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Sunday, 5 June 2011

The news from Israel's border with Syria

So there I am listening to the Radio 4 News at midday after half-listening to Desert Island Discs (who is Alfie Boe? Is is he someone who sings popular songs for young people?), while keeping half an ear open for an imminent episode of Just A Minute, and trying to decide (using my own version of the Alternative Vote) whether I do (or do not) fancy making a second pot of coffee. I'd already read the News on teletext, or whatever the BBC calls its red button service these days, earlier in the morning, while drinking the first (and, thus far, only) pot of coffee and not-listening to The Archers, which I'm finding rather boring at the moment, so I thought that I knew what was happening in the world, only for the wireless newsreader to suddenly brim with that special sort of urgency which the BBC reserves for the first appearance on its networks of a big new rolling story, the story in question being this one, about "Israeli soldiers (having) opened fired on pro-Palestinian protesters in Syria as they marched on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights", as the Corporation puts it.

I do not dispute the seriousness of this story for one moment and it is clearly tragic that people have been killed. I yield to no-one in my admiration for the BBC, which must always be allowed to report the news exactly as it sees fit (although it should also publish the Balen Report - what can possibly be in it that needs to be kept secret?). One could ask why protests today in the Middle East are apparently so much more newsworthy than protests today in Bangladesh, but that is a rhetorical question to which I know that I will never get an answer. Many media outlets see the Israel/Palestine conflict as the centre of the moral universe, and nothing that I say here will alter that. Apparently the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has killed five million people in fifteen years, is a smaller problem for the world than the Arab/Israeli conflict, which has killed some tens of thousands of people in sixty-three years - I live in hope that somebody will one day explain to me why this is the case. Since I regularly bang on about Israel, I can hardly criticise others for doing so, and I am a committed campaigner for an Israeli/Palestinian peace - but I do question the proportion of news coverage that is given to Israel/Palestine in comparison to other issues.

The BBC's report of this incident is not necessarily inaccurate, although for a fuller amplification of the issues involved, I would urge people to read this report from Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper which pulls no punches in its coverage of Israeli government actions (and which frequently draws virulent abuse from the rabid right for that very reason, which is greatly to its credit). As this other piece in Haaretz perceptively points out: "the Syrian regime appears to have an interest in creating friction on the border, something that is already creating tension on the Israeli side." I have blogged previously about the dire situation faced by Palestinians living under Syria's disgusting regime. That regime's days might well be numbered, raising interesting questions about who the regime's opponents actually are.

UPDATE on Wednesday 15 June: There is breaking news about the Syrian Government's possible involvement in the events of Sunday 5 June, and I urge everyone to read it.

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