Why is Douglas Murray smearing me to distract from this damning UN report on Israel in Gaza?

Owen Jones made the same error as the Telegraph, Mail, Haaretz, Guardian, Sun, Washington Post, Human Rights Watch and Spectator. If Douglas Murray wants that to be addressed, he also knows that Israel could be guilty of committing war crimes. So why the

In the last couple of years I've learned one thing: the right don't like me very much, and expend a sizeable amount of energy attacking me personally rather than my writing: the Telegraph, the Spectator, even Fox News have all had pops at various stages. On a daily basis, I have insults thrown at me and attempts to bait me via Twitter. But in the desperate attacks stakes, Douglas Murray's latest piece is a pretty leading candidate.

Hard right pseudo-intellectual Murray writes in The Spectator demanding an apology for a response I made to a question about the conflict in Gaza on Question Time last November. In the conflict, over a hundred Palestinian and four Israeli civilians died. To give an illustration, I referred to the tragic death of 11-month Palestinian baby Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi, the son of a BBC journalist.

According to the child's family then and now, he was killed by an Israeli air strike. It was the account accepted by Human Rights Watch. It was how it reported by virtually the entire international media, including the BBC. "The baby son of a BBC worker was am ong those killed in Israel's air strike", reported the Daily Telegraph. "Anguish of BBC journalist as he cradles the body of his baby son who died in Israeli rocket attack on Gaza," exclaimed the Daily MailThe Sun also leaves the impression it was an Israeli strike. The Washington Post reported it as a "very personal story from Wednesday's Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip." "The 11-month-old son of a BBC staffer was killed yesterday during an air strike by the Israeli army on the Gaza strip," reported former Daily Mirror editor and City of University Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade in the Guardian. "Jihad al-Masharawi, an employee of BBC in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month-old son Omar, killed in an Israeli air strike," writes Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

And before I forget, how about this: "The front page of today's Washington Post shows a picture of the BBC’s Jihad Masharawi holding his dead 11-month-old son, an innocent victim of Israeli action against Hamas’ paramilitary targets following months of indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in southern Israel." That was the Spectator itself.

The UN inquiry into the conflict now suggests differently: that he was "killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel." The head of the OHCHR office for the Palestinian office has subsequently added that he couldn't "unequivocally conclude" it was definitely a misfired Palestinian weapon, but "it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket." The father of the 11-month-old child, Jehad Masharawi, has meanwhile dismissed the findings as "rubbish".

It is beyond far-fetched to expect me to have possibly guessed that what was reported as fact by virtually the entire international media — including the Spectator itself — would be proved likely to be wrong. And yet Murray acts as though I cynically plucked this from thin air and — ignoring the fact this was how British, US and Israeli papers reported it — believes the onus is on me to apologise. "It is not known what evidence, if any, Owen Jones had that the Israelis had killed this 11-month old boy," he writes, ignoring the reports of practically every single media outlet, including his own. "It was plain at the time that Owen Jones didn’t know what he was talking about," he adds. Was it? Even though almost everybody, his colleagues included, had accepted it as fact?

To be clear: I oppose Hamas, whilst knowing that they are the product of decades of both Israeli oppression and corruption at the Palestinian Authority. I oppose any attacks that kill civilians, including rockets fired into Israel. My support for the Palestinian cause comes purely through solidarity with the oppressed: the fact that Palestine is illegally occupied, that illegal settlements cover the West Bank, the fact Gaza is besieged, the fact nearly seven times as many Palestinian civilians as Israeli civilians have died since 2000. I want a just, secure peace for Jewish and Arab peoples alike. I have denounced any false solidarity with the Palestinian people that gives comfort to anti-Semitic prejudice: here and here, for example. But the truth is uncritical supporters of Israeli government policies never forgave me for attacking Israel's actions in Gaza in the mainstream media, and for being applauded for doing so.

If the likes of Murray are going to quote from the UN report approvingly, I hope they accept it in its entirety. It is damning reading for the Israeli government. It concludes that 101 civilians, including 33 children, were killed by Israeli military action. "In a number of cases, civilians who happened to be present in or passing through open areas and fields, locations that could potentially be used for rocket launches, were killed," it says. "The cases mentioned below raise the question of whether the IDF took all feasible measures to verify that their targets were military objectives, in line with the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law, which requires that the parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Under international human rights law these cases may constitute violations of the right to life."

Examples the report gives include a father, his 12-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son allegedly killed by a drone missile while collecting spearmint. An 84-year-old man working on his olive farm and his 14-year-old granddaughter were allegedly killed by an Israeli missile too. "In neither case were residents warned prior to the attack, and that no militant activities were carried out from the attacked locations throughout the crisis," writes the report. Other children who tragically and avoidably died include an 8-year-old boy; and ambulances that were denied access for 5 hours to two 16-year-olds allegedly killed by Israeli missiles.

The damning list goes on: "On 18 November, an Israeli air strike without prior warning hit a three-storey house belonging to the Al-Dalou family in Al-Nasser neighbourhood, central Gaza City. The airstrike killed 12 people, five of whom were children and four were women." Even if there was one militant present, "an attack under the given circumstances with the large number of civilians present, would not meet the requirement of proportionality." In other examples, the UN "was not able to identify any military objective that the IDF might have had in these cases, thus raising concerns with regard to possible violations of the principle of distinction and potentially also the right to life." In reference to attacks on health care facilities, the report says: "The attacks on the hospitals could therefore amount to violations of international humanitarian law."

The likes of Murray have no interest in engaging with this report, of course. They have simply plucked out a single sentence that likely casts doubt on a tragic death wrongly attributed to an Israeli missile by virtually the entire international media — (and, again, his own magazine) — and, by incredibly ignoring all these reports, scapegoating me instead, as though I somehow could have known. And to be clear: whoever is responsible for the death of this little boy, there is no excuse for such deaths in conflict.

Murray and his cynical allies are attempting to bury the contents of the rest of this report. That must not be allowed to happen. Far more Palestinian civilians died at the hands of this military superpower than Israeli civilians at the hands of unjustifiable Hamas rockets. 33 children were killed by such strikes. The report suggests that Israel could be guilty of committing war crimes. These are the facts, and if Murray genuinely takes this report seriously, he must answer them.

Owen Jones is a columnist for the Independent and the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class

A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from a spot targeted by an Israeli air strike inside the Gaza strip on November 16, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.