Sunday, 27 June 2010

Comment 12 and Mark Urban - 'private' words on the issues

On 10 June 2010, I posted a comment at BBC diplomatic correspondent Mark Urban's blog, below the heading: 'West Bank development strategy begins to bear fruit'.

It entailed a series of points challenging Urban's interpretations of the present situation in the West Bank, including his understandings of economic 'development' and the political implications of the Fatah-Hamas conflict.

My comment was immediately blocked and referred for further consideration, appearing eleven days later on 21 June. Despite two emails to BBC Head of News, Helen Boaden, the BBC complaints unit and Mark Urban himself, no reply was sent explaining the reason for the stalled comment. It only appeared after my second letter to Ms Boaden stating that I'd be compelled to write to the BBC Trust if the comment wasn't posted.

Subsequent to the comment being published, an enquiry was made (outwith my knowledge) to Mark Urban by another party asking for his thoughts on my statement. Urban offered his responses in two emails, the contents of which were forwarded to me, in good faith, by the enquirer asking for my own responses to Urban's assertions. The enquirer's request to Urban and myself was made in the hope of illuminating the missing background to Urban's report and prompting an openly-published exchange on the issues.

As agreed by us both, a request was made by the enquirer to Mr Urban asking that our collective discussion be published at the Media Lens message board, or/and at my and Mr Urban's blog.

The request was rejected by Mr Urban. Mr Urban asked that his words not appear at Media Lens, stating that he believed the enquiry and his response to be one concerned with clarification rather than for open publication.

The enquirer wrote back to Urban questioning his reticence and reasons for avoiding publication or/and any further exchange. The message expressed disappointment and suspicion over Urban's refusal to expand on the issues, in particular the absence of critical background to the Fatah-Hamas conflict. No further reply came back.

Having given considerable thought to the moral and practical implications of this correspondence (and the BBC's conduct over the initial comment referral), I have decided to publish the content of Mr Urban's (two mailed) comment pieces, and my own response to them, here at this blog.

I have not included any of the enquirers words to Mr Urban, or the content of Urban's third reply declining to have his comments published. Nor have I sought any direct approval/permission from Urban (or anyone else) for posting his words. My only purpose here is to highlight and answer Urban's points on the subject matter itself.

Mr Urban, it seems, has sought to evade open criticism and debate over his initial piece. He has also, I believe, used a questionable excuse in claiming a 'private/public' distinction with regard to his comments.

The crucial point is that Mark Urban is replying as a BBC employee, in response to an enquiry (regarding my comment) at a BBC-run website. There's no good reason, to my mind, why Urban's comments, dealing with the specific issues in his film/article, and critiquing my words at his site, should not be in the public domain.

There are also more special issues arising from senior reporters' coverage of war or violent/conflict situations, as in Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan, where journalists' output, usually in the service of power, has a key bearing on those most immediately affected. In short, I don't believe that publicly-funded journalists like Mark Urban have the right to that kind of 'privacy' or anonymity where such systematic taking of lives and daily state oppression are evident. There's too much at stake.

Mr Urban's refusal to permit his already-stated words, in defence of his own piece, to be posted at a site like Media Lens tells us much about his and other senior journalists' apprehensions in having their 'impartial' words challenged and their roles within the corporate/establishment media critically dissected.

I trust that, if nothing else, the citing here of Mr Urban's evasions might help expose the pretence claims we often hear about our 'open and accountable' media.

There are, of course, basic protocols here. My standard practice is to publish all such communications with journalists, editors and other such figures on open public issues so long as there's nothing private, personal or otherwise incriminating contained within such correpondence.

This posting, thus, relates only to the subject matter first presented in Urban's report and his subsequent comments on the issues.

I take sole responsibility for citing Mark Urban's words.

Mark Urban is free to offer any further comment at this space.

John Hilley

My initial comment 12 (and comment 19) at Mark Urban's BBC site:


12. At 1:45pm on 10 Jun 2010, johnwhilley wrote:

This article says so much about Mark Urban's and the BBC's loaded view of the issue. It offers no serious analysis of the West's and Israel's expedient efforts to promote Fatah and help drive a wedge between them and Hamas in order to isolate Gaza.

It skirts around the collaborationist roles of Abbas and Fayyad in this process and the problem of the PA having no effective mandate to speak for the Palestinian people.

And, in the usual default deference from BBC journalists, it has nothing to say about the staggering affront of Tony Blair's role as a 'peace envoy'.

Mark Urban also notes:

"The progress does not get reported much, firstly because it is a slow incremental business and secondly because hemmed in Gaza, under its Hamas leadership, has produced all the spectacular news of late."

Mr Urban should think, more immediately, about all the daily Israeli brutality that never gets reported from the West Bank. Moreover, it's not Hamas that's "produced all the spectacular news of late." It's - despite skewed reporting by the BBC - Israel's assault on Gaza and the aid flotilla. The BBC, in lipservice mode, has made it appear like a 'Hamas issue' rather than an 'Israel issue'.

He also talks of Balata refugee camp - a place I am reasonably well acquainted with. Perhaps if BBC journalists ventured there more often to report honestly on the gross poverty, isolation and brutal treatment of its people by Israeli forces, they wouldn't feel such "trepidation". How easy, and lazy, just to cast Balata as an 'epicentre of militancy', rather than as a potent illustration of Israel's cruel occupation - and the PA's role in policing/enforcing it.

He goes on:

"Indeed the success of the PA in the West Bank marks the fruition of a Western strategy started three years ago when, following Hamas' strong showing in parliamentary elections, the Islamist movement seized power in Gaza and the two parts of the Palestinian Occupied Territories veered apart under different leaders."

That's a conveniently cursory reading of what happened, serving to disguise Hamas's legitimate mandate and the real sequence of events.

Here's some of the key context missing from Mark Urban's piece regarding the Fatah-Hamas issue, as previously stated in a complaint exchange with the BBC:

In fact, Hamas were elected after one of the cleanest elections ever seen in the region. The only problem was the West's refusal to recognise a democratic government it didn't like.

As widely documented, the US was eager to see elections in the West Bank and Gaza in order to assert Fatah rule and undermine Hamas. The point was to prop-up Abbas's collapsing mandate and further isolate Hamas, all part of the mendacious agenda to fragment and divide the Palestinians.

Taken aback by the unexpected Hamas victory in Gaza and the West Bank, the US and Israel began imposing punitive sanctions, withdrawing tax revenues and aid, intensifying their support for Fatah and actively funding, training and arming the contingent around Fatah henchman Mohammed Dahlan.

In 2007, with the situation further disintegrating, various Arab states intervened to help form a national unity Palestinian government (the Mecca Accords). It's on record that Condoleezza Rice “was apoplectic” with rage when she discovered this plan. Here's a flavour of the furious US mood as Hamas and Fatah prepared to meet in Mecca, as indicated in a leaked report by the retiring UN Envoy for the Middle East, Alvoro de Soto:

“The US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy [David Welch] declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington 'how much I like this violence', referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured because 'it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas'.”(Cited, Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine, p 113.)

Having cultivated Dahlan over many years, the US and Israel conspired to see Fatah overthrow the elected Hamas government. As a key article in Vanity Fair, drawing on official US documents, subsequently revealed, a bankroll $1 billion budget was allocated for Fatah arms, training and salaries, all pushing for the “desired outcome” of giving Abbas “the capability to take the required strategic political decisions...such as dismissing the [Hamas] cabinet and establishing an emergency cabinet”.(Cited, ibid, 114.)

Alerted to the planned putsch by the increased arrival of US weaponry to Fatah, Hamas saw-off the threat, in effect pre-empting a Western-backed Fatah coup in Gaza.

Thereafter, Israeli and US leaders resolved to use the split to best advantage by stressing the divisions between the 'co-operative' Fatah administration in the West Bank and the 'militant' entity in Gaza - the 'Hamastan' which they are ever-eager to portray. All classic divide and conquer tactics, none of which the BBC seems willing to air or explain to its viewers.



19. At 00:31am on 22 Jun 2010, johnwhilley wrote:

Just for the record, my comments at #12, above, were finally published on 21 June. Despite prior emails to the BBC asking why it was referred and held up, no explanation has been offered.



Following the enquirer's letter to Mark Urban asking for his thoughts on these comments, Urban replied:

thanks for your message. The problem with criticism like John Hilley's is that any piece of journalism can be attacked for what it does not say. This is the case particularly with TV journalism where the amount of script available to a reporter, even in a story on Newsnight, is similar to that in a short-ish newspaper article. The West Bank film did however note that the PA under Salam Fayyad has been involved in suppressing islamists. We interviewed a leading dissident, Abdul Sattar Qassem, and questioned Mr Fayyad about his policies in this regard. The fact that the PA declines to hold new presidential elections was also mentioned in my recent report.

With regards the deeper background and Hamas's democratic mandate, these were the subject of previous Newsnight reports. During the 2006 election campaign, for example, I accompanied Hamas campaigning in the Hebron area and interviewed their candidate. I have interviewed Aziz Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the PLC elected in 2006, on several occasions.

The 2006 PLC elections produced an anomolous situation where the PLC, in which Hamas was strongest, had a democratic mandate, but so did president Mahmud Abbas, the Fatah leader who had also been directly elected. This threw up all sorts of challenges to the west, given its support of democratic reform in the Middle East. It also created a political crisis because Palestinians had voted for a party that does not believe in a long term two state solution (Hamas) to run the PLC, a fruit of the peace process, based upon that two state concept.

Much of what Mr Hilley has to say is fair comment and of course he is entitled to his view. Where my analysis would differ markedly from his is in his description of the circumstances in which Hamas wiped out Fatah in Gaza in 2007. Mr Hilley cites a story I've heard before that the Fatah security chief in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, was planning a coup against Hamas. I do not believe Mr Dahlan or Fatah thought they had any serious chance of suppressing Hamas three years ago. When Hamas attacked Fatah militias and the presidential Guard, they soon collapsed, revealing the real balance of power in Gaza. Hamas has since been accused of murdering, imprisoning and torturing hundreds of Fatah activists in Gaza. It's worth looking at the human rights websites for further background about this. The circumstances of the Hamas takeover make it all the harder for Fatah and Hamas to reconcile and the peace process to resume.

I hope this helps,
all the best

Following a further response to this statement from the enquirer, Mark Urban wrote:


In response to your quick point, one of my own. The observation that Hamas seized power in Gaza is correct in that the organisations they attacked such as the Presidential Guard (aka Force 17) were subordinate to the president - also democratically elected. Gaining a majority in the PLC was not sufficient, in itself, under the Palestinian arrangement of powers to gain control of the security apparatus. Both Fatah and Hamas claimed legitimacy.

These realities were certainly addressed at the time in our coverage, even if I can see that they are fresh to someone with a new found interest in this detail.
all the best


Having been notified of these two comments, I wrote the following to the enquirer, which was then passed on to Mark Urban:

Dear [],

Many thanks for pursuing the issues and eliciting those reponses from Mark Urban.

It was, indeed, helpful of him to reply, though we might ask why he didn't think fit to do so directly at the blog piece.

You might wish to ask Mark Urban if he would be amenable to having your enquiries to him, his replies to you and my responses to his points all collated for publishing at the Media Lens board (while making him aware, as you suggest, that we've been in correspondence over the matter []).

I suspect he may be unwilling to do so, preferring to resist open debate and criticism, but I think he should be pressed on the matter, given the importance of his spurious reporting and continued evasions.

In anticipation of such, here's my response to his exchange with you.

And thanks again for your good work.

All the best



Mark Urban's replies are riddled with the usual BBC evasions and misleading tropes.

He says, firstly:
"The problem with criticism like John Hilley's is that any piece of journalism can be attacked for what it does not say."
This is a familiar and tired posture.

We can agree with the obvious truism that not everything can be covered in any report. The crucial point concerns the context and tone of what does come through in the piece. In this case, the omissions are key to the version of events and impressions that Mark Urban seems very keen to promote: namely, that Fatah and the PA are the acceptable face of Palestinian 'development' and proto-statehood, while Hamas, despite holding a clear and decisive political mandate, remain a threatening, terrorist entity undeserving of political recognition and engagement by a 'neutral' and 'benevolent' West.

It's not without significance that Tony Blair features prominently in Urban's output. The entire piece pays close lipservice to Blair's and the Western/Israeli narrative of 'good PA/bad Hamas'.

On the subject of that shared lexicon of power-serving journalism, might I suggest to Mark Urban this latest, superb indictment from Robert Fisk :

But, let's look a little more closely at what Mr Urban has actually omitted.

Surely any serious discussion of West Bank 'development' should highlight the issue of PA collaboration, the illegitimacy of Abass's presidential tenure, the fact that Salam Fayyad's position has never been ratified by the PLC and Fayyad's own Western-leaning background.

It should also be flagging-up the PA's recent collaborationist practices, from attempting to subvert the Goldstone report at the UN to it's reported efforts, via Obama, to stop the blockade of Gaza being lifted.

None of this vital context is remotely evident in the film, which all reinforces viewers' assumptions that PA/Western development is key to solving the conflict and that this is being spearheaded by a legitimate political entity.

Central to this narrative is the demonisation of Hamas. As Mr Urban goes on:
"It also created a political crisis because Palestinians had voted for a party that does not believe in a long term two state solution (Hamas)"
As any serious observer knows, this is a grossly false distortion of Hamas's actual position.

Consistent with multiple statements from its leaders, Hamas is, in reality, very ready and willing to sit down and negotiate a viable two state solution based on the 1967 border with a divided Jerusalem as its capital.

If Mr Urban can't recognise and relate this most elementary fact, he has no business acting as a leading diplomatic correspondent.

Even if Mr Urban insisted that Hamas don't believe "long term" in two states - a speculative assumption in itself - there's no acknowledgement here that many, many observers of the situation don't believe that two states will ever, ultimately, resolve the issues. In short, there's a very respectable argument for one fully democratic state granting full civil and political rights for all citizens.

How conveniently misleading, in this regard, to castigate Hamas as the main impediment to a solution, one state or two, when Israel has done all in its power to stall, undermine and wreck any potential solution, other than the ongoing occupation.

He continues:
"The 2006 PLC elections produced an anomolous situation where the PLC, in which Hamas was strongest, had a democratic mandate, but so did president Mahmud Abbas, the Fatah leader who had also been directly elected. This threw up all sorts of challenges to the west, given its support of democratic reform in the Middle East."
This a classic rationalisation of the 'emergency' powers Abbas assumed on behalf of Fatah in response to the Hamas mandate and ensuing pressure from the West as it begun its sanctions policy against Gaza.

Urban's words "threw up all sorts of challenges for the west" are a typical neutralisation. What it really means is that Hamas's electoral victory threw up all sorts of problems for the West, exposing its intolerance of a government unwilling to bow to the West/Israel and the fiction they call a "peace process."

And why does Mr Urban so-readily repeat that the West actually supports democratic reform in the Middle East? This, of course, carries with it a whole host of Urban-related assumptions about the West's 'democratic ambitions' for Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

As was clearly evident, but crucially skirted in this report, the West went to decisive lengths to undermine the democratic process when it came to Hamas.

Despite Urban's misgivings over Mohammed Dahlan's capabilities, a massive exercise in military aid, diplomatic manoeuvring and Western intelligence was effected to help overthrow the elected Hamas government. That Fatah, Dahlan and their Western-Israeli sponsors ultimately failed to realise that task in no way undermines the seriousness of their illicit actions and attempted coup. Again, Mr Urban has no mention of this vital historical context for his viewers.

Likewise, it's all very well citing the attacks mounted by Hamas on Fatah - or the many Hamas people rounded-up and ill-treated by Fatah. But this simplified version of competing factions omits any mention of Washington's own input, thus failing to draw together the full story of the West's underhand role in promoting that violence. All this is documented in the statements noted in my comments.

In the same vein, any attacks made by Hamas on the Presidential Guard, or forces supposedly subordinate to the PA, cannot be understood outwith that context of Hamas resisting a planned Western/Israeli-backed PA putsch.

Mr Urban also notes:
"The circumstances of the Hamas takeover make it all the harder for Fatah and Hamas to reconcile and the peace process to resume"
This is yet another repetition of the standard Western narrative: Hamas are primarily to blame for the failure of the "peace process". And, again here, the readily-accepted view that there actually is a peace process.

As Fisk puts it:
"For two decades now, the US and British – and Israeli and Palestinian – leaderships have used the words "peace process" to define the hopeless, inadequate, dishonourable agreement that allowed the US and Israel to dominate whatever slivers of land would be given to an occupied people."
As with many of his reports from the Middle East and elsewhere, Mark Urban's interpretations follow the same, loaded language and agenda of power. His selective presentation of the 'peace process', Palestinian 'development' and Hamas's 'militant recalcitrance' all help obscure, rather than illuminate, the background realities. That, essentially, is why he's doing the job he's doing.

John Hilley

PS: I'd still like some explanation from Mr Urban as to why my comment at his blog piece was referred and held back for so long.


Friday, 25 June 2010

Square go

I liked this recent piece from Joanna Blythman, at the Sunday Herald, lamenting the crass commercialisation of public space, notably Glasgow's George Square.

"George Square is a tip", she asserts, laying into Glasgow City Council's corporate-philistine view of what a central piece of urban ground should look and feel like. The Council, it seems, will grab at any money-raising opportunity to fill the area with giant plastic tents, tacky sponsorship and admission-hiked events.

I don't know that it's a tip, as such. But there is, sadly, a vacant blandness about George Square, from its inappropriate red surface and, now, grassless fringes to the absence of any piazza atmosphere.

It's a shame, when one considers the fine, blonde Victorian architecture surrounding. Just think how it could all look with a more thoughtful blend of complementary groundwork and intricate greenery, making this focal space more environmentally and culturally stimulating.

I actually have a great affinity with the Square. So much has happened there, even in my lifetime - from the historic poll tax demos, polis-surround anti-war rallies and other dramatic assemblies to more personal and happier congregations with loved ones.

With the onset of those 'necessary, bite-the-bullet' cuts - protested against by the usual faithful in the Square just this week - it's probably not a good time to have a square go with the Council on new imaginings for the place. Though, maybe there's 'people economy' in wondering about where and how all those newly-redundant workers and rationalised citizens might now spend their money-scarce leisure time.

Anyway, in lieu of any serious, approaching makeover, here's my kick-start suggestions for a new and invigorated Square.

For aesthetic purposes, big pastel-mix stone cobbles, with literary-local insets, generously islanded by people-sitting grass, plenty of flora-leaning trees and blazes of exotic flower beds.

I won't get on my Wellingtonian high-horse about removing all those funereal statues to colonial villains - though, we could commemorate great local (and international) heroes like John MacLean, instead. But why not alternate the plinths with Gormley-type installations, using more attractive and challenging art and iconography to make it a more engaging place to stop or meander through.

For spiritual and recreational indulgence, we could have communal yoga and body balance every morning, noon and evening, interspersed with join-in dance sessions for every age and inclination. Think fun and healthy living. In Lisbon's main square, they have neat surround speakers putting out cool soul and salsa music all day.

For other easy entertainment, there might be street artists and open stages for new talent - including dutiful celebs who want to gig for free. We could have school orchestras, flamenco dancing, ballet and rap shows and multiple other spectacle-inducing acts.

For kids, real and adult, we could have tables and ground markings for chess-playing, as well as more energising run-around games, encouraging the feel of a city at play as well as at work. Consider the stress-alleviation benefits for lunchtime office workers.

And, for more simple, lazy chillers, a smattering of cafe-style tables and chairs, akin to the great European cities, with affordable coffee and sundries, where assorted Weegies, touristos and other out-of-towners - even excited day-visit Highlanders - can just sit and languish in our glorious months of sunshine - I know, we need to think a little harder about the other ten rain, snow and wind-swept months.

But, hey, anything's possible with a little adventurous thought and playful application. It's time for some juvenile joie de vivre and lateral, latin learning on how we could change the whole aesthetic of the Square. We could even make it round.


Monday, 21 June 2010

Capitalism: a Sunday Times non-story

Some words to David Smith, economics editor at the Sunday Times, who sent this rebuke to the Media Lens editors after they had questioned his and other corporate journalists' failure to criticise capitalism:
“Most of us get these things out of our system when we are students.”
Dear Mr Smith

It's unfortunate that you chose to evade the questions put in the recent Media Lens Alert and use such cheap words in dismissing the editors' points about the deep social impact of capitalism.

I was wondering if you had seen Michael Moore's current film, Capitalism: a Love Story.

In the movie, Moore charts the ruthless and unsparing nature of 'capitalist-loving' America, illustrating the personal insecurities and mercenary nature of market life, including the airline pilot just getting by on food stamps and the appalling practice of corporations like Wal Mart taking out secret death insurance policies on their employees.

Moore's considered conclusion: "Capitalism is evil". It's a system bereft of fairness, justice or compassion, distributing the mass of wealth and wellbeing to the richest and most competitive, while leaving the rest scared, subservient and, in many cases, suicidal.

The "love story" is really about an abusive relationship; one in which capitalist interests - the corporate profiteers and their media ideologues - lead us to believe that there is no other way of living; that there's 'no alternative' to the economic and social abuses we must all face in dealing with the 'axiomatic reality' of market existence.

Which begs the question: are corporate journalists bearing false witness to that abuse, while offering no analytical options on the means of escape?

Beyond neo/marxist and humanitarian critiques, even many advocates of market relations have come to recognise capitalism's inbuilt tendency towards social misery, from the concerned realisations of that other Mr Smith, who came to see the severe downside of its "invisible hand" mechanisms, to a certain Mr Heath and his 'one-nation' Tory warnings about the "unacceptable face of capitalism."

How telling that this Mr Smith can find no space or grace in his columns and correspondence for a mature consideration of capitalism's dark vicissitudes, particularly in these days of grand bank larceny, corporate welfare and 'no-alternative' austerity for the poorest.

Would you agree that the unquestioning media endorsement of the capitalist system by senior economic editors like yourself helps legitimise the kind of "evil" Moore is speaking of?

Is Moore also some kind of 'immature romantic' in talking about capitalism as a predatory and unsustainable system?

Or does he, like the Media Lens editors, have a more serious and dutiful grasp than you of its brutalising effects on society?


John Hilley

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Points to the BBC: rejected and referred

The BBC have been in defensive mode again this past week over their coverage of the Gaza flotilla attack, as in this exchange with BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, Jonathan Marcus:

Dear Mr Marcus

I've read the Media Lens Alert regarding Israel's attack on the Gaza aid flotilla and your claims of impartiality in reporting the event.

You note in your piece:
"This was always going to be a high-risk operation for Israel both in terms of reputation and diplomatic repercussions."
Citing your selective emphasis on the PR cost for Israel, the ML Alert responded:
"Imagine if Hamas fighters boarded a ship in international waters and shot dead [9] Israeli civilians. It is inconceivable that you would write:

“This was always going to be a high-risk operation for Hamas both in terms of reputation and diplomatic repercussions." "
Could you please respond to this anomaly and say whether you would ever be inclined to write such a line in any such report involving Hamas.

Additionally, why do you automatically assume that Israel was/is primarily concerned with protecting its 'good reputation' and diplomatic relations? Given the emergency cabinet meeting which determined that a violence-based interception of the flotilla should take place, isn't it reasonable to suggest that the main "reputation" Israel wants to promote is one of outright terror?

This view is consistent with the many witness statements from those aboard the ship, which confirm that the commandos began firing at the passengers before landing on deck.

In short, Israel was more interested in sending a message of fear rather than fearing the PR/diplomatic fallout.

So, wasn't that message of terror sent out by Israel the one that should have been emphasised in your report rather than the assumed 'problem' for Israel of diminished reputation and troubled diplomacy?


John Hilley


Forgive me Mr Hilley but I really cannot see what your complaint is. Everything that has happened since the tragic events on board the Mavi Marmara has surely shown that this was a disaster for Israel's reputation and diplomacy. Coming so soon after the much-publicised misuse of foreign passports by the Mossad it has surely added another set of questions about the behaviour of Israel's government and the legitimacy or otherwise of its actions. I fear you and your colleagues seem so blinkered by your own prejudices that you cannot see this for what it is - a factual description of the current state of affairs.

I see no purpose in continuing this "dialogue". You have writtten in and complained. I believe that your complaint is unreasonable but you presumably have strongly held views on the Middle East crisis and you are obviously entitled to your opinion. Thank you for getting in touch.


Dear Mr Marcus

Yes, it seems that Israel is, indeed, reeling, reputationally, over the flotilla attacks. That's not really in question, given the widescale outrage that's taken place.

The issue here concerns the principal context in which you and others report the story. The fact that the primary take concerns Israel's damaged reputation, rather than the killing of activists per se, helps illustrate the kind of loaded perspective you bring to the story.

The ML editors asked specifically whether you would use the same kind of language regarding the PR factor if Hamas had carried out such an attack. We can be reasonably sure that the context and language would have been very different: namely, one of 'terrorists attack boat', rather than any speculative lead about the damage done to Hamas's reputation.

Your failure to answer the point is duly noted.

Doesn't the fact that 1400 Palestinians were deliberately killed by Israel during Cast Lead - see the Goldstone report, concluding that this was a pre-planned exercise inrtended to target all Palestinians, not just Hamas - suggest that the flotilla atack was a similar exercise intended to kill and terrorise - as was the Dubai assassination?

That being the case, why don't you explore a little more thoughtfully just what kind of reputation and PR Israel is really trying to convey?

Mr Regev may be touring media studios talking-up Israel's 'good name'. That's the standard course of spin and denial. But the real message being sent out by Israel is one of outright terrorism: we can and will kill anyone who resists, including international activists.

Why don't you centre your reports on that premise?

The reason you don't is that the BBC can't entertain the truth of state terrorism. So, instead, we get this ersatz reportage dwelling on the fallout of 'errors' and 'mistakes' committed by an otherwise 'respectable' state. There's no consideration of how Israel thought it could get away with such an outrage.

Think, likewise, about the Dubai klling. This most intelligent of intelligence agencies and its state masters must surely have known that multiple stolen passports and numerous CCTV images would put Israel squarely in the frame. Why were they so seemingly careless? Again, could it be that the terror message - and notoriety deriving from it - was/is more important to them than dealing with the 'PR problem'?

Given what we now know about the deliberate shooting on the Mavi Marmara, shouldn't the BBC be exploring the possibility that Israel is engaged in an outright terror campaign? Shouldn't this very obvious possibility be part of your discussion on Israel's 'reputation'?

Or are these logical questions just to be dismissed as more "unreasonable" speculations from someone with "strongly held views"?

Having strong views in support of oppressed people is not inconsistent with engaging in serious analysis of that oppression and what's driving the oppressor.

Beyond repeating the standard line on Israel's diplomatic "disaster", where's your investigation of Israel's actual motives?


John Hilley


Alas, no further reply came back.

But it's worth quoting what independent journalist Jonathan Cook said in an email
to the Media Lens Editors (published at the ML message board) on such correspondence with Marcus:
"Dear Davids,

Your exchanges with Jonathan Marcus (and subsequent ones with media lensers) are interesting and in many ways prove very clearly the point you've been making for so long that the problems of the corporate media lie chiefly in structural limitations rather than the fault of individual journalists. I can't help but find myself sympathising with Marcus in these exchanges if only because, as a journalist, I know that, were I working in his position for a media organisation like the BBC, I'd have been expected to write, and would have written, much the same. A diplomatic correspondent's job is to write this kind of propaganda, in which "our" crimes are about mistaken perceptions or public relations fallout and their crimes are, well, crimes. In a way, criticising him for it, and watching him respond with bafflement, is to underline your - and Chomsky's - point that his job depends on his not understanding. Were any of you to "convert" him, he'd want to walk away from his nicely paid job. But probably that would not happen. My fear is that, all you would achieve is to transform a sincere cog in the corporate wheel (ie a nice bloke who tries to answer your emails as best he can) into a cynical cog (ie a bloke who doesn't answer them or responds with abuse).

I wonder whether a more fruitful target for criticism for this kind of story (assuming any of it can be fruitful) is the news desk editors, who in knee-jerk fashion make this kind of storyline the dominant one every time "we" committ a crime. Marcus has a defence, and a good one at that, that he is simply fulfilling his job description. The editors, however, are on shakier ground - both professionally and ideologically - for making his "diplomatic" line on the story the chief one. All best, Jonathan
Which reaffirms previous points made here about structural powers, editorial expectations and journalistic understandings over final output. So, beyond people like Marcus, there may, indeed, be a case for targeting those desk editors and others who frame the agenda. Yet, it's still important that journalists themselves be challenged and asked to recognise the rules of control they work under.

On which related note, allow me to mention the BBC's rather curious decision to have a comment I posted at Mark Urban's blog referred for further consideration. It's now been six days since the piece was halted and passed on. The caption simply reads:
Despite emails to Mark Urban, Helen Boaden and the BBC complaints department requesting to know why, I've received no reply or explanation.

My points were in response to Urban's feature article on West Bank development, in which he talked-up the work of the Palestinian Authority, the 'improving' situation there and
Tony Blair's 'interventions'.

The comment wasn't rejected for being abusive (it wasn't abusive), so why, one wonders, the decision to refer it for further moderation and take so long in giving a reason?

All, I (dis)trust, will be revealed.....




BBC finally publish my comment (point 12) at Mark Urban's blog.

I'm still none the wiser as to why it was referred and held back until 21 June. Maybe this second email to Ms Boaden helped concentrate minds a little:

Monday, 21 June, 2010 14:41

Dear Ms Boaden

Further to my previous message, I really must ask you now to explain what has happened to my comment (number 12) of 10 June at Mark Urban's blog.

Whatever the reason for referral, it's quite disgraceful that I've received no reply from the complaints unit, Mark Urban or yourself on the matter.

There's a basic issue of free speech here and the right to be informed about any curtailment of comments. Please provide the reason for removing mine, otherwise I'll be compelled to write about the matter to the BBC Trust.


John Hilley



This message from the Editors at the ML board gives rise to a little more suspicion over the BBC's referral of comments:

Well done John - excellent comment (finally) posted on Urban's blog.

I've had a comment "referred for further consideration" since appearing for less than 24 hours on 7 June (item 2 at link below). No explanation given either, despite prompting.



Monday, 7 June 2010

Moral propriety and the law: does Israel care?

Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara and other Gaza aid flotilla boats has prompted a quite remarkable level of protest across the world. Mass demonstrations, including rallies in London and Edinburgh - barely noted by the BBC and other compliant media - offer uplifting proof that international opinion is now moving decisively against Israel's arrogant, murderous behaviour.

Alongside the public outrage, the legal position and implications of Israel's attack on the flotilla are categorically clear. There is no viable defence of this criminal act that could be presented in a court of law. And, despite the whitewashing and verbal contortions of Israel's propaganda unit, Netanyahu and his cohorts know this. In short, they don't have a legal or moral leg to stand on.

The flotilla and its humanitarian endeavours have played a crucial part in raising the Palestinian cause to global consciousness. On the back of Cast Lead and the 2008/9 annihilation of Gaza, the determined spectre of aid ships trying to break the blockade is now helping to pressurise governments into serious action.

We might call it part of the gathering sea change in global opinion. And the crucial reason for that is the abhorrence people feel towards an aggressor state shooting not just Palestinian civilians but also those trying to lift a desperate population out of its misery.

One of the Scottish flotilla activists,Theresa McDermott, has talked of her harrowing treatment, including being thrown around by soldiers and a pistol held threateningly to her head. Observing from the nearby Challenger 1 at the time the Mavi Marmara was attacked, Theresa recounts what happened when the commandos then boarded her boat:

"Our only resistance was to stand by the rail of the boat with our hands out, so they could see clearly we had no weapons, and try to block them from coming on board. We had no intention of fighting back.
One of the bombs hit the face of a Belgian woman, bursting her nose before exploding on the boat. She was in a bad way and started bleeding heavily.
At least 20 soldiers came on board and each had a number on the shoulder of his uniform. In charge was number 20, while a lower rank had the number one on his shoulder. They were all wearing ski masks and had on body armour and were fully armed and very aggressive. On seeing the female journalist on board, theyTasered her. I saw the electrical discharge shoot up her arm and she collapsed, vomiting, on the deck.
At least three of the soldiers had Australian accents.
Two of the women on board, Huweida Arraf, a Palestinian with joint US nationality, and a Dutch woman, Anna, who tried to block the stairs to the deck, were thrown to the ground, their hands cuffed with plastic ties that cut into their wrists and their faces pushed on to the deck that was full of broken glass.
They were also blindfolded and hooded. We shouted at them: “Are you proud of this, is this what your army teaches you, beating up women?”
At one point when I was shouting and wouldn’t sit down and trying to get to the girls they were beating, one soldier cocked his automatic pistol and put the gun to my head and said he would shoot me if Ididn’t do as I was told."

This and other such testimonies, such as that of prize-winning Swedish author Henning Mankell, are helping to highlight Israel's naked actions and the need for a comprehensive international response.

Of course, there's always those more selfishly engaged. In a statement of crass insensitivity to suffering Palestinians, and Britain's complicit role in Israel's occupation, Matthew Parris declared on Question Time that "we [the UK] have no great interest in Israel or Palestine", adding that he's personally "bored with the Middle East". Where to start on that one...

But, public responses to the flotilla attacks, including the subsequent seizure of the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie vessel, strongly suggest that an increasing number of people do care.

There's been widespread disbelief over Israel being allowed to act with such impunity, coupled with anger over the killings, abductions and denial of aid - a concern and empathy expressed by the many visitors to our Glasgow Palestine Human Rights stall.

At their core, most people, I believe, don't subscribe to bullying, occupation and persecution. It's part of an evolutionary process, a mutual social contract, where, beyond the gaze of materialism and encouragement to selfish desire, we seek to live in a spirit of relative regard for others - even where that humanitarian intuition is subject to militarist propaganda from politicians and the media.

Bereft of reasoned argument, the Zionist 'answer' has been a rearguard defence of Israel's actions: the killings and taking of the flotilla, they cry, was a 'necessary response ' to the 'Hamas threat'.

It's an increasingly hollow and rejected claim.

Most Zionists won't, of course, entertain any serious analysis of Hamas and the nuanced reality of its developing political positions. This is not just confined to the standard dismissal of Hamas's democratic mandate. It's part of the deeper denial which uses Hamas as a psychological screen to Israel's original crimes.

Which all helps to shun the essential root of the conflict: Israel's ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and over six decades of illegal occupation. Such is the cocooned nature of Israeli society from the harsh degradations of Palestinian life.

The eminent Israeli academic Ilan Pappe recognises, all too well, the disturbing nature of that entrenched psyche, which he regards as rooted in falsely imbued notions of persecution, land rights and social militarism.

Pappe's own journey through and beyond this mindset offers a valuable illustration of the national neurosis he sees and the need to neutralise it if there's ever to be a true and just peace:

"My quest for an authentic history of events in the Middle East required a personal de-militarisation of the mind. Even now, in 2010, Israel is in many ways a settler Prussian state: a combination of colonialist policies with a high level of militarisation in all aspects of life. This is the third feature of the Jewish state that has to be understood if one wants to comprehend the Israeli response. It is manifested in the dominance of the army over political, cultural and economic life within Israel. Defence ministerEhud Barak was the commanding officer of Benjamin Netanyahu , the prime minister, in a military unit similar to the one that assaulted the flotilla. That background was profoundly significant in terms of the state’s Zionist response to what they and all the commando officers perceived as the most formidable and dangerous enemy.

You probably have to be born in Israel, as I was, and go through the whole process of socialisation and education – including serving in the army – to grasp the power of this militarist mentality and its dire consequences. And you need such a background to understand why the whole premise on which the international community’s approach to the Middle East is based, is utterly and disastrously wrong.

The international response is based on the assumption that more forthcoming Palestinian concessions and a continued dialogue with the Israeli political elite will produce a new reality on the ground. The official discourse in the West is that a very reasonable and attainable solution – the two states solution – is just around the corner if all sides would make one final effort. Such optimism is hopelessly misguided."

As Pappe suggests, Israel, playing its Western allies along, has a vested interest in maintaining this fictitious narrative, allowing it to pursue its true course: further Zionist expansion.

It's also a narrative that keeps us focused on the symptoms rather than the cause of all this conflict.

One of the symptoms, inevitably, includes Palestinian resistance. Rockets, makeshift and sporadic, have, of course, caused human losses and damage, though, a tiny fraction when compared to the deaths and carnage visited on Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas have also, as any serious observer knows, been the main instigator of ceasefires and have, at many points, attempted to rein-in rocket fire from other groups.

In any case, is such resistance so hard to comprehend? Whether from Hamas or other Palestinian factions, what should one reasonably expect from a people subjected to decades of unrestrained occupation and violence? Gratitude? Subservience? Penitence?

The demand from within Israel seems to be this: nothing less than utter submission.

And this view is openly reflected in Israeli public opinion. The explicit approval inside Israel for the Mavi Marmara executions and brutal treatment of those abducted from the flotilla tells us much about the violence-conditioned state of Israeli society.

Another disturbing symptom has been the Facebook campaign calling for the execution of Haneen Zuabi, an Arab Knesset member and passenger on the Mavi Marmara. The Knesset has also voted to punish her for going on the flotilla, by removing her privileges. So much for Israeli democracy.

Such calls to vigilante violence and parliamentary malice are symptomatic of a society blind to the root causes of its own oppressions. Trying to break through this mindset is, as Pappe believes, the most intractable problem facing those interested in a genuine state of peace for all.

Encouragingly, there's still some healthy rejection of Israel''s terror agenda inside the country. Thus, we see the principled
Shministim and other military refuseniks who, alongside UK groups like Jews for a Just Peace, say that Israel's killing state does not speak in their name.

The Free Gaza Movement and many other humanitarian groups around the world, including a group of German Jews, are now preparing the next big aid flotilla to Gaza. The momentum is growing to break the blockade, serving, in the process, to expose Israel's wider apartheid practices.

We can also expect this rise in global consciousness to include more critical pressure on Israel's complicit allies. How much more violence and intimidation, many will now ask, can Israel be allowed to get away with?

As with the shift towards a serious sanctions-based response to apartheid South Africa, this collective call will not only be concerned to end the violent siege of Gaza, but to address the core cause of that violence: Zionism and Israel's land-grab occupation.


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Israel's deceptions exposed: pressure growing on the hasbara machine

Israel's deceptive spin over the killing of nine activists aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara is being increasingly exposed.

The admirable Glenn Greenwald has spent the last few days cutting through US media bias and Israel's massive hasbara exercise:

"It was clear from the moment news of the flotilla attack emerged that Israel was taking extreme steps to suppress all evidence about what happened other than its own official version. They detained all passengers on the ship and barred the media from speaking with them, thus, as The NYT put it, "refusing to permit journalists access to witnesses who might contradict Israel's version of events." They detained the journalists who were on the ship for days and seized their film, video and cameras. And worst of all, the IDF -- while still refusing to disclose the full, unedited, raw footage of the incident -- quickly released an extremely edited video of their commandos landing on the ship, which failed even to address, let alone refute, the claim of the passengers: that the Israelis were shooting at the ship before the commandos were on board."

However, notes Greenwald, with numerous passenger accounts coming to light, Tel Aviv's selected and edited version of events is now looking untenable:

"But now that the passengers and journalists have been released from Israeli detention and are speaking out, a much different story is emerging. As I noted yesterday, numerous witnesses and journalists are describing Israeli acts of aggression, including the shooting of live ammunition, before the commandos landed. The New York Times blogger Robert Mackey today commendably compiles that evidence -- I recommend it highly -- and he writes: "now that the accounts of activists and journalists who were detained by Israel after the raid are starting to be heard, it is clear that their stories and that of the Israeli military do not match in many ways." As Juan Cole says: "Many passengers have now confirmed that they were fired on even before the commandos had boots on the deck. Presumably it is this suppressive fire that killed or wounded some passengers and which provoked an angry reaction and an attack on the commandos." "

Evidence obtained by the Guardian further undermines Israel's fabrications of 'self-defence':

"Israel was tonight under pressure to allow an independent inquiry into its assault on the Gaza aid flotilla after autopsy results on the bodies of those killed, obtained by the Guardian, revealed they were peppered with 9mm bullets, many fired at close range.
Nine Turkish men on board the Mavi Marmara were shot a total of 30 times and five were killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to the vice-chairman of the Turkish council of forensic medicine, which carried out the autopsies for the Turkish ministry of justice today.
The results revealed that a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, said Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.
The findings emerged as more survivors gave their accounts of the raids. Ismail Patel, the chairman of Leicester-based pro-Palestinian group Friends of al-Aqsa, who returned to Britain today, told how he witnessed some of the fatal shootings and claimed that Israel had operated a "shoot to kill policy".
He calculated that during the bloodiest part of the assault, Israeli commandos shot one person every minute. One man was fatally shot in the back of the head just two feet in front him and another was shot once between the eyes. He added that as well as the fatally wounded, 48 others were suffering from gunshot wounds and six activists remained missing, suggesting the death toll may increase.
The new information about the manner and intensity of the killings undermines Israel's insistence that its soldiers opened fire only in self defence and in response to attacks by the activists."

Perhaps most damningly for Israel, Al-Jazeera reporter Jamal ElShayyal who was covering the story from the ship during the attack has stated categorically that there was firing from the air and sea before the commandos boarded. He recounts that tear gas rounds, rubber-coated bullets and then live bullets were fired from the helicopter above "almost indiscriminately". Contradicting Israeli claims, he states that "live ammunition was fired before any Israeli soldier was on deck."

The soldiers, he reported, also refused medical assistance for a least three dying passengers. He further states that some of the passengers used railing bars extracted from the ship to defend themselves, but only after the initial shooting. And he records how he himself was humiliated and treated with contempt by the arresting soldiers.

While important to establish the veracity of what took place on the Mavi Marmara and other flotilla boats, it's also important to stay with the basic fundamentals of why this atrocity took place: namely, Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine and, in humanitarian response, the flotilla's core mission to break the siege.

Even in the course of arguing over the circumstances of the killings, it's easy to be drawn solely into the diversionary 'language of dispute' favoured by Israel and a placatory media.

The point is neatly articulated in this attention-restoring Herald piece:

"Let’s just park the war of words and trading of accusations over the flotilla for a moment. Instead, let’s remember what the real problem is here, what this is actually all about: the military occupation of Palestinian land and the denial of their basic human rights. Maybe the real reason Israel finds it so easy to disregard international opinion is because that’s all it is – opinion. Where is the political will and determination, the direct action needed to find a just solution to the Palestinians’ plight. I’m talking of the kind with sufficient political teeth to give even the most resolute of Israeli leaders a sleepless night. Asked by his BBC anchorman in London the other night about Israel’s attitude to international criticism over its raid on the Gaza flotilla, and you could almost hear the trepidation in correspondent Jeremy Bowen’s voice when he replied: “Israel does not respond well to pressure.” Frankly, who cares if it responds well or not, just because it doesn’t like pressure or disregards persuasion does not mean the world should shirk from its responsibility in trying to ensure Israel behaves in a way worthy of a nation calling itself a democracy."

In short, let's not play to Israel's agenda. The principal aim of the flotilla was, and still is, to end the blockade and highlight Israel's brutality in the process, not to negotiate on whether, or how, that action should take place.

Having again demonstrated its capacity for ruthless, unrestrained violence, a growing mood of disgust and non-appeasement is prompting new pressures on Israel's paymaster and allies. Despite Washington's shameful avoidance of an outright condemnation over the killings, Obama/Clinton are now being forced to question and condemn the blockade. Whatever Washington's continuing support for Israel and non-actions of other governments like Britain, the siege of Gaza now carries no international legitimacy.

Calling on reliable contacts, Craig Murray has also revealed some of the seriously growing disenchantment inside NATO over the blockade and Israel's wider actions.

With gathering political disquiet among the diplomatic elite and massing public opinion supporting an end to the siege, Israel's flat-out hasbara machine is now being tested to its fanatical limits.


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Israel's psychopathic state

Nothing, it seems, is beyond the limits of wilful Israeli murder and aggression.

Having tracked the looming possibility that Israel would attack the Gaza aid Flotilla, it still comes as a shock to hear of the actual callous, pre-determined violence that has been unleashed.

May I extend my deepest sympathies to the victims' families and solidarity with the convoy activists.

What kind of extraordinary, arrogant power is Israel being permitted to wield?

Precisely similar to Cast Lead, and the pre-planned murder of over 1400 Palestinians, this cabinet-approved operation was intended to send out the strongest of messages to anyone standing in Israel's way: we can, and will, kill you.

It's not just a question any more of Israel acting with impunity. This is naked, raw violence, politically-conceived, militarily-executed and calculatingly-intended to terrorise Israel's opponents into dutiful submission. It's saying: 'don't even think about sending any more of your convoys.'

But there's something else, something even more disturbing, lurking beneath this deterrent message: Israel's dark, indulgent pride in its free-roaming ability to enact human execution. In short, the psychopathic nature of its actions.

There's a deep and significant paradox here. The Israeli hasbara (propaganda) network is in full swing trying to smooth-talk the diplomatic world and present a respectable public front for its conduct. Thus, we hear of Israel being 'reluctantly forced' to intercept these ships and of 'daring commandos overcoming club-wielding resistance' from those on board. This is all deceitful lies and spin, part of the necessary PR exercise enabling Israel to cope and participate as a member of the 'international community.'

Yet behind that veneer, the Israeli state craves another much more indulgently threatening image: that of the able assassin, the little-guy country, flexing its big gun and feeling the power-rush confidence, the exhilaration, of being able to take murderous liberties - and get away with them.

This is why there is no peace process. With no legal or moral argument to present over its occupation and oppression, no leeway from Zionism's expansionist project, Israel has simply nothing left to offer but more violence.

Among even its own guilty coterie of warmongering allies, this is a state 'on the run', a rogue amongst rogues, now prepared to enact any kind of execution and revel in its notoriety.

What do we know about Israel's latest 'hit' and the remaining detainees? With Mark Regev and his cohorts controlling the media access, very little, so far.

All we do know, for sure, is that Israeli forces have committed a criminal act by boarding a legally-constituted, flag-flying, vessel in international waters. We know that in excess of 10 people have been murdered. We can speculate that many more have been injured and that the passengers have been kidnapped and are being held in illegal detention.

As Jonathan Cook has noted, the hasbara machine has been in overdrive, with Israel being allowed to impose a news blackout on Regev's terms, while a "stenographer" mainstream media act, effectvely, at Israel's behest, dutifully repeating its version of events.

Which prompted this letter to BBC Online News:

Dear Steve Herrmann

I'd like to complain in the strongest terms over the BBC's gross distortions in reporting Israel's attack on the Turkish aid vessel bound for Gaza.

The BBC reporter talks of "armed Israeli officers wearing masks trying to control the up to 600 people on board."

Why is it assumed that the intentions of these soldiers was one of "control"?

We can be reasonably sure that they had more immediately murderous intentions in mind. But even allowing for claim and counter-claim, what reasonable excuse did this reporter have for selectively stating that the soldiers were engaged in a control-type exercise rather than a directly offensive one?

The selective interpretation goes on:

"Clearly when you've got as many as 600 people on board these ships, at night, in the high seas, it is a very, very difficult situation…and you can imagine a rather chaotic situation. Of course the Israeli military is very well experienced at dealing with crowd control."

Is this a reasonable and accurate way to describe the illegal boarding of an aid ship in international waters and the actions of a military force which has just carried out a massacre of civilians?

Why has this report been pitched in a way that rationalises the IDF's killing?

What kind of context does this kind of reportage convey to viewers unfamiliar with the flotilla story?

Why was there no prior reporting of the flotilla, and Israel's threats to it, before Saturday on BBC News Online?

I look forward to your considered response.


John Hilley

No response has been offered.

Ignored by the BBC and other media outlets, we also have some valuable raw footage of the attack from Al-Jazeera and Press TV reporters witnessing the killing and mayhem on-board.

In the film, one of the reporters keeps repeating that this is an unprovoked attack taking place in international waters.

As Cook reminds us, not only does Israel have no jurisdiction to intercept a ship on the international seas, it has no right to control the nautical area off Gaza:

Israel has no right to control Gaza’s sea as its own territorial waters and to stop aid convoys arriving that way. In doing so, it proves that it is still in belligerent occupation of the enclave and its 1.5 million inhabitants. And if it is occupying Gaza, then under international law Israel is responsible for the welfare of the Strip’s inhabitants. Given that the blockade has put Palestinians there on a starvation diet for the past four years, Israel should long ago have been in the dock for committing a crime against humanity.

The related issue here is Israel's attack on another state's vessel. Craig Murray, former UK ambassador, turned dissident, was once in charge of maritime affairs during his time at the Foreign Office. Here's what he has to say "on the legal position, which is very plain":

To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody's territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

Though Turkey have accepted a watered-down US resolution condemning the action, Ankara, in tune with the Turkish populace, is still seething over this attack. And, as a NATO member upholding key US geopolitical and military interests in the region, it carries not a little leverage in such matters.

While thousands of people have been on the streets of Turkey demanding action, thousands more have demonstrated in cities across the world. The political elite may be able to issue their token 'regrets' and 'condemnations', but the real demand for serious, punitive action against Israel will, sooner or later, have to be met.

Beyond the token condemnations of Ban Ki-moon, the UN, in the wake of the Goldstone report, will be pushed to exert greater pressure on Israel to end the blockade. Many government ministers are now being forced to heed and support this call - including, in the UK, Clegg and Hague. Such are the glaringly unconscionable actions of Israel and gathering global opposition to them.

Expect, also, another decisive effort from intenational legal groups to indict Israel for this latest war crime.

Meanwhile, a cocky Israel continues to ignore the protests of the world. In the West Bank, Emily Henochowicz, a protesting US citizen has been shot in the face by an Israel soldier and has lost her eye.

It's not even the wicked 'eye-for-an-eye' shibboleth that prompts Israeli brutality any more, but a resolute, gratuitous freedom to crush all dissent, whatever the costs.

As Norman Finkelstein has accurately put it following the flotilla massacre: "Israel is a lunatic state."

Which, again, alerts us to the dark anticipation that it has nothing left but more violence.