out to her readers on a daily basis.

She does not have a word to say about the background role of the UN in the creation of the complex situation which currently exists in Ghajar. She completely ignores the interesting fact that here are a group of Alawite Muslims, who took Israeli citizenship en masse when it was offered to them, requesting to remain under Israeli rule at least for the foreseeable future. Likewise, only a cursory reference is made to UN resolution 1701 and even then in exclusive relation to Israel’s meeting of its conditions when in fact the few hundred square meters of northern Ghajar are actually one of the least problematic aspect of the implementation of that resolution. Even the well-known and clearly documented instances of Hizbollah infiltration into Ghajar and drug trafficking through the permeable border there are hinted by Sherwood to be unsubstantiated claims by Israel.

The Ghajar story presents an opportunity for any journalist worth his or her salt to begin to convey to readers the multiple complexities of the region’s daily life, as well as its disputes. It is a chance to challenge some of the many mistaken preconceptions about the area and peel away a few of the layers of prejudice and ignorance which form a protective wall around the one-dimensional view of the Middle East held by so many. Predictably, Sherwood chose not to rise to that challenge in this article. Instead she went along the tried and trusted route of reinforcing the concepts already firmly established in her readers’ and editors’ minds as in fact she has been doing ever since her arrival in Jerusalem several months ago with her tediously monochrome accounts of the events taking place around her; accounts which reveal more about the barriers in her own mind than those on the ground, existing or imaginary.

9 replies »

  1. Maybe Hawkeye/Levick should send this excellent exposition of Ms. Sherwood’s bigotry and prejudices to her and ask for a reaction.
    Sadly I have a feeling that she doesn’t have the courage and integrity to take up a challenge like this. She can sell her propaganda masquerading as journalism only for her Israel hater fan club on CIF blessed with a very limited intellect and knowledge of the ME conflict.

  2. Aside from the silly Berlin Wall reference: the really shoddy element was that only in the last sentence did it emerge that if any such wall is to be built at all, then by the UN.

  3. Peter, I agree with you that CiF has made up its mind and doesn’t want to be confused by facts. That being the case, Harriet Sherwood’s one brain cell was ideal for this assignment. Limited by that one brain cell, she was compromised and prevented from enquiring into the wider implications of the issues which make up the Ghajar story.

    Israelinurse your own article here about your visit to Ghajar knocks Sherwood’s into the proverbial cocked hat. Ask yourself why you, who are not a journalist but are an excellent writer, are more capable than Sherwood or anyone else in the CiF stable of addressing those complexities. Could it be because you are curious about them and want to examine them and therefore you approached your task from a standpoint of aroused curiosity, whereas for Sherwood this was just just a job?

    That, and Sherwood’s mental barriers will always prevent her from being even a good enough journalist. That being the case, if I am correct, then she and CiF deserve each other.

  4. IsraelNurse:

    Spot on about Ms Sherwood. Have Guardian journalists no professional pride? Must they always try to ape John Pilger?

  5. This post was on Harriet Sherwood’s article……..

    @oskarmax………”Here we go again.Israel ministers say no war no war,but 2 weeks before Xmas will invade palestine,what else is new”.

    This post got 12 recommendations.One of them could have been Harriet Sherwood’s.

    Could it be that Harriet Sherwood never went anywhere near Ghajar,she knows FA about Ghajar,and is posting through her nether regions.

    Seth Freedman used to get his information from taxi drivers and goat herders.Someone in East Jerusalem must be whispering sweet nothings into Harriet Sherwood’s ears.

  6. Serendipity – I think that we, the consumers of the media industry, have to be aware that in the past few years the goal posts have moved considerably because of innovations in technology.

    No longer can we assume that something written in a newspaper or particularly on a newspaper’s website has been fact-checked and carries some sort of responsibility.

    The competition today is for hits; print newspapers are declining steadily and the focus has moved to the internet. Speed, therefore, is of the essence for a modern day journalist and as we can see, accuracy is therefore often sacrificed in favour of an enticing headline which will attract hits.

    Maybe we the consumers are in fact still expecting something of journalists that they are no longer able to provide. That’s fine, but it means that we have to take upon ourselves the responsibility for determining the accuracy of the information we absorb and rely upon in order to form opinions.

  7. Israelinurse, it may well be my age but I am becoming more and more cynical about what any of the media tells me about anything. All have their agenda. I believe very little of what I am told with apparent authority by media “experts” of whatever political stripe.

    Having followed this site from its inception, I am impressed by its dedication to finding out the truth where it can and informing its readership accordingly. I am reminded of an article here about Guardian’s new readers’ editor in which he is quoted as saying that “facts are tricky things.” They become trickier when those who put them out can’t differentiate between fact and fiction.

  8. Anyone who could come up with an inhuman-Israeli-treatment-of-helpless-cage-prisoners story which was all about battery hens, and then find that the organization she works for put it as a headline on their front page is going to have no difficulty in refashioning the Ghajar story into being one about Israel-builds-new-version-of-Berlin-Wall.

    The Guardian is there to tell its core readership what it wants to hear. Harriet Sherwood works hard to deliver. Problem is, that she’s so excessively diligent she keeps giving ammunition to CiFWatch and even provokes occasional bloggers like me into posting.

    I’m sure Pravda had similar problems. Only they had the KGB to keep over-enthusiastic tyros firmly in line. And if you’ve ever heard Khaled Abu Toameh talk about his early days as a reporter for the Fatah movement’s media when it was still Best Friends with the KGB for training and such-like, you’ll know that they too had their methods for ensuring that similarly embarrassing excesses of zeal never got past the sub-editor’s cutting table.