As readers may recall, on June 5th listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ heard that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.
The day after that programme was aired BBC Watch submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue but to date has received neither acknowledgement nor a response to the request to correct that obvious inaccuracy.
Moreover, on June 11th that same report by Simon Watts was recycled in its entirety (from 10:09 here) in another BBC World Service radio history programme – ‘The History Hour’ – where the item was described as being about “an assassination attempt that sparked Lebanon’s war”.
Once again, after Watts asked had the son of the former Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father in London in June 1982 by a Palestinian faction and Gideon Argov had gone on to say “and then the war broke out”, listeners heard Simon Watts interject:
[14:55] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”
As in the previous programme, listeners heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.
“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]
After which Watts told listeners that:
Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”
However listeners to ‘The History Hour’ did hear an addition to Watts’ report from an interviewee he was keen to present as “respected” and having “accolades”.
Watts: “So just how far did that shooting, that attempted assassination in London in 1982, mark a watershed moment for the Middle East? Well joining me now is Rami Khouri – professor at the American University in Beirut – who’s covered the region as a respected journalist for many decades. So from the Israeli perspective, was the attempt to kill Shlomo Argov the catalyst or the excuse for that move into Lebanon?”
Khouri: “It was certainly both but the evidence from historical reports by both Israelis and others is that the defence minister then – Ariel Sharon – had been planning for years probably to do a major attack on Lebanon and his aim was to get the PLO out of there, destroy the PLO’s facilities, get the Syrians out of Lebanon and force a peace treaty with the Christian-led government that the Israelis hoped to install in Lebanon and the assassination attempt was basically the excuse that gave the government the ability to say go ahead with this.”
Once again BBC World Service audiences were not informed why Sharon would have needed plans to “get the PLO out” of Lebanon. They were told nothing of the fact that the PLO had thousands of terrorists – including foreign mercenaries – based in Lebanon at the time and that Palestinian terrorists had committed hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilians in which 29 Israelis had been murdered and over 300 wounded in the eleven months before June 1982 alone.
Watts: “So Lebanon was a tinder box anyway which was ready to blow.”
Despite earlier having told listeners himself that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, Watts did not appear to notice that American-born Rami G Khouri contradicted his claim – or that he whitewashed Palestinian terror attacks such as those in Ma’alot and Misgav Am by describing them as “clashes”.
Khouri: “Lebanon had been experiencing internal civil war for some years and the civil war in Lebanon coincided with the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict between Zionism and Arabism and that was just the latest episode at that moment. But there was also a continuous legacy of a decade or two at least of clashes between the Israelis and Palestinian groups, Syrian groups, other Leftist nationalist groups in Lebanon who were against Israel and this fighting had been going on for years and years but this incident happened in the midst of an intense war that was getting worse, not better.”
Watts: “But from ’82 onwards things ratcheted up. As we heard in the piece just now, Gideon says that his father…eh…would not have been pleased by what the war did to Israel’s image abroad. So how would you characterise what it did to Israel’s image?”
Listeners next heard Khouri misrepresent the circumstances of the founding of Hizballah while using the term ‘Palestine’ contrary to BBC guidelines and seeming to claim that Lebanon is “part of Palestine”.
Khouri: “Really 1982 was a pivotal year. You had the birth of Hizballah in Lebanon to fight the Israeli occupation and the birth of Hamas in Palestine. So unilateral Israeli military action in any part of Palestine has tended to generate a reaction that has made conditions for Israelis worse in security terms.”
Watts: “And from your point of view, the move by Israel into Lebanon in ’82 – what were your memories of what happened and how has it affected your life?”
Listeners then heard a monologue which went completely unchallenged by Watts despite its blatantly partisan and often inaccurate portrayal of the first Lebanon war.
Khouri: “Well there was a very powerful moment. I had left Lebanon just before that in the late ’70s when I was in Lebanon working as a journalist. When the war broke out it became very dangerous so I moved to Jordan and I followed there events of course intensely with day-to-day news reports. And I remember at one point feeling so bad, so weak, so repulsed by the fact that the Israelis and others – sometimes it was the Syrians, sometimes it was some Lebanese forces, different people – but mostly the Israelis attacking helpless Palestinians in most cases and then various massacres like the Sabra and Shatila one that happened later in 1982. And then at one point I remember driving home from the newspaper late at night saying I can’t just sit here and see my fellow Palestinians being massacred like this. I’m not a fighter but maybe I can go there and write press releases or do what I do which is writing and journalism. And so there was a sense that I wanted to figure out how can I help and this is what every Palestinian in the world feels. And of course this is what most Jews in the world have felt over the years about their vulnerability around the world.”
Israeli forces of course fought armed Palestinian terrorist militias in southern Lebanon – not “helpless Palestinians”. While Khouri carefully avoided stating directly that Israel was responsible for Sabra and Shatila, he certainly steered listeners in that inaccurate direction.
Khouri continued – deliberately failing to distinguish between the armed Palestinian terrorists expelled from Jordan in 1970/71 and from Lebanon in 1982 and the ordinary Palestinians who were not “driven out” of either country. In Khouri’s one-sided narrative there is of course no place for the thousands of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists and no mention of Hizballah’s endless violations of UN resolutions.
Khouri: “But there was a sense that the Palestinians in 1982 had a pivotal moment because they had previously been driven out of Jordan and now they were being driven out of Lebanon and their political situation was increasingly vulnerable and weak. So the feelings since 1982 continue I think with every Palestinian and with many Israelis – as we heard from Gideon Argov. You know there is a decent side to Israeli sentiment that we understand but there’s also a bloody side that has killed thousands of Palestinians and we saw the bloody side affirmed in 1982 in a very dramatic way but also in a way that I think we have to register as a failure. It did not bring peace to Galilee because what happened was Hizballah came out of this and Hizballah is the only force in the Arab world that has twice forced Israel to accept a ceasefire at the UN and end military fighting. So the ironies I think are plenty for everybody to consider.”
Watts: “That’s the writer and academic Rami Khouri who, among other accolades, is a fellow of Harvard’s Kennedy School.”
Despite this extended version of Watts’ report including ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ points of view, it by no means gave BBC audiences a balanced account. While Gideon Argov was asked primarily about the attack on his father’s life, Rami Khoury was given free rein to promote inaccuracies and falsehoods to enhance his partisan narrative. That would have been bad enough in any BBC show but in one that purports to provide audiences with “historical reporting” it is obviously unacceptable.
NPR AND RAMI KHOURI (CAMERA)