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.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired Battersea power station in 2012. Initially, it promised to build 636 affordable units. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers already having failed to develop the site, it was still enough for Wandsworth council to give planning consent. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls.

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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