uploaded : Tuesday 1st Apr 2008 at 16:45
by : Carol Gould
‘Return to Beirut -- Brian Keenan in Lebanon’ BBC 2 Television
Monday 31 March 7PM (one hour.)
Notwithstanding a deadly ‘flu bug and raging fever I decided that if it was the last thing I did on this earth I would write about the abysmal one-hour primetime BBC 2 documentary that was broadcast 31st March and presented by former hostage of Islamic Jihad Brian Keenan.
Keenan, who grew up in Belfast and now lives in the Republic of Ireland, returned to Lebanon last year and instead of looking into the destiny of those who had tortured and traumatised him for five years, spent the entire hour blaming Israel for every ill in the Middle East and weeping over the images of dead Lebanese children killed by Israeli air attacks. He visited Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and issued the usual tirade about Ariel Sharon letting the Christians massacre innocent Palestinian Muslims there in 1982. (Sharon was tried and condemned by an Israeli tribunal -- imagine that happening in one of Keenan’s beloved Arab countries.)
He showed the appalling conditions in which the thousands of refugees live in the camps in Lebanon, but then took us on a tour of the Platinum Towers, an obscenely expensive apartment block that will have units for sale at around $11 million. My question has always been, since time immemorial: why is it that billions pour into Palestinian conurbations and the children still run about in rags whilst their older brothers run about in expensive military fatigues and suicide belts?
When billions in aid pour into Israel -- including the nickel lovingly saved by my impoverished grandmother and placed in a ‘Blue Box’ in turn of the century Philadelphia -- the Jews build concert halls, old people’s homes, hospitals, theatre, art galleries, shopping malls and scientific institutions whose work benefits the entire world, whilst in Arab countries aid pours in and we hear only about the destitute state of the inhabitants of refugee camps? Keenan showed staggering scenes of poverty: why are these people living this way whilst sheikhs and emirs build bigger and bigger palaces and yachts? Is this the fault of Israel? Do me a favour, Brian.
What is so interesting about the programme is that Keenan is reduced to tears or into great anger when he mentions Israel, which is often. A psychiatrist would find it fascinating that this man, who suffered so in the hands of Muslim terrorists, does not talk about them and when he visits the notorious Khiam Prison, enumerates those who inflict torture: the French, the Israelis, Chileans and Various South American regimes. There he is in Lebanon, a nation tyrannised by Syria, not Israel, for decades, but his Beelzebub is not a Muslim but a Jew, a Frenchman, and a Chilean.
Like Golda Meir I lament the fact that a people who for centuries never hurt a flea and brought only achievement to the countries it inhabited in a Diaspora reaching every corner of the globe had to become a combatant and even a torturer in the wake of unprecedented hatred. As George Steiner pointed out at a recent talk in London, Israel, to defend itself from endless attacks after 1948, had to become a military force that engaged in acts every other country had committed but which the wholly non-violent Jews had until 1946 shunned. Khiam is a dark wound on the Jewish conscience ( well, mine, anyway), but does Brian Keenan think Israel is the only belligerent in that turbulent region? He is absolutely right when he says he cannot understand how people can do such things to other human beings and even get pleasure out of others’ agony. This was the one thing that tormented my grandfather, who feared a military Israel would destroy the perfect record of non-violence that had characterised his people for two millennia. But after the Holocaust the ‘new Jew’ was born and ‘walking like sheep to the slaughter’ would never again be an option.
At one time I was an adherent to the ‘Peace Now’ movement in Israel but have long given up on that road to nowhere. My reason? Well, on last night’s programme Keenan did what every British journalist does: find a Palestinian who will never give up the hope of getting his or her home back in what is now Israel. Would Brian Keenan and others like to give back the homes to the millions of Jews who fled or were expelled from Muslim countries in 1948? Will the millions and their descendants of displaced persons of all religions and of no faith who were left penniless and homeless after World War II in Europe be given their homes back? Are the brave parents of my neighbour in London, who came here with the shirt on their backs, having endured rape and beatings and torture in their escape from Europe, bleating about having their homes back? They came here, learned a trade, learned English, became productive and dignified Londoners and are proud parents and grandparents of British citizens.
Aside from the fact that this documentary was far below the standards of BBC factual programming, I am frankly sick to death of hearing about the third and fourth generation of Palestinians waiting for the day when they will return to their homes in Israel. The Jewish state was created by an act of the United Nations. The increasingly-used precept that somehow a bunch of rapacious Jews arrived and stole everyone’s houses and lands is repugnant. Wjy on earth did Keenan obsess on tis when he could have looked at the complicated internicine wars, dictatorship and corruption that have left so many Lebanese people in poverty?
Instead the producers allowed Keenan to become fixated on the tiresome suggestion that the Jews ruined it for everybody. The Yishuv, the educated and enlightened European Jewish settlement movement who brought irrigation, sanitation and science to Palestine, were at one time welcomed and even revered by some indigenous Arab leaders. (See ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘The Forgotten Ally’ by the late Pierre van Paassen.) Jews have been in the Holy Land since time began and the idea that these loathsome people arrived and spoiled it for everyone is a slander upon the hard-working Sabras and kibbutizniks who transformed a desert into a first-world country producing everything on earth except oil. Jewish settlers suffered repeated attacks. During the Second World War the Grand Mufti sided with the SS, but of course this is never mentioned in Keenan’s film. For him, like London Mayor Ken ‘I would never have created an Israel’ Livingstone the rot set in in 1947 and the ills of all and sundry can be traced back, like the image of Christ-killers, to the establishment of a tiny homeland for the Jewish people.
Nowadays when I dare to mention that Israel grew out of the ashes of the Holocaust I am screamed at by respectable Britons who bellow at me to ‘get that Holocaust thing out of your system. ‘ Sure, just forget the systematic disenfranchisement and subsequent extermination of lawyers, doctors, teachers, musicians, composers, actors, scientists, bankers, ordinary workers across France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia, Spain, Hungary and so on, all of whom were selected because they were Jews or had one Jewish antecedent and then sent to be tortured and starved and gassed.
But by the same token, am I sitting around in a refugee camp wanting my cousin Dr Karash’s home back in Bialystok, where his eight beautiful and brilliant daughters took cyanide rather than be captured by the Gestapo, made pregnant and then left bound to die in abject agony when labour started? No, I just get on with my life.
My late mother processed ‘DPs’ -- Displaced Persons -- at the United Service for New Americans in the USA after she was demobbed from the United States Army. She was shaken to the core by the sight of these walking skeletons who had somehow survived years of medical experiments and torture, watching their loved ones being killed or being forced to electrocute their mothers or siblings -- and what happened to them? They went on to fruitful lives in the USA. Did they blow up churches or attack German Americans? No. And may I hasten to add that the so-called ‘Naqba’ or ‘catastrophe’ of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947-48 was nothing like the Nazi Holocaust; the frequent comparison of the two events ( see the website of the Muslim Public Affairs Council UK below) is nothing short of an obscenity.
Yes, when Israel came into being death and destruction ensued on both sides. What I find intolerable sixty years later is the mantra of ‘we will someday return to our homes’ when there are millions, yes millions of Jews -- including me -- who can lay claim to countless houses and farms and workplaces in Europe that others now own. My life goes on.
Keenan visited Qana, twice bombed by Israel, once in 1996 during Operation Grapes of Wrath and the subject of part of my film ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day,’ and again in 2006 during the war against Hezbollah. Keenan asserts that this war which he observes left Qana looking like a ‘mini Stalingrad’ was started by Israel because two soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah. (It should be noted here that this week Tim Marshall of Sky News interviewed Khaled Mashal, head of Hamas, who admitted that Gilad Shalit, one of the captured soldiers, is alive and well. This proves my point that terrorist Hezbollah and Hamas, the ’government’ of the Palestinians, work together.) Keenan is so wrong about the 2006 war. Israel was and continues to be under relentless attack from the areas she ceased occupying: Lebanon in the north and Gaza in the south. Yes, soldiers were kidnapped but the war arose from the bombardment of Israeli civilian areas by Hezbollah.
When I was in the region during Operation Grapes of Wrath in April 1996, five hundred Katyusha rockets had rained down on Israel in just one month. In turn Hezbollah turned a United Nations building into a fortress and when Israel engaged them one hundred civilians were killed, including eight members of one family. The world came down on Israel like a ton of bricks, led by Robert Fisk of ‘The Independent.’ Hezbollah had allowed women and children to crowd into a war zone, but Israel was the evil murderer of babes and moms. When critics of Israel, namely Ralph Nader, complain that ‘deaths are 300 to one’ in the Lebanese/Arab to Israeli ratio, they forget that the lives of their own people are sacred to Israel, a country boasting the best civil defence infrastructure in the world. Bomb shelters are everywhere -- you will know this if you have ever holidayed in Israel -- hence the low death toll even under sustained bombardment by Hezbollah and Hamas. The world suddenly saw Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, then Israeli Prime Minister, as a murderer in 1996 when in fact his genuine horror at killing one hundred civilians was palpable. I was there. I saw his face.
Keenan visits Qana and levels a Blood Libel against the Israelis: he says Jesus turned water into wine and now the bombs are turning children into rivers of blood. Does he really think that Jews in Israel are sitting licking their chops cheering about the deaths of children? Golda Meir once said that the only tragedy worse than losing our sons was being forced to kill their sons in war. Do Jews jump up and down across Israel shooting off guns and celebrating when Arabs die? No. Likewise, when children and civilians are killed inside Israel -- thousands upon thousands since 1948 -- by terrorist bombs, snipers, stabbings and rockets, are their deaths any less tragic than those of the Lebanese children Keenan lovingly refers to as his ‘butterflies?’ My impression from this deeply biased and rather sick programme is that he most definitely thinks Israel is the scourge upon the otherwise squeaky-clean oasis that is the sorely put-upon Middle East.
Keenan even brought his own children to Lebanon to tell them that the 'bad men' -- Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, no less -- were no more to be seen, but that the bad folks were Israeli airplanes flying over and bombing vineyards. Why did he not visit Israel? Why did this programme have to be a one-hour abstract about an unseen menace, like Dracula in the Transylvanian hills, known only as those noxious Jews nextdoor?
I rang the BBC and was shut up by their operator who told me I had 'talked enough' and hung up on me.
Well, I think I have written enough, too.
Muslim Public Affairs Council UK 28/3/08:
'...For the many tales of Jewish concentration camps we hear of, the Palestinians live in conditions, which I would argue are much worse. Whilst Hitler tried to annihilate the Jewish people, some of the descendants of the survivors have created concentration like conditions and economic hardship to annihilate another race...'