Thursday, 11 February 2010

A Riposte

Today's "Independent" (London) carries a long article by their Middle East correspondent, the eminent and much-awarded Robert Fisk, seven times "International Journalist of the Year". In a piece titled: "State of Denial" he surveys the Israeli-Palestinian situation in depth and from all sides, searching for any signs of movement towards peace. He can find little of comfort.

His article is fascinating – journalism of the very highest quality. Yet I find myself unable to concur with his totally pessimistic view of either the present situation or the likely future. I don't like his utterly negative view of people and their motives – Palestinians, Egyptians and Israelis. And so I decided to send a letter to the "Independent".

As I write this piece, I have no idea whether my letter will be accepted for publication. The odds are always against, since any newspaper is always heavily over-subscribed with readers' letters. But this is what I wrote:

The iron seems to have entered Robert Fisk's soul ("State of Denial", February 11). On every side – Palestinian, Egyptian, Israeli – he can find little but cynicism, hypocrisy, corruption, nepotism and venality.

Discovering for himself the towering intellect of Israel's first leader, David Ben Gurion, Fisk can acknowledge the high moral principles that underlay the foundation of the state, but cannot perceive in any Israeli politician today a belief in those principles, or a desire to live up to them. All, he would have us believe, are now so steeped in blood and barbarity and self-delusion that Israel has virtually forfeited its right to exist; its claim to be acting in defence of its people against those who would destroy them is false. The Israel he portrays is an aggressive immoral state, intent on subjugating and humiliating the peoples of the West Bank and Gaza and planning new military adventures in Lebanon and possibly Iran. From personal experience I know this to be nothing like a true picture of modern Israel. Because Robert Fisk clearly has little empathy for Israel or Israelis, he paints the situation as hopeless. But the "facts on the ground" – the settlements, the wall, the borders – are all, of course, susceptible of negotiation and agreement.

Robert Fisk's Egypt is a cowardly government, turning its back on its Arab brothers and sisters in Gaza in order to win the approval of its American paymasters. This is the only explanation Fisk gives for Egypt's opposition to Hamas, and its determined action to shut down the network of tunnels running under the border through which a vast range of goods, including weaponry, is smuggled into Gaza. He does not mention Egypt's constant battle against Islamism, of which Hamas and Hizbollah are prime exemplars, or their fear of its gaining a foothold in their country – the very phenomenon that he notes is creeping into Gaza itself.

It is only when he turns to Hamas, that Fisk's stern eye softens. Yes, he recounts how Hamas officials are creaming off millions of dollars from the goods smuggled in from Egypt, but still to him Hamas are the doughty and elected defenders of their people. He fails to mention how they seized control of Gaza in a bloody and illegal coup against the very Palestinian Authority to which they were elected.

Robert Fisk concludes that, in the final analysis, the Israeli-Arab conflict is all about who has power. This is surely a jaundiced view. Is it not about finding a way for the peoples of the Middle East to live together in peace?

Neville Teller

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