There has been an unprecedented blackout by the British broadcast media on the Palestinian Hunger Strikers and their protest against detention without trial, rigged courts, their illegal deportation to prisons in Israel, the denial of family visits and food parcels.
On 17 April 2017 the Palestinian leader Mawan Barghouti, from his prison cell, issued the following statement to the NY Times:
“The eldest of my four children in now a man of 31. Yet here I am, pursuing this struggle for freedom alongside with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world”.
One of the largest hunger strikes in history has reached its second month. This supreme act of peaceful resistance by 1500 prisoners is an heroic action against the longest illegal occupation in modern times, now in its 50th. year.
Predictably, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described its leader Marwan Barghouti as an “arch-terrorist”. His Defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, suggested Israel should take the approach of Margaret Thatcher towards the IRA hunger strikers in 1981: allow them to die.
The BBC, ITN and Channel 4 News have obligingly taken Lieberman’s side and are implementing Thatcher’s maxim, “to starve them […] of the oxygen of publicity”.
Whilst there have been three major articles in the Observer, The Guardian and The Independent, the BBC, ITN and Channel 4 News have played the three blind monkeys: ‘Hear no evil, see no evil, speak of no evil’.
Quoted in the Guardian, the former Israeli peace negotiator Yossi Beilin said of Barghouti “He is a proud Palestinian, proud of his movement. I saw him [during the Oslo peace talks] as a partner. Someone committed to a political solution. “He is a politician and a statesman. Like other politicians who have been involved with violence, we have somehow to find a way of dealing with him in a political framework […] because he can lead those who follow him to an agreement.”
Netanyahu, resolutely opposing any negotiated settlement, will have nothing to do with Beilin’s approach (which of course is the Northern Ireland model), and the BBC, ITN and Channel 4 News hold his hand, lest he should stumble.
Our campaign for Free Speech on Israel is a demand not just that we should be allowed to debate Israel’s action but also, and even more importantly, that the voices of Palestinians should not be silenced or ignored.
In South Africa leading figures including Deputy Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa, went on a 24 hour hunger strike in sympathy, but in Britain it received fleeting cover only by the Independent. A sympathy hunger strike by Manchester students was reported by Al Jazeera but totally blacked out by the British media.
Information and free speech are core to the resolution of injustice. To quote a famous civil rights leader, those who are not part of the solution are part of the problem. By their silence the UK national broadcasters are propagating the Occupation in the minds of their millions of domestic and international listeners, and are thereby very much part of the problem.
They would do well to head Barghouti’s words:
“What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.”