Response to 60 Minutes – 23 September 2009

Letter to 60 Minutes from ZCV President, Dr Danny Lamm

Dear Sir/ Madam,

The Zionist Council of Victoria is the roof body of 51 local Jewish organisations in this state which value Israel as central to Jewish life.

I write in relation to the segment entitled “Hate Thy Neighbour” which was broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday 20 September, 2009. Many members of our community have expressed concern, frustration and anger at the segment; its skewed portrayal of Israelis and biased exposition of the complex issues surrounding the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (known as the West Bank).

The segment contains many inaccuracies, misleading information and certainly does not reflect the balanced reporting one would expect from a program of the calibre of 60 Minutes. Instead of presenting a story which exposes the range of issues, it expounds a propagandist position, sensationalises and distorts facts to a degree rarely seen in mainstream media.

The very title of the segment exposes its predetermined slant.  “Hate thy neighbour” with its biblical overtones is a harsh and unjustified generalisation and neglects to acknowledge the grass roots cooperation and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.  Hatred is not taught in Judaism and hatred of Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general is not taught in Israeli schools.  In contrast incitement to hatred is endemic in Palestinian schools, mosques and community centres. I refer you to the websites of Palestinian Media Watch (www.pmw.org.il) and MEMRI (www.memri.org) for examples of speeches, sermons and even children’s television programs which foment hatred against Jews among the Palestinian people.

Bartlett’s introduction suggests that the biggest obstacle to peace in the region is the issue of the settlements, and concludes that “the settlers will have to move out” – a boldly facile, ill considered statement, in the light of the complexity of the issues, and not one which is even being considered by the primary parties involved in the negotiations.

In referring to “a day in the life of the West Bank”, Bartlett again resorts to distortion of facts to support his predetermined conclusion. It is certainly not the norm for disputes to be settled at the point of a gun, as he claimed. In fact he had to resort to an incident which occurred last year in order to found his story.  Indeed, if one only considers the report itself, the perpetrator of the shooting was charged and prosecuted under Israeli law. Despite Bartlett’s claims, there is no evidence to suggest that Zev Broude was proud of his action, or that it was unprovoked.  To the contrary the video vision suggests that blows were being struck or stones thrown at the time of the shooting.   Bartlett does not investigate or report on the reasons that the prosecution did not result in a conviction.

The report centres on an incident which took place near the town of Hebron, and Hosni Matrie made comments, unchallenged by Bartlett, that the Jewish settlement in the area began in 1973. Even cursory checking of facts would have revealed to Bartlett that there has been a Jewish settlement in Hebron for centuries. Indeed, in 1929 there was an Arab massacre of the Jewish population of Hebron, in which 67 of the 700 members of the Hebron Jewish community were killed.

Bartlett’s definition of “Palestinian land” is dubious. Even Bartlett, later in his report refers to the UN’s statements that the land is “disputed territory” and acknowledges that the question of ownership has not been resolved. Except, apparently, by Bartlett.

While there is no dispute that approximately 300,000 Israeli Jews live in towns and villages in the West Bank, it is blatantly erroneous to state, as Bartlett did, that “hundreds of thousands of settlers are moving into the West Bank” as if that was the current state of affairs. The 455 new units which have recently been approved for construction are not new settlements, but are within existing towns, to cater for natural population growth. Indeed, no new towns have been established since Modi’in Illit in 1996.

The central contention that the “settlers have to move out” is a suggestion which is not even on the table for peace discussions. Obama is proposing a freeze on settlement growth, not a relocation of every citizen in every town. Every peace plan to date includes the proposition that the major settlement blocs which are located close to the pre-1967 Green Line will be incorporated into Israel’s territory in a “land swap” arrangement.

Bartlett has ignored even recent history, when in 2005, the Israeli government unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, compelling every one of the 9000 Jewish residents to leave their homes and the communities they had built there, in order to allow the Palestinian authority to develop independently. Four settlements in northern Samaria were also dismantled, and settlers evacuated. Every settler left. The outcome has unfortunately not been peace, harmony and prosperity, but rather since the disengagement we have witnessed escalated terror and rocket fire on Israeli civilian targets, and the ascension of the terrorist Hamas to power in a forcible takeover. Bartlett’s claims that settlers are “obstinate and refuse to budge” are not only unfounded in historical terms, but deny the experience that unilateral withdrawal did not produce peace, only further attacks.

The interview with Mustafa Barghouti raises yet more issues of balance and fairness. Allowing him to liken the actions of settlers to “rape” and “cancer” without challenging those inciteful statements is irresponsible at best. I also note that at no point is any Israeli official position presented, neither via interview or reference.

The snippet with Barghouti sees Bartlett claim that there are “hundreds” of checkpoints. Again, a blatant fallacy. Over the past two years, and increasingly in the past few months, two thirds of the forty-one permanent checkpoints have been removed and there are currently only fourteen in operation. The entire report fails to acknowledge that checkpoints were established to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israeli cities and towns with the express intention to murder Israeli civilians. With the Palestinian Authority having become more effective in enforcing law and order and maintaining safety and security in the West Bank, these protective measures have been reduced. There has been a concomitant benefit of the creation of economic prosperity in towns such as Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah. With the threats reduced, Israel has opened over 400 crossings east of Qalqilya and extended the working hours of several checkpoints to 24 hours per day.  It has issued 1500 permits to Palestinian public officials and businessmen, enabling them to pass through Israeli crossings into Israel.

Liam Bartlett’s agenda is clear and quite unambiguous, and the one thing his report failed to do was to present an objective exposition of the issues.

I call on you to commission and broadcast a further report on the issue, this time canvassing the range of viewpoints, presenting accurate and factual information and enabling the viewing public to draw their own conclusions.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Danny Lamm