A missile is launched by an 'Iron Dome' battery in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Photo: Getty
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Where are the diplomats, policy-makers and peace envoys? They're not in Gaza

The BBC's former Gaza Strip correspondent on the way the world views the Palestinians, and how Israel transformed from a young David of a fledgling state to the Goliath of the occupation.

"Of course, the problem we had in those days was the terrorists," explained the aged former soldier. It was late 2002, and I was visiting the UK – back from my post as the BBC’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip.

"Terrorist" was then one of the most used-words in international news. Israel used it to describe the suicide bombs and other attacks it faced during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising against Israeli occupation. George Bush and Tony Blair were then preparing to order an invasion of Iraq as part of their "war on terror".

The veteran of D-Day, and of the last days of Britain’s Mandate in Palestine, had something else in mind. 68 years ago next week, on 22 July 1946, fighters of the Irgun – a Jewish armed movement seeking to drive British forces from Palestine, and hasten the creation of a Jewish state – blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The hotel served as the headquarters of the British military and political authorities. As such, it was also a meeting place for journalists.    

"I owe my life, and the fact that I am able to write this story of the bloodiest terrorist outrage, to the cool courage of a British military policeman," began Barbara Board’s story on the front page of the following day’s Daily Mirror. Board went on to describe how as "a great charge of dynamite" went off, the military policeman, who had been guarding the hotel entrance, threw her to the ground "and shielded me with this body."

In the following days, reporters pieced together what had happened. The explosives, it turned out, had been placed in milk churns – and carried to an underground hotel kitchen by Irgun fighters disguised as delivery men. 

A huge military operation to find the attackers and their accomplices follows. Newspapers – outraged at the attack – follow events with enthusiastic headlines. The Daily Mail’s "Palestine Army to crush terrorists" from the 25 July, as the search got underway, is typical.

Weapons are reported found in a synagogue; Tel Aviv residents are dragged from their beds in their nightwear by British paratroopers looking for the bombers.

Less than two years later, the British Mandate is over. The State of Israel has come into being. The United Nations estimate that in the war which made that possible, more than 700,000 people fled their homes in what had been Mandate Palestine.

In the decades between then and now, in the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, there have been large-scale wars in 1967 and 1973; two intifadas; several attempts at negotiated peace.

Countless episodes of bloodshed, each false dawn and failure, have been covered in detail by the international press. "It’s very clear that Israel for sure and that this conflict in general gets vastly more coverage than anything else," says the Jerusalem bureau chief of a leading US news organisation.         

From the deadly blow to British imperial personnel and pride suffered in 1946; to Europe’s guilt over the Holocaust; to international sympathy for both Israel and the Palestinians; to the United States' attempts of recent years to seek a diplomatic solution, this is a part of the world with countless global connections.   

"A lot of countries, a lot of peoples, feel that they have got a stake in this story and it’s a story that they engage in, and are committed to over and above any other conflict for religious reasons, for historical reasons – you know, so many European, American countries deeply involved here over a long period of time," another senior member of the Jerusalem press corps told me during my trip there last month.    

Journalism and history are concerned with processes of change, and now the region around Israel and the Palestinian territories is changing as never before. In history as told by journalism, Israel has been admired for its struggle for existence; criticised as the young David of a fledgling state became the Goliath of the occupation. The Palestinians have been pitied for their suffering; reviled as terrorists as the Jewish fighters of the 1940s once were.  

Much has changed in the way journalists work, too. In 1948 and 1967, reporters fretted over whether bombs and bullets would keep them from a post office or telex machine. Now they worry about wi-fi, and whether they will be trolled on social media.

The journalism itself has been praised, and rubbished. Yet their fascination with the story means that journalists have been there, often travelling to places others cannot, or will not. Where, for example, have the diplomats, the policy-makers, the peace envoys been in the last couple of weeks? They have not been in Gaza.
    

James Rodgers is the author of ‘No Road Home: Fighting for Land and Faith in Gaza’ and ‘Reporting Conflict’. His next book, ‘Headlines from the Holy Land’ is due to be published next year by Palgrave MacMillan. He teaches journalism at City University London.

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French presidential election: Macron and Le Pen projected to reach run-off

The centrist former economy minister and the far-right leader are set to contest the run-off on 7 May.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will contest the run-off of the French presidential election, according to the first official projection of the first-round result.

Macron, the maverick former economy minister, running under the banner of his centrist En Marche! movement, is projected to finish first with an estimated 23.7 per cent of the vote, putting him marginally ahead of Le Pen. The leader of the far-right Front National is estimated to have won 21.7 per cent, with the scandal-hit Républicain François Fillon and the left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon tied for third on an estimated 19.5 per cent each. Benoît Hamon, of the governing Socialist Party, is set to finish a distant fourth on just 6.2 per cent. Pollsters Ifop project a turnout of around 81 per cent, slightly up on 2012.

Macron and Le Pen will now likely advance to the run-off on 7 May. Recent polling has consistently indicated that Macron, who at 39 would be the youngest candidate ever to win the French presidency, would probably beat Le Pen with roughly 60 per cent of the vote to her 40. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, he told Agence France Presse that his En Marche! was "turning a page in French political history", and went on to say his candidacy has fundamentally realigned French politics. "To all those who have accompanied me since April 2016, in founding and bringing En Marche! to life, I would like to say this," he told supporters. " 'In the space of a year, we have changed the face of French political life.' "

Le Pen similarly hailed a "historic" result. In a speech peppered with anti-establishment rhetoric, she said: "The first step that should lead the French people to the Élysée has been taken. This is a historic result.

"It is also an act of French pride, the act of a people lifting their heads. It will have escaped no one that the system tried by every means possible to stifle the great political debate that must now take place. The French people now have a very simple choice: either we continue on the path to complete deregulation, or you choose France.

"You now have the chance to choose real change. This is what I propose: real change. It is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave. Because yes, I am the candidate of the people."

The projected result means the run-off will be contested by two candidates from outside France's establishment left and right parties for the first time in French political history. Should Le Pen advance to the second round as projected, it will mark only the second time a candidate from her party has reached the run-off. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reached the second round in 2002, but was decisively beaten by Jacques Chirac after left-wingers and other mainstream voters coalesced in a so-called front républicain to defeat the far right.

Fillon has conceded defeat and backed Macron, as have Hamon and the French prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. "We have to choose what is best for our country," Fillon said. "Abstention is not in my genes, above all when an extremist party is close to power. The Front National is well known for its violence and its intolerance, and its programme would lead our country to bankruptcy and Europe into chaos.

"Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children."

Though Hamon acknowledged that the favourite a former investment banker – was no left-winger, he said: "I make a distinction between a political adversary and an enemy of the Republic."

Mélenchon, however, has refused to endorse Macron, and urged voters to consult their own consciences ahead of next month's run-off.

The announcement sparked ugly scenes in Paris in the Place de la Bastille, where riot police have deployed tear gas on crowds gathered to protest Le Pen's second-place finish. Reaction from the markets was decidedly warmer: the euro hit a five-month high after the projection was announced.

Now read Pauline Bock on the candidate most likely to win, and the NS'profiles of Macron and Le Pen.

 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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