In part one of this post we discussed the first half of a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi which was aired on a variety of BBC platforms on March 7th.
Tibi next brought up the subject of the October 2000 incidents. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
AT “Thirteen of us, Stephen, were shot by snipers and killed in 2000 – citizens of the State of Israel – because we just demonstrated against Ariel Sharon getting into Al Aqsa Mosque. Thirteen of us. From that point, until today, 55 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted. We are in danger because of the way Israeli police is dealing with us as enemies – not as citizens. But I am not in a position to preach Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank how to resist. It is the natural way people, nation, under occupation are resisting…”
Sackur failed to inform audiences that Ariel Sharon did not ‘get into’ Al Aqsa Mosque at all but made a visit to Temple Mount that had been pre-coordinated with Palestinian security forces. Neither did he bother to tell BBC audiences that Tibi’s claim that those killed in October 2000 were “just” demonstrating is not supported by the findings of the official investigation into those incidents:
“The events of October 2000 shook the earth. The riots in the Arab sector inside the State of Israel in early October were unprecedented. The events were extremely unusual from several perspectives. Thousands participated, at many locations, at the same time. The intensity of the violence and aggression expressed in the events was extremely powerful. Against security forces, and even against civilians, use was made of a variety of means of attack, including a small number of live fire incidents, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings in slingshots, various methods of stone throwing and the rolling of burning tires. Jews were attacked on the roads for being Jewish and their property was destroyed. In a number of incidences, they were just inches from death at the hands of an unrestrained mob.”
Sackur also refrained from asking Tibi how many of the Arab-Israelis he claims were “killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted” were at the time involved in acts of terrorism.
SS: “It’s not…it’s not your fight, really it’s not your fight, is it?”
AT: “It’s my nation fight. I am a Palestinian also and I… “
SS: “Well but you’re also an Israeli. You happen to have the vote. You happen to have a seat in the Knesset. You know this…there is a distinction between you and those Palestinians who live on the West Bank, who live under military occupation and of course we can talk about the subset – the other Palestinians living in exile beyond the borders…”
AT: “They are suffering much more…”
SS: “Yes but I’m interested in the position of the Arab Israelis and it seems to me amongst Arab Israelis, the overwhelming feeling is one of weary acceptance. If you look at opinion polls – and there have been several in the last year which show that actually a clear majority of Arab Israelis have a positive feeling about their lives in Israel. A positive feeling.”
AT: I am smiling because I am living there. Arabs – Arab citizens of the State of Israel – are discriminated in all field of life and in polls – scientific polls; not polls of Israeli rightist newspapers – they are saying that they feel second or third degree. Not only they are feeling the discrimination in land allocation but budget, employment, agriculture, no industrial zones. We are discriminated in all fields of life.”
All Israeli citizens are of course entitled to equal rights by law. To take Tibi’s claim that Arab citizens of Israel have “no industrial zones” because of discrimination as an example – the Ministry of Economy and Industry lists at least eighteen industrial zones in Arab, Bedouin and Druze communities – from Rahat in the south to Sakhnin in the north. Once again, however, Tibi’s falsehoods went unchallenged by Sackur.
SS: “Well the Israel Democracy Institute ran a major poll last year. Most Arab-Israelis – 60.5% – describe their personal situation as good or very good. It doesn’t seem to match what you’re saying at all.”
AT: “I don’t agree with these results. We are living there but there are other points that you are not bringing here saying that at least 75% of the Arab citizens are saying that they do believe the state is dealing with them as enemies not as equal citizens.”
Sackur then promoted a partisan view of ‘international law’ as fact.
SS:” Why do you think thousands of Arabs living in Jerusalem – and they have a very difficult grey area status because of course under international law East Jerusalem is occupied territory – but they are regarded, since the annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem, as people with rights to residency and, indeed, the right to apply for citizenship in Israel and thousands have indeed applied for citizenship. What does that tell you?”
AT: “Only thousands. We are talking about almost 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem; you are talking about thousands. And it says a lot. Those Palestinians in East Jerusalem are facing strangulation policy, deportation, revoking their identity card, sending them out of Jerusalem – thousands of them. It is to say that the education system in East Jerusalem is one of the worst education system conditions led by the Israeli authorities. It is to say that those in East Jerusalem – Palestinians – not all of them are free to get into Al Aqsa Mosque. Demolition orders in East Jerusalem, but more also in other villages, in Arab villages inside Israel, because of lack of planning and housing. Do you know, Stephen, that there is a law called community villages law forbidding, preventing me, Ahmad Tibi, as an Israeli citizen, Arab citizen, from living in 800 community villages. I can live here in London or in Manhattan but not in these areas.”
Sackur failed to note the context of security considerations which sometimes limit access to the Al Aqsa Mosque to males under a certain age. He refrained from asking Tibi whether his claim that residents of East Jerusalem are being ‘deported’ or having their ID cards ‘revoked’ in fact relates to a small number of terrorists, their accomplices and family members of terrorists. Curiously – considering that between 1967 and 2014, the percentage of Arabs making up Jerusalem’s population rose from 26% to 37% – Sackur did not ask Tibi to provide evidence to support his claim that “thousands” have been ‘sent out’ of Jerusalem.
The law Tibi describes as “community villages law” is the Cooperative Associations Law and it relates to fewer than five hundred – not “800” – small communities of up to four hundred families that are situated in the Negev or the Galilee. Such communities are entitled to have an admissions committee which can screen potential residents. In contrast to the impression given by Tibi, all applicants of any creed or ethnicity meet with the admissions committee and the law expressly states that communities cannot reject applicants for reasons of race, religion, gender or nationality. Stephen Sackur, however, made no effort to relieve audiences of the false impression deliberately propagated by Ahmad Tibi.
Making no effort to explain to audiences what Zionism actually is, Sackur went on:
SS: “Are you saying – and using the words of that resolution from the United Nations in 1975 – are you saying that you still regard Zionism as racism?”
AT: “The practice of Zionism daily is to say that Jews are superior to non- Jews in Israel.”
SS: “Well answer this because it is a very famous UN resolution and it was repealed…repealed…one of the only UN that has ever been repealed 16 years later because consensus across the world that that language was unacceptable and wrong. I’m just asking you whether you actually still use that phrase.”
AT: “We Palestinians – mainly Palestinians inside Israel or outside the Green Line, [are] victims of Zionism because of racism of many aspects of Zionism against non- Jews, mainly original or indigenous Palestinians.”
Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of elimination of the Jewish state.
SS: “You see I think this debate is important because right now there is a discussion both inside Israel, amongst Arabs outside of the territories but also amongst Palestinians and Arab Israelis, about what is going to happen if the two-state solution is dead. And we’ve discussed Donald Trump and we’ve discussed the current political situation and nobody would pretend that the two-state solution looks alive right now. So there is a unitary state solution and if there is to be a unitary state, do you believe it would be acceptable for the Jewish Israeli population to be in a minority?”
AT: “The speech of Mr Trump adopted the Israeli narrative and it was a bullet in the head of the two-state solution, of the two-state vision. Instead of two-state solution it became two-state illusion. That’s why there are more and more talk about one state solution.”
SS: “You’ve talked about it.”
AT: “I’ve talked about it.”
SS: “You even posited the notion that you might run for Prime Minister of a unitary state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and you said ‘if it was a run-off between me and Mr Netanyahu, I would win, no doubt about it’.”
AT: “If this will be the case, and equal right will be there between Jews and Arabs from the sea to the river, a Palestinian will win the post of the Prime Minister.”
SS: “I very advisedly asked you, can you countenance…do you think it is in any way realistic to think that the Jewish population of Israel will ever accept a situation in which they are in a minority? This is the country that was set up under a UN resolution as the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War. You understand that, I believe, better than most Arabs because you made a very famous speech understanding the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people and on the creation of the state of Israel. So I put it to you again; can you imagine a unitary state where the Jewish population is in a minority?”
AT: “”We, I, as a victim of the victim in that speech, can tell you that I know, I realise that for the Israelis, it’s a nightmare to talk about equal one democratic state. That’s why, when you are giving two choices for them, two-state solution or one-state solution, they are immediately choosing the third choice, which is not there, the status quo. That is why I am saying two-state solution is the optimal solution that the international community is supporting. But the condition is immediate ending of the occupation and Israel is rearranging the occupation.”
SS: “Yeah, but you don’t just say that. You say very inflammatory things. In an interview not so long ago, you allowed your imagination to run. You said ‘we will, if there is to be a unitary state, we will annul the declaration of independence from 1948. In its place, we will write a civil declaration that represents all citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze’. You said ‘it is untenable for a democratic state to have a declaration of independence that is fundamentally Jewish’. You were asked what would the country’s name be? You said ‘I don’t know: its Parliament will decide’. What about the flag? You were asked and you said ‘yes, that will have to change’. Now when you say these things, how do you think Israelis – Jewish Israelis – respond?”
Sackur could also have raised the no less relevant point that in the same interview, Tibi declared that the Law of Return “would automatically be annulled, because the country would no longer be a Jewish state as it is today”.
AT: “When Israelis are killing Palestinians, how we would react? It is a democratic vision. I think that any democratic in Europe, in the international community, should respect my vision of democracy if there will not be a two-state solution. Yes, I want to be equal with Israeli Jews. I want to be equal with anybody in Tel Aviv and Tayibe, Nazareth and Hadera. But I will never accept to be inferior to any Israeli Jew just because the state is defining itself as a Jewish state. Because defining yourself as Jewish and democratic, it’s an oxymoron, Stephen and this is an oxymoron that we are fighting against day by day.”
SS: “If I may say so, it seems to me your speech was based on empathy and a genuine effort to understand the Israeli mindset. One aspect of the Israeli mindset is that they see more than a decade ago when the Palestinians had a free election, that a majority, at least in Gaza, voted quite clearly for Hamas – a movement that is dedicated in its original constitution to the destruction of the State of Israel.”
AT: “Stephen, do you want new rules for democracy? It’s election. It’s democracy. Palestinian people, like in England, like in Germany, like in France, like even in the United States – who just elected very bizarre president – we Palestinians are free to elect exactly what the Palestinians want. Once it is Fatah, once it’s Hamas.”
SS: “And you think the Israelis are going to listen to this and your belief that, oh, the Palestinians can choose Hamas if they want to and still believe that there is any possible reason why they should listen to you talking about unitary state?”
AT: “They can listen to me talking about two-state solution. They are not listening. Neither for that, nor for that. And what is Netanyahu proposing for Israelis and Palestinians? More and more war, more and more confrontation, more and more friction, more and more bloodshed. I am proposing peace. I am proposing freedom for Palestinians and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. It is challenging.”
Sackur then brought up a topic which audiences would no doubt have had difficulty understanding seeing as the BBC has studiously avoided reporting it.
SS: “It is. If you wanted to build some bridges and build some confidence, there are certain things you could do. I mean for a start, you could denounce your fellow Arab-Israeli member of Knesset who is now in prison because he was smuggling telephones to Palestinian prisoners – Mr Ghattas. What did you make of what he did and how disappointed were you in him?”
AT: “The 13 MKs of the Joint List, all of us, are not using this way of struggle in order to act as parliamentarians. It is not the way. He said so. His colleagues in Balad said so. We, myself and others said so, and he is paying the price in the jail.”
Sackur failed to inform audiences that, despite Tibi’s claims to the contrary, neither Ghattas nor some of his Joint List former colleagues have shown any sign of having reached the conclusion that “it is not the way”.
SS: “And why did you boycott Shimon Peres’ funeral?”
AT: “Because…I carried my condolences to his daughter…”
SS: No, you didn’t go to the funeral. Even Mahmoud Abbas went to the funeral. I’m just wondering again what kind of signal you are sending to the Israelis.”
AT: “Am I obliged to act exactly as the consensus – the Israeli consensus – is demanding from me? There is historical problem. I can understand Israelis when they cannot do something that hurt their feelings. Please understand our feeling as national leaders.”
SS: “I just wonder whether you pay heed to the words of the first Arab-Israeli to be a Supreme Court justice – and that in itself tells you something about the Israeli system. Salim Joubran, you know, he served in the Supreme Court, he was proud to do so, and toward the time he was leaving, he said, ‘yes, I complain a lot about the State of Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis, but I am also complaining about us – leaders of the Arab community. We must take responsibility and handle problems’. Hasn’t got a point there? That you spend so much time grandstanding about the long-term prospects for a peaceful solution between Arab… between Palestinian and Israeli, you don’t spend much time trying to deliver a better life for your constituents.”
AT: “You are mistaken, Stephen, because according to the statistics and numbers of the Knesset activity, 85% of our activity is focused on social and economical issues of our community. And there is misleading coverage of our activity. Yes, we are responsible for the well-being of our community. We should be much more interested, focusing, acting in the issue, for example, of violence in our community, which is almost devastating.”
SS: “It’s a scourge – particularly violence against women inside Arab-Israeli communities.”
AT: “And who is taking part in every demonstration against that? Who issued a motion against that? Who issued a motion against using weapons in community events? Myself.”
SS: “And I guess that what the Israelis – I can hear the voices in my head – the Israelis watching this will say yes, and you are much freer to make those sorts of protests and to demand better from the community inside Israel that you would be if you were living in a village in the West Bank or indeed a different Arab country.”
AT: “Say it; in Syria or in Libya. Say it.”
SS: “Well, you can say it.”
AT: “It is a racist notice. You know why? Because to tell me, Ahmad, that because I am Arab that I should move to Syria, as they are demanding day by day in the Knesset, or I should compare myself to Third World countries, non-democratic, totalitarian regimes, when Israel is claiming it is democracy. The control group and the control states, Stephen, should be Sweden, France, England – not Libya, not Syria, not third states…Third World states in Africa or south America. I want to be equal, exactly like citizens in Kochav Yair, in Tel Aviv and I do not want to be compared with totalitarian regimes, but with democratic states. It is the test. Can you accept the idea that an Israeli citizen who is Arab is willing to be equal? “
SS: “It’s a good way to end this interview. Ahmad Tibi, thank you very much for being on Hardtalk.”
The people referred to by Sackur as “Israelis watching this” are of course not in need of a BBC programme to enlighten them on the topic of Ahmad Tibi’s record, views and agenda: they have after all spent nearly two decades watching him function as an anti-Zionist MK in their own parliament – perhaps the best refutation of his claims of ‘discrimination’ that there could be.
While it can be said that Stephen Sackur did question Ahmad Tibi on some of the positions he holds, the fact remains that BBC audiences around the world watching or listening to this programme went away with a plethora of inaccurate impressions about Israel due to the fact that Sackur refrained from challenging any of the multiple smears, falsehoods and distortions promoted by Tibi in this interview.