Why Palestinians lack voice in British media

By Stuart Littlewood

“Stop being more Palestinian than us,” said the ambassadorial email, obviously annoyed.

Oh dear, could it be that we non-Palestinians, who love Palestine, are a threat to the Official Voice of Palestine? How very embarrassing.

Palestinians under the Israeli cosh in the West Bank and Gaza no doubt think their London embassy speaks for them in a way that makes the British people sit up and listen.

But what the Palestinian General Delegation in the UK actually does is a mystery. Their near-empty website tells us nothing.

The people it represents are suffering horribly, yet the diplomatic mission is as quiet as a mouse. It isn’t even a blip on the Israelis’ radar – or anyone else’s. So how can it persuade the world to deliver justice?

Yet there are more public relations opportunities than the Palestinian Authority can shake a stick at. Campaigners have been urging the UK government for years to suspend the EU-Israel trade agreements. So when unelected Prime Minister Salam Fayyad startled everybody by writing to EU prime ministers a few days ago and asking them not to upgrade ties with Israel while illegal settlement building continued, one might have expected the Official Voice of Palestine in London to amplify the message and ram it home in the British media.

When Israel’s ambassador Ron Prosor, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, claimed Britain to be a hotbed of anti-Israel feeling and activism, did the Official Voice of Palestine in London point out that, on the contrary, the British government is deeply infiltrated by supporters of Israel and is an avid admirer of the racist regime? Or that our political parties have placed themselves under the influence of this foreign military power with 80 per cent of Conservatives, for instance, signed up with the Israel lobby and hostile to Palestine’s right to justice?

And was there any attempt to expose Israel’s campaign of terror against our fellow Christians in the Holy Land?

After visiting the Gaza Strip, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that “our silence and complicity, especially on the situation in Gaza, shames us all”. When Israeli spokesman Mark Regev surpassed even his own boundless capacity for absurdity and accused Tutu on BBC radio of allowing himself to be ”manipulated by Hamas”, was the Official Voice of Palestine on hand to reinforce the archbishop’s remarks?

Throughout Israel’s murderous blockade and blitz of Gaza how often did the Official Voice hit out on mainstream media against the breathtaking evil of it all? What impression was the British public left with? Not the devastation caused by the collective punishment inflicted by Israel on 1.4 million innocent civilians. Not the regime’s flagrant disregard for international law and all civilized codes of conduct. Not the vast number of munitions fired by Israeli F-16 warplanes, helicopter gunships, armed drones, tanks and naval gunboats into the densely packed humanity of the Gaza Strip. And not even the horrendous figures of death and mutilation released by the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

All the public remembers is the endless parroting of the mantra about rockets “raining down” on Sderot and Israel’s right to defend itself.

Palestinian diplomacy is now at such a low ebb that a group of exasperated campaigners wrote to the Official Voice of Palestine in London and told it to be more proactive or go home. The Voice was not amused and replied that it didn’t need reminding of its duties by a cheeky group like ours. Furthermore, it had “no resources to fight the Zionist propaganda machine”, despite employing a staff of at least six, including a press officer. The General Delegation was at the mercy of a biased media – such a familiar and well-worn refrain!

When I asked a senior newsman, who knows the Arab world well, how the media saw the Official Voices of Palestine scattered around the Western world, he told me:

They are the personal emissaries of their top man, Mahmoud Abbas. They are expressly forbidden to utter a word in public without the explicit approval of their boss back home. They are not at liberty to interpret or in any way deviate from the written policy of their quisling administration.Their press officers too are explicitly forbidden to speak to the foreign media unless to read out a prepared statement. That’s why they are usually “unavailable” when reporters from the BBC and other media invite them to talk.

The Palestinian Authority would no doubt deny it. But the truth is that the Israelis use every opportunity to shape public perceptions and be seen in the best light, no matter how deceitfully. They go the extra mile to give reporters access to the right people and to make their job easier. They are good communicators and in tune with the way the media gathers news. In short, they are professional. The Palestinians are not and don’t wish to be. Attempts to persuade them to become media-aware, acquire the necessary skills and “get professional” have tragically failed.

For 40 years – no, 60 – Palestinian leaders haven’t bothered to tell the world in a credible and engaging way what’s going on. Instead, they have allowed Israel’s warped definition of the situation to prevail and this has been adopted by Western media and governments. They have frittered away their chances and time has run out. “Palestine now hangs by a thread,” a colleague keeps reminding me. You’d think it would concentrate top minds. Quite the opposite. The Palestinian people, especially Gazans, are let down time and again by an ‘”official” leadership that is busy pursuing a very peculiar agenda.

Everyone knows of the despicable attempts to destroy – by any means possible – the democratic choice of the people and the true Voice of Palestine.

Most news editors and programme producers, I’ll bet, have found Palestinian diplomats a nightmare to deal with and not worth the effort. “The Israelis are on the ball, so let’s ring them!” No surprise, then, that the flatfooted dysfunctionals in Ramallah and their ambassadorial minions lose every media battle and have very nearly lost the war. Could “throwing” the match and normalizing the occupation and land thefts be part of a masterplan?

Mercifully, a genuine voice of Palestine arrived in the UK last week in the shape of that brilliant young Gazan journalist Mohammed Omer. He was here to receive the coveted Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism in war. Mohammed tells us the way it is – truthfully, accurately and with all the authority of someone who is there on the ground amid the bloody Israeli onslaught – and supports what he says with searing images. How refreshingly different. In three short days I’d say he did more for the Palestinian cause in Britain than the Official Voice has done in three long years.

(Editor’s note: Redress Information & Analysis invited the head of the Palestinian General Delegation (PGD) in London, Professor Manuel Hassassian, to comment on the questions raised in this articles, specifically on what the PGD did to amplify Salam Fayyad’s message to EU leaders, rebuff Ron Prosor’s Daily Telegraph article and highlight the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.

Professor Hassassian chose not to answer our questions. In an email to the editor of this website, he said: “Threats of deadline [sic] and going public to criticize the performance of the Palestinian General Delegation is not your right and if you have concerns you could pick-up the phone and call or meet me at the Embassy to answer all your queries and concerns.” He added: “I am not accountable to you and I am in no way obliged to tell you or others what I do for Palestine.”)

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