Jewish settlements on the West Bank have featured prominently in the news in recent months. There is no consensus on the issue in Israel or the Diaspora and it would be naive to expect any positive coverage from a hostile media.
We should, however, expect the media to cover the story without prejudice and to accurately reflect the realities on the ground without becoming advocates for the Palestinian position. On this, Australian Channel Nine's 60 Minutes fails.
Broadcast on Friday September 18, reporter Liam Bartlett starts with the wholly erroneous statement that "hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers are moving into the West Bank, building new towns on Palestinian land."
Putting aside the thorny issue of what actually constitutes "Palestinian land," hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers are certainly not moving into the West Bank. Instead, the settler population continues to grow within existing communities mainly due to natural growth. While this has allowed building and development within existing boundaries, the Israeli government has not authorized the creation of any new towns for many years.
Referring to "a day in the life of the West Bank," Bartlett focuses on a video of a settler shooting a Palestinian in Hebron, replaying it throughout the report, replete with dramatic background music for added effect. Bartlett interviews a Palestinian virtually helping him to "reconstruct" the incident without question.
This shooting is certainly not indicative of "a day in the life of the West Bank" and caused something of an uproar in Israel in December 2008 - some nine months before Bartlett's report. As is the case in a democracy where the rule of law is taken seriously, this incident was thoroughly investigated by the police and the suspect involved was charged with and prosecuted for assault.
While Bartlett takes the video and his Palestinian interviewee at face value, ensuring that it fits his agenda, the other side of a more complicated story did not appear in the report. Nor did the judge's statement that the Palestinians were partly at fault for what had transpired. "In their behavior the Palestinians contributed greatly to the incident's grave consequences."
Bartlett is clearly attempting to use the above incident and an interview with Nadia Matar to portray all Israeli settlers as extremists, contributing to the demonization of an entire sector of Israeli society.
Matar is a prominent leader of the right-wing Women in Green group and whether one agrees with her politics or not, she is certainly not representative of the mainstream settler leadership - something that Bartlett does not share with his audience. Indeed, Bartlett takes an aggressive line of questioning with Matar in stark contrast to his interview with the Palestinian resident of Hebron.
Likewise, Bartlett interviews Palestinian official Mustafa Barghouti, adding his own commentary, claiming that Israeli setters "look down on Palestinian towns through barbed wire and boom gates. To protect the settlers, Israel controls the movement of Palestinians. To travel from one town to another, there can be humiliating delays at checkpoints."
Nowhere in his report does Bartlett expand on the Palestinian terrorism that has necessitated Israeli security measures, while one is left wondering what "humiliating delays at checkpoints" could actually entail, short of sitting in a traffic jam.
Bartlett allows Barghouti to employ inciteful language against Jewish settlers including analogies to "cancer" and "rape."
Bartlett reports from what, according to him, is a "peaceful demonstration" outside of a settlement. The location, in reality, appears to be that of the Israeli security fence during regular Friday protests by Palestinians, probably from the village of Bil'in. These "peaceful" demonstrations usually descend into something more violent as Palestinians and international volunteers throw stones and riot against Israeli security forces who are forced to respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.
In conclusion, this 60 Minutes report is an example of the worst kind of demonization of Israeli settlers driven by Liam Bartlett's unhidden and overtly biased agenda.
Please send your considered comments to Channel Nine's 60 Minutes - firstname.lastname@example.org