12/12 on France 24

France 24 Englishstar-France24Does France 24 jouer franc jeu†?

Middle East: Israelis divided

… or so France 24 believes. France 24 broadcasts Middle East: Israelis divided over occupation of West Bank and allocates 59 seconds to pro settlement ‘Israelis’; 2 minutes and 15 seconds to anti settlement Israelis and 6 minutes and 15 seconds to an Arab woman from Hebron who wants to wind back to 1948.

Is France 24 fair and professional about its Israel-Palestine coverage? Five Minutes for Israel discovers, not so much.

The breakdown

David Wilder, spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community 19 secs
Levy Herzl, Jewish American tourist 20 secs
Ytzik, Hebron settler 10 secs
Yehuda Shaul, Breaking the Silence co-founder 2 mins
Esti, charity grantwriter 15 secs
Raghad Dweik, Arab spokesperson 6 mins 15 secs

We know that the amount of time given to one side or another isn’t always crucial to balance but it helps. Who gets that time is also a balance issue. The spokesman for the Hebron Jewish Community may or may not have the support of most Israelis but the spokesman for Breaking the Silence surely has even less. Most Israelis that I have met hold Breaking the Silence in contempt whatever they feel about the Hebron project. Their reputation for stepping way outside Israeli norms has much to do with this.
Taking two extremes as examples does not in any way prove a widespread dispute in Israel. Where are the average Israelis who don’t live in Hebron and respect the IDF and those who serve there – their husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and sons and daughters?

Does an American tourist classify as Israeli opinion? He contradicts Shaul but actually says nothing about occupation. Esti, the grantwriter seems the least Israeli. Perhaps it’s the absence of any Israeli accent (South African?). I’m willing to bet she works for one of the NGOs whose main purpose is demonising Israel and that she wasn’t in Hebron that day by coincidence. Ytzik, the truck driver seems to be the most Israeli of the them all. Presumably he was speaking Hebrew because the English words were spoken by the presenter. We have to take it on faith that he was correctly translated.

Raghad Dweik

Raghad Dweik: The usual clichés.

The star was someone who by no definition can be classified as Israeli. While all the other ‘Israelis’ get sound bites, Rachel Dweik, identified as a member of Hebron (Arab) Municipal Council is given twice as much time to spout exactly the same clichés as every Palestinian supporter in every forum‡. This seemed mostly to relate to claimed the injustices in 1948 rather than 2014. Even Homer Simpson knows that the Arabs don’t want the Jews in Hebron. Duh!

Cyril Vanier

Journalist or what?

Does France 24 reporter, Cyril Vanier, know nothing about the subject, is he a closet activist or was he instructed to give her her head? Any of the three seem plausible. By any standards it’s a softball interview.

The one time he does interrupt is actually funny. He asks her what she thinks about Yehuda Shaul and she goes on a rave about the settlers, not realising that he is opposed to everything that Israel or Jews do in the territories.. He is forced to correct her.

Don’t worry Yehuda. You’ll be murdered with exactly the same consideration as any Jewish resident.

Towards the end she realises her remarks about President for as-long-as-he-damn-well-pleases, Mahmud Abbas might somehow be considered as criticism and then goes out of her way to effusively praise him. Abbas, Dweik and even possibly the presenter is aware that Hebron is the most extreme of the PA’s Muslim cities and the most likely to support Hamas if they are every allowed back in. Nevertheless Abbas is not know to take criticism well so it’s best to cover all bases.

Crossing the channel

Television stations of non-English origin that broadcast in English tend to avoid close monitoring on their approach to the issues of Israel and the Middle East. The giant BBC and CNN, for example, are covered by many critical blogs and analysts but smaller but still substantial France 24 seems to fly under the radar. This could be a grave mistake because this channel is no small potatoes (cabbages?).

Since 2008 it has been wholly owned by the French government via its holding company, l’Audiovisuel extérieur de la France (AEF).

Doesn’t that make it the French national broadcaster, at least outside France? All sorts of questions come up about how much the station slants its coverage to suit the policies of its owners.

France 24 has a potentially huge audience, 100 million Euro per year budget and it broadcasts in seven terrestrial channels, twelve satellite channels, thirteen cable networks and eight Internet Protocol television (IPTV) network, plus two streaming media. That’s potential influence that’s too large to ignore.

They broadcast through my cable provider in Israel which brought Middle East: Israelis divided over occupation of West Bank to my attention. Normally I would try to download and embed such a video but I couldn’t figure out how. In this case you will have to make do with a link. I have no idea how long it will remain online so it is best to check it out now.

Middle East covered or uncovered

It’s a common enough error but Hebron is not typical of  Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Using it to illustrate the occupation is quite deceptive. France 24 never makes this clear.

Firstly, Hebron is unique in having a Jewish community (settlers in Hate Israel Lobby speak) living among Arabs. By contrast, most Jews over the Green Line live in areas where there are very few Arabs and 95% or more Arabs live under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority with no Jewish near neighbours.

Hebron Massacre

As Dweik said, there were massacres in Hebron

Secondly, the Hebron Jewish community largely lives in property that was Jewish owned before the entire community was forced out on the eve of the Palestinian Arab revolt (April 23, 1936), two years after the 1929 Hebron massacre when  64 to 67 Jewish men, women and children were killed by rioting Arabs; 60 were wounded and Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked.

As much as the Hebronites might resent it the Jewish presence was agreed on in the Hebron Protocol signed on 17 January 1997 by Israel, represented by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), represented by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, under the supervision of US Secretary of State Warren Christopher. That agreement put 20% of Hebron under Jewish control, if not for eternity at least to another agreement is forged. Thus the implication that 180,000 Hebronites*, the whole population, are as the piece put it, under the watchful eyes of IDF soldiers is a great overstatement.

While France 24 did note the religious significance of Hebron for the Jews it failed to note that the holy site, the Cave of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah) was placed off-limits to Jews by the Muslims.  In 1967 the first Jew to enter the Cave of Machpelah for about 700 years, was the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Major General Rabbi Shlomo Goren.

Would the new Palestinian state (when & if) protect Jewish access to historical/religious sites. Recent history also makes that unlikely. The Palestinian policy of denying Israeli history in any part of Israel doesn’t raise much hope.  Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan, having expelled (isn’t that ethnic cleansing?) all Jews made Jewish access illegal to all parts of the territory the Jordanians occupied and then annexed.

Should Palestinian assurances, if they make any,  give hope? The example of Jericho’s Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue suggests not. Dating to the late 6th or early 7th century AD with the motto Peace to Israel in the centre of its mosaic floor, it was controlled by Israel after the Six Day War. After the handover to Palestinian Authority control, per the Oslo Accords, it should have been protected by them. On the night of 12 October 2000, the synagogue was vandalized by Palestinians who burned holy books and relics and damaged the mosaic while PA security forces did nothing.

Finally, Hebron is unique in that it hosts its own United Nations civilian observer mission, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron or TIPH to “assist in monitoring and reporting the efforts to maintain normal life in the City of Hebron, thus creating a feeling of security among Palestinians in the City of Hebron.” Where were they in this?

Television is not great at detail but by ignoring inconvenient details and allowing one side so much more time to present their case France 24 allowed her viewers to form a completely wrong impression of Hebron and Israeli presence throughout the territories.

Extra credit

† The icon of correct translation, Google Translate assures me this means play fair.
‡ Actually more, as hers is an interview with no graphic/narrator interruptions.
* Vanier adds 20,000 to this figure as being constantly monitored by Israel. My feeling is that both population estimates are too low. Except in periods of extreme tension or apprehending a specific terrorist the IDF confines itself to the Jewish area.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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