SBS regarded Israel’s raid on the Jericho jail as such a major story that they allocated it more than 8 minutes, approximately a third, of their bulletin. There were two mentions that the monitors withdrew “for safety reasons” but unfortunately, in all that time, they did not manage to mention that the monitors felt their safety was threatened because of the continued failure by the Palestinian Authority to comply with the agreement under which they were there, SBS TV “News” (March 15). The ABC also failed to find room for this important fact in its lengthy coverage, ABC TV “News” (March 15).
By contrast, Matt Brown, in a report, showed US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton explaining, “That was a decision that was entirely based on concern for their safety and for the fact, because of the fact that the Palestinian Authority was not abiding by the terms of the Ramallah Agreement.” Then Brown followed up, “The militant group Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in January, has repeatedly called for Ahmed Saadat’s release. And with the Americans and British no longer supervising his detention, the Israelis moved in,” ABC TV “Lateline” (March 16).
After reporting Israeli denials of involvement in the explosion which killed Islamic Jihad military leader Khaled Dada, or Abu Walid, Richard Mason felt the need to cast doubt on the Israeli assurances. He added, “Israel has, however, vowed to crack down on Islamic Jihad, and the incident took place just hours after Gaza militants fired a rocket towards the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon”. Israel in the past has been only too willing to admit involvement in attacks it has carried out. We look forward to seeing SBS display similar scepticism in relation to Palestinian claims, SBS TV “News” (March 2).
On the bright side, however, there was somewhat of a breakthrough when Garry McNab referred to a targeted killing as a targeted killing, SBS TV “News” (March 7). Meanwhile, the nation’s financial daily somehow concluded the following in their editorial about the jail raid: “The Jericho raid raises the question of what is acceptable in Israel’s pursuit of justice. Saadat and his fellow prisoners had, after all, been incarcerated by Palestinian courts. The credibility of Mr Abbas has clearly been damaged. And it’s hard to see how the Palestinians themselves can have faith in their own civil institutions and laws when they can be tramped on by a political neighbour,” The Australian Financial Review (March 17).
Democracy, Palestinian Style
Nabil Shaath, a member of the defeated Fatah party, and until recently Palestinian Foreign Minister, showed a lack of understanding of the nature of parliamentary democracy. After the ruling Hamas had passed a series of measures over Fatah objections, and Fatah had walked out of the parliament in response, Shaath said, “We will discuss this with our leadership and with their leadership. A new system that will really make it worthwhile for us to be part of that parliament and not to be overruled on order by the numerical majority.” Welcome to opposition, Mr Shaath, SBS TV “News” (March 7).
Peter George asked recently elected Hamas parliamentarian Dr Jamila Shanti, “So what about hopes for peace? An end to the violence? A halt to suicide bombings?” She replied, “No, I don’t say that. I say resistance of all kinds is a legitimate right for us. International law allows an occupied country to fight back in all possible ways – in any way that they see fit,” ABC TV “Foreign Correspondent” (March 21).
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told Mark Willacy, “We say when Israel actually decides to withdraw from Palestinian land back to the 1967 borders, pulls down the wall, dismantles the settlements, leaves East Jerusalem, acknowledges the right of return for the Palestinian refugees and releases all the prisoners, then we in Hamas will take serious steps to make real peace. But before that, we will not deal with hypotheticals.” In other words, Israel must do everything the Palestinians want before Hamas will even consider making any concessions. And these steps include Israel ensuring further attacks on itself by releasing all captured terrorists, and ensuring its own destruction by allowing all refugees and their descendants to live in Israel,” ABC TV “Lateline” (March 10).
Asked by Willacy if Hamas is still committed to Israel’s destruction, Meshaal avoided answering, and instead let fly with, “Let me tell you, the international world has to acknowledge the truth. Who is destroying Palestinian houses? Who is launching Apache and F-16 missiles? Who is uprooting trees and ploughing in crops? And who is building the walls and confiscating the land, and who is building Jewish settlements at the expense of the simple Palestinian landowners? Honestly, this question should be directed to the Israelis, not to the Palestinian people or to the Hamas movement,” ABC Radio “AM” (March 11). Hamas’ parliamentary speaker-designate, US educated Aziz Dwiek, told Michael Gawenda, “They should know better. The Nazis tried to erase them and they survived. Now they try to erase us and we will survive,” The Age (March 25).
Hamas in Power – Editorials
The national daily pointed out, “One of the hallmarks of Palestinian politics is the practice of preaching peace and moderation in English to the world press, and then turning around and spewing venomous hatred in Arabic to constituencies in Gaza and the West Bank…To put it bluntly, continuing to fund the Palestinians can feel a lot like paying protection money – without getting much protection in return. The only problem is that in completely cutting off the Palestinian Authority, any hope for the much-abused ‘peace process’ is scuttled as well…Hamas may have been founded as a terrorist organisation, but so too was Yasser Arafat’s PLO – and Western presidents and prime ministers managed to deal with them (though honest 20/20 hindsight sees that Arafat was never as serious about making peace as he was about holding power). But Hamas also has a domestic reform agenda that would be well-complemented by promptly recognising Israel,” The Australian (March 3). Sydney’s broadsheet opined, “Israel’s immediate response has been to withhold vital tax and customs revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority until Hamas recognises its right to exist and forgoes violence. The US has supported this line. It and the Europeans are talking of finding ways to maintain humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, while starving a Hamas-led administration of funds. Such tough reactions are understandable. After all, the obvious and best way out of this crisis is for Hamas to renounce terrorism and accept Israel’s legitimacy. Yet if Hamas refuses, the West could find itself in the invidious position of not only seeming to reject the democratically expressed will of the Palestinians, but also of adopting potentially counterproductive tactics,” The Sydney Morning Herald (March 6).
Hamas in Power – Analysis
Following the shock election win by the Palestinian terror group, Hamas, Greg Sheridan wrote, “It [Israel] cannot allow the West Bank to become another Gaza. Disengagement was really a strategy of despair by Sharon; despair at ever finding a partner for peace. In the end there is no substitute to a negotiated and enforceable two-state settlement, including the end of all claims of each state on the other. In the meantime, Israel will revert to its traditional policy of providing for its security as best it can, sitting tight and waiting for something better to come along,” The Australian (February 23). The Australian reaction to the election was summed up by foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who stated, “Australian policy on Hamas is firm and principled. Hamas is listed in its entirety as an entity associated with terrorism, and it is illegal for Australia to make assets available to it. It is possible that a new Palestinian government might involve a coalition between Hamas and others. Regardless, Hamas is now likely to play a more central role, and for it to take a legitimate place in the government of the Palestinian territories, and in the Middle East peace process, Hamas will have to adopt those baseline stances – renouncing violence and recognising Israel…Australia’s deep and abiding commitment to Israel is well known. But we also remain committed to the goal of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” The Sydney Morning Herald (March 1). On the other end of the spectrum, Saeb Erakat, in a piece in The Advertiser, claimed, “democracy poses no challenge to the resolution of the conflict, Israel’s ‘no partner’ mantra and the political cowardice of the international community do. If Israel continues to exploit the Hamas victory, to claim that it has no partner for talks and avoid negotiations- and if the international community remains indifferent-the conflict can only deteriorate. This would be an unforgivable loss for peace,” The Advertiser (March 18).
With only a day or so until the forthcoming Israeli election, former Age editor Michael Gawenda wrote from Jerusalem, “There is little enthusiasm in Israel for this election…These people seem already disengaged from the Palestinians and perhaps from politics as well…And by its silence about Olmert’s plan- or any other plan for that matter- the Bush Administration has signalled that it, too, believes the peace process, after a Hamas victory, is virtually dead. The best that can be hoped for is a sullen truce between Israelis and Palestinians,” The Sydney Morning Herald (March 25. Martin Chulov penned the following, also from the historic city: “Though predictable- and at times plain boring- the campaign has once again unleashed the mainstream, which for the past decade had been observers as Israeli political power oscillated between the peaceniks of Oslo and the hawks of the intifada. Now they too appear to have tired of hope. For now, their preferred option seems likely to be to batten down the hatches and reassess when the next poll comes around,” The Australian (March 25). The national daily, on the eve of the election, noted the forgone election result by stating, “A Kadima win will not bring the Middle East any closer to a permanent peace. A withdrawal will not assuage the Hamas terrorist organisation that won Palestinian Authority elections in January, and still officially advocates the destruction of Israel. And new borders would not make the areas under Palestinian control any more economically viable. Kadima’s intention is less to appease than ignore the Palestinians, on the understandable assumption there is no point in negotiating with any organisation that refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist,” The Australian (March 28).
In the run-up to the Israeli elections, Ed O’Loughlin alleged that Israeli Arabs have not yet achieved political equality. He wrote, “Israel’s Arab parties are considered untouchable by mainstream politicians, able to sit and vote in parliament but carefully fenced off from power calculations…They (Israeli Arabs) pay the same taxes as Jews but benefit far less from state employment and from funding for education, health and other basic amenities. Surveys show that Arab citizens receive harsher treatment from police and the army and face longer jail sentences than Jews convicted of comparable offences. Regarded by many Israeli Jews as a racial fifth column, Arab citizens are used to hearing calls for their “transfer” beyond their country’s frontiers. But although many Arab-Israelis sympathise with their Palestinian cousins, few support or participate in terrorism, and most say that they want to seek their political rights peacefully and legally within the state of Israel,” Sydney Morning Herald (March 20).
Fairfax’s Iraq correspondent Paul McGeough sanitised the al-Qaeda terrorists operating in Iraq, characterising them merely as “a group of foreign fighters…working on their Iraqi agenda but also working on a much wider, if you like, a pan-Arabic agenda that is to do with fighting a foreign presence in the Arab homelands,” SBS TV “Insight” (March 14).
Tony Jones asked defence academic Hugh White whether he’d prefer Saddam Hussein was still in power. White replied, “Well, I’m not at all sure I wouldn’t. A lot of people are dying in Iraq today, a lot of people died in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. I don’t know whether more people are dying one way or the other,” ABC TV ”Lateline” (March 17). Columnist Andrew Bolt answered this question a few days later. Using the worst post-war casualty figures he could find, and conservative numbers for those killed by Saddam, he found “civilian deaths in fighting in Iraq over the past three years works out to an average of 34 a day. In fact, the average this year is lower, but let’s not quibble.” However, “Saddam claimed on average between 90 and 120 victims each day. Every day. For 24 years,” Herald Sun (March 22).
BBC reporter James Reynolds stated, “The next Israeli government may try to draw up a definitive border between Israelis and Palestinians on Israel’s terms. So as an exercise we will give Israeli voters the chance to define their own borders. We head into the hills of the West Bank, settled by Israel in defiance of international law.” It should have been noted that Israel will only act unilaterally if the Hamas government refuses to recognize Israel and renounce violence. And Reynolds’ claim that Israel settled the West Bank in defiance of international law is the BBC line, and is incorrect. Reynolds then conducts a largely pointless exercise in which three Israelis show where they think the border should be, before he concludes, “This was just an exercise. Up the hill, though, Israel’s next government may try to set the borders for real. But it will know this – a legitimate international frontier cannot be drawn up by one side alone.” We assume he means legitimate in the eyes of the BBC, SBS TV “News” (March 24).
Same Old (Date)line
For a great example of biased reporting, it is hard to go past Chris Hammer’s effort on “Dateline”. Host George Negus, introducing the report, announced, “Ehud Olmert now has a plan to annex as much as 40% of the West Bank and unilaterally withdrawing Jewish settlers from the rest. The effect of this redrafting of Israel’s borders would be to impose a state on the Palestinians – without negotiation. Whether this plan would be a recipe for peace in the Middle East, or, as some would argue, quite the opposite – war, that’s precisely the platform acting-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is taking next week’s Israeli elections.” We’re not sure where Negus gets his grossly inflated figure of 40% from, and he neglected to mention that this is Olmert’s platform only if the Palestinians continue to be no partner for peace, a crucial point. Hammer states, “It’s the story of an ambitious plan to redraw the borders of Israel and, without consultation, impose a state on the Palestinians.” He also fails to explain that it is only if Hamas fails to recognise Israel and renounce terror. It is also interesting that Olmert’s plan to grant the Palestinians a state without asking for anything in return is now being characterized by “Dateline” as imposing a state on them, as if they really don’t want one. Hammer continues, “When the Israelis started building this wall in earnest, four years ago, they assured the world that it would not be the basis for a border – that it was here for security, to stop the suicide bombers and other terrorists crossing into Israel proper. But now, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has indicated that Israel is considering imposing borders on a new Palestinian state and that this wall, here, will form the foundations for those borders.” Of course, at the time that was Israel’s intention, but circumstances have changed since then. He also states that since Israel took control of the West Bank, “the international community has recognised this as an occupied territory”. That is far too wide a statement. It is regarded as disputed territory by much of the international community, with borders yet to be decided. Hammer also states that the impact on settlers to be uprooted under Olmert’s plan “will be nothing compared to the impact on Palestinians”. He then details the hardships suffered by Palestinians due to checkpoints and Israeli only roads, without explaining at all why Israel maintains these, SBS TV “Dateline” (March 22).
Negus then interviewed Yossi Beilin, whose party Meretz-Yachad is generally regarded as being on the far left of Israeli politics. Negus, however, called it “left-leaning”, SBS TV “Dateline” (March 22).
Negus also showed his leanings in an interview with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi. Negus put it to Chalabi that “some in your country are also saying that human rights abuses are as bad as they were under Saddam”. He also asked, “So will it be the Iraqis who decide when the job is done, or the occupying forces?” Chalabi pointed out, “There are no occupation forces in Iraq.” Negus asked, “Well how do you describe the overseas forces in your country, if they are not an occupying army?” Chalabi responded, “They are there at the request of the Iraqi Government under UN resolution,” SBS TV “Dateline” (March 8).
Olivia Rousset, who recently controversially released further pictures of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, spoke to two former guards there who, as George Negus stated, “Now see themselves as being among the victims of Abu Ghraib”. There was no chance for anyone from the US military to counter the allegations. This was followed by an interview with Janis Karpinski, the former commander of Abu Ghraib, whose allegations were neatly summed up by Negus, who said, “So what you’re saying is that people like yourself, as the commander of the prison at the time, had no idea that the American Government was taking no notice whatsoever of any Geneva Convention and therefore, if you like, the gloves were off and anything was okay, so far as torture and interrogation was concerned.” She also alleged that the blame went all the way to the top. Again there was no countering view put, SBS TV “Dateline” (March 8).
The previous week’s program featured reports on US efforts to develop tactical nuclear weapons, which is contrasted with their efforts to prevent Iran going nuclear, and a follow up story on an alleged extraordinary rendition victim, whose legal case against the US was thrown out by the court for national security concerns, SBS TV “Dateline” (Feb 22).
A Range of Opinion?
The March 18 edition of The Age contained a total of four articles marking the third anniversary of the war in Iraq. Every single one of them argued the war was either illegal, a mistake or a disaster.
Michael Gawenda wrote, “The debate has moved beyond the question of whether or not the Administration selectively used intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction to justify the war. It is about whether, in light of the mounting evidence of the Administration’s incompetence, it can be trusted with looming foreign policy challenges, from Iran in particular.”
Andrew Wilkie, the controversial former analyst for the Office of National Assessments, argued, “That Iraq is now lost is a strategic blunder of unprecedented proportions that will be a curse on the US and its allies for decades to come. Remember that this war had little to do with weapons of mass destruction and nothing do with terrorism, but everything to do with America’s determination to safeguard and enhance its global ideological, economic and military hegemony.”
The “Good Weekend” section also ran a Paul McGeough feature on Iraq. According to McGeough, “There are two Iraqs. One is George W. Bush’s democracy beacon, where queues of voters hint at the prospect of an ordered society. But that Iraq doesn’t extend much beyond the Green Zone…Diplomats, especially the Americans, spin their wheels, beavering away on a multi-billion-dollar reconstruction program that has stalled…This other Iraq is a messy and chaotic place where, as an American official observes, freedom crawls on broken glass.”
Melbourne writer Tracee Hutchinson joined in the chorus with reminiscences of the glory of the anti-war protests and her distress that they failed to stop the war.
Obviously feeling this was not enough condemnation of the war, The Age followed up a couple of days later with a piece by the Australian National University’s Dr. Amin Saikal. He predictably ranted, “There is no doubt the Bush Administration has failed dismally in its efforts to transform the country into a stable democracy and therefore a beacon for reshaping the Middle East according to its ideological and geopolitical preferences….This, plus America’s moral, political and military degradation, has enabled radical forces of political Islam to flourish and inflict heavy losses on the US and ordinary Iraqi civilians,” The Age (March 20).
In other comment on the third anniversary of the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sydney’s broadsheet wrote, “Australia’s role has been that of the loyal ally. We, with others, accepted the need for the war. We took part in the invasion and have maintained forces in Iraq. Despite the Federal Government’s denials, Australia is a higher-profile target for terrorists as a result. That, of course, is no reason to give way to terrorist threats, abandon our values or leave traditional allies in the lurch. In other respects Australia has been lucky in Iraq. Casualties have been few and we have retained the respect of our closest allies. As part of a coalition which in effect defied the world, in the form of the UN, in invading Iraq, we have no choice but to keep our forces in the country. Iraq remains, in part, our responsibility. We have to help clean it up,” The Sydney Morning Herald (March 20). Greg Sheridan wrote, “The war was the right war against the right enemy at the right time, and waged for broadly the right reasons…Saddam’s own senior generals believed he had WMDs, as did his most formidable regional adversary, Iran. Statesmen in Washington, London and Canberra didn’t get to decide in hindsight in 2006. They had to act with available information in 2002-03…Australian policy on Iraq cannot possibly be described as a failure. Howard backed a tough, necessary and unpopular action. He won domestic support for it. Like most leaders who closely supported Bush in Iraq, he was handsomely re-elected. Part of Canberra’s calculation was alliance management, and as a result of our Iraq commitment Australia has never been stronger in its relationship with the US…The US-led coalition probably needs to be in Iraq for a long time. None of this stuff is easy, but provided we don’t lose our nerve, it can be done. Perhaps that makes me a neo-conservative. So be it,” The Australian (March 23).
The Battle Continues
Sydney’s broadsheet opined, “The bombing of Samarra’s golden mosque means the dynamics of the Iraqi conflict have changed. The insurgents will maintain their vicious campaign against US-led occupying troops, the Iraqi politicians whom they see as puppets, and the nascent Iraqi security forces. But they have widened their field of fire. The attack on the shrine was a symbolic blow to the authority of Iraq’s Shiite grand ayatollahs who have, to date, been a restraining influence. The influence of the elders is also challenged by Iranian-backed Shiite militias, whose activities have become more blatant in response to the insurgents’ new tactics. The fate of Iraq now hangs on whether the longing for peace and stability that most Iraqis showed by their recent election turnout can be harnessed to isolate extremists on both sides,” The Sydney Morning Herald (February 28).
The national capital’s broadsheet wrote, “In reality, the US is powerless to alter the post-invasion shape of Iraq, and has been since the furtive departure from Baghdad of administrator Paul Bremer after the Coalition Provisional Authority’s handover of power to an interim government in June 2004…What this upsurge in sectarian violence will do in the short term is sow the seeds of further mistrust between the ethnic and political groups charged with establishing a national unity government…The outbreak of civil war would not change this outcome, rather it would allow those Shi’a religious leaders with aspirations for theocracy to expedite their goals, and it will also give Iran a greater influence in the region, as it sponsors many of the Shi’a powerbrokers. For the Americans, still grappling with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and deeply antipathetic to its government, this would be a disastrous outcome…If Iraq is to be spared from civil war unleashed by a botched foreign occupation, its politicians and clerics must reject chaos and choose common sense,” The Canberra Times (March 3). The nation’s financial daily opined, “The blights of a new Iraq cripple economic development and threaten civil war…The US and its allies must seek ways to involve the international community in efforts to find a solution. But this will require a willingness on the US’s part to allow the United Nations and foreign countries to play a leadership role on the political and economic tracks in reconstruction,” The Australian Financial Review (March 18). Sydney’s tabloid concluded, “Terrorism has not been defeated in Iraq, neither have the foundations of a peaceful and enduring democratic system been locked in…Until Iraqi security forces have their own capacity to maintain security within Iraq, to protect it against internal and external threats, it is imperative our commitment to the coalition remains intact,” Daily Telegraph (March 20).
Melbourne’s broadsheet claimed, “When it comes to countries outside Europe, particularly the Islamic sphere, it was widely believed the US invaded Iraq to get its hands on one of the world’s biggest and best-quality oil supplies. The resulting rift with the Islamic world is now a serious issue for global security… The argument was also advanced that the war is part of the global fight against terrorism. If anything, the war has turned Iraq into a terrorist training camp, but it must not be forgotten that the invasion was not a response to Iraqi terrorism… Three years on, Australia has as much to offer the US as any ally, but that should not be in the form of an unquestioning, open-ended military commitment. Both Iraq and the US are now best served by allies that are prepared to offer a frank and constructive assessment of where things went wrong and how they might now be put right,” The Age (March 20).
Iraq – Not so Civil
Palestinian journalist Zaki Chehab, who has reported from Iraq, had an interesting point for all those demanding coalition forces withdraw from Iraq. He related, “Just recently I was in Baghdad for the last election and I asked [some Sunnis] ‘Do you really want to see American forces leaving Iraq tomorrow?’ They really thought about what I asked, about sudden withdrawal. They said, ‘No. We want a very good relationship with the West.’ They were Sunnis. They were from Mosul, they were from Ramadi they said, ‘All we need is a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces and Western forces from Iraq’,” He later added, “The point is how far the US is willing to give al-Qaeda and Zarqawi and their band of terrorists this victory on a plate because any immediate withdrawal of American forces and Western forces from Iraq is a victory for al-Qaeda, a victory for terrorism and then al-Qaeda and their affiliates would claim that we managed to force Western and American-led coalition in Iraq to withdraw, so I suspect that the American forces aren’t going to withdraw in the near future,” SBS TV “Dateline” (Feb. 22).
Iraq and Iraqis – Analysis
Keith Suter wrote, “Today, Shi’a represent about 10 per cent of the global Islamic community, but they are the majority in Iran and Iraq…When Britain created the modern-day Iraq in the 1920s, a tradition began that the ruler would be a Sunni- despite the fact they were the minority group…Now, with the recent election, Shi’ites are on the verge of gaining control of Iraq for the first time. The Sunnis are scared there will be revenge taken, both for the 80 years of modern rule-and the 1400 years of traditional struggle,” The Daily Telegraph (February 28). Daniel Pipes concluded, “The eruption of civil war in Iraq would have many implications for the West. It would likely: Invite Syrian and Iranian participation, hastening the possibility of a US confrontation with those two states, with which tensions are already high. Terminate the dream of Iraq serving as a model for other Middle Eastern countries, thus delaying the push towards elections. This will have the effect of keeping Islamists from being legitimated by the popular vote, as Hamas was just a month ago. Reduce coalition casualties in Iraq. Reduce Western casualties outside Iraq…Put differently, when Sunni terrorists target Shiites and vice versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt. Civil war in Iraq, in short, would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a strategic one,” The Australian (March 2). Hugh White, a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute, noted, “A force of 180,000 troops — and the expenditure of billions of dollars a month — gives the coalition very little influence over what happens in Iraq today, or over the shape of Iraq’s future. There is still a faint chance that Iraq’s ill-matched factions will find a way to work together in some semblance of national government. But whether they do or not is out of our hands. We had the power to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime, but not to build a new one. Only the Iraqis can do that. Only they can make the compromises, build the trust, contain their fears and curb their rage enough to generate the sense of shared interests necessary to make Iraq work as a democratic political entity. All we can do is watch,” The Age (March 14).
A Doubtful Thomas
Sally Neighbour reported on the case of Australian terror suspect Jack Thomas, recently found guilty of accepting money from al-Qaeda and passport fraud, but acquitted on more serious terror related charges. Thomas was given the opportunity to give his side, but many of his comments showed him to be someone the authorities may want to keep an eye on. He admitted that, prior to leaving for Afghanistan, he participated in “jihad training” with the Ayub twins, Jemaah Islamiyah’s representatives in Australia. He explained, “Well I suppose everyone knows that jihad is a military, you know, it can be considered a military struggle. And part of jihad is fighting.” He also owned up to having gone to Afghanistan to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance, and while there, undergoing military training that “involved light, you know, weapons that are like Kalashnikovs, light firearms and pistols. The topography or the map and compass reading and the signals and signs that you make when you’re walking around on patrol to stop and go to the ground and helicopter and different signs. And the demolition course.” While there, he met Osama bin Laden three times. He found bin Laden “Very polite and humble and shy. He didn’t like too many kisses, you know, he didn’t mind being hugged but kisses he didn’t like. He was just, seemed to float, float really across the floor.” Sally Neighbour explained, “For inspiration the recruits were shown propaganda videos of events like the al Qaeda bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors. It was after one of these viewings that Jack Thomas found a mate among his fellow trainees.” This mate was David Hicks, who Thomas said was “a really good bloke. He’s a real you know, blue-singlet wearing Aussie.” Thomas also admitted having contact with many top al-Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, and deciding to stay and fight the Americans in Afghanistan – “When I saw, well, I was told and I heard the stories of the bombings in Kabul and the brothers being blown into pieces with arms and torsos and different body parts on the road, there’s no doubt that I did go back to Bagram to fight the Americans. He felt that “my Muslim brothers were being slaughtered” and decided “I’d do anything I could to stop that,” ABC TV “Four Corners” (Feb. 27).
The national daily opined, “Thomas was involved with some frankly evil folk who don’t believe any non-Muslim Australians are innocent, and who have a pretty good track record of causing death and destruction in other countries. In celebrating his supposed victory, and in speaking so fondly of bin Laden, Thomas does more than show bad taste and disrespect to those innocents killed by al-Qa’ida,” The Australian (March 1).
Former NSW Premier Bob Carr interviewed American writer and government critic Gore Vidal, who showed almost delusional naivety. Carr asked, “If you had been President at the moment of the September 11 attacks, how would you have reacted? What would your address to Congress have consisted of?” Vidal replied, “I have just spoken to the head of Interpol and we are asking for the arrest of these people, we have some of their names. We will have more later. They are criminals. I wouldn’t ask for a declaration of war because there’s no country involved.” Carr asked, “Would you have taken out the Taliban bases in Afghanistan which had harboured these people?” Vidal responded, “No we could, we could help out the Interpol. If Interpol hasn’t got the men or the means of doing it, yes we would cooperate with them. Send the FBI over and do some dirty tricks. Not above that but no it was, it’s a police action which should have been kept at that. After all it’s Osama Bin Laden and eleven Saudi Arabians so what did we do? We smash up Afghanistan and Iraq and now we’re threatening Iran and don’t think we’re not going to try something there which will just be ghastly for us because we’re on a losing wicket here. We have less and less power and less and less money.” Vidal seems not to want to know that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan were being actively sheltered by the Taliban, which would have made it difficult to capture bin Laden through Interpol, or FBI “dirty tricks” and get him out of the country, ABC TV “Foreign Correspondent (Feb. 21).
Israeli National Security Council chief Giora Eiland warned, “It is obvious that if Iran has nuclear weapons, then every other conflict in the Middle East, whether Israel is involved or is not involved, will take place under Iranian nuclear umbrella. The implications are much more than severe.” Former Israeli military intelligence officer Ami Dror stated, “I think that the alternative of nuclear Iran is so dangerous to the world that nothing could be more dangerous than that,” ABC TV “Lateline” (March 9). Amin Saikal claimed, “A majority of Iranians see that the US is hypocritical by allowing its allies Israel and Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, but denying Iran even a civilian nuclear capability because it has refused to give in to American supremacy. Tehran can be expected to press on with its nuclear program, no matter what. If it comes to a military confrontation with the US or Israel, it may well decide to wear it. To avoid a confrontation, the international community must work on a compromise that can provide face-saving for both sides. A solution may be in the suggestion that one of America’s European nuclear power allies provide Iran with enriched uranium for peaceful purposes, and this be accompanied with urgent moves by the US to assure Tehran against any threat. The time has come for mutual accommodation between these two foes,” The Sydney Morning Herald (March 10). Josh Frydenberg, a former senior advisor to John Howard, wrote, “Iran may respond [to a military strike] by unleashing its terrorist networks throughout the world, fomenting further unrest in Iraq and restricting Persian Gulf oil supplies through key transit points such as the Strait of Hormuz. Despite these dangers, the reality of a nuclear-armed Iran is of greater concern, and we must recognise that military action may indeed become the option of last resort,” The Herald-Sun (March 14).
Following more debate over Iran’s aspirations for more nuclear capabilities, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein concluded, “There is no hope that further diplomacy will in itself budge Tehran – that has been made amply clear. There now must be serious UN sanctions on Iran, or within a period of no more than a year or two we are very likely to face the stark choice [of military action or allowing Iran to go nuclear],” The Age (March 23). AIJAC’s Ted Lapkin also argued, “The Middle East has no shortage of strife and conflict. But the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian mullah-cracy dwarfs all other regional trials and tribulations. For all our sakes, Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons must be stopped: by diplomacy if possible, but by force if necessary,” The Australian Financial Review (March 25).
The national daily noted, “The challenges of getting Iran to step back from the nuclear brink are myriad — but not insurmountable. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is viciously anti-Western and anti-Semitic — he has explicitly threatened the destruction of Israel — and is a hardline religious fanatic…if American diplomacy is not enough, it will be incumbent on the UN Security Council to convince Tehran to step back from the brink. There is no question that Iran will not be allowed to build a nuclear weapon; the question is how they will come to comprehend this. If the multilateral UN can make this point where the more unilateralist US can’t, things will be a lot easier for the Iranians — and for the rest of us,” The Australian (March 14).
Robert Fisk vaguely hinted at a conspiracy theory on Iraq. He said, “There never has been a civil war in Iraq. The real question I ask myself is: who are these people who are trying to provoke the civil war? Now the Americans will say it’s al Qaeda, it’s the Sunni insurgents. It is the death squads. Many of the death squads work for the Ministry of Interior. Who runs the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad? Who pays the Ministry of the Interior? Who pays the militia men who make up the death squads? We do, the occupation authorities. I’d like to know what the Americans are doing to get at the people who are trying to provoke the civil war. It seems to me not very much. We don’t hear of any suicide bombers being stopped before they blow themselves up. We don’t hear of anybody stopping a mosque getting blown up. We’re not hearing of death squads all being arrested. Something is going very, very wrong in Baghdad. Something is going wrong with the Administration,” ABC TV “Lateline” (March 2).
On the reaction to the Hamas victory, Fisk complained, “It’s the same old story – we demand democracy, we demand they have freedom to vote, and they vote for the wrong people, so we try to destroy the government that’s been freely elected. We love democracy, providing the Muslim nations elect the people we want. I mean, we keep hearing the Israelis will not deal with Hamas. The Israelis created Hamas. When the PLO were in Beirut, and the Israelis wanted to counteract the PLO, they urged Hamas to set up more mosques and social institutions in Gaza…Israel won’t deal with Hamas… this is just a facade of narrative, for us, the press.” Asked whether he believed Hamas members were terrorists, he said, “Look, I don’t use the word terrorist about anybody. This has become a semantically meaningless word.” When interviewer Eleanor Hall started to ask a question about Israel’s targeted killings, he interrupted, “The murder. I don’t say targeted killing,” ABC Radio “The World Today” (March 6).
Prominent Holocaust denier David Irving seemed to be in denial about his denial, perhaps in a panicky reaction to his trial in Austria for denying the Holocaust. On his way in to court to hear the verdict, Irving had the following exchange with a reporter: Reporter: “Are you saying the Holocaust did exist now?” Irving, “I don’t like trademarks. I would call it the Jewish tragedy in World War II.” Reporter: “But it’s a simple question. Did six million people die in the Holocaust?” Irving: “Millions died, millions of Jews died, there’s no question. And I’ve said that in all my books as well.” Reporter: “But did six million die?” Irving: “I don’t know. I’m not an expert on the Holocaust.” This of course begs the question – if he’s no expert on the Holocaust, why has he spent so much time writing and talking about it? Unfortunately, Australia’s own wannabe Irving, Frederick Toben, is still an unabashed Holocaust denier. On the eve of his trip to Iran for their Holocaust denial conference, Toben showed reporter Tom Iggulden a scale model of an Auschwitz gas chamber and said, as “proof” of his theories, “And this was then the gas chamber and gas was poured through these four holes. I was at Auschwitz and I didn’t find these four holes.” Just so there is no doubt, he added, “The Holocaust – I call it a myth, a dogma.” He also stated, “It’s not a novel notion that the Iranian President expressed in asking for the dismemberment for the racist, Zionist, apartheid state of Israel. That’s a notion that needs to be discussed,” ABC TV “Lateline” (Feb. 21).
Denial and Free Speech –Views
The national daily wrote, “While Australia would have no reason to jail Irving – or even prevent his visiting, given that people such as the outrageous Louis Farrakhan have been allowed to speak here – it is understandable why Austria and Germany make a crime of Holocaust denial and Nazi deification, despite the risk of bestowing victimhood on anti-Semites…Irving, in making his defence case to an Austrian court, claimed that he had recanted his views and that he no longer doubted the murderousness of Auschwitz or its purpose – which was very big of him…The danger is that Irving’s sentence, while understandable, may wind up fuelling the very flames of hatred it was designed to douse,” The Australian (February 22). Melbourne’s broadsheet concluded, “As the Muhammad cartoon controversy has shown, free speech does not reside in a bubble. One can, of course, say anything one likes, but there are consequences. One is being labelled a goose. Irving, as the judge inferred, has not changed his feathers. He can preen them in jail as he writes his memoirs, aptly entitled, he would argue, Irving’s War. And, as that war is being written, elsewhere, long live freedom of speech,” The Age (February 22). The national capital’s broadsheet claimed, “The prosecution of Holocaust denial, as attractive as it might seem to some, is a questionable tactic to use against Nazi sympathisers and anti-Semites. Speech that incites violence and/or hatred must always be outlawed, but the mere fact of holding offensive views should not be a crime. Lipstadt’s confrontation with Irving gave the then respectable writer and historian a prime-time venue to air his propaganda and hateful theories. In the event, the defence team destroyed his reputation as a serious historian. By jailing Irving rather than simply recording a conviction and fining him, the Austrian court threatens to undo the good work of the London trial,” Canberra Times (February 23). John Bruni, an Adelaide-based university lecturer, asserted, “The problem is that, for people like Irving, this ready-made platform from which he can relaunch his flagging persona is likely to become the touchstone for incitement to violence for the Far Right, destabilising already critically unstable ethnic balances within many Western societies,” Sunday Mail (February 26).
SBS showed the third and final instalment of their series on Israel’s generals, this one portraying Ariel Sharon. In the introduction, the narrator describes the elation of Sharon’s supporters upon his re-election as Prime Minister in 2003, but then states, “But Ariel Sharon’s actions over a 55 year career in the military and politics made not just the Arab world but much of the rest of the world consider him a pariah.” The program continued the theme of the first two instalments that Jews took Arab land in the lead up to Israel’s independence. Describing Sharon’s early years, the narration justified Arab attacks, saying, “Witnessing Jewish settlement on land they’d inhabited for hundreds of years, some local Arabs sporadically attacked [Sharon’s village] Kfar Malal.” This is the Arab narrative, but the truth is far more complex. Jews had lived in what was then Palestine for thousands of years, and much of the Arab population was highly transitory. The program was generally even-handed about Sharon’s military career. However, his political career was a different story. Constant Palestinian rocket attacks and terrorist incursions from Lebanon on Northern Israel over many years made Sharon decide to invade Lebanon. However, the series downplays this with the narrator stating merely, “PLO bases in Southern Lebanon had rocketed Israel,” as if it had happened only once. Coverage of the war concentrated on civilian deaths, the war’s unpopularity in Israel and the unintended consequences such as the formation of Hezbollah, but never mentioned the success – that the PLO ceased to be a threat.
Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was also told from the Palestinian perspective. The narrator stated, “As Oslo teetered on the brink of collapse, after negotiations between the two sides stalemated, Sharon, fully aware of the sensitivity of the situation, marched up to the al-Aqsa Mosque with a massive police escort. The Palestinian reaction was predictable. The intifada…started the next day.” It would have been far more accurate to say, “Nearly three months after negotiations between the two sides stalemated, with Yasser Arafat’s refusal of Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David of a Palestinian state, Ariel Sharon with a massive police escort visited the Temple Mount, holy to Jews as the site of the Temples and to Muslims as the location of the al-Aqsa Mosque. He had visited the site many times before, but this time was different, as the Palestinian Authority stirred up violence by spreading the lie that Israel was planning to demolish the Mosque. They took advantage of the subsequent mayhem to launch their premeditated intifada, blaming it on Sharon.” The documentary also showed misplaced sympathy for Yasser Arafat, with the narrator saying, “When the intifada escalated at the end of 2001, Sharon demonised Arafat as the source of all the trouble. In December 2001, Sharon confined Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah, and sought to exclude the elected President of the Palestinians, humiliating him in the process.” Arafat was indeed the source of all the problems, so Sharon’s treatment of him was entirely appropriate. And Arafat’s election was hardly democratic, and his term as Chairman had ended years previously, so he was no longer legitimately the elected leader. Describing Sharon’s reactions to the wave of suicide bombings in March 2002, the narrator stated, “Infamously, Sharon attacked and bulldozed Jenin’s refugee camps.” It was only “infamous” because the world believed Palestinian lies about a massacre, and in any event, Israel did not bulldoze “Jenin’s refugee camps”, but only one block of one camp, that was so heavily booby-trapped that bulldozing it was the only way to drive out the terrorists sheltering there. As for Sharon’s conduct after the 2003 election, the narrator states, “Since his re-election, Sharon has been under American pressure to engage in a peace process. He’s acknowledged the occupation, conceded the possibility of a Palestinian state and talked of painful concessions. But Israel has been building a wall, avowedly to stop terror attacks. It causes the Palestinians further loss of land and fences them in.” So according to the documentary, Sharon was only taking steps towards peace due to American pressure, and while casting doubt on Israel’s motives for building the security barrier (“avowedly”) the writers were happy to mislabel it as a wall, as the Palestinians describe it, and to imply that it proves that Sharon does not really want a fair peace at all, SBS TV “Israel’s Generals: Ariel Sharon” (Feb. 21).
SBS showed a French documentary that looked at the relationship between the USA and Saddam Hussein over time, and basically set out to condemn every aspect of US policy toward Iraq. In the introduction, the narrator stated, “America overcame Saddam Hussein. The tyrant is dethroned, Iraq celebrates and the world is freed from evil. That is the legend. But 40 years of relations between Saddam Hussein and United States tell a whole other story.” The narration alleges Saddam and the US “had more in common than a mere hunger for power.” They were “ a necessary evil for each other”. It alleges that while in exile in Cairo in the early 1960s, Saddam became a CIA operative and that there was major CIA involvement in the coup of 1963 which brought the Ba’ath party to power until the army took over in 1964. When the army turned to the Communists, the documentary states, the CIA supported another Ba’ath coup and Saddam became Vice President. It then moves to Saddam’s presidency, and the Iranian coup, stating, “Khomeini had succeeded in bringing Saddam and America together”. As a result, the program alleges, “The Reagan administration even allowed Saddam to purchase the ingredients for weapons of mass destruction in the USA” and the US provided blueprints of WMD factories. This is an unfair exaggeration – some private US companies exported dual use items, and the administration, probably because of negligence rather than a conscious decision, did not stop it. The documentary of course did not even mention the far greater co-operation Saddam received in his WMD program from France and Germany among others.
Then once Iran and the USSR were defeated, “George Bush no longer had any need for Saddam Hussein”. The documentary then alleged the conspiracy theory that by invading Kuwait, Iraq fell into an American trap, with the narrator saying, “The controversy surrounding the trap theory remains unresolved.” Instead, “America was determined to put an end to a man who had served their own interest for so long. Saddam was suddenly cast into the role of the devil”. So in other words, it wasn’t Saddam’s behaviour, such as invading Kuwait, that turned the US against him. The US encouraged this behaviour so it had a pretext for turning against him. Yes, that’s much more likely. It then turned to the post-war period, stating, “UN inspectors forced the Iraqis to co-operate [in destroying the weapons arsenal] and soon became convinced that Iraq no longer posed a real threat, and yet sanctions were maintained”. Inspections head Richard Butler was certainly not “convinced that Iraq no longer posed a real threat” but he was convinced Iraq was doing all it could to obstruct the inspections. That, and the continued Iraqi refusal to obey UN resolutions, was why the sanctions were maintained. The narration continued, “But it was the Iraqi people who paid the price for the sanctions. Children died from the lack of healthcare. Families became even poorer.” There was no mention that this privation was due to Saddam abusing the oil for food regime to enrich himself, to the extent of on-selling food and medicine rather than use them for his people. In the Kurdish areas, which were also subject to the sanctions regime, but not administered by Saddam, none of these problems were experienced. Instead, the narrator says that when objections were raised about the effects of the sanctions, “For Washington there was no question of letting Saddam out of his cage. Without containment, he would have to disappear. His elimination was programmed. The September 11 attacks made his execution possible. The war against terrorism could justify anything. Washington made up a case for the prosecution.” Again, there was no mention of the 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions Iraq continued to breach. Instead, the program ended with a condemnation of the allied occupation of Iraq, SBS TV “Cutting Edge, Saddam: America’s Best Enemy” (Feb 21).
ABC showed the very polished three part BBC documentary series, “Israel and the Arabs: Elusive Peace”, which looked at the peace process from the time Ehud Barak came to power up to the Gaza disengagement. A feature of this series was the access it had to just about every key player, Israeli, Palestinian and American. However, this tended to mask the fact that the series portrayed the issues in a light that was unduly favourable to the Palestinians. The central thesis of the first two instalments, shown on Feb. 27 and March 5, seemed to be that on many occasions, peace or a resolution to a problem was very close, but was scuttled by a misjudgement or an untimely incident. This ignores the fact that the terrorism was a tactic the Palestinians had decided on to force Israeli concessions. The first program made it seem that Camp David and subsequently Taba failed because Israel refused to give the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The other parts of the offers refused by Arafat, such as the land swaps, were hardly mentioned. Nor was the fact that Clinton held Arafat responsible for the failure of his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It also looked at Barak’s efforts to make peace with Syria, showing that then Syrian president Hafeez Assad had demanded Israel return to Syria all the land captured in 1967 before negotiations could even start, but the series tried to make this seem somehow reasonable. Then, turning to the Palestinians, the narration asserted that the Palestinians “had some serious grievances” and that, since the 1967 war, East Jerusalem, including the old city, “has all been occupied land administered by Israel.” That is pretty much how the Palestinians would have put it. The series also shows Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount as starting the intifada, with no mention of the accompanying Palestinian incitement, such as claims Israel was about to demolish the al-Aqsa Mosque to build a temple (which is why the Palestinians refer to it as the al-Aqsa Intifada). The narrator, in charting the swift outbreak of the intifada, says, “The next day, after Friday prayers, police fired on Palestinian protestors, killing seven.” There was no mention that the “protestors” had been stoning Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, beneath the Temple Mount, and when police sought to stop them, they turned on the police.
The second instalment moves on approximately 18 months. The narrator introduced it by saying, “This is the story of how Israel set out to defeat Yasser Arafat, and wipe him off the international stage once and for all.” Perhaps it would have been more informative if it had asked why Israel felt the need to do that. It covered the Karine A arms smuggling affair including Arafat’s denials that he was linked to it, but unfortunately did not mention that the Israelis found documents in Arafat’s headquarters proving he was behind the shipment. It noted that the Zinni Plan required Israel to pull its army back, but first that the Palestinians stopped suicide bombings. The narrator, however, stated, “This would be hard to deliver. Some Palestinian factions were beyond Arafat’s control.” This was the Palestinian line, but Arafat at the time could have controlled them had he tried hard enough. The narrator states that in Lebanon in March 2002, “22 Arab states were about to adopt a remarkable peace plan, which recognised Israel.” An Arab leader was shown saying, “We offer security for Israel if they withdraw from occupied Arab land.” It is indicative of the slant of the program that it describes a plan by which the Arab countries deign to recognise Israel’s right to exist as “remarkable”. In reality, the plan, like every other Arab “peace plan” required Israel to accept the return of all the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel proper, which would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. The Arab states cannot truly be said to recognise Israel’s right to exist until they drop this demand. In any event, the plan was dropped because Israel responded to a month of terrorist carnage, culminating in the Netanya Pesach bombing, by re-entering the West Bank and attacking Palestinian cities. The documentary portrayed the Israeli incursions as being a response only to the Netanya bombing, rather than to the series of horrific attacks throughout March 2002. This may have been an inconvenient fact that would not have fitted in with the overall thesis. Interestingly, former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo revealed that when Colin Powell visited Arafat to urge him to use his influence to end suicide bombings, Arafat “tried to show that these suicide bombings might be, some of them, planned, organised, by the Israeli intelligence.”
The third instalment was “the story of how Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon set out to destroy his Palestinian enemies and secure the backing of the most powerful man in the world for his every move”. It showed the Israeli killing of Hamas military leader Saleh Shehade and thirteen civilians, but did not mention that the Israeli had thought he was alone in the house, and had refrained from targeting him at other times when they knew he was with civilians. George Bush’s announcement of support for a Palestinian state was portrayed, cynically, as motivat