On the November 3, 2000 edition of Newshour, BBC anchorwoman Joanna Buchan hosted Palestinian Dr. Ghada Karmi, associate fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Dr. Karmi asserted that the current clashes between Israel and the Palestinians are not at all fueled by Islam, but are instead strictly a secular movement to gain land. Although such a view is highly controversial, and much evidence exists to contradict it, BBC did not invite a dissenting guest to balance the conversation. Nor did Buchan herself challenge any of Karmi’s allegations or mention facts which suggest the opposite – such as the calls from Muslim Sheiks to wage holy war, or the Muslim attacks and threats against Jewish (not Israeli) targets across the United States as well as in England, France, Australia and Indonesia. Nor was there any reference to persistent statements from Palestinian leaders denying any Jewish religious connection to holy sites such as the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, Joseph’s Tomb and Rachel’s Tomb. Beyond the factual problem, the segment was also offensive in its disparaging characterization of Jews and Judaism’s ties to Israel. The following is a selection of Karmi’s contentious allegations which Buchan does not challenge:
Karmi: Most Palestinians, you know, are secular. There are two Islamist groups, but they have a minority support only and the majority of the Palestinians resist an occupation, they resist the taking of their land, and of course that was what the conflict was always about with Israel. Now, it was in Israel’s interest to make it into a sort of pseudo-religious conflict because Israel was founded on the basis of some biblical claim. Secondly, Jews have a problem in defining themselves and they have to use a religious definition. Arabs don’t have that same problem. Palestinians don’t need religion to identify themselves. They are Muslims and they are also Christians. . . .
The gatherings at the mosque is a traditional thing. It’s part of the culture. The Friday is the day like Sunday, if you like, for Christians. It’s the day when people don’t go to work, and they [unintelligible] go to the mosque, or be at leisure, and so on. It’s a very convenient meeting place, so if you have a grievance, if you have a protest, it’s a very good focus on which to do that. That in no sense means that it’s about religion or that the Palestinians want to establish some kind of an Islamic state on the Iranian model. Nothing could be further from the truth. . . .
Islam is a great cultural marker for Palestinians; it’s natural for them to use Islamic language or to quote the Quran. But that is no more than a cultural phenomenon. It is not to do with bringing in Islamic values and creating an Islamic state which defines itself primarily as Muslim. . . .
Now Palestinians as Muslims will use symbols which have an echo, a resonance amongst the population. This may be Islam because most people are Muslims. That’s as far as it goes, and indeed there are some splinter groups who identify, for example, with Hezbollah in London. But the identity is not on the basis of Islam. It’s on the basis that Hezbollah was successful in resistance movement that got rid of the Israelis out of Lebanon.
Karmi’s insistence that the Palestinian struggle against Israel is secular is completely contradicted by Sheik Ikrima Sabri, the Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem and “Palestine.” In an interview with the Egyptian government weekly, Al Ahram Al-Arabi, he unequivocally states:
Our campaign is definitely religious and emanates from belief, although we try to avoid this slogan. The current Intifada of the [Arab and Islamic] world is a religious outburst, because it relates to the Al-Aqsa mosque (Oct. 28, 2000, translated by MEMRI).
Despite Sabri’s statement, and numerous similar ones from other Palestinian leaders, the BBC’s Buchan made no effort to even question Karmi’s downplaying of the religious element in the current Intifada.
In addition, in dismissing the role of the mosque as simply a “gathering” point, or the use of Islamic language as “symbolic” or “cultural,” Karmi ignores the many speeches made by Muslim religious leaders espousing hatred towards Jews and Judaism, not just Israelis, and encouraging the uprising.
For example, the day after two Israeli Army reservists were lynched in Ramallah, a Gaza preacher, Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabaya, in a sermon broadcast live on official Palestinian Authority television, justified the lynching and called on Muslims everywhere to slaughter all Jews:
None of the factions is allowed to stand on the sidelines at this stage, or not to think well of avenging our pure martyrs and wounded. …Our people must unite in one trench, and receive armaments from the Palestinian leadership, to confront the Jews. By Allah, the Jews, O brothers in belief, do not know, nor have they ever known throughout history, anything but force and Jihad in the path of Allah...
They are the terrorists. They are the ones who must be butchered and killed, as Allah the almighty said: 'Fight them; Allah will torture them at your hands, and will humiliate them ...’
Have no mercy on the Jews no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them – and those who stand by them ...(October 13, 2000, translation by MEMRI)
Also, in a sermon October 27, 2000 at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which is under the control of Yasir Arafat’s appointed Islamic Trust – not the“minority” Islamic Jihad or Hamas – worshipers are promised, among other things, the establishment of an Islamic state if they rise up. (Recall that Karmi insists that Palestinians don’t want to establish an Islamic state, and BBC’s Buchan does not disagree):
Oh Muslims, When they decided to collaborate against Alquds and al-Aqsa Mosque they thought of an incident to measure the response in the Muslim Ummah [nation]. So Sharon made his visit to al- Aqsa Mosque, which was planned ahead, along with thousands of Jewish soldiers. The Jews want to take al-Aqsa Mosque, they claim that they only want part of it. . . . They [Israelis] are all afraid from the emergence of Muslims. They shiver when they hear the word “Allah Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest) all around the Globe especially when these calls demand the fall of the corrupt rulers who work to protect the interests of the imperialist disbelievers and their instrument Israel. . . . It is time for the Muslim armies to stand up against the agents in order to unify this Ummah, in order to establish the Islamic state, and in order to liberate the occupied Muslim lands including al-Aqsa Mosque.
Moreover, the fiery speeches against Jews (not simply Israelis) have been echoed by Muslims around the world. Thus, the Washington Post reported November 5 that in Indonesia:
In response to the recent violence in the Middle East as well as diplomatic disputes between the U.S. and Indonesian governments, thousands of Muslim activists have held noisy rallies where they have burned Israeli and U.S. flags, and members of the Islamic front have been prowling Indonesian cities at night looking for Jews and Americans, whom they have threatened to kill.
While Karmi would discount such rhetoric as “symbolic, ” BBC listeners have the right to know about the pattern of hateful speech espoused by Muslim officials and followers. As for its significance – symbolic or real – BBC listeners can decide that for themselves. Buchan’s failure to bring this to light is negligent and unprofessional.
In addition, Karmi places sole responsibility on the Israelis for turning the conflict into a “pseudo-religious” one, all the while insisting that for the Palestinians, the clashes are of a secular nature. Yet, again, this allegation flies in the face of a reality in which Palestinians have consistently denied Jewish religious ties to many sites that Jews consider holy. If the Palestinian struggle is truly based solely on secular considerations, as Karmi avers, there would be no reason for expunging Jewish ties to sites on contested lands:
- “I will not allow it to be written of me that I confirmed the existence of the so-called temple underneath the mountain [the Temple Mount]” (Yasir Arafat, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Aug. 12, 2000).
- “There never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem” (Yasir Abed-Rabbo, leader of Palestinian negotiators, Le Monde, Sept. 25, 2000).
- “The Wailing Wall, as they call it, is Al-Buraq Wall which is an Islamic Waqf religious endowment since the issuance of Umar’s Covenant.” He further said that Al-Buraq Wall is the property of the Islamic Waqf. He added that even chief rabbis prevented prayers there, because it was not proven yet that the temple is located there. (Arafat, Sept. 3, 2000 Voice of Palestine).
- At the U.N. Millennium Summit in September, Arafat recognized Muslim and Christian ties to Jerusalem, but ignored Jewish ones. He called the city “the cradle of Christ and the site of Prophet Mohammed’s ascension to heaven.” He made no mention of the Jews’ 2000-year-old attachment to the city.
- About Rachel’s Tomb, which according to Ha’aretz (Oct. 31, 2000), Palestinians have pegged as the next Jewish religious site to be “liberated,” the Palestinian Authority official newspaper Al Hayyat al Jedida writes: “The Palestinians affirm that this tomb is fake, and that it was originally a Muslim mosque . . . until the occupation forces captured the Palestinian territories and considered the place to be Rachel’s Tomb” (Oct. 9, 2000).
- Palestinians claim that Joseph’s Tomb is not a holy Jewish site. Major Abu Talal Nasar claims: “The prophet Joseph was never in Palestine. He lived in Egypt; he was buried in Egypt. Everyone knows that. . . . The Israelis thought that to keep it calm they should make a base here, so they claimed it, and after that they gave it a religious dimension by allowing settlers to call it a Jewish shrine. But in fact, it was a security pretext.”
- According to Palestinian officer Samir Abu el-Abbed, “The settlers used this place to have fun, to drink whiskey; it wasn’t religious at all. Nobody can drink and dance like that and be religious” (Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2000).
Most significantly, the reason, according to Palestinian officials (Arafat included), that Arafat could not cut a Jerusalem deal at Camp David last summer was because as the representative of one billion Muslims, he was in no position to make any compromises on Muslim holy sites.
For example, according to the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam, Arafat stated repeatedly during Camp David discussions that he represents all Muslims, and reminded President Clinton that he serves as the permanent deputy chairman of the ‘Islamic Conference’ organization (August 10, 2000, translated by MEMRI).
In addition, Arafat has repeatedly referred to himself as the “permanent vice president” of the Organization of the Islamic Conference uniting Muslim countries around the world. “He wasn’t speaking just for himself,” one senior official said. “He was speaking for a billion Muslims and the two million Arabs in the region as well” (New York Times, July 29, 2000).
Also, according to Palestinian academic Khalil Shikaki, Arafat has to take into account a constituency of a billion Muslims when he sits at the table with Barak. Any deal seen as giving up on the Muslim holy places will undermine his legitimacy throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds, says Mr. Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Surveys in the West Bank city of Ramallah (Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2000).
Another erroneous argument which Karmi makes, and which Buchan fails to counter, is the assertion that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are marginal groups not accepted by the mainstream, secular Palestinian population. In fact, recent reports have shown that Yasir Arafat has been meeting nearly daily with Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives, thereby giving them the official legitimization of the Palestinian Authority. According to the Washington Post, Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahhar said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders meet regularly with PA officials and Arafat’s Fatah organization through a group called the High Committee Follow-Up Intifada of Nationalist Islamic Organizations. “We are meeting at least once daily,” said Zahhar. “All [the participants] are from the first-class leadership” (October 25, 2000).
That BBC anchorwoman Buchan does not challenge these many falsehoods by pointing out attacks against Jews worldwide, ongoing Muslim denial of Jewish connections to holy sites, or the repeated calls from Muslim religious leaders to wage war against the Jews, makes BBC little more than a propaganda platform for the Palestinian Authority.
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