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The first casualty


vast American aid was news, yet it never made the  news, although no one at

ABC News at the time criticised the piece  or questioned its accuracy.

At

the time, however, I was able to write about it – in the  Spectator . When

I moved to Lebanon in 1983, the Spectator ‘s  editor, Alexander Chancellor,

asked me to write occasional pieces  for the magazine. It was the best

thing that could have happened to  me. Without the Spectator as an outlet

for stories that were either  too complex to be compressed into a

two-minute television spot or  too sensitive for broadcast in America, my

time in Lebanon would  have been much more frustrating. For that alone, I

am indebted to  the Spectator ‘s three great editors during that period, 

Chancellor, Charles Moore and Dominic Lawson.

In

1986, Hizbollah guerrillas captured some Israeli soldiers. The  Israelis

cordoned off whole areas of south Lebanon and threatened  to shoot Juan

Carlos Gumucio of the Associated Press and me as we  entered the village of

Tibnin. At a local hospital nearby, young  men told us how the Israelis had

taken them into Tibnin’s school  and tortured them. They described in

detail, on camera, how IDF  soldiers had beaten them with legs broken off

chairs and tables.  The marks from the jagged edges of the legs were

visible on their  heads and abdomens. They alleged that the Israelis had

used  electricity as well, placing wires on their bodies, including their 

genitals, from the overhead electric lights in the classroom. A few  hours

later, the Israelis left Tibnin and we found the classroom.  It was exactly

as the young men had described it – broken table  legs drenched in blood,

wires attached to the overhead light  dangling down to the floor, blood

everywhere. We filmed the scene.

ABC

News did not broadcast that story either, but the Spectator  published it.

(Most of these stories are republished in my  collected essays, Money for

Old Rope, Picador.) As recently as 3  March this year, the Spectator

published what I have written about  Israel. (In the diary, I quoted an

Israeli professor who had  misunderstood a question about executions in the

occupied  territories, showing that he approved killing by Israelis but not 

by the Palestinian Authority. I also wrote that Prime Minister  Ariel

Sharon, who meets President George Bush on Tuesday, should be  aware that,

if there are any survivors of the massacres at Qibya in  1953 or Sabra and

Shatila in 1982 in the US, he could be prosecuted  under the Alien Torts

Act.)

No

one edited out my words, and, so far as I know, no readers  complained. Yet

that was the issue on which the Spectator ‘s  proprietor, Conrad Black,

vented his spleen against his ‘High Life’  columnist, Taki Theodoracopulos,

for criticising the recently  pardoned American fugitive Marc Rich, Bill

Clinton and Israel’s  role in Rich’s pardon. Black’s contention that Taki’s

reflections  were ‘almost worthy of Goebbels or the authors of the

Protocols of  the Elders of Zion’ would lead one to suspect he has read

neither.  (On Friday, Black’s Israeli paper, the English language Jerusalem 

Post, disclosed that Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s records showed he  had

telephoned President Clinton three times on Rich’s behalf, not  once, as he

had claimed.)

A

former Spectator proprietor and editor, Ian Gilmour, wrote to the 

Spectator (10 March) to defend the BBC, Independent, Guardian and  Evening

Standard against Conrad Black’s accusation that they were  ‘rabidly

anti-Israel’. Black responded in the subsequent issue by  calling him

‘little better than a common-or-garden Jew-baiter  masquerading as a

champion of the Palestinian "underdog"’. ‘Almost  worthy’ and

‘little better’ are cop-outs: is Black calling Taki  another Goebbels and

Lord Gilmour a ‘Jew-baiter’? If so, it is  contemptible and sends a message

to his writers that they should  pull their punches when they describe

Israeli armed action against  Palestinians or, even, coverage of the latest

US State Department  report on human rights’ allegations about Israeli

torture, land  seizure, collective punishment and economic strangulation. 

William Dalrymple wrote to the Spectator last week complaining that 

Black’s self-exposure as one intolerant of critical reporting of  Israeli

behaviour and policy meant that Telegraph and Spectator  readers who want

‘balanced reporting from the Middle East must now,  sadly, turn elsewhere’.

Piers Paul Read and A.N. Wilson signed the  letter, as I did in an early

draft. (I’ve been travelling in France  and Switzerland, much of the time

out of communication. The letter  had to be submitted early, because Conrad

Black wanted to read it  and respond.)

I

told the editor, Boris Johnson, that I did not approve a few  minor points

in the letter. He said he would either take them out  ‘if he could’ or take

my name off. In the event, Black insisted a  mistake be left in, so Johnson

removed my name. However, while  disagreeing that the Black-owned Middle

East Report is anywhere  near as good as the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz , I

support the letter’s  contention that a newspaper proprietor has to make

his editors and  correspondents understand they will enjoy his support when

they  write the truth about any event.  I, for one, would miss having

the Spectator as my publication of  last resort.

Also

appeared: The Observer (U.K.) March 18, 2001

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