Harriet Sherwood has left the building

Apparently, Harriet Sherwood is not in Israel at present and therefore has not been reporting on the forest fire still raging on Mount Carmel which has already claimed 41 lives (and destroyed 50,000 dunams of land). Instead, the Guardian has so far covered the event with two articles; one which can only be described as an inaccurate round up of articles from other sources, obviously rather swiftly knocked up by Haroon Siddique, and the other taken from  Associated Press. (They also have one stand-alone photo posted.)

Despite the current traumatic events, defined here as a ‘national disaster’, the Guardian saw fit to publish Harriet Sherwood’s report from Safed (or Tsfat, as it is known in Israel) in which she continues with her already documented one-sided portrayal of Israelis and her insinuations regarding Israel as a racist society.

(Just how it is possible to print an article stated to be from a correspondent in a certain place on a certain day and then later claim that the said correspondent is not in the country is in itself something of a conundrum.)

In fact, the key to understanding reality of recent regrettable events in Tsfat is buried in the final paragraph of Sherwood’s report in which her interviewee states:

“Most residents of Safed are a mixture of religious and secular and are tolerant and open,” he said. “It’s just here in the old city, where the extremists live, that I am in a minority.”

That statement however contradicts the impression which Sherwood has strived to create in the rest of her article; an impression of religious Jewish extremists engaging in unchecked racist aggression against Arabs living in the town. Sherwood of course totally neglects to mention the steps taken by the town’s mayor, police force and the judiciary system to contain the actions of the extremist few.

Rather than explain to her readers that the actions of the few in Tsfat do not represent the opinions or the behaviour of the majority either in that town specifically or in the country as a whole, Sherwood further stokes the fires of racist insinuation by stating that Israel’s Foreign Minister advocates “compulsory transfer” – a term with very unfortunate connotations and one which does not accurately represent Avigdor Lieberman’s proposed ‘Populated Area Exchange Plan’, with which one can either agree or disagree, but which was proposed as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and which would be dependent upon the latter’s agreement and therefore can hardly be described as  “compulsory”. For good measure, Sherwood also throws in the line that “[t]he government wants non-Jewish citizens to pledge loyalty to the Jewish state”, despite the fact that no such law has so far been passed by the Knesset.

Further, Sherwood continues painting her revisionist canvas by stating that:

“The town, one of four holy cities in Israel, had a mixed population until the 1948 war, when the Arabs were forced to flee.”

Unfortunately for Sherwood, her version of events was contradicted by none other than the PA President himself last year.

“People were motivated to run away… They feared retribution from Zionist terrorist organizations – particularly from the Safed ones. Those of us from Safed especially feared that the Jews harbored old desires to avenge what happened during the 1929 uprising…. They realized the balance of forces was shifting and therefore the whole town was abandoned on the basis of this rationale – saving our lives and our belongings.”

The 1929 uprising to which Abbas refers is of course the riots and massacre of Jews in Tsfat in that year by their Arab neighbours.

Had Harriet Sherwood been in Israel over the last couple of days and watched the tragedy on Mount Carmel unfold, she would have been able to see the real Israel which exists right under her nose instead of the caricature she repeatedly presents to her readers.

She would have seen the Orthodox Jewish members of ‘Zaka’ quietly and nobly going about their grim, and sadly all too often necessary, work of identifying the victims of the disaster. She would have seen how the busload of officer cadets sent to evacuate the inmates of a prison under threat from the fire was comprised of members of all the glorious patchwork of Israeli society: men, women, Jew, Druze, Russian and Ethiopian, black and white.

Maybe she would have been surprised to see the openly-expressed and genuine grief of a whole nation for the loss of these young men and women. Possibly the sight of grown men who are no strangers to war publicly crying and hugging each other for comfort at the ten funerals held on Friday would have taken her aback. Maybe she could even have felt admiration for the rapid yet informal organization of help for the 17,000 evacuees by strangers throwing open their homes or Scout troops handing out donuts to the fire-fighters and the newly homeless. Perhaps she could have found some sympathy for the Druze Park Warden who grieves the loss of the forest to which he has devoted his life whilst his own village is in danger.

Yes, there are racists in Israel just as there are in any other country in this world, but the real Israel is much more diverse, colourful and interesting than the monochrome stereotype of Jewish religious extremists that Sherwood repeatedly tries to present as being the only face of a country she so obviously despises and which she deliberately prevents her readers from really getting to know and understand.

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