Harriet Sherwood: Faithful Camp-Follower at Al Arakib.

With much of the Arab world currently in dramatic turmoil, news from Israel has taken something of a back seat on the pages of CiF lately, but Harriet Sherwood sought to remedy that on March 1st with her report’ from Al Arakib Like Bil’in, Al Arakib has been deliberately engineered by interested parties into becoming a focal point of pilgrimage for activists belonging to left-wing extremist organisations and their entourage of foreign correspondent camp-followers.

And what a faithful camp-follower Sherwood proves herself to be! Unquestioningly she parrots the party line, according to which Israel destroys time after time a Bedouin village inhabited by noble nomads for generations, uprooting trees and murdering chickens (again!) along the way. She does not even attempt to inject any sense of balance or objectivity into this article by offering the point of view of, say, the Israeli judicial system which has been dealing with the subject of Al Arakib for well over a decade.  She does not even bother to point out that unproved Bedouin claims to the land have become a political issue which extends far beyond the Negev and has come to represent the entire conflict in one small micro-climate.

Instead, she backs up her emotionally-loaded polemics with quotations from Oren Yiftachel and one of the ‘residents’ of Al Arakib (more of that later), Aziz Sayah Abu Mdagen.

Oren Yiftachel holds a day job at Ben Gurion University, specialising in political geography. He is also the co-chair of B’Tselem and has created controversy by calling for international sanctions against Israel during Operation Cast Lead and supporting a Palestinian ‘right of return’. He calls the country which pays his salary a jailer state’ and claims that

“Palestinian violence, and particularly the shelling from Gaza should also be perceived as a prison uprising, currently suppressed with terror by the Israeli state, which kills many more civilians and creates infinitely more damage than the initial act of resistance.”

In other words, if a journalist were looking for an objective and politically unbiased source through which to expand his or her understanding of the events in Al Arakib, Oren Yiftachel who, like his colleague Neve Gordon has been heavily instrumental in the politicising of this land dispute, is not the person on whom to rely.

Let’s face it; anybody who can talk about “Jewish trees” with a straight face is not to be taken seriously. Someone who trots out slogans such as ‘Judaisation of the Negev’ clearly has a whole crate of axes to grind seeing as the Negev lies undisputedly within Israeli territory. But seeing as those axes are ones to which Sherwood is sympathetic, she ignores the warning signs and proceeds to quote Yiftachel as though he were some kind of objective authority.

As CiF Watch readers will be aware, we have covered the subject of the Al Arakib dispute quite extensively in the past due to the Guardian’s making it something of a ‘cause celebre’.

In July 2010 we responded to an article from Neve Gordon on the same subject, but obviously Harriet Sherwood did not bother to read the either the Court decisions or the background information on land disputes included in that article.  In August 2010 Akus highlighted the Guardian’s double standards on this issue and later that month we posted a translation of an article from an Israeli newspaper which exposes the fact that the so-called ‘residents’ of Al Arakib actually own extensive properties in the nearby Bedouin city of Rahat.

What a pity then that Harriet Sherwood apparently did not read our article. She could have avoided looking so silly had she asked her interviewee Aziz Sayah Abu Mdagen (sometimes spelt Madiram or Mudigam) to show her round his family home in neighbourhood 25 of Rahat, just a short way from Al Arakib, instead of obediently revelling in the radical-chic ecstasy of writing emotive descriptions of dead chickens, uprooted trees and piled-up mattresses that nobody needs to sleep on because they own villas with bedrooms in Rahat.

It is more than apparent that like many of her countrymen before her, Sherwood is dazzled by romantic ideas of tent-living, goat-herding, camel-riding hospitable Bedouin living eco-friendly low-tech lives in the desert. To many of her readers, these people represent a fashionable innocence they themselves feel deprived of by modern life in the West. And if these noble Bedouin conveniently double-up as pawns in their political crusades against the State of Israel, then that is even better.

The reality of Bedouin life is of course very different from Sherwood’s puerile fantasies. Not only do most of them today live in urban environments just like anyone else, but they also enjoy the advantages  of modern life such as transport and technology, along with benefits such as education, healthcare, social services, potable water and sewage disposal which nomadic life did not furnish. Not that all is entirely rosy, of course, but Sherwood would not risk spoiling the romantic notions in her readers’ minds – or her own –  by reporting on subjects such as a recent attempted ‘honour killing’ in Rahat (not, unfortunately, a rare incident in some sections of Israeli society), the recent murder of a young man from Rahat by two of his classmates or the destruction of 3,000 trees late last year, allegedly by two Bedouin and possibly as ‘revenge’ for the incidents at Al Arakib.

An even more revealing indictment of Sherwood’s clear bias and employment of events at Al Arakib as a means of attacking Israel’s legitimacy is the fact that this week also saw violent clashes at Havat Gilad when representatives of the Civil Authority and police arrived there to destroy illegally built constructions on exactly the same legal basis as the demolitions at Al Arakib.  The difference is, of course, that the residents of Havat Gilad are Jewish (and ‘settlers’ too) and so Harriet Sherwood is nowhere on the horizon and the Guardian will not be commissioning an article from Neve Gordon or any other members of its stable of ‘tame’ Israelis.

If incidents cannot be spun and employed against Israel, the faithful camp-followers are not interested. Not only is that not ‘fair and balanced’; it isn’t even reporting. It is unadulterated political propaganda in the very worst Soviet tradition and journalists who willingly prostitute their profession by co-operating with that have no grounds on which to claim accolades as ‘the world’s leading liberal voice’.

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