The anatomy of a Guardian smear against Israel

A Guardian report on Dec. 16th had all the ingredients of a classic Guardian smear.

1. Palestinians level a wild accusation against Israel with little or no actual evidence.

2. The Guardian publishes the allegation with a dramatic headline, downplays even the most emphatic Israeli denials, and fails to conduct any independent research which could prove or disprove the allegation.

3.  The Guardian further contextualizes the baseless story in a manner consistent with a broader narrative of Israeli racism or villainy.

The dramatic title, Palestinian envoy’s wife ‘forced back to Jerusalem during cancer treatment’, in a report written by the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, parrots an accusation by Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Envoy to the UK, which seems, by all available evidence, to be without merit.

Borger writes:

Israeli authorities made the wife of the Palestinian ambassador in London interrupt a course of chemotherapy in order to return to Jerusalem or risk losing her residency rights, a trip that hastened her death from cancer, her family claim.

Samira Hassassian was infected by a virus on her plane journey back to London in May and died three months later, aged 57. Her husband, Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian envoy to the UK since 2005, said the Israeli government had extended her Jerusalem identity papers in 2010 for a year after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009, but refused to grant a second extension this year, although the disease had by then metastasized to her bones and she was several weeks into intensive chemotherapy.

“They forced her to go back,” Hassassian said. “The doctors had told me she had maybe until the end of the year, so this trip just expedited the process, but it also caused her pain and suffering.”

As far as she was concerned, she was not going to die. She saw herself as battling with cancer. But to force her to go back or lose her rights was inhuman,” Hassassian said. [emphasis mine]

Later in the essay we’re informed that the Israeli embassy in London denied that Hassassian had been refused a second extension.

“If there is a health issue there is no question that she would have had to travel. There is no such policy. It is the strangest allegation I think I’ve ever heard,” the spokesperson said.

Borger continues:

Samira Hassassian’s London oncologist, Professor Paul Ellis, wrote a medical opinion to support her appeal for an extension on March 29, saying: “She is right in the middle of very intensive treatment and it is definitely not a good time for her to travel. There is the potential for significant infection and she is also extremely disabled by fatigue and nausea.”

Again, the Israeli embassy responds:

The embassy spokesman confirmed that a copy of Ellis’s letter was in interior ministry files but said it had been unnecessary as an extension was not in doubt.

So, the Guardian published the allegation that Hassassian’s Jerusalem residency was in doubt despite the emphatic and unequivocal denial by Israeli officials, and the fact that there is no corroborating evidence that Samira Hassassian’s extension was ever in question.

The claim includes the allegation that Hassassian was “infected by a virus on her plane journey back to London in May and died three months later”, implying the the infection was caused by her flight, and hastened her death.   

However, Hassassian was an end stage cancer patient who had been informed that, at most, she had until the end of the year to live, and so her death in late August was consistent with her tragically grim diagnosis. 

Further, an experienced health professional explained to me the following:

“No-one can prove where or when she caught the infection.  She could have been infected on the plane, before the flight or after the flight. We don’t know what sort of infection they’re claiming, but different pathogens have differing incubation periods which are measured in days – not hours – so to pinpoint the contracting of an infection to the specific 4-5 hour time it takes to fly from London to Tel Aviv is speculative to say the least.”

The real reason for Hassassian’s trip to Israel, according to the Israeli spokesperson (and confirmed to me by a reliable Israeli official) was to seek a second opinion on her condition from doctors at Hadassah Hospital.  And, indeed, Hassassian’s husband, in the Guardian report, acknowledged that she had received care during the course of her illness by doctors in Jerusalem. 

However, Borger, not content with advancing such a scurrilous charge, then pivots to the third and final Guardian method of contextualizing a story in a way to impute the most malicious motives not only to the Israeli antagonists in the tale, but to Israel more broadly.  In this case the question of Hassassin’s residency status is woven into a predictable narrative of ethnic cleansing.

Palestinians and Israeli civil rights groups describe the bureaucracy surrounding residency rights as a weaponin Israel’s efforts to reduce the Palestinian population of the fiercely contested city and undermine future challenges to its sovereignty there.

If Borger had decided to check, he would have discovered that the suggestion that there’s been anything resembling a reduction in the Palestinian population of Jerusalem is patently false.

According to statistics provided by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies:

  • Between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan controlled all of East Jerusalem, the Arab population of East Jerusalem increased by only 860 people.
  • By contrast, the Muslim Arab population of Jerusalem increased from 68,000 people to 275,000 people between 1967 and 2009, with the city under Israeli jurisdiction – ie an increase of 207,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem.
  • Between 1967 and 2009, the Jewish population of Jerusalem grew from 197,000 people to 497,000 people
  • A simple calculation therefore shows that during the period 1967 to 2009, the Jewish population of Jerusalem increased by 245% while the Arab population of Jerusalem grew by 380% . 

So, if there has been a coordinated Israeli effort to reduce the Arab population of Jerusalem, it has failed miserably. Since the entire city of Jerusalem has been under Israeli control the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown significantly faster than the Jewish population. This is the opposite of Israel ‘judaising’ the city, or ‘squeezing the Arabs out’.

At the end of the day, what we have are the following allegations:

  • Israelis cruelly forced a terminally ill Palestinian cancer patient to travel back to Israel to maintain her Jerusalem residency.
  • The trip caused an infection that hastened her death.  
  • And, finally, the trip was necessitated as part of a broader Israeli effort to “reduce the Palestinian population” of Jerusalem.

The first two allegations are leveled with no reliable evidence, while the final charge is contradicted by raw population data.

Finally, I was told by a reliable source that the Israeli officials who were in contact (over a period of many weeks) with the Guardian over these allegations were shocked that, despite their emphatic denials of the charges leveled by the Palestinian Envoy, and the paucity of empirical evidence, the story was still published.

However, those of us intimately familiar with the Guardian’s continuing assault on Israeli’s legitimacy are not in the least bit surprised.

The Guardian’s bias and dishonesty when reporting about Israel is immune to such quaint notions as fairness, proportion, context, or decency.  

52 replies »

  1. I think the Guardian should publish a retraction with the information given in this article and an apology for misleading its readers.

    And the shock that the lies were still publish is utterly misplaced. You would think that the Israeli authorities would realise by now that the Guardian is in the vanguard of lies and distortions about it.

    Has anything been published in the Groan about the boycott of Israeli hospitals by Hamas, which will mean, of course, that more people may die, or will the Guardian blame Israel for that too?

    • ‘I think the Guardian should publish a retraction with the information given in this article and an apology for misleading its readers.’

      To a 2 bit ‘Linky linky’ Hasbara blog, please don’t make me laugh.

    • Hwo come Israeli authorities deprive people of the right to reside in their native city, Jerusalem, just because they’re Christians or Muslims? This is shocking beyond words.

      • No Nat, it’s not because of their religion, neither is it because of their hair colour or shoe size. It’s because they are NOT ISRAELIS!

        • How can Israel strip Palestinians of their right to reside in the Palestinian territory? It’s as if the USA were to strip Canadians of their right to live in Canada

          East Jerusalem is not in Israel, it’s in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) along with the West Bank and Gaza.

    • This is not about the Guardian. The UN has established that many Christians and Muslims from Jerusalem have been deprived of the right to reside in their native city by Israeli auhtorities, and that they are forbidden to live with their spouse in Jerusalem:

      “Approximately 14,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians have had their residency revoked since 1967, of which over 4,500 were revoked in 2008.”

      “Permanent residency status is not automatically transferred through marriage, so a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who wishes to reside in the city with a spouse from the remainder of the oPt, must apply for family unification. The application process for family reunification for residents of East Jerusalem is onerous and has become virtually impossible since 2003”

      • The quotations you give refer to “East Jerusalem Palestinians” or “Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem”. You have chosen to refer to these people as “Christians and Muslims”. It is YOU who have ascribed a racist element to this, not Israel.

        • Let me re-write your comment for you to show you have blatantly you have twisted the situation:

          “The UN has established that many brown-eyed people from Jerusalem have been deprived of the right to reside in their native city…”

          Silly, isn’t it?

        • East Jerusalem Palestinians are all Christians or Muslims.

          Have you never visited Jerusalem in your life?

          • Yes, I have thanks. Many times. Nice of you to ask. Have you?

            By the way, are you sure ALL EJ Pals are Muslims or Christians? Seems unlikely. In any event, what’s your point? I don’t like wasps – not because they have wings (although they all do). In fact I am very fond of some other winged creatures. I don’t like wasps because they sting.

            And no – I am not comparing Palestinians to wasps, and I am not saying I “don’t like” Palestinians – I am simply using an extreme metaphor to make my point.

  2. I think this story may have been in the making for quite some time. Here’s Fisk, writing last May on one of those poor Palestinians caught up in the I/P conflict:

    This includes: “Mouna Masri was enraged when her sister asked her husband to renew her residency in east Jerusalem. “The Israelis insisted that she must fly from London herself even though they knew she was having chemotherapy.”

    What Fisk doesn’t mention – even though he seems to have very good contact to the family he describes, is that the poor boy he focuses on is the eldest grandchild of the world’s richest Palestinian:

    When I commented on Fisk’s story ( ) I already suspected that there was a connection to the billionaire Masris, but I managed to find the confirmation for this only later.

  3. That the Guardian didn’t publish a letter or email from the embassy in support of the Hassassian’s claim is proof enough that it’s a tissue of lies.

    What a pity that a country can’t sue for libel. If this person is a diplomat then I don’t think much of the Palestinian training or attitude. It’s very sad that her husband exploited his wife’s fatal illness in order to make such a dubious point.

  4. “since the entire city of Jerusalem has been under Israeli control the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown significantly faster than the Jewish population. This is the opposite of Israel ‘judaising’ the city, or ‘squeezing the Arabs out’.”

    I’ll keep this very simple since it is a matter of logic. The ‘fact’ of a growth in the Arab population of East Jerusalem is perfectly consistent with the ‘fact’ that the Israeli authorities are taking extraordinary and discriiminatory steps to reduce that population. I happen to believe that both ‘facts’ are true but a number of posters here seem to think (illogically) that they are contradictory.
    I’ll post further on either of these ‘facts’ if there seems to be any good reason arising from the comments.

    • Why Brian you can spell the words, ‘logic’, ‘fact’, and ‘true’.
      Now go and learn what they mean.
      Then you can come back and sing one of the lines from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ – “Was blind, but now I see.”
      Because I guarantee that if you were to learn what the words, ‘logic’, ‘fact’, and ‘true’ actually mean then you would see how you are wasting your time regurgitating the crap from ‘The Guardian’.
      Who knows you might even start reading a sensible newspaper.

      • When lost for a rational response, Gerald, just keep resorting to abuse. Anyone who has any knowledge of logic will appreciate that what I said is true.

        • OK Sencar, let’s assume what you say is true, and Israel IS engaged in taking “extraordinary and discriiminatory (sic) steps” to reduce the Arab population of East Jerusalem.

          Now let’s marry that ‘fact’ up with the Guardian view of Israel – a mighty, powerful military-dominated force that dominates and successfully subjugates millions of people in the “occupied territories” – even one where it has no bases or presence; is single-handedly responsible for blockading Gaza (presumably because it is so strong it has cast a thrall over the Egyptian border authorities); is capable of surreptitiously causing explosions in Iranian nuclear facilities (without leaving a single shred of evidence of her involvement); casts a spell over the government of the most powerful nation on Earth etc etc.

          Finally, let’s consider the incontrovertible truth that Israel sees Jerusalem as her indivisible, eternal capital, so presumably puts the securing of that status her very highest priority.

          Now, let’s consider the fact that the Arab population of Jerusalem has actually grown faster than the Jewish population of that city.

          Is it really credible or logical that such a powerful nation would fail so spectacularly in such a crucial project WITHIN its borders (where it has far greater control of events than in the “occupied territories”)?

          Logic? Nah – that’s for the other guy.

          • Your argument seems to be that because Israel hasn’t taken draconian steps to reduce East Jerusalem’s Arab population (ethnic cleansing perhaps?) then it hasn’t taken any such steps. This is demonstrably untrue, as pretzelberg indicates below. According to B’Tselem the number of East Jerusalem Arabs who have had their citizenship revoked between 1967 and 2010 amounts to 13115:

            This may not be enough to influence total population very much but it still represents significant discriminatory practice.

            Please look up a definition of ‘logic’ before you attribute or deny it to arguments. You misuse the term.

            • 13,115

              Is that all? Are you serious? Compare that to how many [‘groups of people’] have had their citizenship revoked elsewhere and how Israel is in a perpetual state of war with Palestinians and you’ll see that 13k over the course of half of a century is laughably small. Stop grasping at straws.

              • “Compare that to how many [‘groups of people’] have had their citizenship revoked elsewhere and how Israel is in a perpetual state of war ”
                a) What groups and where?
                b) I hadn’t heard that Israel was at war with Jerusalem Arabs.

                • Oh Brian your myopia is getting worse.
                  ‘a) What groups and where?’

                  For a start lets look at Israel’s neighbour, Lebanon and the recent decrees of its President Michel Suleiman. As I’m sure you are aware I’m talking of Decrees 6690 & 6691. In case you need reminding this is what I’m referring to;
                  ” Based on the Official Gazette (No. 53 dated November 10, 2011), Decree 6690 revoked the Lebanese citizenship of Palestinians who were registered as refugees with UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency) when they were naturalised. Granting Lebanese citizenship to such Palestinians would breach the Lebanese Constitution and a directive by the Arab League against the settlement of Palestinians outside their home country (the so-called Casablanca Protocol).

                  Again according to the same Official Gazette, Decree 6691 revoked the Lebanese citizenship mainly of Syrians, Turks, Iranians, Egyptians, and Armenians for their being of known origins/nationality and not of “veiled (unknown) nationality” (Maktumi al-Qaid).”

                  I can’t wait to read how you a) justify the actions of the President of Lebanon and b) how it is all the fault of Israel.

                  • Gerald, if this was a boxing match the referee would have to stop it — he has no plausible hope here, and it is sad that in this particular season when so many people of so many traditions look for hope, peace, and progress, “sencar” and his ilk persist in such inane sophistries.

    • “The ‘fact’ of a growth in the Arab population of East Jerusalem is perfectly consistent with the ‘fact’ that the Israeli authorities are taking extraordinary and discriiminatory steps to reduce that population.”

      Sencar’s words are 100% backed by the UN’s report on East Jerusalem and Israeli policies towards Christians and Muslims living in the city:


      • “Israeli policies towards Christians and Muslims living in the city”. Nat – 1967 to present is the first time in history in which the practice of every religion and none has been protected by the governing power in Jerusalem.

        All the major religions have control over their own holy sites – ironically, except the Jews, who have no control over the Temple Mount, the single holiest site in the world for them.

        Israel may have different policies for NON-ISRAELIS living in the city, but it is their nationality, not their religion, that is the basis for these differences as is obvious if you care to take into account the many Muslims, Christians, Bahais, Buddhists, atheists etc etc who enjoy full rights as Israeli citizens.

          • No – I can’t. But the key word in your question is “Israeli” not the word “Jew”. Can you quote me even one example of an Israeli atheist, or an Israeli Christian, or an Israeli Buddhist … who has been “stripped of his right to live in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities”?

  5. On the population issue, Pakistan always claims (and I have read many such claims by Pakistanis on Cif), with Western lefty progressives nodding sagely, that India is being ethnically cleansed of muslims. Yet the truth of the matter is that since partition muslim population in India has grown from around 75 million to nearly 200 million! While in the same time non-muslims, who formed nearly 35% of Pakistan’s population at partition has dwindled to less than 5%. The same sort of story repeats itself in Bangladesh where Hindus and Christians are routinely beaten up, killed, forced to convert or flee the country.

    I have yet to see a single report in any Western media, let alone the Guardian, throwing light on the plight of these non-muslims in muslim majority countries.

  6. Re. that specific story, the Borger report indeed appears sloppy if not downright dishonest.

    But as for the larger issue – what about this quote from the G. article:

    Sarit Michaeli: “I lived for 11 years in London and in the US but when I moved back as an Israeli Jew I was able to renew all my residency and citizenship rights. Had I been a Palestinian that would have been impossible.”

    I do not believe the suggestion that the Israelis deliberately put Samira Hassassian under undue (and lethal) strain.

    But why the general discriminatory policy?

    • Pretzelberg – the crucial point is that Sarit Michaeli is an Israeli CITIZEN. This status cannot be taken away because of long-term absenteeism. Mrs Hassassian was NOT a citizen, although as even the Grauniad points out, Arab residents of Jerusalem can apply for citizenship if they want it. She chose not to do so.

      Every country in the world applies different rules to citizens than they do to non-citizens. What is wrong with that?

      • Britain until recently carried out the inhumane and despicable”viginity test” on young girls coming here from India.

        Israel, being at it is in a constant state of war, has to be particularly judicious on its immigration policy.

        • Sorry, I meant “virginity test” above. And they did this by an immigration officer, often a burly man, poking and prodding into the little Indian girl’s vagina to see if the hymen was intact.

          • Question: assuming the premise of this is accurate, was there also some kind of “religious test” for this hypothetical “burly immigration officer”?
            In other words, as this sounds like some kind of violation of the Universal Charter of Human Rights, if it was indeed ever the policy was that due to any religious community’s insistence?
            This is a strange planet and we seem to be living in strange times, but how is it possible, Rupa, that you have heard about this particularly
            egregious behavior supposedly sanctioned by the U.K. but it has not been as far as I know, widely covered in the mass media and decried, et cetera?
            Just asking!

      • Fair enough re. citizenship. But given the circumstances, why the red tape when it comes to residency permits for Arabs from East Jerusalem?

        • 1. I offer you a chance to become a citizen of the country in which you live.
          2. You refuse this offer, because you do not recognize the right of that country to exist.
          3. That country accepts this, and allows you to continue living there on the basis that you show some minimal interest in retaining ties.
          Seems more than generous to me.
          The UK has far more stringent rules for non-nationals who wish to retain the right to live and work here.

          • That country accepts this, and allows you to continue living there

            Except that East Jerusalem is not in Israel.

            The UK has far more stringent rules for non-nationals who wish to retain the right to live and work here.

            But that applies to immigrants – and people like Samira Hassassian are hardly immigrants.

              • West Jerusalem is in Israel, but East Jerusalem is in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

                • Whether or not you accept that “East” Jerusalem (and Jerusalem, in its entire history, was only ever divided between East and West between 1948 and 1967) has been legally or illegally annexed by Israel, the fact on the ground is that it has. It is, by fact if not necessarily by law, part of the State of Israel.

                  The Spanish say that Gibraltar should be theirs, Argentina claims the Falklands. I make no comment on the justification of those claims, but the FACT is those territories are under British rule. Their residents are British citizines and they are governed under British law.

                  You many not like the fact that the whole of Jerusalem is in Israel, you may even militate for that position to change, but that does not change the FACT that it IS in Israel.

      • I see that she was born in Beit Jala so would have been able to acquire Israeli nationality that way too. Presumably.

        Maybe pretz doesn’t believe in free will and this lady seemed to have quite a lot of that.

      • “Arab residents of Jerusalem can apply for citizenship if they want it.”

        Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are Palestinian citizens living in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). They have no reason to opt for the citizenship of Israel, a foreign country.

        • Fair enough. Nobody is forcing them to become Israeli citizens. But if they don’t, they can hardly expect to be treated like citizens. It’s simple logic, really.