Robert Fisk: Plots, sense and nonsense: the view from the post bag

A letter tells me that I am encouraging fundamentalist attacks on the West

Saturday 24 January 2009 01:00 GMT

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Mail that you don't see in the Letters to the Editor column. First, here's reader Jack Hyde tipping me off about a possible (real) reason behind Israel's bloodletting in Gaza. He encloses a paper by University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky who says that "the military intervention of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves". It's not exactly The Plot. But it's something that Obama and his lads and lasses may need to study in the next few days.

For according to Chossudovsky, British Gas and its partner, the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company – owned, apparently, by two Lebanese families – were granted 25-year oil and exploration rights off the Gaza coast by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in 1999. About 60 per cent of reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to "Palestine" (wherever that is these days).

But since the Hamas election victory in 2006 and its coup in Gaza in 2007, the Hamas government has been by-passed, even though poor old "President" Mahmoud Abbas, marooned in the West Bank, can only glimpse the Mediterranean from a hill near Jenin. Many negotiations later – and after Israeli "defence" officials claimed that the Palestinians could be paid only in goods and chattels for their gas rather than cash which might go to the dreaded Hamas – there was a proposed agreement under which Palestinian gas from Gaza wells would be channelled via undersea pipelines to the Israeli port of Ashkelon, thus transferring the control of gas sales to Israel. British Gas withdrew from these talks in December 2007.

But in June of 2008 – when, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel began its invasion plans for Gaza – Israel suddenly asked British Gas to resume talks. And, so says Chossudovsky, negotiations began again for the purchase of natural gas from the Gaza offshore fields. Israeli tanks have now driven out of the Gaza Strip, but Israeli naval vessels still control the coast and there's an obvious question: if the Israelis can continue to violate international law by seizing Palestinian land in the West Bank, why cannot they seize the sovereignty of Palestinian gas fields off Gaza? If Israel can annex Jerusalem, why not annex Gaza's maritime areas?

Less wholesome material is now turning up in my mail bag. Lebanese friends have shown me copies of a new Palestinian blog in which photographs of Palestinian women waiting at Israel's abominable checkpoints and Israeli soldiers firing at Palestinians are "matched" with archive pictures of the Jewish Holocaust. But the women and children waiting in the older photos are queuing at the infamous Auschwitz death ramp and the black-and-white image of a Nazi soldier firing his rifle has been artfully cropped to delete two figures on the right of the original picture: a cowering Jewish woman holding her child, who are being shot in the back. Yes, I believe the Israelis have committed war crimes in Gaza. And in Lebanon. But this Palestinian comparison is utterly self-defeating because it is based on a lie.

What am I to make, for instance, of another pamphlet that has flopped out of my mail package from the "refugees of Ein Karem, Jerusalem"? These Palestinians, originally expelled from 1948 Palestine in Israel's initial act of ethnic cleansing, state that "in view of the current events in Gaza and Palestine", Israel should be "dismantled" because "the savage acts by its forces (are) far beyond war crimes committed in World War Two". Ye Gods! Sixty million humans were slaughtered in the Second World War and the number of murdered Jews equals the entire present-day Palestinian population, including refugees.

But do not think that this is the only nonsense floating around. A letter with no printed author's name and no address arrives to tell me that I am encouraging "extreme fundamentalists to carry out attacks on Western Countries" by exercising "the old chestnut" of "proportionality". Disregarding the fact that Muslims are enraged by Israel's savagery in Gaza – not by our reporting of it – the reader asks me: "Were not far more German civilians killed in the last war than British civilians? Should all the British Generals be held up as war criminals? Don't talk nonsense!"

Of course, it's the same old canard. Now, it appears, it's OK to kill 100 Palestinians in Gaza for every Israeli in the area because "we" killed more German civilians than the Germans killed Brits in the Second World War. Note, here, how Germans subtly become the slaughtered Palestinians, the Israelis (and their ruthless generals) transmogrified into, I suppose, Air Marshal Harris.

There's an even more amazing letter that arrived on my Beirut desk this week – it came from an address in Wimbledon – which deserves to be quoted in full:

"Dear Mr Fisk, I recently saw an interview that you gave on French News TV. I was amazed at the size of your massive long nose that (sic) you have. Is it true that the Hamas Neo-Nazi thugs want to use it next time they need to hide from the Israelis? Yours faithfully..."

Again, the Palestinians become Nazi Germans. Do I reply to this racist dirt? Yes, I rather think I do, with the usual threat of legal action. But I absolutely promise – a repeated pledge by your reporter – I will not mention the Second World War!

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