Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hoder's visit to Israel gets a lengthy write-up in Haaretz.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


This afternoon I left Ramallah and travelled to Nablus, the town described by Israel as the centre of the West Bank’s terrorist infrastructure.

After meeting our fixer we walked deep into the Old City, a labyrinth of narrow streets, archways and walls covered with posters glorifying young suicide bombers.

We waited on a street corner and after a few minutes a senior member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade emerged, flanked by six masked gunmen.

We shook hands politely and the gunmen led us down the winding alleyways of Nablus and through a locked doorway to a vaulted room off a courtyard.

Tim, our cameraman, set up his equipment. When the tape was rolling the commander from the Al-Aqsa Brigade – which is loyal to the Fatah party which was so heavily defeated in last week’s election – laid out his group’s position following the ballot.

He struck a conciliatory tone, saying that the Hamas victory was the result of a democratic election.

“We are all brothers – Fatah and Hamas,” he said. “We all follow the same Koran.”

Drawing its inspiration from the Shiite Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, the Al-Aqsa Brigade emerged during the most recent Palestinian intifada.

In 2002 it carried out a series of deadly attacks against Israeli civilians, which led the US to add the group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Its leaders have been targeted repeatedly by Israeli forces.

To most people, the balaclava-clad militiamen of the Al-Aqsa Brigade are, understandably, the very embodiment of a Palestinian terrorist; cold-eyed, cold-blooded killers intent on the murder of innocent civilians.

There is no doubt that members of the Brigade have been responsible for many acts of atrocity.

Yet amid the rabbit warren of Nablus’s Old City, on their home turf, the militiamen were courteous, mild mannered and articulate.

The more junior gunmen, their eyes looking bored behind their masks, fingered the triggers of their AK-47s and M-16s as their leader spoke to us.

Once the camera had stopped rolling they removed their disguises and laughed and chatted among themselves.

They looked no different to you or me.
I'm not the only blogger in the region at the moment -- Hoder is in Tel Aviv.

Greetings from Ramallah, Hossein -- why don't you come over to the West Bank?

(Hoder and I met in London last year. Listen to our conversation here.)
My thoughts are with ABC's Bob Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt, who've been seriously injured by an IED near Baghdad.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I've turned around a quick post-Palestinian election podcast in which I talk to Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner about how Israel responds to Hamas's shock election victory.

The podcast page is here.

Subscribe to the podcast here.
Great news for Welsh amputee John McFall, whose running prosthesis was stolen from the back of his car.

The limb has been handed in, and returned to its rightful owner.

The car's still missing -- but that's much easier to replace than a bespoke carbon fibre prosthesis.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


It has been a remarkable 24 hours here in the West Bank.

As if the mere fact of the first Palestinian Elections for a decade wasn’t enough of a story, the result of the ballot confirms today as a pivotal moment in the history of the contemporary Middle East.

Most of us expected the militant Islamic group Hamas to do well in yesterday’s ballot – but none of us predicted how well.

Hamas, which has carried out more than 50 suicide bombings and killed hundreds of Israelis, is now set to win 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament.

I’ve spent the day in Ramallah, where this afternoon tensions between supporters of Hamas and the defeated Fatah party turned violent.

As I stood overlooking the Palestinian Legislative Council building, several Hamas supporters climbed onto a balcony and planted the green Hamas flag.

A few moments later, 3 Fatah supporters climbed up and tossed the flag into the crowd.

This was a very ill-advised move.

The crowd of several thousand Hamas supporters began throwing stones at the Fatah loyalists, knocking one of them down.

The windows of the Palestinian Legislative Council were smashed.

Volleys of machine gun fire soon followed, forcing us to dive for cover.

The question arising from this momentous day is – what does Hamas do next?

Some believe its victory will force it to moderate.

Others fear it will embolden Hamas to impose strict Islamic law in the Palestinian Territories.

Will the West Bank and Gaza become "Hamastan," a hardline Muslim state like Afghanistan under the Taliban, they ask?

The Hamas victory makes any movement in the Middle East peace process an even more remote possibility – and may push Israel to take further moves to set its permanent borders.

The international community has been calling for more democracy in the Middle East.

Tonight, though, it may be thinking it should have been more careful in what it wished for – because Palestinian voters have opted for Hamas.
The person who knows his way around the streets of the West Bank better than almost anyone else in the world is one of our Palestinian producers, Yousef Shomali.

His ability to read a potentially volatile situation before it gets out of hand is legendary.

When he's not helping us negotiate our way around the Territories, Yousef runs Radio Bethlehem 2000.

Listen live here.
Finally managed to find a decent internet connection in the West Bank.

Poor connections prevented me from uploading the latest Radio BNI podcast, which I put together on Tuesday.

So, belatedly, you can listen to it here or subscribe to the RSS feed here.

I'm hoping to do another one before I leave the Middle East -- which after the shock Palestinian election result may be later than I'd first thought.

I'll stay here, blogging on the ground from the centre of the story.

Glenn Reynolds and your ilk, I don't see you here in Ramallah.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The National Union of Journalists -- of which I'm a member -- has responded to the rise of citizen journalism by launching a Code of Practice for CJ.

The NUJ says the Code "sets down ways in which organisations and individuals can maintain the highest professional and ethical standards in the new media environment."

In addition to its membership categories for staffers and freelancers, and separate branches for members in Radio or TV, newspapers or PR, will the NUJ now open a new section for citizen journalists?

Monday, January 23, 2006


Israel is clearly worried.

Here in East Jerusalem and across the Arab world an interview with the jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti is being shown, in which he says that after Wednesday’s Palestinian parliamentary elections a unity government will be formed involving all factions.

Barghouti is serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for terror-related murders.

A report in Haaretz contains a key sentence. Barghouti gace the interview "with the approval of the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Prison Service."

Barghouti would never have been allowed to speak out if he didn’t have express permission from his jailors.

His jailors would never have allowed him to speak out if it wasn’t in their interests.

The reason is simple.

Fatah is under pressure like never before from the Islamic resistance group Hamas, which is standing for election for the first time.

Israel, the US, and Europe see Hamas as a terrorist organisation. They say they’ll shun a Palestinian government if it includes Hamas.

So a strong showing for Hamas in the polls would place the international community in a difficult position. How can it ignore the democratic choice of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians -- and yet how can it enter into negotiations with an organisation it regards as a terrorist outfit?

Hence the appearance of Barghouti on the TV screens.

He has the respect of the Arab street and could be Fatah’s last best hope of clawing votes away from Hamas.

Many here argue that Fatah only has itself to blame.

I spent today in the West Bank city of Nablus, a former Fatah stronghold which has shifted towards Hamas.

Voter after voter told me that Fatah had shown itself to be corrupt, inept, and incapable of delivering basic services.

For many in the west, Hamas is the embodiment of a terror group that launches suicide bomb attacks that murder scores of innocent Israelis.

But what’s not always understood is that Hamas also has a well-organised grassroots welfare structure, providing the sort of services that the Palestinian Authority has failed to deliver.

What became clear to me in Nablus is that the most ordinary voters there don’t want to vote for suicide bombers.

They want to vote for change.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back to Jerusalem tomorrow and then on to Ramallah on Monday to cover the Palestinian elections from the West Bank.

More from there...
Shame and a thousand curses on the thieves who stole Welsh athlete John McFall's prosthetic leg.

Unless the limb (which sounds as if it's a Cheetah like mine) turns up, McFall will miss a European meeting in Stuttgart in a few weeks' time -- and all because some thieving bastard made off with something that's of absolutely no use to anyone except its owner.

Here's hoping the thief has a moment of compassion and dumps it somewhere it can be found and returned.

If not, may the thief die a slow and painful death.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Just because you're missing a limb shouldn't stop you from breaking your neck the same as any other extreme sports enthusiast.

Amputee skateboarders, BMXers, rock climbers and wakeboarders will be keeping the emergency services in Orlando, Florida, busy on the last weekend in July.

They'll be competing for prizes in the O&P Extremity Games.

Sounds like a blast.
Sky News has launched a review to try to discover why some of its relaunched programmes are performing so poorly in the ratings.

Because they're crap, perhaps?
Like most drivers who own a blue badge, I get furious when able-bodied drivers poach all the disabled parking bays.

Even so, this is probably taking things a little far.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Newsnight's Paul Mason makes some valuable points about the future of rolling news -- the very area that BBC TV news chief Peter Horrocks has put at the centre of his agenda.

Mason argues that the studio-led 24-hour news channel will soon be obsolete, replaced by a broadband convergence of on-demand video, audio and text.

I suspect the actual 24-hour news service that emerges in the future will be somewhere between the existing format and Paul Mason's vision.

The rolling news channel will remain, but will become more of a "stockpot" for incoming material.

The lives, packages, interviews and -- increasingly -- user-generated content broadcast on the channel will be cut up and made available in interactive bite-sized chunks for viewers to compile their own running orders.

Access to background resources and archive will become an integral part of the experience.

Crucially, the concept of headlines -- the three biggest stories of the day -- will become less and less relevant. Viewers will select the stories they're interested in for their DIY, on-demand news bulletin -- and not the ones an output editor thinks they should be interested in.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Back from one of the stranger assignments of recent years.

The return flight from Tel Aviv was stuffed full of fellow members of the international press corps who, like me, had been taken off death watch and ordered back to base.

Ariel Sharon proved to be more resilient than any of us expected -- even if his chances of a meaningful recovery are virtually nil.

I'll be returning to the Middle East in a week's time to cover the Palestinian Elections from Ramallah in the West Bank.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

There's a bumper prosthetic crime casebook today.

AFP reports that a teenage amputee whose prosthetic leg was stolen has recovered the artificial limb after it was apparently placed in her yard by a remorseful thief.

Meanwhile, an amputee from Nottingham has been jailed for three years for using his prosthesis to hide his swag -- three mobile phones, bank cards and a purse were found stashed inside his leg.

On a more serious note, the LA Times reports on how veterans who've lost limbs in Iraq are using sport to help rebuild their lives.

This morning's edition of the Israeli newspaper Haartez profiles the tent city outside the Hadassah Hospital that has become home for those of us who are on 24-hour Ariel Sharon death watch.

On Thursday, the press encampment consisted of just a few satellite trucks and TV live positions.

But over the days more and more crews have arrived from around the world. We've added tents, plastic sheeting, heaters, kettles, even bedding, to protect us from the cold and damp Jerusalem nights.

Our temporary refugee camp is beginning to look more and more permanent.

No-one expected the Israeli Prime Minister to survive this long and there's an element of Groundhog Day about our daily routine.

Mr Sharon's continuing critical condition means we can't leave. But the lack of developments mean the editors back in London are getting bored with endless two-ways reporting "no change" -- so we're slowly slipping down the programme running orders.

And so the waiting game continues.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, January 05, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the brink tonight, I'm booked on the first flight out to Tel Aviv in the morning.

More from there....

The blame game is in full spate following this morning's mining tragedy/debacle in West Virginia.

Editor and Publisher calls it "one of the most disturbing and disgraceful media performances of this type in recent years."

Once the coaldust has settled on this fiasco it'll doubtlessly become clearer how the erroneous headlines came about.

I've been sifting through the wire reports that came in minute by minute early this morning to try to unpick the chronology.

AP were first with the incorrect claim -- these two alerts came in at 04:55 and 04:56GMT.

TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia (AP) - Family members say 12 miners trapped after an explosion in West Virginia are alive.

TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia (AP) - Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, more than 41 hours after the blast, family members said.

Bells at a church where relatives had been gathering rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation.

It seems CNN was also mistaken early on. This snap dropped on the AFP wire at 04:58GMT:

TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia, Jan 4 (AFP) - Twelve miners who were trapped inside a mine in West Virginia have been found alive, CNN said quoting family members.

In the 24 hour news echo-chamber, the shakily-sourced reports then took on a life of their own, spreading out within moments across TV, radio and the internet like ripples on a pond.

Wishful thinking turned into hard fact -- and was given additional credibility by West Virginia governor Joe Manchin. It took three hours for the truth to catch up.

By this time, of course, the "miracle survival" headlines has been transmitted worldwide and made their way onto the front pages of the final editions of some newspapers in the eastern US.

It wasn't until 07:59GMT that the tragic reality caught up with the media frenzy:

(AP) TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia - Family members report that 11 of the 12 coal miners who were initially thought to have survived an explosion in a U.S. coal mine have died. The sole survivor is hospitalized.

There's and old cliche that some media outlets are "never wrong for long."

For the families of the miners killed in West Virginia, however, the consequences of this inaccuracy -- wherever it originated from -- were tragic.
Researchers in the US have
punctuated the fantasy held by the Chelsea Tractor brigade -- that their gas-guzzling, road clogging juggernauts help keep darling little Tarquin and Fifi safe.

The study says that the doubled risk of rollovers cancels out the safety advantages of their greater size.

Anyone who's cycled along roads choked with idiots driving to Sainsburys in two-and-a-half tonne, 22-gallon twatmobiles already knows what a menace they are -- but this latest study gives further ammunition to those seeking a ban on urban 4x4s.
A new study by Reporters Sans Frontières reveals that at least 63 journalists were killed last year, making 2005 the deadliest year for a decade.

Iraq has the highest media fatality rate for the third year running.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Test your news judgement by seeing if you can spot the similarity between these two stories which you may have spotted in your post-Christmas holiday news bulletins.

1) A young, attractive British woman in her twenties is kidnapped for a marathon...er....48 hours before being released unharmed. Dozens of Britons are kidnapped abroad every year. Most cases don't merit a mention in the media but Kate Burton's "ordeal" is the lead story across radio, TV and the newspapers.

2) A young, attractive British woman in her twenties is murdered while on holiday in Thailand. Dozens of Britons are murdered abroad every year. Most cases don't merit a mention in the media but Katherine Horton's death is the lead story across radio, TV and the newspapers.

(Source: Foreign Policy Centre/The Guardian)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I started 2006 as I mean to go on by shaking off my New Year hangover and heading over to Hyde Park for the Serpentine New Year's Day 10k.

Just getting out of a warm bed and to the start line on a dark and dreary Sunday morning took every ounce of willpower I possess.

But I was glad I made it because I got the year off to the perfect start by setting a new personal best over 10k -- 53:14 according to the official race clock or 52:27 according to my running computer. Even the slower time knocks 30 seconds off my previous PB so I'm happy to go with that.

There's photographic evidence here.

Smug? You bet I'm smug.