The events leading up to the creation of
the modern-day State of Israel exactly 60 years ago have been examined
and re-examined by qualified historians. So why was Jeremy Bowen given
the responsibility of producing the BBC's one-hour documentary "The Birth of Israel" broadcast
on May 4, 2008? (Available to view online only in the UK. This program,
may, however, be broadcast internationally at a future date.)
(Update: This documentary is now available in six parts on YouTube: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Middle East editor Bowen has consistently demonstrated a slanted view of Israel and the regional conflict and his documentary continues in this vein.
taste of things to come arrives in the first few seconds of the
broadcast, which features images of Islam's Dome of the Rock and a
Christian crucifix against a Jerusalem backdrop. Despite the deep
religious connection of Judaism to both Jerusalem and the land of
Israel, this image is, incredibly, omitted. And herein lies the
major flaw of the entire program - the legitimate roots of the Jewish
people in the Land of Israel going back three millenia are either
downplayed, delegitmized or ignored altogether.
- Whitewashing Jewish rights to a state:
Bowen talks about Palestinian farmers working the land for centuries,
scant attention is paid to the continuous Jewish presence dating back
to antiquity, instead implying that the waves of Jewish immigrants
arriving in the pre-state years were an alien implant.
Nowhere does Bowen explain that a Palestinian sovereign state had never existed and that prior to partition, Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. In fact, Bowen ignores some 100,000 Arabs who emigrated from neighboring countries during the British Mandate period alone and are today considered Palestinians.
Bowen simplistically sums up Britain's 1917 Balfour Declaration: "One nation promising the land of another to a third," conveniently
omitting that the land of another was not the reality and that the
third nation [the Jewish people] had legitimate and just claims to that
As if to hammer home his point, Bowen also says that the
Holocaust created a new moral argument for a Jewish state. Is Bowen
implying that there was no moral case before the Nazi genocide? While
the Holocaust undoubtedly proved the urgent need for a Jewish state, it
in no way should minimize legitimate Jewish claims to a state of their
own prior to the destruction of European Jewry.
one interviewee states: "Why should the Palestinians who had not heard
of it pay the price of the Holocaust? ... Why displace the Palestinian
people to pay a price for a crime which they had not committed?" While
Bowen briefly mentions the Mufti of Jerusalem's wartime sojourn in Nazi
Germany with Hitler, he fails to mention the Palestinian leader's support for Hitler and his participation in the killing of Jews in wartime Europe.
Bowen employs the typical BBC stance of moral equivalency in describing the current conflict: "Israel uses airstrikes and ground incursions. Palestinians rocket Israeli border towns. Both sides blame each other." Thus, Palestinian terrorism is equated with Israeli efforts to defend her citizens.
- Palestinian and Arab victimhood:
however, moves away from this equivalency, instead taking every
opportunity to portray an Arab David as the victim of the Israeli
Goliath. Yet, despite a history of aggression against the Jews -
including riots in the 1920s and 1936 and the infamous 1929 Hebron Massacre - the Arabs are painted as victims of Jewish power and malevolence.
ignores the fact that Israel was attacked by five Arab armies
immediately after declaring its independence. Instead he is at pains to
stress the numerical and organizational superiority of Israel's army in
order to perpetuate his concept of Arab victimhood. While historians
have accepted that the Arabs were ill-prepared to win a war,
this should not gloss over the fact that it was those same Arab forces
who launched an aggressive war that they eventually lost. Bowen should
also not have played down the very real sacrifice and hardships endured
by the fledgling Israeli state which lost some 1% of its population
during her War of Independence.
Referring to the partition of Mandatory Palestine, Bowen claims: "The
Jews got the best of it - more than half the country, even though they
owned around 10% of the land and there were twice as many Arabs."
Bowen selectively quotes historical facts to yet again portray the Arabs as victims. In fact,
the boundaries were based solely on demographics and approximately 60%
of the Jewish state was to be the desert in the Negev while the Arabs
occupied most of the agricultural land.
In addition, according
to British statistics, more than 70% of the land in what would become
Israel was not owned by Arab farmers, it belonged to the mandatory
government. Those lands reverted to Israeli control after the departure
of the British. Nearly 9% of the land was owned by Jews and about 3% by
Arabs who became citizens of Israel. That means only about 18% belonged
to Arabs who left the country before and after the Arab invasion of
attacks on Arabs are played up by Bowen and given much detail, with
claims of "massacres" against Palestinians featuring prominently in the
program, while Arab attacks on Jews are seen in far more abstract terms.
Bowen gives much airtime to the story of Deir Yassin,
but fails to discuss the context behind the incident or the
politicization and conflicting accounts of what really happened. For it
was certainly not the intention of Israeli forces to carry out a
"massacre" of non-combatants in what was actually a fierce battle, as
residents of Deir Yassin and foreign forces opened fire on the Israelis.
goes on to quote an Israeli Haganah intelligence officer at the time
who makes claims of terrible atrocities carried out by the Irgun and
Lehi forces in Deir Yassin. However, that very same source has been
called into question by Israeli historian Dr. Uri Milstein
who believes that this was produced for political reasons to discredit
the Irgun and Lehi and prevent their absorption into regular Jewish
Interestingly, Bowen relies on the "eyewitness" account
of Hazzem Nusseibeh a Palestinian journalist at the time, who in a
previous BBC documentary actually admitted
that he had been told to exaggerate claims of Jewish atrocities at Deir
Yassin in order to encourage Arab armies to come to the aid of the
Palestinian Arabs (it had the opposite effect, causing Arabs to flee
their homes). Nusseibeh, however, does not repeat this assertion in
Bowen's documentary, which relies on a secondary source instead.
Bowen also plays loose with the historical interpretation of Plan D,
citing the charge that this Israeli military operation was intended to
"ethnically cleanse" the Arab population. While acknowledging that
there is a debate amongst some historians on the issue, he prejudices
this by claiming that the "Jews went on the offensive".
This, despite the mainstream historical view, backed up by prominent historian of this period Benny Morris
who maintains that there was no Zionist "plan" or blanket policy of
evicting the Arab population, or of "ethnic cleansing". Plan Dalet of
March 10, 1948, was the master plan of the Haganah - the Jewish
military force that became the Israel Defense Forces - to counter the
expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state.
also takes the liberty of claiming that "Jewish leaders had discussed
moving Arabs out for years", without offering any historical sources or
background context. In any event, no Israeli government has ever
adopted or carried out this policy.
by focusing on the charge that Israel is continuing policies of
"expansionism". This, despite Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and
continuing efforts to achieve peace and Israel's stated policy of
bringing about a Palestinian state.
This is but a
selection of issues concerning Jeremy Bowen's documentary. We are sorry
that those of you outside the UK are currently unable to view
this program on the BBC's website. Please, however, send your
considered comments to the BBC Complaints website, particularly if you have seen this program already.