Television series fuels Turkish-Israeli tensions

By Sibel Utku Bila

A new series on Turkish state television about the plight of the Palestinians fuelled tensions on Thursday with Israel, a long-time regional ally with whom ties have steadily been worsening.

The TV series, called “Separation: Palestine In Love and In War”, went on air on Tuesday. The first episode portrayed Israeli forces shooting Palestinian civilians, insulting and ridiculing them.

In one scene, an Israeli soldier shoots a smiling girl in the street, while another shows an elderly Palestinian killed at an Israeli checkpoint while on his way to pilgrimage in Makkah. Soldiers are also shown killing a newborn baby.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday Turkey’s envoy would be summoned over the series which “incites hatred against Israel” and “is not worthy of being broadcast even in an enemy state.” The Turkish foreign ministry declined to comment on the new spat, saying it would wait for Israel to officially convey its protests to the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv. The row erupted even before another dispute — over Israel’s exclusion from joint military drills in Turkey last week — had subsided.

Once-flourishing bilateral ties took a sharp downturn in January after Turkish government launched an unprecedented barrage of criticism against Israel over its devastating war on Gaza, in which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed. Officials from Turkey’s public TRT broadcaster were not available for comment. According to media research company ABG Nielsen, the first episode only attracted a marginal audience of 0.6 per cent, making it the 97th most watched programme of the day. The political consultant of the production company defended the programme.

“How come the scenes of massacre are exaggerated? Aren’t we speaking about a state which commits massacres… without discrimination of age and gender?” Hakan Albayrak said on the CNN Turk channel. “If they (Israelis) are ashamed by what is shown, then they should stop doing it,” he said.

Tensions were already high between the two allies since last week when Ankara excluded Israel from international air exercises in Turkey and then scrapped them.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended the decision on Wednesday, saying that “we have taken the conscience of our people into consideration.”

Erdogan has been at the forefront of international criticism of Israel’s Gaza offensive at the turn of the year.

In an unprecedented outburst, he stormed out from a debate on the Gaza war in Davos, Switzerland on January 29 after accusing Israel of barbarian acts and telling Israeli President Shimon Peres, sitting next to him, that “you know well how to kill people.”

The Gaza offensive also led to the disruption of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria that Turkey had mediated since May 2008.

In contrast to its souring relations with Israel, Erdogan’s government has markedly improved ties with Syria and sought closer relations with Iran, an arch-enemy of the Jewish state.

Mainly Muslim non-Arab Turkey has been Israel’s chief regional ally since the two signed a military cooperation deal in 1996.

Ankara however has close ties also with the Palestinians, whose struggle for statehood enjoys widespread support among both Islamists and leftists in Turkey.

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