Palestine Is Not an Environment Story – How Nafeez Ahmed’s Article on Gaza’s Gas was Censored

Palestine Is Not an Environment Story – How Nafeez Ahmed’s Article on Gaza’s Gas was Censored

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Post-Blog

Jonathan Freedland – the Guardian’s smug Police State Liberal Gatekeepere

“Palestine Is Not an Environment Story”

 The Guardian’s Liberal Mask Slips

Thursday,
December 04, 2014
Jonathan
Freedland – the Guardian’s Zionist Gatekeeper Spikes
Articles Whose Criticism of Israel Questions the Role and Nature of the State
This is an article by a reputable environmental journalist whose article on how Israel’s key motivation in the slaughter of 2,000 Gazans last summer was related to Israel’s desire to lay its hands on the enormous gas field laying off the coast.
Gaza – razed to the ground by Israel last summer – Don’t mention the gas!
It is irrelevant whether or not Freedland was personally involved.  He has layed down the blueprint for what is and is not acceptable in the Guardian’s columns regarding Israel.  Criticism of its government and its policies is acceptable.  Criticism of the very nature of Zionism and its bastard offspring – the Apartheid state of Israel is not.   Israel is seen as a state which went awry under the pressure of events.  It’s policies towards the Palestinians are seen as an aberration.  Settler attacks are seen as being something that the ‘extremists’ do but any suggestion that Israel is becoming another South Africa and worse, that it shares features of pre-1941  Nazi Germany in the attitude of its Jewish citizens to Palestinians is out of place in its coverage.

Freedland – a liberal member of the Foreign Policy Elite & Chatham House
My own, small experience, was writing for the  Guardian’s Comment is Free .  The Zionist Federation and other movers and shakers put pressure on The Guardian to stop me writing for the blog, since free debate is not something that Zionists welcome, and The Guardian obliged.  Matt Seaton, the bicycling correspondent, who was put in charge of CIF, obliged.  No reason was given nor was there any need to do so, since the reason was obvious.  Freedland didn’t have to put in an appearance.  A quiet word in the right places was all that was required.

How I was
censored by The Guardian newspaper for writing about Israel’s war for Gaza’s
gas

Writing
for The Guardian for over a year, my contract was unilaterally terminated
because I wrote a piece on Gaza that was beyond the pale. In doing so, The
Guardian breached the very editorial freedom the paper was obligated to protect
under my contract. I’m speaking out because I believe it is in the public
interest to know how a Pulitizer Prize-winning newspaper which styles itself as
the world’s leading liberal voice, casually engaged in an act of censorship to
shut down coverage of issues that undermined Israel’s publicised rationale for
going to war.
Gaza’s gas
I joined
the Guardian as an environment blogger in April 2013. Prior to this, I had been
an author, academic and freelance journalist for over a decade, writing for The
Independent, Independent on Sunday, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The
Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le
Monde diplomatique, among others.
On 9th
July 2014, I posted an article via my Earth Insight blog at The Guardian’s environment
website, exposing the role of Palestinian resources, specifically Gaza’s
off-shore natural gas reserves, in partly motivating Israel’s invasion of Gaza
aka ‘Operation Protective Edge.’ Among the sources I referred to was a policy
paper written by incumbent Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon one year
before Operation Cast Lead, underscoring that the Palestinians could never be
allowed to develop their own energy resources as any revenues would go to
supporting Palestinian terrorism.
The
article now has 68,000 social media shares, and is by far the single most
popular article on the Gaza conflict to date. Contrary to the conventional
wisdom, Israel has seen control of Gaza’s gas as a major strategic priority
over the last decade for three main reasons.
Firstly,
Israel faces a near-term gas crisis — largely due to the long lead time needed
to bring Israel’s considerable domestic gas resources into production;
secondly, Netanyahu’s administration cannot stomach any scenario in which a
Hamas-run Palestinian administration accesses and develops their own resources;
thirdly, Israel wants to use Palestinian gas as a strategic bridge to cement
deals with Arab dictatorships whose domestic populations oppose signing deals
with Israel.
Either
way, the biggest obstacle to Israel accessing Gaza’s gas is the Hamas-run
administration in the strip, which rejects all previous agreements that Israel
had pursued to develop the gas with the British Gas Group and the Palestinian
Authority.

Censorship in the land of the free
Since
2006, The Guardian has loudly trumpeted its aim to be the world’s leading liberal voice. For years, the
paper has sponsored the annual Index on Censorship’s prestigious Freedom of Expression Award. The paper won the
Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the National Security Agency (NSA).
Generally, the newspaper goes out of its way to dress itself up as standing at
the forefront of fighting censorship, particularly in the media landscape. This
is why its approach to my Gaza gas story is so disturbing.
The day
after posting it, I received a phone call from James Randerson, assistant
national news editor. He sounded riled and rushed. Without beating around the
bush, James told me point blank that my Guardian blog was to be immediately
discontinued. Not because my article was incorrect, factually flawed, or
outrageously defamatory. Not because I’d somehow breached journalistic ethics,
or violated my contract. No. The Gaza gas piece, he said, was “not an
environment story,”
and therefore was an “inappropriate post” for the
Guardian’s environment website:
You’re writing too many
non-environment stories, so I’m afraid we just don’t have any other option.
This article doesn’t belong on the environment site. It should really be on Cif
[i.e. the Guardian’s online opinion section known as ‘Comment Is Free’].”
I was
shocked, and more than a little baffled. As you can read on my
Guardian profile
, my remit was to cover “the geopolitics of
environmental, energy and economic crises.”
That was what I was commissioned to
do — indeed, when I had applied in late 2012 to blog for The Guardian, an
earlier piece I’d written on the link between Israeli military operations and
Gaza’s gas in Le Monde diplomatique was part of my portfolio.
So I
suggested to James that termination was somewhat of an overreaction. Perhaps we
could simply have a meeting to discuss the editorial issues and work out
together what my remit should be. “I’d be happy to cooperate as much as
possible,”
I said. I didn’t want to lose my contract. James refused point
blank, instead telling me that my “interests are increasingly about issues that
we don’t think are a good fit for what we want to see published on the
environment site.
In the
end, my polite protestations got nowhere. Within the hour, I received an email
from a rights manager at The Guardian informing me that they had terminated my
contract.
Under
that contract, however, I had editorial control over what I wrote on my
blog — obviously within the remit that I had been commissioned for. From May to
April, environment bloggers underwent training and supervision to ensure that
we would eventually be up to speed to post on the site independently based on
our own editorial judgement. The terms and conditions we signed up to under our
contract state:
“You shall regularly maintain
Your Blog and shall determine its content. You shall launch Your own posts
which shall not be sub-edited by GNM. GNM occasionally might raise topics of
interest with You suitable for Your Blog but You shall be under no obligation
to include or cover such topics.”
The terms
also point out that termination of the contract with immediate effect could
only occur “if the other party commits a material breach of any of its
obligations under this Agreement which is not capable of remedy”
; or if “the
other party has committed a material breach of any of its obligations under
this Agreement which is capable of remedy but which has not been remedied
within a period of thirty (30) days following receipt of written notice to do
so.”
The
problem is that I had committed no breach of any of my contractual obligations.
On the contrary, The Guardian had breached its contractual obligation to me
regarding my freedom to determine the contents of my blog, simply because it
didn’t like what I wrote. This is censorship.
As the
Index on Censorship points out, the “absence of direct state-sponsored, highly
visible 
censorship, which prevails in many countries around the world, may
contribute to the commonly held view that there is no censorship in this
country and that it is not a problem.”
However, “contemporary UK censorship,
which sits within a liberal democracy”
can come “in many different forms, both
direct and indirect, some more subtle, some more overt.”

Invisible barriers
Ironically,
a few days later, I was contacted by the editor of The Ecologist — one of the
world’s premier environment magazines — who wanted to re-print my Gaza gas
story. After publishing an updated version of my Guardian piece, The
Ecologist also published my in-depth follow up in response to objections
printed in The National Interest (ironically authored by a contractor working
for a US oil company invested in offshore gas reserves overlapping the Gaza
Marine). Obviously, having been expelled by The Guardian, I could not respond
via my blog as I would normally have done.
That
follow-up drew on a range of public record sources including leading business
and financial publications, as well as official British Foreign Office (FCO)
documents obtained under Freedom of Information. The latter confirmed that
despite massive domestic gas discoveries in Israel’s own territorial waters,
the inability to kick-start production due to a host of bureaucratic,
technological, logistical and regulatory issues — not to mention real
uncertainties in quantities of commercially exploitable resources — meant that
Israel could face gas supply challenges as early as next year. 
Israel’s own gas
fields would probably not be brought into production until around 2018-2020.
Israeli officials, according to the FCO, saw the 1.4 trillion cubic meters of
gas in Gaza’s Marine (along with other potential “additional resources” as yet
to be discovered according to the US Energy Information Administration) as a
cheap “stop-gap” that might sustain both Israel’s domestic energy needs and its
export ambitions until the Tamar and Leviathan fields could actually start
producing.
By
broaching such issues in The Guardian, though, it seems I had crossed some sort
of invisible barrier — that this topic was simply off-limits.
Energy is part of the environment, wait, no it
isn’t, not in Palestine anyway
To
illustrate the sheer absurdity of The Guardian’s pretense that a story about
Gaza’s gas resources is “not a legitimate environment story,” consider the fact
that just weeks earlier, Adam Vaughan, the editor of the Guardian’s environment
website, had personally assented to my posting the following story: Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by
insatiable oil addiction — West’s co-optation of Gulf states’
jihadists
created the neocon’s best friend: an Islamist Frankenstein.
Proposed
headlines for stories that environment bloggers work on are posted on a shared
Google spreadsheet so that editors can keep track of what we’re doing and
planning to publish. Adam had seen my proposed headline and requested to see
the draft on the 16th June: “… would you mind sending this one by me on
preview, please, before publishing? Just conscious it’s very sensitive
subject,
” he wrote in an email.
I sent
him the full article with a summary of what it was about. Later in the day, I
pinged him again to find out what he thought, and he replied: “thanks, sorry,
yes — I think it’s fine.”
So an
article about ISIS and oil addiction is “fine,” but a piece about Israel, Gaza
and conflict over gas resources is not. Really? Are offshore gas resources not
part of the environment? Apparently, for The Guardian, not in Palestine, where
Gaza’s environment has been bombed to smithereens by the IDF.
The Blair factor

Meanwhile,
the Israel-Gaza gas saga continues. Just over a week ago, Ha’aretz carried some insightful updates on the
strategic value of the whole thing. Quoting Ariel Ezrahi, energy adviser to
Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair (the Quartet representing the US, UN, EU
and Russia), Ha’aretz noted that there was a reason why Jordan — which had
recently signed an agreement with Israel to purchase gas from its Leviathan
field — had simultaneously announced that it intended to purchase gas from
Gaza. As Israel attempts to reposition itself as a major gas exporter to
regional regimes like Egypt and Turkey, the biggest challenge is that “it’s
very hard for them to sign a gas contract with Israel despite their desperate
need,”
due to how unpopular such a move would be with their domestic
populations.

If I
were Israel’s prime minister
,” Blair’s energy adviser said, “I’d think how I
could help the neighboring countries extricate themselves from the jam, and if
Israel closes the Palestinian gas market, that’s not a smart thing.”
So Israel
has to find a way to open the Palestinian gas market and integrate it into the
emerging complex of Israeli export deals: “… it would be wise for Israel to at
least consider the contribution of the Palestinian dimension to these deals,”

said Ezrahi. “I think it’s a mistake for Israel to rush into regional
agreements without at least considering the Palestinian dimension and how it
can contribute to Israeli interests.”
Israel,
backed by its allies in the west, wants to use the Palestinians “as an asset as
they strive to join the regional power grid, and as a bridge to the Arab
world,” by selling Palestinian “gas to various markets,”
or promoting a deal
with the corporations developing Israel’s “Tamar and Leviathan [fields] that
will allow for the sale of cheap gas to the [Palestinian] Authority.”
But there
is a further challenge when considering the Palestinian dimension, namely
Hamas: “I can’t meet with people linked to Hamas,” said Blair’s energy adviser.
“It’s a very firm ban dictated by the Quartet. [emphasis added] The
Americans don’t enter Gaza either.
” So it is not just Israel that has ruled out
any gas deal with the Palestinians involving Hamas. So have the US, EU, UN and
Russia.
But
Israel has no mechanism to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza strip — except, as far
as Moshe  Ya’alon is concerned, military action to change facts on the ground.
Over the
70 odd articles I’d written for The Guardian, not a single piece falls outside
the subject matter I had been commissioned to write on: the geopolitics of
interconnected environment, energy and economic crises. The conclusion is
unavoidable: The Guardian had simply decided that resource conflicts over the
Occupied Territories should not receive coverage. It should be noted that
before my post, the paper had never before acknowledged a link between IDF
military action and Gaza’s gas. Now that I’m gone, I doubt it will ever be
covered again.
Well, at
least Ya’alon, and his boss Netanyahu, will be happy.
Not to
mention Tony Blair.

Liberal
gatekeeping
When I
began speaking in confidence to a number of other journalists inside and
outside The Guardian about what had happened to me, they all consistently told
me that my experience — although particularly outrageous — was not entirely
unprecedented.
A senior
editor of a national British publication who has written frequently for The
Guardian’s opinion section, told me that he was aware that all coverage of the
Israel-Palestine issue was “tightly controlled” by Jonathan Freedland, the
Guardian’s executive editor for opinion.
Another
journalist told me that a Guardian editor commissioned a story from him
discussing the suppression of criticism of Israel in public discourse and
media, but that Freedland rejected the story without even reviewing a draft.
Several
other journalists I spoke to inside and outside The Guardian went so far as to
describe Freedland as the newspaper’s unofficial ‘gatekeeper’ on the Middle
east conflict, and that he invariably leaned toward a pro-Israel slant.
These
anecdotes have been publicly corroborated by Jonathan Cook, a former Middle
East staff reporter, foreign editor and columnist for The Guardian, who is
currently based in Nazareth where he has won several awards for his reporting.
A profile of Cook at the progressive Jewish news
site Mondoweiss points out that a key turning point in Cook’s career
occurred in 2001 when he had just returned from Israel, having conducted an
investigation into the murder of 13 non-violent Arab protestors by Israeli
police during the second intifada the year before.
The
police, Cook found, had executed a “shoot-to-kill policy” against unarmed
victims — as was eventually confirmed by a government inquiry. But The Guardian
suppressed his investigation, and chose not to run it at all. Cook says that
while the paper does contain some exemplary reporting and insights, and even
goes out of its way to condemn the occupation, there are certain lines that
simply cannot be crossed, such as questioning Israel’s capacity to define
itself as simultaneously an exclusively Jewish and democratic state, or critiquing
aspects of its security doctrine.
Cook’s
scathing criticism of his former paper in a 2011 Counterpuncharticle is highly revealing, and
relevant, for understanding what happened to me:

“The Guardian, like other
mainstream media, is heavily invested — both financially and ideologically — in
supporting the current global order. It was once able to exclude and now, in
the internet age, must vilify those elements of the left whose ideas risk
questioning a system of corporate power and control of which the Guardian is a
key institution.
The paper’s role, like that of
its rightwing cousins, is to limit the imaginative horizons of readers. While
there is just enough leftwing debate to make readers believe their paper is
pluralistic, the kind of radical perspectives needed to question the very
foundations on which the system of Western dominance rests is either
unavailable or is ridiculed.”
Last
month, Cook highlighted ongoing subtle but powerful insensitivities of language
employed by The Guardian coverage’s of the Gaza crisis which, in effect, served to
disappear” the Palestinians. He specifically identified Freedland as a major
player in this phenomenon. “The Guardian’s pride” in having helped create
Israel is “still palpable at the paper (as I know from my years there),
especially among certain senior editors there “who influence much of the
conflict’s coverage — yes, that is a reference to Jonathan Freedland, among
others.”

UPDATE
4th Dec 2014 (10.13AM):
Jonathan Freedland has offered a response this morning via TwitLonger,
as follows:
Your piece for Medium implies I
was involved in the end of your arrangement with the Guardian. I don’t wish to
be rude, but I had literally not heard of you or your work till seeing that
Medium piece, via Twitter, a few hours ago. (The Guardian environment website,
where you wrote, is edited separately from the Guardian’s Comment is Free site,
which I now oversee.) I had no idea you wrote for the Guardian, no idea that
arrangement had been terminated and not the slightest knowledge of your piece
on Gaza’s gas until a few hours ago. What’s more, I was abroad — on
vacation — on the days in July you describe. To put it starkly, my involvement
in your case was precisely zero. I hope that as a matter of your own
journalistic integrity, you’ll want to alter the Medium piece to reflect these
facts. Perhaps you’ll also share this on Twitter as widely as you shared the
Medium piece yesterday.”
However,
Freedland’s reading of this piece is incorrect. I am not implying that
Freedland was “involved” in the end of my Guardian tenure. I have no clue about
that, and to be sure, I did not make any such claim above.
My simple
point is that my experience of egregious Guardian censorship over the Gaza gas
story — which Freedland does not address beyond denying his involvement — has a
long and little-known context, suggesting that rather than my experience being
a mere bizarre and accidental aberration, it is part of an entrenched, wider
culture across the paper of which Freedland himself has allegedly played a key
role in fostering.
It is not
my fault that the range of journalists I spoke to all described Freedland as
the Guardian’s resident unofficial “gatekeeper” on Israel-Palestine coverage.
Notably, Freedland fails to address their allegations that he has previously
quashed stories which are critical of Israel on ideological grounds rather than
reasons of ‘journalistic integrity.’
This is
perhaps not entirely surprising. A book commissioned by The Guardian, Disenchantment:
The Guardian and Israel
, by Daphna Baram, documents clearly the connection
between the newspaper and Zionism, noting for instance that Guardian editor CP
Scott had been central to the negotiations with the British government
resulting in the Balfour Declaration and the very conception of the state of
Israel. Her conclusion is that despite becoming increasingly critical of the
occupation after 1967, The Guardian remains staunchly pro-Zionist, its staff
devoting “inordinate time and effort” to ensure “fairness to Israel.”

Toward a media revolution
The
Guardian, quite rightly, has a reputation for breaking some of the most
important news stories of the decade — among them, of course, playing a lead
role in releasing Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance and
related violations of civil liberties. Yet hidden in the cracks of this
coverage is the fact that while disclosing critical facts, The Guardian has
been unable to raise the most fundamental and probing questions about the
purpose and direction of mass surveillance, why it has accelerated, what
motivates it, and who benefits from it.
Questions
must therefore be asked as to why a newspaper that sees itself as the global
media’s bastion of liberalism, has engaged in such grievous censorship by
shutting down coverage of environmental geopolitics — a phenomenon which is
increasingly at the heart not just of conflict over the Occupied Territories,
but of the chaos of world affairs in the 21st century.
If this
is the state of The Guardian, undoubtedly one of the better newspapers, then
clearly we have a serious problem with the media. Ultimately, mainstream media
remains under the undue influence of powerful special interests, whether
financial, corporate or ideological.
Given the
scale of the converging crises we face in terms of climate change, energy
volatility, financial crisis, rampant inequality, proliferating species
extinctions, insane ocean acidification, food crisis, foreign policy
militarism, and the rise of the police-state — and given the bankruptcy of much
of the media in illuminating the real causes of these crises and their
potential solutions, we need new reliable and accountable sources of news and
information.
We need
new media, and we need it now.
As print
newspapers go increasingly into decline, the opportunity for new people-powered
models of independent digital media is rising exponentially. That’s why I’ve
launched a crowdfunder
to help support my journalism, and to move toward creating a new investigative
journalism collective that operates in the public interest, precisely because
it is funded not by corporations or ideologues, but by people. If we can create
new journalism platforms that are dependent for their survival on citizens
themselves, then it is in the interests of citizens that those platforms will
function. Until then, fearless, adversarial investigative journalism will
always be in danger of being shut down or compromised.
I believe
that together, we can create a new people-powered model of journalism that will
make the old, hierarchical media conglomerates dominated by special interests
and parochial paternalistic visions of the world obsolete. So, if you like, pop
along to my crowdfunder for a truly independent people-powered investigative
journalism collective, and join the coming media revolution.
© 2014
Nafeez Ahmed

Dr.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is a bestselling author, award-winning investigative
journalist, and noted international security scholar, as well as a policy
expert, film maker, strategy and communications consultant, and change
activist. His debut science fiction thriller novel, ZERO POINT, was
released in August 2014. His previous non-fiction book was A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to
Save It
 (2010), which inspired the award-winning
documentary feature film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011).

 

 

 

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