Just after half past eight GMT on the morning of February 27th, BBC Radio Lancashire’s Graham Liver show ran an item pertaining to a report released that same morning by Amnesty International under the title “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank”.
The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time, with the relevant segment commencing from 02:38:30. Below is a full transcript of the item.
If readers are wondering why a local radio station would choose to run an item on a topic clearly outside its sphere of interest, the answer to that comes in presenter Graham Liver’s introduction.
Graham Liver: “Now a man – originally from Preston [in Lancashire – Ed.], who’s a human rights activist with Amnesty International has criticised what he says are trigger-happy Israeli soldiers dealing with protests by Palestinians on the West Bank and the organisation’s published a report this morning about what it says happens there. We’re joined on the programme by activist Gordon Bennett who’s been in the area himself. In a moment we’ll hear from someone from the Israeli Embassy but…err…Gordon, what’s been happening? What are your concerns?”
Gordon Bennett: “Yes, good morning Graham. This Amnesty report’s an important reminder of what’s happening in the Palestinian West Bank. Amnesty’s report talks about deaths and injuries at protests against the Israeli occupation and the figures are quite shocking. In the last three years nearly three hundred people injured by live ammunition, including 67 children. Over eight thousand injured by other means: tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades. Worst of all, at least 22 people killed last year alone – four of them children. And it very much reflects my experiences in the five months I spent in the West Bank recently and it shows why dozens of people like me travel from the UK to the West Bank to offer our solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Liver: “So what have you actually seen with your own eyes?”
Bennett: “So I saw …I went to protests practically every week during those five months and I saw trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. So as soon as a demonstration would start they would fire tear gas. They would fire rubber-coated bullets. They would attack you with this foul-smelling skunk water that stinks like sewers and takes forever to wash out.”
Liver: “OK and just stepping back from this for a moment, you know, you’re a bloke from Lancashire – how do you end up on the West Bank?”
Bennett: “Well you know funnily enough I was asked that by an Israeli soldier. Emm…I got arrested one week and after beating me, stealing my camera, the Israeli soldier asked me why I was there. And I asked him why do you think I’m here? And he said I think you care a lot and yes, I do. And before I went I saw reports posted online by my friends about the situation and I wanted to do something. The idea that an international presence can give even some protection to people at demonstrations is a very powerful reason to go there.”
Liver: “But what can you actually do? What difference can you really make?”
Bennett: “Well, actually at demonstrations Palestinians say that if there are international observers, the level of violence is less – which is a terrifying thought because it was very violent when I was there. But they say there’s much less chance of being shot with live ammunition if there are international observers there.”
Liver: “OK Gordon, just stay there for a moment ‘cos I’m joined on the line by Yiftach Curiel who speaks for the Israeli Embassy in London. Thank you for joining us this morning. Err…Gordon Bennett and Amnesty International say your soldiers are trigger-happy and use brutal tactics. Do they?”
Yiftach Curiel: “Good morning Graham. Well unfortunately I think that in this case the only one who’s trigger-happy is Amnesty and their report that was published this morning. And I say that because you know in 2013 alone there were five thousand rock-throwing incidents – half of them against civilians. There were over a hundred thirty Israelis injured by these activities, so there’s two sides to this story.”
Liver: “There’s a difference between a rock and a bullet.”
Curiel: “Well not when you’re injured and not when that rock is hitting you. Now I think that what I would like to ask as an Israeli is where is the Amnesty report on Palestinian terror? There were five Israelis killed last year by Palestinian terrorists, including a soldier who was abducted. I personally…you know Gordon relates his experiences which I can certainly understand. I have my own experiences; I have hid in my house with my daughters as Hamas rockets were landing on Tel Aviv just over a year ago. Where is the report on that? So I think unfortunately Amnesty has lost quite a bit of its credibility with regard to Israel in the past few years.”
Liver: “But are you concerned that people in the wider community think that your armed forces are brutal rather than showing restraint here?”
Curiel: “Well the IDF investigates all incidents where Palestinians are killed. There is an automatic investigation by the Advocate General. Even the Amnesty report that was published today cites this and says that this is a very positive development and that is happening. And so you know, just as the British army opened over one hundred investigations into reports of civilians killed in Afghanistan, we do that as well. But that doesn’t justify this demonization of Israel by Amnesty and its obsessive focus beyond anything that is happening in the region in the past year or two which anybody who opens the paper can clearly see with his own eyes.”
Liver: “OK; Gordon Bennett’s still with us from Amnesty International. What’s your response to that Gordon?”
Bennett: “Yes of course Amnesty has condemned Hamas rocket attacks in the past, but this report is very specifically about the Israeli use of force in the West Bank at protests. And it does address the investigations that are held by the Israeli military when people are killed and it calls those investigations inadequate. So I visited the village of Nabi Saleh many times and two people have been killed at protests there in the last couple of years. Each time an investigation has been opened. Despite clear video evidence showing that the people were not acting violently – were not posing any imminent threat – no prosecutions happened, no disciplinary charges were taken against those soldiers.”
Liver: “OK, we’ll have to leave it there but thank you very much for joining us this morning. That’s Gordon Bennett who is an activist for Amnesty International – who’s originally from Preston – and Yiftach Curiel who speaks for the Israeli Embassy in London. That’s a subject that we could talk about all morning and probably wouldn’t get to the end of it, would we?”
Beyond the fact that the time and opportunity to speak allocated to both interviewees is clearly unequal, it is obvious that this item’s timing – half past eight in the morning on the day of the Amnesty report’s publication – suggests that it was planned before Graham Liver and his production team (who had been on air since 06:00) had actually read the report and therefore the question of who initiated the BBC interview with Gordon Bennett arises.
Notably, Liver refrains from asking Bennett directly whether or not he contributed to Amnesty’s report – which does not state the names of its authors or researchers – and does not raise the issue of Bennett’s credentials to conduct analysis relating to military affairs. As has been noted in the past by NGO Monitor – and admitted by Amnesty itself – its ‘researchers’ are not qualified in that field and are actually no more than political activists. Clearly way out of his depth on this topic, Liver also fails to raise the subject of the political motives behind a report produced by an organisation with a long record of anti-Israel campaigning and a whole host of dubious connections.
So what of Mr Bennett himself? Well he appears to be rather more than just a concerned volunteer “activist” from Lancashire, having identified himself in the past as a member of Amnesty International’s Support Care Team. The story told by Bennett during the interview about an Israeli soldier asking him why he was there also appears on an AI blog (under the heading “Campaigns”) where Bennett is named as having worked in that role and his political campaigning is amply evident at numerous additional sources. Even more interestingly, Bennett’s same campaigning stories are told on the International Solidarity Movement website and on the ISM London site there appears a letter from Gordon Bennett and colleagues dated September 2012 which opens with the words:
“As many of you may already know, we are currently volunteering in the occupied Palestinian Territories with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) – a non-violent Palestinian-led solidarity organization.”
This “peace activist” (a title which, after all, does not require any sort of qualification in this day and age) does not shy away from publicity. In an interview he gave to the Lancashire Evening Post on February 13th 2013, Bennett claimed to have been refused entry to Israel, which would hardly be surprising given his ISM links.
“On Sunday, February 3, he tried to re-enter Palestine via the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan, but was turned away by security officials and has his British Passport endorsed so he cannot go back to Israel or Palestine.
He said: “After lengthy questioning by Israeli Immigration, who control the border, I was refused entry.
“I was then sent immediately back to Jordan. The Jordanian officials had clearly seen this happen many times before.
“Israel does not want people to see what it is doing in the West Bank, and puts a lot of effort into trying to keep out international observers.”
Bennett supports his claim with some typically robust ‘evidence’ of Israeli malfeasance:
“As the bus driver who took me back to Jordan said, ‘Israel doesn’t like Palestinians, and doesn’t like people who like Palestinians’.”
The Lancashire Evening Post also reported that:
“Having been refused entry at the border, Gordon said he planned to return to the UK to take part in protest actions against the Israeli occupation.
The former Fulwood High School pupil said: “I will be taking part in UK protest actions against the Israeli occupation, including protests organised by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Sainsbury’s, who trade with Israeli agricultural companies operating from illegally occupied Palestinian land.” “
So in fact, what we have here is a professional anti-Israel activist with links to an organisation connected to a terrorist group proscribed by the British government being given a platform on a local BBC radio station from which to publicise and promote a political campaign thinly disguised as a “report” on a subject about which its ‘researchers’ are in no way qualified to write.
That, of course, is not journalism: it is quite simply the enabling of the latest propaganda promoted by political campaigners who have self-conscripted the halo of ‘human rights’. But the BBC’s helpful push to Amnesty International’s cart of defamation did not end with red rose county local radio: more on that in part two of this post.