By Marcus Dysch
July 25, 2011
Admittedly I’m not a regular reader of the West Sussex County Times, but something in this week’s paper caught my eye.
The paper has an exclusive, headlined “Woman describes her Israel trip from hell”, on page six of this week’s edition.
It sounds a fascinating tale – the intro alone reveals how a West Chiltington woman told of her “ordeal in an Israeli prison”.
I decided to read on:
“Audrey Gray, 77, was invited to Bethlehem to a refugee camp to help plant olive trees.”
Average West Chiltington readers must have been gripped by this terrifying account of one of their own being banged up abroad. Indeed, even I was almost concerned about the poor pensioner’s plight. But then, with the next line, the penny dropped.
”However, when she reached Tel Aviv Ben Gurion international airport, she, along with 12 others, was arrested.”
Arrested with 12 others? Hmm, that sounds like something we should have heard about before, surely? If you havent worked it out already you soon will. But let us continue with our story. (Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find an online version of the story to link to.)
Ms Gray told the paper she was “just visiting friends” and “didn’t think there would be a problem”. Her treatment in the prison was “inhumane” – there was “just no humanity”. Ms Gray “lost all concept of time” and “couldn’t really remember a life before or after”.
According to reporter Charlotte Pearson, Ms Gray and her friends were “never told why they had been arrested”, even when boarding their plane home.
The story, as educated readers of the Jewish Chronicle will realise, is something of a perversion of the truth.
Even at her advanced age, Ms Gray is clearly a master of media spin. She was, of course, one of the 12 anti-Israel activists held after flying to the country as part of the “flytilla” campaign three weeks ago. Not that you’d know it from the West Sussex County Times’s story – it fails to mention the well-publicised campaign even once.
To an unknowing reader, this is viewed as an open-and-shut case.
So is this a one-off piece of poor standards from a reporter who has been fed a line and fallen for it, or something indicative of a wider problem?
Having served time myself on a number of local papers, I’ll suggest the former, with an element of the latter for good measure. Ms Pearson cannot really be expected to understand the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when reporting on village fetes in West Chiltington any more than I could have been expected to understand the situation facing Iranians in Barnet when I was reporting on their plight in between ducking in and out of Barnet Council meetings.
But did it not cross Ms Pearson's mind at any point to perhaps contact the Israeli Embassy to ask for its version of events?
Did she not think it wise to inform readers of the wider context of Ms Gray’s visit? It would have been perfectly possible to give a similar account of what happened to the 77-year-old while including the fact that she was in Israel specifically to take part in the "flytilla" protest.
Whether Ms Pearson will explain why her story failed to mention a single word of explanation about the true nature of pro-Palestinian activist Ms Gray’s visit remains to be seen.
But it is clear that the wider problem – the effectiveness with which anti-Israel campaigners are finding a voice in local and national media – is a rising problem for Israel and her supporters.
How many West Chiltingtonians will have taken the story at face value, convinced that Israel randomly stops British pensioners who have been “invited” to refugee camps, bangs them up for a few days and then sends them packing?
Out of its true context, the story presents a wholly negative view of Israel to readers who may rarely consider any in-depth news about the country, or indeed the Palestinian territories.
Thankfully, pro-Israel campaigners around Britain – many of them Christians like Ms Gray – are now raising their efforts to put across Israel's view and combat the overwhelmingly negative portrayal in the British media.
But with stories such as this slipping into local papers up and down the country every week - often missed and unchallenged by Israel's friends - a cynic might suggest the pro-Israel camp has its work cut out.