Posted Monday, June 18, 2001

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Monday, June 18, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK

Israelis outraged by BBC documentary

War criminal SharonA BBC documentary discussing whether Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could be charged with war crimes has made front page news in Israel.

Israel's media summarised the contents of the documentary, broadcast in Britain on Sunday [June 17, 2001], concluding that most of the programme's interviewees favoured indicting Mr Sharon.

The programme has stirred emotions, and 80% of participants in an online poll by the Israeli daily Maariv have voted that Israel should boycott the BBC following the broadcasting of the documentary.

Israel's Channel One plans to broadcast portions of the documentary on Monday evening, according to Ynet, an Israeli news website.

And the Palestinian Authority is considering broadcasting the programme in its entirety.

The BBC has rebuffed intense criticism from the Israeli Government over the documentary, which examines Mr Sharon's role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon.

The programme contained comments from international legal expert Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton University, suggesting that Mr Sharon could be indicted.
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It also showed the prime minister's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, rejecting the notion as an insult and an injustice.

Mr Sharon resigned from his post as defence minister after a 1983 Israeli inquiry concluded that he had failed to act to prevent the massacre.


The BBC programme, titled "The Accused", part of the investigative series Panorama, "looks at the question of ultimate legal responsibility for the massacres," the BBC said in a statement.

"The programme asks whether the evidence from that time would be sufficient to justify criminal charges."

In its statement the BBC said it stood by the story, which it called "a legitimate analysis of a human rights issue."

Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Israel army radio that the BBC's reporting was sometimes slanted against Israel, and "sometimes there is a shade of anti-Semitism".

Responding to claims of pro-Palestinian bias, Fergal Keane, the BBC journalist who reported the piece, said: "I have nothing but contempt."

"At Panorama we are simply being true to a basic principle. It is a duty of journalists to question the actions and record of those who wield power," he said.

Claims rejected

"The job of a reporter is to deal with the facts. And the facts of Sabra and Shatila are deeply shocking."

He also repudiated claims by Mr Gissin, that the BBC had tricked him into giving an interview for the documentary.

"Contrary to inaccurate statements put out by some Israeli officials, Mr Gissin was fully aware of the subject when he gave the interview," he said.

"When the interview was over he left us on friendly terms. In fact some days later his officials provided us with a letter to help us transit easily through Ben Gurion airport with our tapes."

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