Justice Is Key To Mid-East Peace

Acclaimed journalist Robert Fisk addresses the University of Ulster on the current crisis in the Middle East

Listen to a full podcast recording of Robert Fisk's 'False Hope' lecture at the University of Ulster.

Speaking at the first Tip O'Neill Peace Lecture of 2009, at the University of Ulster's Magee campus in Derry, acclaimed journalist and Middle East analyst Robert Fisk delivered a typically passionate and informative lecture on the current crisis in Gaza, entitled 'False Hope'. 

Fisk was invited to deliver the lecture by professor John Hume, nobel laureate and holder of the Tip O’Neill chair in peace studies. He was originally scheduled to lecture on the recent upheaval in Lebanon, but stated that he felt compelled to change the subject of his lecture due to recent events.

Fisk, who is based in Beirut, is Middle East correspondent for the London daily, The Independent. Carnage caused by Israel’s air strikes and invasion of Gaza, and the prospect of spiralling violence, formed a dark backdrop to the lecture in which Fisk gave a hard-hitting critique of the roots and conduct of conflicts that engulf Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Castigating the United States and Britain, he said their refusal to condemn Israel’s disproportionate military actions against the Palestinian population of Gaza 'reconfirms in people’s minds that the superpowers are not interested in justice and peace in the Middle East'.

The award-winning journalist was scathing about the Western media, branding it cowardly in its determination not upset the Western powers and Israel. 

'Gaza is a case in point,' he continued. 'The reporting of it, and the response to it by foreign ministers in the United States, Canada and Britain - mercifully the French have got a better grasp of the reality - is outrageous. Journalists are mincing their words to avoid telling truth and saying: ‘why is a nuclear power shelling one-and-a-half million refugees’. We become mouthpieces of the Israeli government.

'Yes, Hamas is firing these stupid rockets over the border with Israel, and the life of every Israeli is as precious as every other human being. But Israel itself broke the ceasefire last November. Twenty Israelis have been killed there in ten years. Compare that to more than 370 Palestinians killed in the first six days of this Israeli bombardment.'

Fisk spoke about the suffering of displaced peoples, Israel’s 'self-deluding claims that they are in a war to the bitter end' and Islamic militants’ 'cynical use of deaths exacted by Israel to fuel their own popular support'.

'The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching - come to heel or we will crush you - is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians and relies on Israel to provide it. And so the cycle continues - rockets are fired into Israel, and Israel obliges.'

Fisk’s reportage and trenchant commentary from war-zones have established him as one of the outstanding journalists of his generation. His news dispatches and vivid commentary based on eye-witness experience, front-line access to political officials and activists, and a deep knowledge of Middle East history make him an influential and distinctive analyst who is read across the globe. 

Welcoming him to the campus, vice-chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett, said: 'Robert Fisk blends the sure-footed confidence of a veteran foreign correspondent who ‘knows his patch’, with the scholarship of one who understands the history of the region and its peoples. His commentaries on the policies and actions of political powers and armed groups are given without fear or favour to any side.'

As a staff correspondent with The Times, Fisk covered burgeoning violence in Northern Ireland during 1972-75 and later, with The Independent, reported wars and revolutions in the Balkans, Iran, Lebanon, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Afghanistan. 

During his speech, Fisk argued that conflict can be resolved only when protagonists talk to each other openly, not through megaphone politics, intermediaries or threat of force, and when they acknowledge each other’s just rights. 

'We have got to stop the theft of Arab land as colonies for Israelis,' he concluded. 'As long as it goes on there will not be a peace. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Kandahar in Afghanistan. People there were being brought into hospitals and parents didn’t know why their children were dying. The reason they were dying was because of hunger. There is no food. We don’t need 8,000 more American soldiers there, we need 8,000 doctors.

'Unless we address ourselves to the purpose of actually talking, we are not going to have an end to conflict. We can’t win in Afghanistan, we can’t win in Iraq and the Israelis can’t win in Gaza. The constant clap of gunfire is not going to take us anywhere.'

This article and accompanying podcast are courtesy of the University of Ulster.