Thursday, August 26, 2004

Same old story with a different twist

A couple of hours ago, I met the BBC's regional senior correspondent. Among other things, she told me the following story:

About two weeks ago, the BBC was doing a story on a particularly terrific Palestinian doctor in Nablus. This guy has been trying to get Palestinian kids off the streets by getting them involved helping out with the city's ambulance service. On the day the BBC crew went out to do the story, the doctor needed to visit an 82 year old woman in poor health whose home had recently been occupied by Israeli soldiers. The TV crew and the doctor pull up to the house and see no sign of soldiers, so the doctor goes up while the crew waits. After a bit, when he hasn't emerged, the BBC producer goes in to make sure they stay on schedule. A little while later, he hasn't come out, either. Still not getting what's going on, the correspondent (the same woman who's telling me the story) goes into the house. She's instantly grabbed at gunpoint and thrown into a room already containing the old woman, the doctor, and the producer.

The doctor has been in this situation many times before, and remains very polite, asking the soldiers if they could just release the old woman while holding onto the rest of their hostages. The request is particularly urgent since the sick old woman has been held since 7am without access to food, water, or toilet facilities. The soldiers refuse, saying, "She can't go because we haven't killed anybody yet." Meanwhile, the old woman is very upset and apologizing profusely that such unpleasant things are happening to people in her home, and particularly that she is unable to provide proper hospitality for her guests.

One of the Israeli snipers finally does shoot and kill a fifteen year old boy. The Israelis later report that the boy was armed, while the Palestinians say he was not. The BBC correspondent tends to believe the latter, since she didn't hear any shots other than the sniper's {I agree with her; it's been my impression that the Palestinians prefer to go down fighting, and rarely deny being armed}. Even after they shot the boy, however, the soldier's wouldn't release the old woman, now claiming that her son had been a suicide bomber in Israel. By this time, the correspondent had become quite familiar with the woman, who was very sweet, "sharp as tacks," and completely childless.

Throughout this entire period, the soldiers refused to give their names, unit, commanding officer's name, etc. They didn't realize, however, that the BBC producer understood Hebrew, and spoke freely amongst themselves. Because of this, the news team was able to give names and descriptions of all seven soldiers involved to the regional army command. The soldiers, for their part, simply denied that anything had ever happened, but the army, "realizing they'd gone too far," quickly issued an apology.

The BBC correspondent decided not to release the story as 'news' for professional reasons (not wanting to turn the news team into the story). She was thoroughly disgusted that holding a British news team hostage was 'news', while holding an ailing, 82 year old Palestinian woman was just standard operating procedure. She did, however, write a piece for a personal/opinion section, and quickly received letters from {she gave a few names of what I believe were Jewish-Israeli journalists} basically accusing her of making the whole thing up. As she said, with heavy sarcasm, "After all, we're anti-Semites. And everybody knows this is 'the most humane army in the world.'" The thing that bothered her the most, she said, was talking to Israelis who still somehow managed to convince themselves that it was true.


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