Melanie Phillips

18 October 2011

Journalism? No, cruelty and propaganda

Published in: Daily Mail

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Associated Press

It appears that before Egypt passed Gilad Shalit over to the Israelis today, it subjected him to ten minutes of cruel and inhuman treatment of its own. Further details have emerged of the interview with Shalit carried out by Egyptian TV interviewer Shahira Amin. Many have commented on how ill at ease Shalit appeared during that interview. Now it turns out that standing behind Shalit’s chair as he answered the questions was a man in fatigues and wearing a black face mask and the green headband of the Qassam brigades – Hamas’s military wing – and with a video camera in his hand.

As for the interview itself, it was clearly designed as a propaganda exercise for the Arab masses. To ask such exploitative questions of someone who had just been released from five years’ captivity, who was clearly in a fragile state (he said so, and he subsequently fainted in the helicopter on the way to the Israeli air force base) and thus to delay his transfer to the Israelis and the reunion with his family, was itself a kind of torture. But as this report in the Jerusalem Post reveals, some of Amin’s questions amounted in addition to bullying which in the circumstances was as cruel and inhuman as it was, quite simply, totally detached from the reality of Shalit’s hermetically sealed captivity:

'“During all that time of captivity, you did just one video to tell the world and your family that you're alive,” she tells the soldier. “Why just once? Why didn't it happen again?”  Rather than letting him answer, however, Schalit’s Hamas minder-cum-interpreter scolds Amin for asking the same question twice (a peculiar accusation, given the footage shows the question hadn’t been asked before).

‘The resulting argument between interviewer and minder is one of the interview's more regrettable scenes. Amin says Schalit appears unwell, and “that's why I'm asking the question again” - as if drilling him repeatedly will have a salutary effect. The question is itself absurd, roughly tantamount to asking a hostage victim why he or she didn't escape sooner.

‘... Amin proceeds to ask Schalit what “lessons” he learned in captivity. After asking for the question to be repeated, he says he believes a deal could have been reached sooner. Here the Hamas minder renders his response as praise for reaching a deal “in such short time”- a mistranslation repeated by the BBC’s own interpreter.

‘”Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in captivity," Amin continues as the painful charade drags on. “There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?”

‘Schalit's answer, after a few seconds’ stunned silence, is superior: “I'd be very happy if they were released,"”he says, then adds the caveat, “provided they don't return to fighting Israel.”’

‘Again, the Egyptian interpreter fails to translate the sentence's second clause, and again the omission is repeated by the BBC's translator, though he too was apparently translating from Hebrew in real-time. ‘I will be very happy for the prisoners to go free, so that they can be able to go back to their families, loved ones and territory. It will give me great happiness if this happens,’ the BBC’s interpreter relays.’

Ah, the BBC. In the video clip on this BBC News web page, Jon Donnison interviews one of the freed Hamas terrorists, Ahmad Abu Taha, and says to him:

 ‘You are 31 years old, ten years in prison, serving a life sentence for being a member of Hamas. I mean, how do you feel today?”

But in 2002, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote brief descriptions of terrorist detainees it had captured including Ahmad Abu Taha. This is what the MFA said about him:

‘Ahmed Abd Al Karim Ali Abu Taha was born in 1980 and resides in Ramallah. Abu Taha was involved in preparing explosives for Hamas terrorists in Ramallah, including the car bomb that exploded in Giva’at Ze’ev in Jerusalem on 29 July 2001. A member of the Ibrahim Abu Rub and Ballal Baraguti organizations, he transported the suicide bomber Ra’ad Baraguti from Ramallah to Jerusalem, where he exploded on Hanevi’im Street on 4 September 2001 and injured 14 people.’

So it seems he was jailed for rather more than merely being a member of Hamas. But hey, what’s a little thing like the facts when you’re interviewing a Hamas celebrity? And why spoil the story of the party atmosphere in Gaza with the disobliging news that the happy and smiling Hamas celebrity in question had been instrumental in terrorist attacks against Israelis?

At a meeting in Washington DC today the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, Caroline Thomson, was hymning the BBC’s values and boasting that 54 per cent of people in the UK think the BBC is trustworthy and 58 per cent that it is accurate. This was, she said, an ‘awesome responsibility’ to live up to. It would be interesting to know whether the Donnison interview meets her exacting standards.

Still, it could be worse: the BBC might have employed Shahira Amin.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie