Bung Eye is an occasional series focusing on
by the news media and other influencers.
Tuvia Tenenbom, a USA-based writer who was brought up in an ultra-Orthodox (religious study only) family in Israel but rebelled, has written a number of books exploring hidden antisemitism in different countries (including, most recently, the UK.)
He is either the biggest liar and best fiction writer I have ever read, or he is telling the truth, in 'Catch the Jew!' (2015), his exploration of issues in Israel and the 'occupied territories.' If it's the truth the charivari of characters he meets is almost surreal; read and see for yourself.
He is able to go where few other Jews can, because he happens to be a chubby Western-looking blond and can masquerade as 'Toby the German' when among the Palestinians and Bedouin - they love Germans and some tell him that the latter showed how to deal with Jews.
It seems they are not above pulling stunts, either. In September 2013, a French diplomat called Marion Fesneau-Castaing was in a party delivering aid including tents to Bedouin in Khirbet al-Makhoul in the West Bank. Supposedly this is an example of Israelis brutally demolishing Arab homes, though Tenenbom sees no facilities there and the remains of the building look ramshackle and temporary; when he asks them where they live they indicate the surrounding hills. Fesneau-Castaing alleges that she was forced to the ground from her vehicle and says, 'This is how international law is being respected here.'
This followed an attempt at assistance earlier that week by the Red Cross. A spokesperson for the ICRC, Nadia Dibsy, says she was there at the Frenchwoman's incident and 'saw her being beaten with her own eyes.' When pressed, Dibsy changes her story and says 'I was not there on Friday.'
An Israeli military officer tells Tenenbom that there is 'an "old custom" of European diplomats who join up with leftist actvists of all kinds on a regular basis and that they plan and plot their next moves together.' Tenenbom calls the French Embassy for official comment; they promise to call back within the hour; they never do. (The diplomat, filmed pushing an Israeli soldier in the incident, is later expelled 'without harming Franco-Israeli ties.')
On a later occasion Tenenbom asks a Palestinian official who oversees such matters about the incident. He is told that the soldiers punched Fesneau-Castaing first, she fell down and then punched them back when she got up. Pointing at his computer, the official says 'he can show me all this right now, since he has it all on video.' Unlike other journalists, Tenenbom goes further and asks to see the evidence; the Palestinian replies, 'We are out of time' and that he must leave right now.
Tenenbom finds an Iranian news site on his iPad and checks their edited version of the video:
'In it I see Marion in the driver's seat, cut to Marion on the ground, and then cut to Marion punching a soldier. How Marion got to the ground is not shown, which suggests that she might have gotten there on her own for the purposes of picture taking. In the image provide by the Iranian news site even the soldiers around her seem to be surprised to see her on the ground. Interestingly, in the BBC photo the face of the soldiers were cut from the frame. Great work of journalism.'
Eye witnesses and victims?
The writer goes to the village of Burin, where allegedly the Israeli army comes 'every second day' to burn houses and throw bombs. There is one smoke-blackened room in the house he visits, but when he asks to see other burnt houses the answer is no. Tenenbom asks for evidence rather than stories; the lady of the house says she took pictures of the event on her cellphone. It can all be proven! He asks to see the pictures; she comes back with the phone. Can he see the pictures? Well not exactly, reports the writer: 'The pix are gone. The phone, how sad, has broken.'
Film and documentary makers?
The theme of image-making leads Tenenbom to meet someone from the Israel Film Fund. In the previous ten years, the man tells him, there have been at least 25 movie co-productions between Germany and Israel, 60 per cent of which have to do with politics; none right-leaning.
Tenenbom goes to the New Fund for Cinema and TV to check funding for non-fiction documentaries. In their spokesman's estimation, '80 per cent of Israeli-made documentary films that are political are co-produced with Europeans, and when I say "European" I mean mainly the Germans, who on average fund 40 per cent of the cost per film.'
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)?
We've already seen a shifty assertion by a local ICRC spokesperson in the diplomat-punching episode above. There is also some question of being selective in their targets: the International Committee of the Red Cross - exclusively Swiss board members - has declared Gaza (from which the Israelis withdrew their forces in 2005) still to be an 'occupied territory,' but when Tenenbom asks them whether this is also their position on Cyprus and Tibet, they promise to reply later; in follow-up correspondence, they tell him that their legal reading is communicated confidentially to the conflicting parties but 'the ICRC could later communicate its classification publicly.'
Similar suspicions of bias arise, Tenenbom reports, with The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). One estimate of the number of Arab refugees from Israeli-occupied territory in 1948 is 700,000, but UNRWA appears to have turned to including in the numbers descendants not born there, bringing the total up to five or even eleven million; however, UNWRA say they don't have the figure for 1948.
There are swarms of NGOs involving themselves in the region. An Israeli army officer tells Tuvia that there are 300 organisations in the West Bank, excluding Gaza where there are a further 100. Israeli NGOs - mostly foreign-financed - number merely about a dozen. Money is pouring in from abroad, the main sources being first, the USA and second, Germany [as at the time of Tenenbom's writing this book.] The undercover visits Tenenbom makes to Palestinians and Bedouin do not suppport the narrative of miserable slum living - the houses he sees are generally very nice, inside if not always outside, and there seem to be many communal facilities being built and paid for by foreigners.
Now one may say that you find what you look for, and clearly Tenenbom's mission is to uncover the disinformation and foreign interference within and without Israel. I don't think he tells any untruths, but he's not concerned to go into details about the ways in which Israel defends itself from its neighbours.
Nevertheless one could argue that the outside world is being bamboozled by pro-Arab (if not anti-Jewish) PR, and the sums of money thrown into the area in this way are in effect providing aid and comfort to the anti-Zionists, possibly including terrorist organizations (as, it is said by some, Noraid for the IRA.) Also, has Israel been targeted for this pot-stirring because it is a small country and easier to subvert than Turkey or China?
US foreign policy is highly important in all this. Several previous US Presidents had promised to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and not done so; in 2017, Trump actually did it, and what a fuss that caused at the United Nations! Now, apparently determined to undo everything President Trump did, whether good or bad, the new incumbent (or his administration) is proposing to resume funding Palestinians directly and indirectly to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tenenbom does not show to us a dislike for the Arabs he meets - his disapproval is reserved for the 'self-hating' elements among the Jewish/Israeli left and their supporters. He concludes his book by saying that since Israel is divided internally on political issues, whereas her enemies are of one mind towards her and have powerful Western friends, then the country is unlikely to survive for much longer. Perhaps Trump's actions since this book was written have bought some time; whether that changes the final result remains to be seen.
One wonders what would happen if, magically, all the Israelis were suddenly transported to some other territory thousands of miles away. Would this actually be the answer to Arab prayers? If their foreign aid then dried up completely, and the American military-industrial establishment could refrain from bombing and subversion in the region, would this usher in an era of permanent peace and brotherly love on the Arab Street? Between Iran and Iraq, between Sunni and Shi'a?
Or is Israel not rather a convenient enemy?
Would there be more chance of a stable peace, albeit an uncomfortable one, if outsiders could stop building public perception and influencing international policy on a foundation of lies?