2010: Not Harriet Sherwood’s Finest Year (Part 2 of 2)

A guest post by Geary

In the first part we saw how Harriet Sherwood fulfils her brief of Israel and (Jewish) Israeli bashing in both her choice of what to write about and the way she writes about it.

But what does Ms Sherwood get up to when there is absolutely sweet FA going on?

Well she rakes muck. Any chance to revisit Cast Lead or, as Harriet calls it, “Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza” is taken with relish (“assault” again with its overtones of mindless and reckless violence).

When two soldiers were disciplined for asking a boy to open bags in case they contained bombs (they didn’t and no-one got hurt), Harriet, instead of lauding a system which calls its military to account even in wartime, is miffed they weren’t jailed for life.

And when really, really, really nothing is going on, Harriet puts on her Jane Austen hat and serves up a human-interest narrative, one in which Israel somehow comes up smelling of dog-do. My guess is that she’d really like to give up hustling her writing talent for the editorial pimps back home and become a sentimental novelist.

Here is some of her, if not finest, most memorable purple prose. First off, the “three-hens- in-a-coop” scoop:

“Three hens confined to a small wire coop in a battery farm in central Israel have become the stars of a 24-hour web feed aimed at drawing attention to the plight of caged chickens ahead of a parliamentary vote today. The chickens, who barely have room to move inside their cage, are forced to peck for food through  wire mesh.”

Heartless Israeli bastards, keeping chickens in an open-air prison. Next up:

“Sixty-three-year-old Ahmed Bargouth sits in the shade of a walnut tree and contemplates the view before him. Across the valley is Jerusalem’s zoo, which his grandchildren have never been able to visit, although they have watched animals through binoculars.”

Oh spare my aching heart-strings. Children and animals. Thing is, Harriet, if Arafat hadn’t launched his intifada bloodbath, the Palestinian kids and animals could meet no problem. But my favourite is this. We’re back in Gaza yet again –Israel is blockading it, if you hadn’t already gathered:

Manal Hassan plucks a date biscuit from an industrial tray, breaks it in half to inspect the filling, and discards it with a shrug. “You see, they allow in dates, but not date paste,” she says, referring to Israel’s ongoing economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

No date paste? Can you imagine? Alas, man’s intolerable inhumanity to man. (Aside: why on earth should Israel need to export dates to Gaza? And is it beyond the ingenuity of the Gazans to squash them into paste? Sherwood unwittingly depicts her subjects as lazy and stupid).

Another weapon in Sherwood’s armoury is the delegitimation of Israeli voices: never trust a word an Israeli says. Remember the flotilla?

Gaza flotilla assault: Turkish jihadis bent on violence attacked troops,Israel claims: Three killed were ‘ready for martyrdom’, paper says. Military says video shows troops coming under fire.

“Israel claims” … “Military says”. Luckily the jihadis had made videos in which they expressed their vows of violence and even the BBC investigation, and more recently the Palmer Report, concluded that the Israeli boarders had been met with deadly aggression. In the same vein:

Israel agreed to deliver the aid after the flotilla attack ended in the deaths  of nine pro-Palestinian activists. But construction materials, which Israel claims could be seized by militants for use in making weapons and building underground bunkers, were excluded.

What weapons? Show me the bunkers. And no Sherwood year would be complete without at least one piece commemorating Rachel Corrie:

Soldier in bulldozer ‘did not see’ Rachel Corrie, he tells court

But since he’s an Israeli, he must be lying. Of course, journalism is full of according to and so-and-so claims, but how-on-earth then do we get:

The golden Dome of the Rock, the revered and iconic  Muslim site from where the Prophet Mohammed began his ascent to heaven, gleams  high above the Wailing (or Western) Wall.

Not “is said to have begun” or “the faithful believe he began”. Is Sherwood a believer?

But, in my humble view, what makes Sherwood’s such piss-poor journalism are not these many sins of commission, but those of omission.

It’s all the things she won’t or can’t tell us, the net effect of which is to cement all the Zionophobic misconceptions and downright lies about the region and the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. Though we get full details of each and every “crime” committed by the IDF or Jewish settlers, the nearest we come to a negative story about Hamas is one in which some heavies come and shut down a rapper’s gig.

As for the legendary corruption of the PA (even Sherwood must notice all those blacked-out limos gliding through the West bank roads), well, you would search through her pieces in vain. Well, she might have to put in some research there, to which she has a certified allergy. It has to be said that she is not alone on this.

The BBC’s Jeremy al-Bowen is no better. A correspondent can say what they please about Israel and, with very few exceptions, nothing happens. Criticise Hamas or Fatah and the best thing that can happen to you is not being allowed back into Gaza or the West Bank, which sort of puts the mockers on your career.

And where’s anything, anything at all which contrasts the melodrama-narrative of Israel, stage villain, Palestine, evicted waif? Sherwood is happy to repeat (twice) hyperbolic nonsense such as “siege of Gaza” but does she ever tell us how Israel supplies Gaza with most of its electricity along with so much more aid? Or how Israel provides the West Bank with much more water than it is obliged to do under the Oslo agreements (whilst Jordan breaches the agreements by supplying none)? Largely because the PA is too busy organising money transfers to Switzerland to be arsed to drill into the available aquifers. How about one of those human-interest stories about one of the 180,000 Palestinians treated in an Israeli hospital in 2010? We do however find this:

East Jerusalem’s classroom crisis

Harriet Sherwood, Jerusalem

Almost half the Palestinian children in East Jerusalem have to attend private or  unofficial schools because of a lack of facilities, according to a report  published yesterday.

This is a fair story and the Jerusalem authorities, along with the PA, have a case to answer. But what is the wider picture? As usual, it’s unresearched by our blinkered reporter, but education in the West Bank and Gaza is actually a heartening success story. Female literacy – in my modest opinion one of the two most important indices of development and well-being, along with life expectancy – stands at 99% of the population, according to the World Bank.

That’s on a par with stinking-rich Gulf States like Qatar. Egypt is at 80%, whilst Yemen hovers around 70% but there, of course, they keep their women in social bondage. Little credit to Hamas or the PA, they inherited an excellent schooling system from the previous Israeli governance and many schools are currently run by UNWRA.

But what’s the clincher. How do we really know that Sherwood is totally unfit for purpose? Let me put it this way. How often in 2010 did she mention Syria,Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, the foci of this year’s uprisings?

Well, Egypt got two stories, both on a fatal shark attack at Sharm-el-Sheikh. Even Harriet could not quite manage to pin that one on the Zionists. All the rest not a single mention, nada, silence of the grave. She and her friend Bowen were too busy rifling throughIsrael’s lightly-soiled linen to lift their noses and smell the revolution in the air (I nicked that from Bob Dylan). 

But she’s not entirely to blame. Imagine the reaction in London if she filed a story about Tunisia in 2010. How many Guardian readers gave a toss about Tunisia, how many could even find Bahrain on a map? “Harriet. What are you playing at, woman? Tunisia, FFS??? Give us another story on Gaza.”

And so, I’m afraid, all in all, the best that can be said about Harriet Sherwood is that at least she isn’t Chris McGreal.

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