Thursday, January 15, 2009

john humphrys grills mark regev

This interchange between Today presenter John Humphrys and Israeli PM's spokesman Mark Regev reflects the growing exasperation and frustration of British broadcasters with Israel's policy of barring the international media from Gaza, and a degree of scepticism over Israeli spin. The interview at times has something of the flavour of the "two Johns" 'interview-sketches' between John Bird and John Fortune on Channel 4's satirical show 'Bremner, Bird and Fortune'.

BBC Radio Four
Today programme 15 Jan 2009, 7.17 am
intro from BBC website: "More than 1,000 Gazans and 13 Israelis have reportedly died as Israel's war on Hamas militants enters its 20th day. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, discusses how the conflict can be brought to an end."
John Humphrys: On the line is Mark Regev who is the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister. Good morning to you.
Mark Regev: Good morning.
JH: Whatever the detail of these figures, you knew – must have known –when you launched this attack that many civilians, many children, would die didn’t you?
MR: And we’re making and continue to make every effort to leave innocent civilians out of the crossfire between us and Hamas
JR: So when you fire shells at a heavily populated area, you know, do you that those shells aren’t going to kill civilians?
MR: We do not indiscriminately drop bombs.
JH: I didn’t use the word’ indiscriminately’.
MR: No, we are being as surgical as is humanly possible in a very difficult situation.
JH: So you can fire a surgical shell at a building in which civilians may or almost certainly will be living or taking shelter.
MR: We have – as you have documented on the BBC – we have spent a lot of time dropping leaflets, radio message, even telephone calls, warning people to leave areas of combat before the combat starts precisely because we don’t want to see innocent civilians caught up in the fighting.
JH: So what are they going to do, catch the next plane to London or New York or something?
MR: No, but they can leave the area, you don’t have to be too cynical about it, and in fact there have –
JH: I think you can be cynical about a lot of innocent people dying, can’t you?
MR: To be fair – let’s analyse what’s going on here – if Hamas – and we have documented cases where Hamas has deliberately put their explosives, put their weapons, is shooting out of civilian neighbourhoods – it’s very difficult for us, but we are making every possible effort – those numbers that are out there, do you have any idea how many of them were killed by Hamas ordnance? How many were killed by Hamas fighters?
JH: Oh I’d love to have that stuff, I would love to have that detail, the BBC would love to send in reporters, so would every other single news organisation in the world, but you won’t let us do that.
MR: Well first of all those independent reporters that have been in – and there’s the New York Times and the Italian press and so forth – they have actually reported very extensively as to how Hamas is deliberately endangering civilians through their activities.
JH: And for how long have they been allowed to operate in those areas and under what circumstances? Because the BBC has not been allowed to do that, and it’s a fairly substantial news organisation as you’ll appreciate.
MR: First of all the BBC has been in Gaza
JH: Once, a very short in and out trip, under the control of the IDF, once in and out.
MR: and ... again today, and you’ve got your office operating in Gaza, I see your producer all the time... on the airwaves.
JH: There is one producer in Gaza, one producer, who is able to do what he has done, heroically, over the terms of the effort he’s been putting in. Do you regard that as adequate?
MR: Well first of all it is a difficult combat situation and what Israel is doing in Gaza in preventing people going in – the truth is that has been done by NATO forces in such places as Serbia, in such places as Afghanistan. So what we’re doing – I understand why the press and the BBC is upset that you don’t have more access but it’s not unprecedented.
JH: It is not a matter of being upset Mr Regev; we would like to do a proper journalistic job. The reset of the world would like to see a proper journalistic job being done there to test the claims that you and Hamas make. We are not allowed to do that job because you will not allow us to do it. It really is that simple, isn’t it?
MR: I do disagree. Once again, I understand the frustration. But many Western democracies in similar situations have imposed a closed military zone. And if you would allow me to finish my question, I always point out to my government’s leadership that when we have instances of Western journalists going in it’s actually been very good for us. This morning the Italian press is full of reports how there’s no shortages of food, that the hospitals are actually coping.
Hamas wants atrocity propaganda to come out and I think by having more Western press in there we actually balance.
JH: Ah, fine. So you will allow us to send in a reporting team .. what – in the next hour? The next two hours? Tomorrow?
MR: I hope as soon as the combat situation allows.
JH: Ah. And what does that mean?
MR: As soon as the combat situation allows.
JH: Would you care to define that?
MR: I don’t think I can, I don’t think anyone can, to be fair.
JH: Right. So you would like us to be there – but you won’t let us go there. I’m slightly puzzled by this.
MR: Well it’s a difficult combat situation one can never...
JH: They always are Mr Regev. Combat situations always are difficult. But you are in control of this. You are sending your soldiers and your tanks into that area, you could if you so wished allow foreign reporters to go in, and you will not allow them to go in, in spite of the fact that your Supreme Court has said that some should be allowed to go in.
MR: First of all, today some 20 are going in and I hope also someone from the BBC – they are going in with our forces, and I think that’s a good thing, and I want journalists to see what’s going on.
Ultimately we are very concerned with the sort of atrocity propaganda coming out of the Gaza strip which is precisely because Hamas through its control of civil society has been able to manipulate the message.

JH: It’s also because we have been misled by some of your people as well. We were told on this programme by your ambassador that there was drone evidence that the Fakhura school in Jabaliya – you know the school very well because so many children, so many Palestinian civilians were killed there – we were told that it was being used as a base from which Hamas were firing missiles. That turned out not to be the case – it was the wrong area and the drone evidence was two years old. That’s the kind of thing we want to check, isn’t it.
MR: Yes but to be fair both the New York Times and Associated Press independently confirmed the Israeli version of events at that school. And this is one my examples where I think the Israeli – where the independent press has an important role. I mean this was where Hamas was saying Israel was deliberately targeting a civilian target, and when the independent press went there they actually found proof that Hamas had turned the UN facility into a place where they were shooting mortar shells at Israeli soldiers.
JH: Well I wish we could verify that, but we of course we can’t.
MR: But the New York Times reported that, are they not good enough for you? The Associated Press reported that, you don’t have to be so cynical sir.
JH: So you’re going to choose certain reporters to go in for certain assignments? You don’t want to allow the kind of coverage that everybody believes should be allowed?
MR: I also would add, if you want to have a serious discussion, that there is a huge objective problem for any independent reporter working from Hamas territory. Because as you know it’s very difficult to get a Palestinian living in Gaza on microphone to say anything remotely critical of the Hamas regime because afterwards you will pay a price.
JH: with respect let us be the judge of that. But we can’t, can we.
Let’s take another very serious objective consideration here. When you went in to Gaza, when you launched the attack, you must have known must you not that children would die. Innocent civilians, non-combatants, would die. You did so none the less. I take your point that you may have made great efforts to try to avoid that sort of thing happening but it was inevitable, and you must have known it to be inevitable, must you not?
MR: We don’t want to see a single non-combatant...
JH: No, that’s not what I’m asking. What I’m suggesting to you is that you must have known it would happen.
MR: But surely, surely when NATO declared war on Serbia you could have asked the same question to NATO leaders. Is the question relevant?
JH: Well I’ll tell you why the question is relevant, and it is this. For every child who dies, there is going to be enormous hatred of the Israelis who caused that death, isn’t there?
MR: I actually think, and our intelligence is indicating this very strongly, and you can see this in Arab the media and amongst Arab elites that the anger in Gaza, the frustration in Gaza, as to what is going on – of course there is an automatic knee jerk reaction to blame Israel but we see more and more very interesting information that Hamas is being blamed for orchestrating this crisis. And it was Hamas, as you will recall, that tore up the ceasefire understandings, it was Hamas that led to the escalation that forced us to respond and we’re seeing .... the whole idea that Hamas equals the Palestinian struggle, that Hams is the representative of the Palestinians, it is just not true, and we are seeing cracks, we are seeing Hamas has a real problem with the Palestinian street and when this is over and the dust settles, I think Hamas is going to have a real problem with Palestinian public opinion for orchestrating and initiating this crisis that no one really wanted.
JH: Mark Regev, many thanks.
Just a couple or so hours after the interview was broadcast news broke that the main UN compound in Gaza, housing UNRWA's regional headquarters, had been shelled (injuring three people) and set ablaze as Israeli troops pushed further into the area, and that a media building was also hit and at least one photographer injured.
The Los Angeles Times reported the breaking news under the headline: "UN headquarters in Gaza hit by Israeli shells".
The newspaper noted: "Although UN officials, including [Secretary General] Ban [Ki-moon], placed blame for the shelling on Israel, Israel did not accept responsibility.'We don't know if it was hit by Israeli fire or Hamas,' said government spokesman Mark Regev."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I want to express my gratitude for the fair minded way in which Mr Humphrys raised with Mr Regev these logical and fundemental questions. Its reassuring to know that despite the overwhelming US-Israeli resistence to acknowledge the ugly truth of this barbaric and disproportionate Israeli aggression, we in Britain will continue to see integrity in our Journalists to search out the truths. Pola Uddin