BBC’s Sommerville showcases PIJ rearmament but refrains from asking who supplied the weapons

On February 26th the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville produced two reports – one written and one filmed – about the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The filmed report – first shown on the BBC News television programme ‘Impact’ – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rearmed and replenished ranks“. Sommerville opens the report with the same message as that appearing in the title:Sommerville tunnels filmed

“The threat of war is looming again in Gaza. These are the men of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Six months since their last battle, they’ve rearmed and replenished their ranks in expectation of their next confrontation with Israel.”

Notably, BBC audiences are not informed at this juncture or at any other point in this report (or in the written article) how the PIJ has been able to rearm or who has supplied those weapons.

Of course the likelihood of any future confrontation between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel depends entirely upon the policies chosen by the former: for as long as they elect to refrain from attacking Israeli civilians, there will be no “next confrontation”. Sommerville, however, allows one of his masked interviewees to mislead viewers with the inference that Israel is the party initiating the recurrent bouts of conflict.

“We are prepared for any aggression on the Gaza Strip.”

 A short way into the report Sommerville tells audiences:

“….right by its [Israel’s] border…120 mm mortars. There’s an ample supply and there’s more inside.”

However, he refrains from commenting on the fact that the mortar marked ‘M48′ displayed by the PIJ terrorist he and his crew filmed bears a remarkable resemblance to the Iranian-made 120mm mortars intercepted by the IDF in 2009 aboard the ‘Francop and of course he makes no effort to inquire where and how his hosts obtained their “ample supply”.

Sommerville tunnels filmed M48

M48 Francop

Iranian-made 120 mm M48 mortar found on the Francop. Photo: MFA

Later on in the report viewers are shown an image of what Sommerville describes as:

“The aftermath of an explosion on Gaza’s western border …”

The Gaza Strip’s western border is of course the Mediterranean coastline. Apparently just as geographically challenged as his colleague who recently described the Golan Heights as being west of Haifa, Sommerville is actually referring to the southern border of the Gaza Strip – as can be determined from the commentary which follows.

“Egyptian soldiers are piling on the pressure. They’re tightening the border and wiping out smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza. Egypt blames militants from here for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

No effort is made to explain to viewers why Egypt makes such statements.

Throughout this report the PIJ are predictably referred to as “militants” and Sommerville informs viewers that:

“They [the PIJ] and Hamas are regarded by the West as terrorists.”

Of course there are also non-Western countries which take the same approach – now including Egypt.

In the closing interview with a masked terrorist, viewers are told that the ‘achievement’ of the PIJ during last summer’s conflict was:

“…we challenged the occupier […] we are still able to say no to the occupation.”

Sommerville fails to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the Gaza Strip has not been occupied by Israel since August 2005.

In the written version of his report  – appearing in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war” – Sommerville promotes some of the same themes.Sommerville tunnels written

“Viewed as a terrorist group in the West, Islamic Jihad is committed to Israel’s destruction.”

And:

“Egypt’s soldiers move around in armoured vehicles. Border controls have been tightened and they are using explosives to destroy homes and smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi blames Hamas and others for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

He again makes no effort to correct the inaccurate impressions received by readers from statements made by his interviewees.

“Standing inside, his face hidden, is a fighter, with the nom de guerre, Abu Hamza.

“In the last war we noticed that every moving thing on the surface of the earth was bombed, whether it was ambulances, civilians or fighters walking on the street,” he said. [emphasis added]

And:

“Our biggest achievement is that we stood our ground, and we challenged the occupier,” said Abu Ibrahim, a commander of their Saraya al-Quds brigade.

“Unlike the whole world, we are still able to say ‘no’ to them, ‘no’ to the occupation. We are still able to resist.” [emphasis added]

Sommerville continues the practice of promoting casualty figures which have not been independently verified by the BBC.  

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured.”

His emotive descriptions of the Gaza Strip lack context and no effort is made to clarify to readers that the factor most hindering reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Large parts of neighbourhoods in Gaza are in ruins, and the Strip is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis which has left many thousands of families homeless.

Six months on, the rubble from the war lies mostly uncleared and there has been little rebuilding.” […]

“Gaza is being cornered, more isolated than ever before…”

Sommerville’s take-away message in both these reports is that the “next confrontation” between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip is just a matter of time. Whilst that supposition is entirely reasonable, he fails to present BBC audiences with the information they need in order to be able to properly understand why that is the case.

The fact that he refrains from accurately defining the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terrorist organisations, along with his overall failure to clarify to BBC audiences that any future hostilities depend entirely upon the choices made by those groups and his concurrent promotion of myths such as the non-existent “occupation”, means that readers and viewers remain none the wiser about the real causes of the war around the corner.

In addition, Sommerville’s avoidance of the issue of the PIJ’s Iranian backing and the sources of its rearmament mean that a crucial piece of the overall picture is concealed from BBC audiences and hence, what could have been informative journalism is instead disappointingly predictable and superficial, tapping into the same themes recycled by the BBC so many times before. 

 

Recommended viewing from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau chief

Following publication of the news that veteran CBS ’60 Minutes’ correspondent Bob Simon had died in a car accident in New York, the head of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau sent this tweet:

Colebourn tweet Simon

The report recommended by Richard Colebourn to his Twitter followers is titled Christians of the Holy Land and it dates from 2012. Rather than being “unusually nuanced and robust”, it in fact includes basic inaccuracies such as this:

“Israel built the wall over the last 10 years, which completely separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. The wall was built to stop Palestinian terrorists from getting into Israel. And it’s worked. Terrorism has gone down 90 percent.

At the same time, the wall completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the “little town” where Christ was born into what its residents call “an open air prison.” ” [emphasis added]

A critique of Simon’s report by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile can be seen here.

If it seems odd that Richard Colebourn’s tribute should highlight that particular piece of reporting out of all Bob Simon’s work, it is worth remembering that the BBC has produced its own similarly distorted reporting on the same topic. Perhaps that is why the corporation’s Jerusalem Bureau chief seems to have difficulty differentiating between “robust” and inaccurate, “nuanced” and partial. 

Letter to a BBC Jerusalem correspondent – from 1948

In February 1948 two successive bombings rocked Jerusalem. Three people were killed at the beginning of the month when the building housing the offices of the Palestine Post (later to become the Jerusalem Post) was attacked by means of a car bomb. Three weeks later another car bomb was detonated on Ben Yehuda Street killing over fifty people and injuring dozens more. Both attacks were initiated by the commander of Arab forces in the Jerusalem area and were carried out by two British Army deserters.

Palestine Post February 2nd 1948 (click to enlarge)

Palestine Post February 2nd 1948 (click to enlarge)

Shortly after the second bombing, the founder and editor of the Palestine Post Gershon Agron wrote the letter below to the BBC’s correspondent in Jerusalem at the time, Richard Williams, with whom he had previously engaged in an apparently heated conversation.

Dear Mr. Williams,

The Mejelle, the ancient Ottoman legal code, instructs us wisely that if a judge feels tired, or is hungry, or if he doesn’t feel well, he has to stop his legal proceedings immediately. This order should apply to journalists as well. I was very tired, deep in thought, between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. last night, due to what happened and some technical press handicaps (electricity breakdowns). And, I am sure you must have been just as tired as well. You have been tired because of Eretz Yisrael, tired of the anger that this country spreads sometimes among newcomers. And thus our conversation, instead of being polite, as grown-ups do, had turned into an angry dispute according to the formula: “I falsify, you falsify, we are all falsifying.” I was left feeling that we haven’t reached a suitable level to discuss the really important issues.

I had asked, therefore, to see the BBC folder in our archives. It begins in June 1938 and ends in November 1948. I will quote only your latest comments.

On December 4, 1947, we heard on the BBC an interesting sentence: “The British police acted very well during last Tuesday’s riots.” We published this sentence word by word, even if we were fully aware that on this day the Arabs opened fire at Jewish Jerusalem, robbed and burned the entire Industrial quarter. The British police indeed behaved very well by escaping as fast as it was possible. We left it to our readers, who know the truth, to decide.

On December 10, 1947, one of our readers protested against the opinion expressed by BBC representative Nixon who quoted the Arabs as saying that they will fight the Jews until the last drop of their blood. The same reader added: “Nixon is wrong. Both Jews and Arabs are simple people. They don’t want to fight to the last drop of blood – they want to live in peace.”

There are also a number of quotations that point out that the BBC was too hasty in discovering that the people who threw a bomb at The Palestine Post offices (on February 1, 1948) were either Arabs or Jews. But the Post quoted the BBC news item from London that some 300 British citizens left England to join the Arabs. This news item was never denied, even after it was proven to be false.

But this February we were the bad boys again. The BBC announced that “Jerusalem was quiet after a great Jewish anti-British demonstration.” This was the day after Ben-Yehuda Street was bombed. Jerusalem was not particularly quiet on this very day and night. A search was going on for the bodies of the 66 persons killed in this bombing. To show that in Jerusalem only the British are killed is a sham. But this was, perhaps, what the British listener wished to hear.

All this indicates that everybody falsifies and some do it on purpose. The British try to show that each murder (isn’t this a norm?) was committed by Jews. And why? Because the particulars of the murder do not explain what happened before. It may be understood that somebody wishes to see himself to be just in his own eyes. But why claim that this is the whole truth, and not something that depends on other factors?

If we arrive at a day when we all agree that the Jewish nature will show the way to the Jewish people, exactly as the British try to square things according to the British point of view, we will be able to live in peace, each respecting the other in this not entirely easy 
country. As one of my friends said yesterday that “only in peace we will find confidence and mutual prosperity.”

Yours,
Gershon

Plus ça change…

Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

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BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue. 

 

More narrative-inspired reporting from Bethlehem by BBC’s Yolande Knell

The December 27th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (available here from 01:48) described as follows in its synopsis:Knell Bethlehem FOOC

“…why Yolande Knell in Bethlehem is looking forward to two more Christmases in the coming weeks…”

A very similar written version that audio report from Knell’s appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on December 28th under the title “The town with three Christmas Days“. It opens by telling BBC audiences that:

“Christmas comes but once a year – unless you live in Bethlehem, where three different Christian denominations celebrate on three different days.”

Obviously Bethlehem is far from the only town in the region in which different Christian denominations celebrate Christmas on different dates. Towards the end of her report Knell states:

“Many Palestinian Christians see themselves as custodians of Christmas and its colourful traditions.

The dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land adds a sense of urgency to their celebrations. Nowadays many young people in the West Bank choose to emigrate because of the difficult economic and social conditions created by Israel’s occupation.”

Knell’s over-simplified claim of a “dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” misleads audiences by failing to distinguish between Israel – where Christian communities thrive and grow – and the PA ruled areas where their numbers continue to decline. Of course the vast majority of Palestinians in the PA-controlled territories do not live under “Israel’s occupation” at all with control of Bethlehem, for example, having been handed over to the PA in accordance with the Oslo Accords two decades ago. However, Knell continues to promote the mantra which has dominated previous BBC reports on the topic of Palestinian Christians, according to which emigration is entirely attributable to factors connected to Israel. And as we have seen in much other BBC reporting on the issue, Knell studiously avoids the long-standing but under-reported topic of intimidation of Christians.

“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.

In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.”

Interestingly, a BBC feature from 2011 called “Guide: Christians in the Middle East” (much of which is now sadly out of date due to events in Syria and Iraq) did briefly mention non Israel-related factors affecting Palestinian Christians.Knell Bethlehem written Mag

“Some Christian leaders also cite the rise of radical Islam in the area as a growing pressure on Christian communities.”

At the beginning of the audio version of Knell’s report presenter Kate Adie informs listeners that:

“Yolande Knell has lived in the city [Bethlehem] just a few miles south of Jerusalem for four years now…”

Despite that fact – or perhaps because of it – BBC audiences continue to be fobbed off with one-dimensional reporting from Yolande Knell which presents Palestinians exclusively as passive victims of Israeli policy and actions whilst concurrently refraining from any attempt to report on the internal Palestinian affairs which affect their lives.

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BBC report on Christmas in Bethlehem amplifies PA political messaging yet again

Attempts to co-opt Christmas for Palestinian political messaging are nothing new and neither is the BBC’s collaboration with those public relations campaigns. In previous years we have seen Jon Donnison and Yolande Knell using the occasion of Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem for opportunistic promotion of political messaging. This year coverage of the celebrations was assigned to Quentin Sommerville who managed to produce a reasonable filmed report free of political messaging. The accompanying written article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, however, was not.Bethlehem Christmas art main

Titled “Christians hold Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem“, the report was amended no fewer than five times and those changes can be seen here. Just under 40% of that report’s word count is devoted to context-free amplification of political statements with descriptions of the religious celebrations themselves barely appearing in the article.

With no background information provided to BBC audiences on the obviously significant context of the political activities of some members of the clergy in the region, the report states:

“In a homily, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal called on Jews, Muslims and Christians to “live together as equals”.

Referring to violence in Gaza and Jerusalem, he said he hoped 2015 “would be better than this difficult year”.” […]

“Patriarch Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said the region had become “a land of conflict”.

“I hope next year there will be no separation wall and I hope we will have bridges of peace instead,” he said, referring to the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank, which separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent attacks by militants.

“Peace comes from justice and we have a cause which we hope will be solved soon,” the Patriarch added.” […]

“Patriarch Twal urged Christians not to forget the residents of Gaza, where up to 19,600 families displaced by the 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants are still in need of medium- and long-term shelter…”

As usual, the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence is ignored by the BBC – along with the events which brought about its construction – and the reason for its existence presented in the partial language of “Israel says”. Readers are not reminded that the summer conflict lamented by the Latin Patriarch was instigated by Hamas or of the obviously relevant issue of continuing Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.

Additionally, the writer of this report saw fit to use it as a hook for the promotion of quotes from the PA Minister for Tourism.

“His sentiment was echoed by Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah.

“Our message this Christmas is a message of peace like every year, but what we added this year is that all we want from Christmas is justice,” the minister said.

“Justice for our people, justice for our case and the right to live like all other people in the world in our independent state without the occupation.” “

Readers are not informed that the phrase ‘all I want for Christmas is justice” is the official Christmas political campaign slogan chosen this year by Ms. Maayah’s department and neither are they told anything about the circumstances of how that quote reached the BBC just in time for its Christmas Eve report from Bethlehem.

Similar messaging was apparent in some of the images chosen to illustrate the report and their captions.

Bethlehem Christmas art pics

The article also includes the following snippet of unrelated information, echoing the BBC’s coverage at the time:

“On Tuesday, Pope Francis – who prayed at the West Bank barrier and called for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Palestinian-Israeli conflict when he visited the region in May – sent a message of solidarity to Christians in the Middle East.” [emphasis added]

If readers of this article assumed that – as suggested in its title – they were going to learn something about the celebration of the religious festival itself in Bethlehem, they were of course mistaken. Instead, the BBC has once again self-conscripted to the opportunistic exploitation of Christmas for promotion of context-free PA political sloganeering.  

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

h/t H

‘Open Bethlehem’ is a political campaign which describes its aim as being “to address the state of emergency in Bethlehem”. Partnered by the Amos Trust, promotion of its campaign message is largely focused around a film of the same name made by Leila Sansour.

The campaign’s Facebook account states:

“Open Bethlehem aims to bring world attention to the crisis facing the city by reaching out to decision-makers, church leaders and the media and acting as a route into Bethlehem for initiatives of all kinds. Above all, we aim to build a positive legacy for Palestine and the wider region by reasserting Bethlehem’s unique historical character as a living example of an open and multi-faith Middle East.”

A recent review in the Guardian informs readers that:

“Leila Sansour’s documentary Open Bethlehem follows her campaign to stop occupying Israeli forces encircling her hometown with a concrete wall.”

And:

“Palestinian director Leila Sansour has made a fierce, poignant film about her family and her hometown of Bethlehem, now in Palestinian territory but progressively stifled by the Israeli government’s anti-terrorist barrier…”

According to the film’s production company blurb:

“Iambic Dream Films is thrilled to present a film that Jon Snow calls: “One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen. The tragedy of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one town – Bethlehem.” […] The film spans ten momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation.”

Bethlehem of course has not been “under occupation” for two decades and neither is it ‘encircled’ by a “concrete wall” but readers no doubt recall that same theme being promoted by the BBC’s Yolande Knell exactly a year ago in her Christmas reporting from Bethlehem and yet again in her reporting on the Pope’s visit in May 2014.

Hence, it does not come as too much of a surprise to see this:

Knell Crouch End 1

Knell Crouch End 2

Now, what would the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality have to say about the self conscription of a BBC correspondent to a political campaign directly connected to the field she covers?

“A conflict of interest may arise when the external activities of anyone involved in making our content affects the BBC’s reputation for integrity, independence and high standards, or may be reasonably perceived to do so.  Our audiences must be able to trust the BBC and be confident that our editorial decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures, or any personal interests.”

“15.4.1

News and current affairs output may at any time deal with any issue, cause, organisation or individual and there must be no doubt over the integrity and objectivity of editorial teams.  For this reason, there are specific constraints on those working in BBC News and Current Affairs, Global News and news output in the Nations.  Staff, correspondents and freelances primarily known as BBC news presenters or reporters are affected by these constraints.”

And:

“It is essential that BBC staff, BBC correspondents on non staff contracts and freelances known to the public primarily as presenters or reporters on BBC news or current affairs programmes do not undertake any off-air activities which could undermine the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. Nothing they do or say should bring the BBC into disrepute. No off-air activity, including writing for newspapers, magazines or websites, writing books, giving interviews, making speeches or chairing conferences should lead to any doubt about the objectivity or integrity of their work for the BBC. If BBC journalists, presenters or reporters publicly express personal views off-air on controversial issues, then their editorial or on-air role may be severely compromised.”

Whether or not Yolande Knell got the required permission from her Head of Department before agreeing to allow her name and BBC brand-linked title to be used for promotion of the ‘Open Bethlehem’ film we do not know. What is clear, however, is that her position as an ‘impartial’ BBC correspondent based in its Jerusalem bureau is compromised and indeed untenable after such political activity.

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How Israel “incarcerates” Christian Bethlehem – a Guardian Production  CiF Watch 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s portrayal of ‘Palestinian peace plan’ unravels

At the beginning of this week we addressed the topic of the BBC’s framing of the PA’s presentation – via Jordan – of a draft resolution to the UN Security Council. In that post we noted the following:BBC News logo

“Neither does the BBC address the issue of exactly which Palestinian factions are involved in this unilateral move and the significance of the fact that Hamas, whilst party to the Palestinian unity government, is not a member of the body recognized by the international community as representing the Palestinian people – the PLO. Hence, the subject of which factions exactly would be bound by what the BBC revealingly chooses to term this Palestinian “peace plan” – and its resulting efficacy – remains unaddressed.”

Thanks to the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh we now learn that those questions were far from premature and that the thorny issue of who would be committed to this so-called “peace plan” even extends to Mahmoud Abbas’ own party.

“Some Palestinian factions and figures oppose the draft Palestinian statehood resolution that was presented to the UN Security Council last week.

They claim that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not present the measure to leaders of the PLO and Fatah before it was brought to the Security Council. […]

Abbas critics argue that the draft resolution, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, does not meet the political aspirations of the Palestinians.

Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti took issue with the text and called on the PA leadership to conduct an immediate and comprehensive revision of its wording. […]

Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also criticized the draft resolution and called on the PA leadership to withdraw it from the Security Council.

The proposal does not represent the position endorsed by the PLO Executive Committee over the past few weeks, Khaled said. […]

The Palestinian National Initiative, an independent political movement led by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, said the draft resolution includes “dangerous lapses” that compromise Palestinian demands.”

Moreover, Palestinian unity government partner Hamas also joined in the criticism of Abbas’ move.

“Hamas on Tuesday joined several Palestinian groups that have rejected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s statehood bid at the UN Security Council.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the draft resolution that was presented to the Security Council last week, and which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, does not represent the Palestinians.”

Curiously, the BBC (which seems to have Mustafa Bargouti on speed-dial every time an opportunity to defame and delegitimise Israel presents itself) has apparently not yet contacted its favourite “influential Palestinian politician” – or anyone else – for comment on these developments, which to date remain unreported.

A very prominent characteristic of BBC Middle East coverage is its consistent under-reporting of domestic Palestinian affairs, including internal politics. Thus, BBC audiences only get to see a sanitized, one-dimensional, homogenous view of Palestinians which actively hinders their understanding of the region and its events.  

Related Articles:

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How did the BBC frame the PA’s UNSC move?

 

 

Tough luck Syrian and Iraqi Christians: the BBC’s Yolande Knell has other priorities

2014 has of course been a very difficult year for many minority ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East in general and not least for Christians in Syria and Iraq. With Christmas and the end of the Gregorian year approaching, it was to be expected that the BBC would turn its attentions to the plight of Christians in the Middle East but, as we will see in a moment, the topic of the decimation of those ancient communities in fact took a back seat due to Yolande Knell’s political messaging on a different topic.Newshour 21 12

On December 21st the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presented by Julian Marshall, included an interview (from 00:35:05 here) by Yolande Knell with the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani.  Marshall’s introduction to the item began promisingly:

“In recent months church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of more and more Christians from the Middle East. The civil war in Syria and the advance of Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.”

Next, however, listeners were given a hint of what the upcoming item is really about, with Marshall promoting one of the BBC’s newer themes seen in much of its recent content: the historically illiterate claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is morphing from one about land to one with religious overtones.

“In the Holy Land the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been to meet the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem to hear his thoughts on 2014.”

This entire item is four minutes and thirty-five seconds long. A mere thirty-four seconds were allotted to the Bishop’s generalised view of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.

Knell: “Good to meet you, your grace. We’ve come to get your reflections on the past year. Events have been taking place in the region. If we start off with Syria and Iraq – they’re two countries that are covered by your diocese – where we’ve seen Christians fleeing war, Islamic extremism. Of course Christians have been leaving the Middle East now for decades but how has this added to your concerns?”

In fact, Iraq is not part of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem (which includes Israel, the PA territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon): it falls under the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

Dawani: “It was a very difficult year for the people of the Middle East in general and for the Christian community in particular. When it has to do with the Anglican Church, I think that we lost most of our presence in Syria because of the conflict that has been in action for the last four years. It was also a big challenge to the Christian presence in Iraq, so it’s really our concern for the future presence of the Christians in the whole Middle East.”

One imagines that there is little in that short statement which BBC audiences did not already know. But Knell passes up on the opportunity to ask the Bishop for more details such as how many Christians remain in Iraq and Syria, what sort of threats they face, where those who have fled have gone and so on and quickly moves on to one of her own pet topics by means of some very dubious linkage between events in Syria and Iraq and those closer to her interviewee’s church in Jerusalem.

Knell: “And here in the Holy Land there have been troubles as well. After the summer conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza you went to Gaza yourself. What did you see there?”

Dawani: “In Gaza of course the war that took place it was a devastating one and as an Anglican church we run a hospital in Gaza – Al Ahli Arab Hospital – and during the war we used to receive more than hundred injuries every day and the hospital used to work around the clock. And after the war I visited the Gaza twice and of course I have seen, you know, lots of destruction and I’ve seen that people are very depressed. It wasn’t the last war or the last conflict. The conflict has been continuing year after year. So I believe that something must be done to alleviate the suffering for the people who live there.”

The topic of how many Christians remain in the Gaza Strip and under what sort of conditions they live, given the extremist Islamist regime which controls the territory, clearly does not interest Knell. Instead she turns the focus of her report elsewhere:

Knell: “And here in East Jerusalem, right on your doorstep, tensions have been rising as well. And what we’ve seen here really is in some ways the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians taking on a more religious dimension. I mean how dangerous is that, do you think?”

Dawani: “Let me start by saying that Jerusalem is a very dear city to the three religions – or the three Abrahamic faiths. And it witnessed lots of violence during the last ten months or so, in which religious places has been targeted by some extremists; I can say that whether Muslims or Jews. And Al Aqsa Mosque also witnessed the big fight and as a Christian leaders we really did visit to both Al Aqsa Mosque and even to the synagogue that has been attacked by some people. And our message was very clear: that please don’t attack any holy sites, whether to the Muslims or to the Jews or to the Christians. And I hope and I pray that religion will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Notably, organised violent rioting on Temple Mount by Palestinian youths which has necessitated a police response is placed alongside the terror attack in Har Nof (which, no less remarkably, is now portrayed to BBC audiences as an attack on a holy site rather than the premeditated murder of Jews) to supposedly demonstrate that the two sides are both victims and attackers. That warped narrative is not corrected by Knell and neither does she make any effort to enquire about the situation of Christians living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.

A slightly different filmed version of the interview with Suheil Dawani – with Knell’s questions edited out – was also published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem reflects on 2014” on December 21st. With similar messaging to that seen in Marshall’s introduction to the audio version of the report, the synopsis to the filmed version also places recent incidents in Israel in the same overall category as persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria in order to ease the shift to the report’s real subject matter.Knell filmed Dawani 

“In recent months, Church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of a rising number of Christians from the Middle East.

The civil war in Syria and the advance of so-called Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

In the holy land, the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute, with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, is head of a diocese that covers much of the troubled region. As he prepares to celebrate Christmas this week he gave BBC News his reflections.”

So tough luck for the few remaining Christians trying to survive in Iraq and Syria: their barely described plight is for Yolande Knell merely a hook upon which to hang yet more of the same political messaging, whilst their co-religionists in Jordan and Lebanon and in the de facto Hamas-run Gaza Strip and in the PA-controlled territories do not even get a mention.

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Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive