For a media award, just ‘monitor’ Israel

Surprise, surprise. It’s the Israeli NGO investigating ‘shocking abuse by settlers’ that gets the prizes

By Alex Brummer, June 25, 2009

It is a tribute to Israel’s vibrant democracy that groups like B’Tselem, the Israeli NGO which monitors human rights abuses in the occupied territories, flourish. Reports from the group have dealt with issues including torture, fatal shootings by security forces, expropriation of land and discrimination in planning decisions in East Jerusalem, as well as house demolitions and violence by Israeli settlers.

How hard it would be to imagine a Palestinian non-governmental organisation which monitored the human rights abuses of Hamas with such rigour? There was scant recognition of how Fatah supporters were dragged from their hospital beds during the recent Gaza war and shot. Similarly, it would be hard to envisage a muscular Iranian human rights group monitoring the brutality of government-controlled militias in the wake of disputed elections and bringing them to the attention of Tehran’s leaders.

Yet there is something unsettling about B’Tselem. After all, there are no shortage of NGOs in the Middle East which rush to judge Israeli actions. While no one wants to see the alleged abuses uncovered by B’Tselem brushed under the carpet, one cannot but think that some of its work is detrimental to the Jewish state.

One sure sign of this is the warm embrace that its activities receive in our own press. In the last week, the group was honoured with a “Special Award” at the “One World Media Awards” in London. It won the prize for an “outstanding media” enterprise under which B’Tselem provided video cameras to 160 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. A report in Guardian Media said: “the project has produced shocking footage of abuse by Israeli troops and settlers”.

The film-maker Oren Yakobovich, who is behind the project, is quoted as saying: “I realised that there was something wrong with the narrative I knew. For Israelis there is a conspiracy of silence. Nobody wants to know what is happening there.” Among the images obtained by B’Tselem, as a result of the project, is footage of a settler in Hebron shooting and wounding three Palestinians at close range.

Two of the settlers involved handed themselves in. But according to the report in the Guardian, prosecutors withdrew the case against one settler even though he was caught on camera.

No one can condone settler violence or the failure, if that is what it was, of the prosecutors to take action. It is also worth noting, however, that video evidence alone, without the background to the events which took place, might not be sufficient to convict in any society.

What, however, is more disturbing is the alacrity with which media awards are handed out to an Israeli organisation which, in the main, seeks to highlight wrongdoing by Israel (although it has also looked at violence among Palestinians).

It is not the first award B’Tselem — which reportedly receives some funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Christian Aid (UK) — has received.

In February of this year, the group received the Dutch “Geuzen Resistance 1940-45 Award” in Vlaardingen in Holland. This prize is given to organisations “advancing democracy and opposing tyranny, discrimination and racism”. The idea that Israel deserves to be bracketed with “tyranny” — when there is so much on its borders — must be regarded as disappointing.

We should not, perhaps, be surprised. In 2003, the UK’s Political Cartoon Society gave its top prize to a Dave Brown illustration in the Independent showing a naked Ariel Sharon biting off the bloodied head of a Palestinian child.

Media awards for abuse of Israel are regarded in the Western democracies as fair game.

Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail

Last updated: 1:12pm, June 25 2009