Why the BBC Middle Editor’s Northern Ireland analogy is wrong

“Now, Britain negotiated with the IRA and finally managed to make a peace agreement and Britain continued to negotiate with the IRA even when they were taking action against the British. Isn’t that the sensible way to make peace?”

That statement-cum-question was put to the Israeli prime minister in April of this year by the BBC’s Middle East editor and of course Jeremy Bowen is far from the only person within media circles and beyond to use the inaccurate Northern Ireland analogy. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the person who has the last word on the accuracy, impartiality and tone of the corporation’s Middle East related content, as well as playing a role in defining the content of the mandatory Middle East module taught at the BBC College of Journalism, subscribes to the erroneous and misleading notion that the two conflicts – and their solutions – are comparable.

The fallacious nature of the Northern Ireland analogy was recently laid out in a detailed article by writer Eamonn MacDonagh.

“In recent years, debates over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be resolved have begun to make frequent reference to a fairy tale. This tale is based on the supposedly similar conflict in Northern Ireland between Great Britain and the Provisional IRA. That conflict was ultimately resolved with a peace treaty, and the suggestion is frequently made that if only Israel and Hamas could be persuaded to implement its lessons, then all would quickly be made well. […]

In fact, drawing an analogy between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Middle East is not simply unjustified; it is an error of the grossest kind.”

Read the whole article here

Religion, political narrative and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’

On November 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ – which claims to address “the religious and ethical news of the week” – included an item (available from 36:45 here) presented in its synopsis as follows:Sunday 23 11

“In the aftermath of the attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem, some politicians have warned against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict developing into a ‘religious war’. This week’s presenter William Crawley examines the latest wave of violence in the region. We also hear from Cardinal Vincent Nichols who has spent the last week on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.”

William Crawley introduced the item thus:

“On Tuesday two young Palestinian men armed with a gun, knives and meat cleavers went on a killing spree in a Jerusalem synagogue, leaving four rabbis and a police officer dead in their wake. Murder and brutality are tragically commonplace in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities have been committed by both sides. But the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn about Tuesday’s attack, in the judgment of the Israeli Justice Minister, is that this conflict over land rights and political identity is now poised to become a full-blown religious war. We’ll explore that claim in a moment.”

After a conversation with Cardinal Vincent Nichols in which the professed subject matter was not ‘explored’, Crawley (at 40:34) moves on to his next guest.

“The Cambridge University historian Dr Wendy Pullan is the author of ‘The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places’. Wendy – good morning to you.”

Dr Pullan’s title could have more accurately been presented to listeners as “Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Architecture“. Significantly, she is also the “principal investigator” at “Conflict in Cities and the Contested State” (a body funded by the ESRC) which, despite its broad title, focuses its attentions mainly upon two cities: Jerusalem and Belfast. Past readers of the Guardian may be familiar with the Israel-related political opinions of Wendy Pullan’s “Conflict in Cities” colleague Mick Dumper and Dr Pullan is apparently also not averse to co-opting the halo of ‘impartial’ academia in order to promote a political narrative, as can be seen in her signed support for the BDS campaign at her university and, for example, her erroneous claim in an article published at ‘Open Democracy’ in 2013 that Israeli construction in the area known as E1 near Ma’ale Adumim “would cut the West Bank in two”. That inaccurate claim was also repeated in a paper presented by Pullan in Ankara in May 2014 within the framework of the UN’s “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, in which the anti-terrorist fence constructed to curb suicide bombings and thus save Israeli lives was described by Pullan in the following words:

“In recent years the world has been transfixed by the extent and audacity of the separation barrier (wall). While not to diminish the extent of the human misery the wall has caused the Palestinians, it is worth noting that this structure is only part of a much larger system that keeps the occupation in place, resulting from harsh closure policies that have cut off Palestinian Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the West Bank. Effectively, the wall is a very visible ‘tip of the ice-berg’. Although the introduction of an eight-metre high wall that separates mostly Palestinians from Palestinians is a shocking spectacle repeatedly used in the media, we know from Berlin that walls can come down.” [emphasis added]

The conversation which took place in the Radio 4 programme is therefore best taken in the context of Wendy Pullan’s obvious political motivations. They, however, were not revealed to the programme’s listeners – in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality.

Crawley: “Let’s go to this claim of a developing religious war; to what extent to you buy into that analysis?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I don’t buy into it in the way it’s being portrayed by the various political leaders and then picked up by the press. I think that religion has played a role in this conflict for many decades but its role is not particularly new at this point.”

Crawley: How do we separate out a conflict with religious dimensions from a religious war? What’s the definition of that?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think that the many different aspects to this conflict that have a lot to do with national identity and a very prolonged occupation and that these will always figure in the conflict itself. It’s over land, it’s over rights, it’s over identity. Now religion obviously has a role in all of that but I don’t think it’s the only role. Whereas a religious war will normally be fighting only in the name of religion; where all of the other aspects just fall by the wayside.”

Crawley: “So you’re calming down the rhetoric but let’s come to Jerusalem – a city you know very well; you lived there yourself for thirteen years. That city is so key to the peace process at this point. Why is it always such a sticking point?”

Pullan: “Well it’s a sticking point because it’s coveted by many different groups of people. And the…in a lot of ways the occupation comes to a head there. Jerusalem is highly symbolic. I mean when I say this isn’t a religious war, it doesn’t mean that religion is unimportant. It is the centre for three major monotheistic faiths. So it’s the natural place to play out the conflict. On the other hand, it’s coveted as a capital for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Crawley: “And the fact that it has so many sacred sites is significant because sacred sites don’t cease to be sacred for future generations.”

Pullan: “No, the sacred sites…once a sacred site is numinous it usually continues to be numinous and certainly the area that the Jews know as Temple Mount and the Muslims know as Haram al Sharif is an area that’s gone back and forth in different hands and so on. But it’s remained holy, although this has been manifested in different sorts of ways.”

Crawley: “Very briefly, Wendy, what do you think it would take to calm down some of these tensions at the minute?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think it needs political savvy and sensitivity. I mean one of the things that we find over the years in Jerusalem is that political expression for a long time was not tolerated. Religious expression was.”

The conversation ends there, but obviously the take away message for audiences is that there is no need to worry about a religious war in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That clearly erroneous conclusion ignores both history and current events, as Dr Jonathan Spyer noted in a recent article well worth reading in full.SONY DSC

“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion”.”

So why did a religious affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 seek to brush aside the veteran religious component in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Well, clearly one answer to that may be that the promotion of a ‘black and white’ political narrative of the kind advanced by Dr Pullan and her colleagues becomes significantly more complicated if Western audiences are informed of the conflict’s religious dimensions. 

BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast’s massive Middle East mangle

Mishal Husain’s deferential and decidedly uninformative ‘interview’ with Hizballah’s Muhammad Fneish on November 13th was apparently the inspiration for an item on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Breakfast programme on the same day.5 live breakfast

Presenter Rachel Burden’s introduction to the item (available here for a limited period of time from 02:39:40) began as follows:

“Now, the Lebanese militant group Hizballah has told the BBC that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers. In an interview with the BBC one of its leaders blamed IS for killing more Muslims than its longtime enemy Israel.”

Of course the implication that until ISIS came along Israel held some sort of record for killing Muslims is grossly inaccurate and misleading, but Burden made no attempt to clarify that fact to listeners – or to inform them of Hizballah’s terrorist designation – before introducing her interviewee; former British Ambassador to Libya, Sir Richard Dalton.

After a conversation about developments in Libya, Burden said:

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, what the Lebanese militant group Hizballah have told the BBC: that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers – it’s on the same side of a conflict as American forces for once. Is this just an extreme example of our enemy’s enemy being our friend and if it is, does it herald any possible rapprochement with the group and maybe a way of hope for the Israel-Palestine process – peace process?”

Why the topic of negotiations between Israel and the PLO was introduced into an item supposedly broadcast within the framework of a BBC special feature on Syria is unclear, but given that this was the second time in a matter of minutes that Burden had informed audiences that Hizballah had told the BBC that it now has “a common purpose” with Western powers, let’s take a closer look at the relevant segment of that interview.

Mishal Husein: “And do you therefore see those Western states as your allies then rather than your enemies, given the fact that you have a common fight at the moment?”

Fneish: “Sometimes common interests do cross, but not necessarily for the same goals. These Jihadi groups would not have thrived and expanded if it wasn’t for some policies by Western states like the United States, Britain and France and also the involvement of some regional states. […] For us, if there’s a convergence at the moment, it is the result of those states changing their positions and not because of common political goals.”

Clearly Burden’s interpretation of the Hizballah representative’s words does not accurately reflect what was said. Richard Dalton replied to her question as follows:

“I wouldn’t go as far as that, no. These are local conflicts with local dynamics. One of the reasons for example that Iran has got such a strong link with Hizballah in Lebanon is that it wishes to provide deterrents against attacks on Iran’s own territory. So this is not a simple matter of being able to count on a particular alliance for one purpose and then seeing that alliance extended for another. The fact is that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is currently getting worse, with a negotiated solution further off than ever – largely because of policies adopted in Israel. And the fact is unless Western policy changes towards Israel and towards the Palestine-Israel conflict as a whole, we’re not going to see progress on that issue just because of a temporary coincidence of interest in confronting Islamic State.” [emphasis added]

Rachel Burden made no attempt whatsoever to clarify or challenge Dalton’s pejorative and inaccurate allegations or to point out to listeners that the last round of negotiations failed because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a unity government with a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction whilst knowing full well that act would bring an end to talks.

In other words, listeners to a peak-time breakfast show were misled by inaccurate representation of the words of a senior figure in a terrorist organization not defined as such, with that misrepresentation used as hook for an equally inaccurate representation of the reasons for failure of negotiations between Israel and the PLO – all in an item supposedly forming part of the BBC’s coverage of events in Syria.

So much for the BBC’s claim to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

 

 

BBC News skirts opportunity to fully inform audiences on PA and Fatah incitement

The morning after the October 22nd terror attack in Jerusalem in which a three month-old baby was killed and eight other people injured, the BBC News website replaced its highly unsatisfactory report on the incident with another article titled “Israel’s Netanyahu accuses Abbas over Jerusalem car attack“.

Although the unnecessary inverted commas around the word attack seen in the previous article’s various headlines did not appear in this one, the description of a “car attack” of course still fails to adequately inform audiences that this was an act of terror and indeed the BBC refrains from categorizing the incident as such itself.

 “A spokesman said the incident was being treated as a “terrorist attack”.”

For some reason the BBC found it necessary to ensure that before readers had reached the end of the first six paragraphs of the article, they had been informed no fewer than three times that the terrorist was shot by the Israeli security forces: once in the caption to the photograph illustrating the report and twice in its text.

Pigua second art

As has often been documented here, the BBC consistently avoids reporting on the issue of Palestinian incitement from all factions and so this report may appear to make a welcome change to that previous policy. The topic of the article’s headline is presented thus:

“Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Palestinian president of incitement, after an attack which killed a baby girl in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu said Mahmoud Abbas had provided encouragement for incidents such as the killing of the three-month-old by a Palestinian driver.” […]

In a statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu accused the Palestinian unity government, backed by Mr Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas, of fuelling such attacks.

“This is the way in which Abu Mazen’s [Mahmoud Abbas] partners in government operate, the same Abu Mazen who just days ago incited to harm Jews in Jerusalem,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu was alluding to comments by Mr Abbas in which he said Jewish “settlers” should be barred “by any means” from entering a disputed holy compound in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. He described Jews visiting the site as a “herds of cattle”.

Mr Abbas was speaking after a series of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police on the compound.”

However, as Khaled Abu Toameh has documented, Abbas’ incitement has extended beyond those comments as they are reported by the BBC.

“A few days before the terrorist attack in Jerusalem, Abbas strongly denounced Jews who visit the Temple Mount as a “herd of cattle.”

Abbas told Fatah activists from Jerusalem who visited him in his office that they must make an effort to stop Jewish “settlers,” “by all means,” from “desecrating our holy sites.”

Abbas added:

“We must prevent them from entering the Noble Sanctuary by all means. This is our Al-Aqsa. Al-Aqsa is a red line: Israel must be aware that the ongoing raids and attacks on Al-Aqsa will cause a volcanic explosion in the area that will reach Israel. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine, and without it, there will be no state.”

Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have been exploiting the visits by Jews to the Temple Mount to incite Palestinians against Israel. They have been incorrectly denouncing these visits as “assaults” and “raids” on Islamic holy sites by Jewish “extremists”.”

The PA president has also recently used other issues to promote incitement:

“During the 50-day military confrontation between Israel and Hamas in July and August, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in the West Bank made it a daily practice to incite their people against Israel.

The anti-Israel campaign of incitement reached its peak with Abbas’s speech at the UN General Assembly last month, when he accused Israel of waging a “war of genocide” in the Gaza Strip. Abbas made no reference to Hamas’s crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Forty-eight hours before the Jerusalem attack, Abbas intensified his rhetorical assault on Israel by announcing that any Palestinian who is involved in property transactions with “hostile countries” (Israel) would be punished by life imprisonment with hard labor.

Abbas’s announcement came in response to reports that Palestinians had sold homes to Jewish families in Silwan — the Jerusalem neighborhood where al-Shalodi lived. By threatening to punish Palestinians for selling property to Jews, Abbas was sending a message that this is an awful crime that should not pass without a Palestinian response.”

Rather than clarifying to BBC audiences the scale and intensity of the incitement promoted by the Palestinian Authority president it so frequently describes as “moderate“, the BBC elects to present the issue in terms of “accusations” by the Israeli prime minister. The fact that Abbas’ party Fatah published a ‘martyrdom poster’ praising the terrorist on its Facebook page and that Abbas’ advisor described him as “a heroic martyr” has not been reported to BBC audiences.

Image credit: PMW

Image credit: PMW

Whilst the BBC has one the one hand frequently promoted the erroneous notion that the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas was a result of the lack of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and on the other sympathetically amplified the PA’s assorted unilateral moves to achieve international recognition of statehood whilst avoiding negotiations, the corporation consistently fails to provide audiences with information on the very relevant issues of the incitement and glorification of terrorism propagated by Palestinian leaders of all factions. Unfortunately, this report does little to correct those omissions or to begin to provide BBC audiences with the information necessary to enable their understanding of the part played by those factors in encouraging terrorism and making any negotiated peace agreement increasingly unlikely.

The BBC World Service, a Nazi analogy and George Clooney’s mum-in-law

h/t RL

This one may have to be filed under ‘you couldn’t make it up’.

On October 11th the BBC World Service’s radio programme ‘Weekend‘ was presented by Julian Worricker and, as usual, included two studio guests invited to “discuss and comment on themes and ideas of the week’s news, from the realms of politics, science, music and the arts”.Weekend 11 10

One of the items included in the programme (from 36:00 here for a limited period of time) was an interview with film director Vanessa Lapa about her film ‘The Decent One’, described as follows by the Jerusalem Post.

“Vanessa Lapa’s documentary portrait of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, The Decent One, is eerily fascinating. The movie is both a biography of Himmler and a history of Nazism, its soundtrack composed entirely (except for a brief interview in English at the beginning and the end, and background music) of excerpts from Himmler’s and his family’s letters and diaries. A few titles give historical context, but the words we hear are from these letters, read by actors.
Lapa, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, came into possession of these letters when her father bought them at auction so she could use them to make this film, which won the Best Israeli Documentary Award at this summer’s Jerusalem Film Festival.”

Following the conversation between Lapa and Worricker, the latter invited his studio guests to comment on what they had just heard with the first to speak being author and Economist correspondent Tim Judah. Worricker’s second guest – foreign editor of Al Hayat, Bariaa Alamuddin (aka George Clooney’s mother-in-law) – was then invited to comment too (from 49:04 in the link above).

Worricker: “Bariaa – what did you draw out of what you heard from Vanessa Lapa?”

Alamuddin: “Ah…quite a few things actually. Of course one always should look back at this with horror of course. The massacres and the Holocaust was a very bad point in the history of human beings. Nevertheless, it’s interesting the audience in Jerusalem – I’m sure there were no Palestinians in the attendance there – and what is something that I do not understand at all is where the Jews have suffered all this, how they can inflict on the Palestinians what they do. It’s something that must be in the psychic of every Jew and for them to elect people like Netanyahu or the rest of his cabinet and to…for them to go onto wars like the last Gaza war – I mean indeed since ’48 they must have killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – this is an aspect that I do not understand about the Holocaust. I love history…”

Worricker: “Hmm…”

Alamuddin: “…and I think any nation that does not look deep into its history is not a good thing. I talk to Germans a lot about this. Some of them have fatigue about this and indeed I haven’t met one German that celebrates what Hitler has done and nevertheless the younger generation does not really want to be blamed for what Hitler has done, so I understand in a way…”

Worricker: “Sure. Tim: come back on what you’ve just heard from Bariaa.”

Judah: “No, I don’t want to talk about that.”

Worricker: “No. I mean you brought it to the present day…ehm…and your view of what’s going on in the Middle East. I didn’t get into that with Vanessa Lapa obviously but that film, as I say, is being shown in Los Angeles; it starts…”

Alamuddin: “It’s a very valid point, Julian, the one I’m just bringing…”

Worricker: “Is it a valid point? Or…”

Judah: “Yes. I mean to a certain extent, yes. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it.”

Worricker: “I was going to invite you to [laughs] ….fair enough….if you want to leave it there…”

Clearly there are two issues arising from this broadcast, with one being a matter of accuracy. Bariaa Alamuddin claimed that “since ’48 they must have killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians”. The word “they” refers to Jews: notably Alamuddin never used the word Israelis. 

The estimated number of Arab casualties – not just Palestinians – in all of the wars, riots, uprisings and operations since 1920 stands at less than one hundred thousand. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that 13,000 Palestinians and Israelis were killed between 1948 and 1996. Those figures do not distinguish between civilians and combatants but what is quite obvious is that the figures promoted by Alamuddin are blatantly exaggerated. 

Julian Worricker, however, made no attempt to correct Alamuddin’s inaccurate statement and thus allowed BBC audiences to be grossly misled.

The second issue is that of Alamuddin’s use of a thinly-veiled Nazi analogy. Alamuddin claims that the victims of Nazi persecution have become persecutors of the same order; conveniently erasing context, circumstance and, of course, the actions of Palestinians from her narrative. There is nothing original about Alamuddin’s prejudice: as Howard Jacobson noted in 2011 it has been around for years. 

“Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy – it showed its hand in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, and surfaced again in Channel 4’s recent series The Promise – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (“You, of all people”) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t. “Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong,” resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.”

The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism includes the following:

“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”

Alamuddin, as mentioned above, did not even bother to use the word ‘Israeli’: like MP David Ward before her, she exclusively used the word Jews, suggesting that – as also defined in the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism – she has no compunction about:

“Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”

Worricker’s failed – and not particularly convincing – attempts to get Tim Judah to respond to Alamuddin’s obviously offensive remarks do not of course excuse either his own dithering inaction or the BBC’s promotion and amplification of racist statements and inaccurate ‘statistics’. No less problematic is the fact that those statements have been left standing in the recorded version of the programme currently available on BBC iPlayer. 

Unqualified amplification of Abbas’ ‘genocide’ agitprop on BBC News website

If – as one sincerely hopes is the case – it can be assumed that BBC staff are sufficiently well-informed to be able to recognize Mahmoud Abbas’ inaccurate and repeated use of the term ‘genocide’ to describe this summer’s conflict in his recent speech at the UNGA as nothing more than the agitprop that it is, then one must necessarily ask why BBC editors considered it appropriate to plaster that and additional defamation on the pages of the BBC News website.

Abbas UNGA on HP

Click to enlarge

One must also ask why the September 27th article titled “Palestinian leader accuses Israel of ‘genocide’ at UN” makes no effort to clarify to readers that the accusation amplified in its headline and in the body of the report is entirely baseless and that Abbas’ additional accusations of “war crimes” have not been proven in any legal forum.Abbas UNGA art

The BBC’s report on Abbas’ polemical speech is highly selective, dealing only with specific parts of its content.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of carrying out a “war of genocide” in Gaza in his speech at the UN General Assembly.

Mr Abbas said Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza should be punished, but stopped short of saying he would take the issue to the International Criminal Court.” […]

“Mr Abbas said the scale of damage in Gaza was unprecedented and surpassed that of earlier wars.

“This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment,” he told the UN General Assembly in New York.

He added that it was “impossible” to return to negotiations with Israel that did not address what he called “fundamental questions”.

“There is no meaning or value in negotiations for which the agreed objective is not ending the Israeli occupation and achieving the independence of the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital on the entire Palestinian Territory occupied in the 1967 war,” he said.” […]

The Palestinian leader also said the “hour of independence of the state of Palestine” had arrived. He added that he would be seeking a UN Security Council resolution on a two-state solution, but gave no time frame.”

Notably, the BBC ignored Abbas’ delusional and embarrassingly uninformed claim that the “devastation” in Gaza is “unmatched in modern times”. It erased from audience view his hallucinatory allegations concerning Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa mosque and – perhaps most significantly – Abbas’ references to “our national struggle established by the Palestinian fedayeen […] in early 1965″ and “Al-Nakba of 1948″ which clearly indicate that his interpretation of the causes of the conflict (and its solutions) does not begin in 1967. That point is of course critical to proper understanding of the rest of Abbas’ speech, including the short sections which the BBC did elect to report.

The BBC is of course perfectly entitled to report inaccurate and misleading allegations and claims made by Mahmoud Abbas or anyone else. What it is not at liberty to do is to mislead audiences by failing to provide them with the relevant factual information which would enable them to put falsehoods amplified by the BBC into their correct context.

A wasted opportunity: BBC R4’s ‘Media and the Middle East’

As we noted here a few days ago, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Archive on 4′ broadcast an edition titled “Media and the Middle East” on September 13th, presented by John Lloyd. On September 15th a written article by Lloyd appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “How the Western media’s Middle East coverage has changed“.Archive on 4

Those who had anticipated hearing answers to the questions posed in the radio programme’s synopsis would have been largely disappointed.

A significant proportion of the programme is made up of archive material from the BBC and others: a glimpse of how the subject was reported in yesteryear. Unfortunately, quite a few of those ‘historical’ parts of the programme are accompanied by inaccurate and misleading statements.

For example, after a segment from a Movietone News feature, Lloyd tells listeners:

“Its coverage of Palestine in the years before Israel became a state described as criminals the armed Jewish guerilla groups dedicated to ridding the country of British soldiers. Groups like the Stern Gang and the Irgun used the terror tactics of bombs and assassinations against the army deployed to keep the peace in Palestine, for which the British then had the mandate.”

Similarly, in his written article Lloyd states:

“In the closing years of World War Two and in the three years after it, the Jewish Irgun and Stern gangs who sought to force the British out of Palestine carried out a series of bloody attacks on British soldiers and officials.

Jews were labelled by the British as “terrorists”.”

John Lloyd might be interested to learn that they still are: for a fee of £195, educators can purchase a video from the BBC on the topic of “Early Israeli Terrorism“. But of course what is really important here is that Lloyd misrepresents the purpose of the mandate with which Britain was entrusted. The aim of that mandate was not to “keep the peace”, but to establish a Jewish homeland in accordance with the San Remo declaration and the League of Nations directive. That was a mandate, it transpired, the British had no intention of fulfilling – as was apparent from British actions such as the restrictions imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine (though never on Arab immigration), even as persecution of Jews in Europe escalated and reached its unprecedented climax.

Likewise, Lloyd completely ignores events such as the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936 and even the post-Partition Plan violence of 1947, taking listeners to 1949 by means of an archive broadcast which states:

“Nearly a million harmless Arab villagers have been made homeless as a result of war in the Holy Land.”

The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur war are not presented with any better context and listeners hear Lloyd claim that:

“In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for an attempted assassination of the country’s ambassador in London by a Palestinian dissident group.”

The fact that by June 1982 Israeli civilians all over the Galilee had been under Katyusha fire from Palestinian terrorists in southern Lebanon for months and 29 people had been killed and over 300 injured in PLO attacks since July the previous year despite a supposed ceasefire is not imparted to BBC audiences.

The first intifada is described by Lloyd in the anodyne terms of “an escalating campaign of disobedience” with no mention of violence from the Palestinian side. The post-Oslo campaign of terrorism is completely ignored and the peace process is described as having been “broken” by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin rather than by Arafat’s decision to launch the second Intifada. Moreover, Lloyd uses an archive clip obviously from the autumn of 2000 which repeats one of the BBC’s most egregious – and most widely promoted – falsehoods.

“The violence was sparked off three days ago when the right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited one of Islam’s holiest sites in Jerusalem.”

So as we see from the examples above, one very serious problem with this programme is that its attempt to use historic events as a means by which to explain the shifts in the media’s approach to Israel are hampered by the fact that Lloyd is unable to step outside the often incorrect accepted BBC narratives relating to those events and even amplifies them further. If one perhaps thought that basing a theory of changes in media attitudes as having resulted from Israeli actions would necessarily involve getting the history right, one would obviously be mistaken. 

With the help of his guests – heavily tipped in favour of the Palestinian narrative by number – Lloyd lays out a theory according to which Western media reporting from 1948 to 1967 was dominated by a colonialist attitude which, according to Daoud Kuttab, meant that Palestinians were sold short by Western journalists because they were not represented as a nation. Of course one very significant factor in that discussion should have been the fact that whilst Palestinians lived under Egyptian and Jordanian control for those 19 years, neither they nor their Arab rulers made any move to establish a Palestinian nation-state or to promote Palestinian nationhood. The reasons for that are well documented, but they do not fit into the narrative this programme seeks to promote.

According to another of Lloyd’s guests, David Cesarani, the “watershed in media coverage and perceptions of Israel” came in 1982 as a result of the first Lebanon war. Cesarani claims that from then on, Israel was no longer seen as a “plucky little state” and that instead it turned into “the bullying regional superpower, crushing relentlessly the Palestinian people – dispossessed refugees – turning all the might of a modern military force on people who could barely fight back”. Of course that simplistic theory only works if – as Lloyd takes care to do – one isolates the Palestinian issue and ignores the fact that actually it is just one aspect of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

That framing is reinforced by Chris Doyle of CAABU:

“Now I think in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian issue it is a question of the Palestinians being David to the Israeli Goliath and this is something that is not always there in the framing of the coverage: the permanent reminder – as I believe is necessary – that it is a question of an occupying power and an occupied people and that the Palestinians have very, very few options.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of this programme from this listener’s point of view was the way in which it promoted the inaccurate and ridiculous notion that Jewish self-determination can legitimately be defined as colonialism. Anton la Guardia of the Economist told audiences that “in a sense Palestine is the last great anti-colonial struggle” and later – as part of the programme’s effort to answer the question “why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does?” – promoted the theory that:

“To some extent your position on Palestine defines your political position on other things – in part because of this question of colonialism and the Palestinian struggle.” 

Lloyd made no attempt to clarify to audiences the illegitimacy of the colonial analogy, which was also used by other guests. Moreover, no effort was made to examine the effects of factors prevalent in Western society as part of a possible answer to the question of why so many people who know precious little about the Middle East express such strong opinions on the topic. Lloyd written

The fact, for example, that whilst Europeans have for several decades now regarded the model of European ‘unity’ and the sidelining of national identities as the best means to ensure peace on their continent certainly affects the way in which they view a people whose answer to the horrors of World War Two was to go and build a nation state. The fact that fewer and fewer of those expressing an opinion – including journalists – on the topic of Israel’s military conflicts have actually lived through war themselves, seen their loved ones go off to battle, been attacked by missiles or suicide bombers or experienced anything even approaching an existential threat is also a factor which needs to be taken into account.

And of course the fact that a simplistic and one-dimensional version of ‘the Palestinian cause’ (notably characterized by an astounding lack of interest in the basic rights of Palestinian women, gays and Christians) has become a fashion accessory-cum-political statement in Western society which is simultaneously nurtured and fed upon by the media (for example in programmes such as the BBC’s ‘World Have Your Say’) is also significant in terms of the style and content of coverage presented. Western society – including its media mirror – sanctifies the view according to which one does not need to have an understanding of a topic in order to express an opinion about it and all opinions are equally valid. That approach may be harmless when it comes to texting a vote for the perceived best dancer of the waltz in a televised reality show, but it takes on an entirely different meaning when uninformed and often prejudicial views on international affairs are amplified – unchallenged – on ‘have your say’ style current affairs programmes.  

An additional notable aspect of this programme was the platform given to Jeremy Bowen to promote his well-known frustrations with regard to what he perceives as organized campaigns of complaint regarding BBC coverage.

“And there would be phone calls sometimes which we’d try to deal with and of course there’d be letters. Almost all from supporters of Israel – 99% I’d say. […] Palestinians weren’t organized in the same sort of way.”

Lloyd too appears to have adopted the same view:

“Palestinians weren’t geared to complain as Israelis and the Jewish diaspora were.”

Of course as we know very well, veteran organisations such as CAABU and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – both of which have now been active for decades – are in fact extremely well-organized when it comes to orchestrating complaints campaigns and lobbying the BBC.

The programme’s brief coverage of this summer’s conflict failed to address relevant topics such as Hamas’ intimidation of foreign journalists and why hardly any footage was shown by Western media crews of terrorists in action, with the result being that most organisations falsely framed the subject as an Israeli war against the people of Gaza. Ethical questions such as should the BBC film in morgues and hospital wards in Gaza if it would not film similar footage in the UK were ignored. The fact that Israeli society does not accept the screening of graphic images of dead or injured people – and therefore no such images were filmed in Israel even though lethal events happened there – whilst Palestinian society has no such social taboos and hence graphic images were broadcast to Western audiences in abundance, raises professional questions this programme made no attempt to address.

Two separate segments of the radio programme related to Jon Snow of Channel 4’s decision to place his personal need to “bear witness” to what he saw in the Gaza Strip this summer above his obligations to journalistic ethics. Snow was of course far from the only journalist to adopt such an approach even though others – including BBC employees – may have been more subtle in expressing their self-indulgence. However, the programme made no attempt to explore the question of whether the industry’s acceptance of such an approach actually renders it insignificant. After all, if audiences are going to hear and read the personal views of Jon Snow or Orla Guerin in place of accurate and impartial reporting, they can just as well find similarly expressed personal opinions – for which they do not have to pay a licence fee – at thousands of other locations on the internet. 

All in all, this programme can be described as a wasted opportunity as far as its success in informing audiences about the issues it ostensibly set out to address is concerned. More worrying was the promotion (also in Lloyd’s written article) of historical inaccuracies, existing misleading BBC narratives and the language of anti-Israel propaganda. That aspect of these two items of BBC content suggests that objective examination of the media’s role in shaping public opinion on the Middle East and its adherence to the standards of journalism expected by the general public cannot effectively be carried out solely by members of a profession who have, in no small numbers, revealed over the past few months the existence of an organisational culture which allows personal politics to trump commitment to professional standards and obligations. 

How the BBC’s ME editor prevents audiences from understanding the background to the Gaza conflict

Back in 2006, the role of BBC Middle East editor was described thus:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

Notably, some of the recent “context” and “analysis” provided by Jeremy Bowen since his arrival in the Gaza Strip on July 11th has actually done the exact opposite by herding audiences towards a narrow and misleading view of the current conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip as being a consequence of the fact that an independent Palestinian state has not yet come into being.

In both Bowen’s filmed reports shown on BBC television news and promoted on the BBC News website on July 11th (here and here) he wound up his items with the following words:

“There’s a terrible familiarity – a sameness – about what’s been happening in the last few days and that’s because it’s happened before. The underlying political realities of the conflict haven’t been tackled. Many Israelis would say that’s because Palestinians won’t accept the existence of their state. Palestinians and plenty of others say the problem is that they don’t have independence. That if they had their own state, things might be very different. The latest peace talks collapsed recently. In the past, death, destruction and human pain have filled the gap left by failed negotiations. It’s happened again.”

In a written report titled “Jeremy Bowen: Israel and Hamas not ready for ceasefire” which appeared on the BBC News website on July 12th under the heading ‘analysis’, Bowen wrote:Bowen art 12 7

“Small wars break out between the two sides regularly. This one has been brewing for months, long before the kidnap and murder of three Israeli youths and the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager.

The reason is that the underlying political realities of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have not been settled.

Hamas rejects any peace talks with Israel.

The Israelis were criticised, indirectly, by their allies in the White House and state department after the collapse of the last round of negotiations with Fatah, the other main Palestinian faction.

It seems clear that the periodic small wars between Hamas and Israel will keep happening, like a gory Groundhog Day, until the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is at least made safe and stable, if not settled outright.

If that doesn’t happen, the chances are that the fights will break out more often, morphing into an attritional struggle that neither side would win.

The wider Middle East is highly unstable. That means a greater chance of the conflict in and around Gaza spreading its poison further afield.”

Readers may also recall that in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on July 3rd, Bowen responded to a question from presenter John Humphrys thus:

JH: “The Jerusalem Post is writing this morning about the murder of the teenagers obviously and it says this: ‘it’s another reminder that swathes of Palestinian society continue to be irreconcilably committed to Israel’s destruction’. Is it the case that it’s not just terrorist organisations such as Hamas that are bent on Israel’s destruction, but the Palestinian people generally are irreconcilably opposed to the existence of Israel?”

JB: “No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think the vast majority of Palestinians are absolutely reconciled to the existence of Israel. What they’re not reconciled to is the continuing occupation of land taken in 1967, the growth of settlements. You know you’ve heard all this many times before and it was interesting as well – and telling, I think – to see the mother of the Palestinian teenager who was killed saying Palestinians have no rights and I think that they feel that there’s one law for Israelis and one law for themselves and that they’re never going to be in a better place until they get independence, get their own state and that, I think, is the prevalent view among Palestinians.”

Let’s have a look at what Bowen has to conceal from audience view in order to persuade them that Hamas, the PRC, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the PFLP and numerous other terrorist groups of various stripes would desist from firing missiles at Israeli civilians if only a Palestinian state came into being.

First of all, there’s the rather obvious fact that violence against Jews and later Israelis predates the existence of Israel and the first organized terror group – Fatah – predated the 1967 war and ‘the occupation’. Secondly, as Bowen himself writes, Hamas opposes any sort of negotiations with Israel and its virulently antisemitic charter – echoed frequently in statements by Hamas’ leadership – rejects Israel’s right to exist. Hamas’ terrorist activity has often been aimed at undermining the PA’s ability to negotiate with Israel and when negotiations have made some sort of headway – as was the case in the mid-1990s – Hamas did its level best to scupper any agreements reached.

Another aspect to this is Bowen’s inversion of reality by means of the following statement:

“The wider Middle East is highly unstable. That means a greater chance of the conflict in and around Gaza spreading its poison further afield.”

That pronouncement erases from the equation important incoming factors in the Gaza Strip such as Iranian funding, training and weapons supplies for terrorist organisations such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It also ignores (not for the first time, as the above Radio 4 interview shows) the topic of the rising number of Salafist-Jihadists in the Gaza Strip.

Equally important is Bowen’s focus on the recent round of negotiations.

“The Israelis were criticised, indirectly, by their allies in the White House and state department after the collapse of the last round of negotiations with Fatah, the other main Palestinian faction.”

As we documented here at the time, the BBC’s messaging to audiences – conveyed, significantly, exclusively by Jeremy Bowen himself - was that Israel was to blame for the breakdown of those talks. BBC audiences therefore already ‘know’ why there is no peace and no Palestinian state and so when Jeremy Bowen claims that the terror emanating from the Gaza Strip would cease if there was such a state, they also ‘know’ which party is responsible for the fact that warheads are being fired at its civilians.

But in the world according to Jeremy Bowen, if only Israel would vacate “land taken in 1967″ and stop the “growth of settlements”, then all could be “very different”. The problem with that theory of course is that it has already been tested. Next month will mark nine years since Israel left the Gaza Strip and dismantled all the towns and villages there, but instead of peace and instead of a Palestinian effort to build a viable economy and a society preparing itself for statehood, terrorism against Israel only increased.

Another aspect of coverage of the current events in Israel and the Gaza Strip by Jeremy Bowen and his colleagues is no less important for complete evaluation of the framing of their ‘root cause’ by Bowen.

To date, the BBC has completely failed to report the fact that terrorist groups linked to Fatah – the dominant party in both the PLO and the PA – have, according to their own announcements, been playing an active part in the hostilities. Likewise, as previously noted here, the BBC’s reporting has made no effort to inform audiences of the incitement and glorification of terror coming from Fatah and PA sources.

Of course there is nothing novel about such serious omissions: the BBC consistently refrains from reporting Fatah and PA incitement and glorification of terrorism, with the examples during the recent kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers being just the latest.

Together with all that, the BBC is also consistent in avoiding informing audiences of the real significance of the fact that the Palestinian unity government inaugurated at the beginning of June made no effort to disarm the plethora of terrorist organisations – including Hamas – in the Gaza Strip in order to comply with existing agreements with Israel and the resulting ‘Hizballah model’ whereby an internationally recognized terror group retains its own rival militia whilst at the same time being party to a government.

So instead of being presented with a realistic and accurate picture of the situation as it exists, BBC audiences are being steered towards an inaccurate and dumbed-down caricature according to which only ‘the occupation’ and ‘settlements’ matter. That framing of the issue does not allow audiences to arrive at informed opinions on the issues faced by Israel or to understand the rationale behind its actions. But that failure to meet the BBC’s obligations under the terms of its public purposes remit is of course likely to continue for as long as the current Middle East editor – and his idée fixe – remains at the helm.  

 

Desert Island distortions on BBC Radio 4

The June 15th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’, presented by Kirsty Young, featured Raja Shehadeh in the guest seat. The programme can be heard here.

Desert Island Discs

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the programme is its across the board erasure of Palestinian and Arab violence over the decades, but other parts of the context-free political narrative it promotes and amplifies are also notable.

After the introduction, in which she mentions Shehadeh’s role as co-founder of Al Haq but fails to inform listeners of that organisation’s political agenda, its use of ‘lawfare’ and its support for BDS, Kirsty Young says:

“You have chosen to stay living in Ramallah. You’ve written a lot – very successfully – about the changing landscape around you. What does it look like now?”

Raja Shehadeh: “The way it looks now is rather sad because many of the lovely hills have been destroyed by settlements and also expansion of Ramallah into the hills, but mainly the settlements which are literally on every hilltop.” [emphasis added]

A quick look at the map is sufficient to be able to appreciate the lack of accuracy in Shehadeh’s statement – or perhaps his misunderstanding of the word ‘literally’.

Map Ramallah

He goes on:

“And it has caused me a lot of pain to see this change, but I don’t want to sound heroic for living in Ramallah and under occupation….”

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords Ramallah – which is of course in Area A – was passed over to full Palestinian Authority control in 1995. In other words, Shehadeh has lived under Palestinian rule – rather than ‘occupation’ – for nineteen years already.

Explaining his first musical choice, Shehadeh tells his host:

“…we used to go to the Dead Sea […] this was before the occupation of course […] the Dead Sea was not a border as it is now between Israel and the West Bank and Jordan…”

Conveniently, Mr Shehadeh neglects to mention that at the time of his childhood trips to the Dead Sea it, along with the rest of the area, was under a Jordanian occupation unrecognized by the international community. His host of course refrains from clarifying that point to listeners too.

Later on, Shehadeh opts for the ‘Israel denial’ option.

KY: “So tell me Raja Shehadeh a little bit about the importance and meaning of land; and I’m talking here not just about negotiations over pieces of land and incursions and so on; I’m talking about the land around you – the land you walk in…”

RS: “Well first of all the land in Palestine in general is a very attractive land…..We have in essence one of everything. One real mountain – which is in Syria actually – one major river and one lake – Lake Tiberias. I’m talking of historic Palestine…” […]

“But more recently, because of the colonization essentially of these hills by the settlers who claim a greater love for the land and are in the process of destroying it by cutting through the hills with roads, putting settlements where the land should not be disturbed really…”

Shehadeh goes on to complain that Israeli counter-terrorism and security measures (made necessary of course by the terrorism neither he nor his host mention throughout) disturb his country walks.

RS: “More recently it’s become better to walk in larger groups because of the possible unfortunate encounters that you can have.”

KY: “These are military encounters?”

RS: “Military encounters – yeah. […] Well, it destroys the poetry of the thing.”

Later, Shehadeh gives his version of the story of his family’s decision to leave Jaffa for their second home in Ramallah.

RS; “Jaffa it’s very hot and humid in the summer and so they had a summer-house in Ramallah. When hostilities began they decided it’s safer in Ramallah because it was getting rather dangerous actually – physically dangerous – so they decided, towards the end of April, to take that short drive down to Ramallah – short drive from Jaffa – and my father always thought that if the worst happens – that is the partition – Jaffa was going to be on the Arab side so they will always be able to go back. And they took very few things with them and they were never able to go back.”

Beyond the fact that by late April 1948 a full five months had passed since the Arabs rejected the partition plan, Shehadeh’s euphemistic description of “hostilities” of course conceals from audiences the Arab violence which both preceded and followed the UN’s recommendation of partition in November 29th 1947. Kirsty Young further muddies the waters by then coming up with the following bizarre and inaccurate statement:

KY: “Because of course this was a displacement that led up to the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. They were never allowed to go back.” [emphasis added]

The declaration of the State of Israel a couple of weeks after the Shehadeh family decided to travel to their summer home in Ramallah of course had nothing whatsoever to do with the “displacement” of those who decided to leave their homes. 

Young’s subsequent cameo of the Six Day War is no more accurate.

RS: “…just before ’67 things started heating up because there was feeling that war was imminent…”

KY: “We should just remind people, of course; it was the Six Day War that took place in 1967. Jordan lost control of Ramallah, which was then occupied by Israel.”

No context is given regarding the attack on Israel by surrounding Arab states and particularly Jordan’s decision to enter that war despite the Israeli request not to do so.

Shehadeh then goes on to describe his father’s post-war plan for what he describes as a “two state solution”.

RS: “He became very active politically. He managed to get quite a good number of people from all around the West Bank and Gaza who, together with him, submitted and were ready to do this but the Israeli government was uninterested.”

No mention is made of the Arab League’s Khartoum Declaration in response to Israeli offers  of peace immediately after the war.

Shehadeh later whitewashes terrorism by implying incorrectly that it began after – and because of – the war in 1967 (the PLO was of course formed three years before any ‘occupation’ existed).

RS: “However, what was happening to most people was that they were dealing with the indignity of defeat by having thoughts of resistance and a lot of armed resistance….”

Two further instances of whitewashing of Palestinian violence come towards the end of the programme.

RS: “In 2002 there was another invasion of Ramallah by the Israeli army and we were stuck at home for months….”

The missing context is of course the PA-initiated second Intifada and specifically the Park Hotel massacre which led to Operation Defensive Shield.

KY: “You got married in 1988 in what you call an Intifada wedding.”

RS: “We enjoyed our wedding, which was a simple wedding. Everything was complicated; there were curfews.”

Again – the context of Palestinian violence and the first Intifada is erased from the picture.

Whether or not Kirsty Young and her producers actually intended this programme to be an exercise in the Sunday morning promotion and amplification of Raja Shehadeh’s well-worn context-free politically motivated narrative, it certainly turned out that way. So much for editorial standards on accuracy and impartiality. 

Related Articles:

‘Comment is Free’ contributor claims 1967 Six Day War was act of Israeli aggression

Guardian interviewee casually suggests Israel is attempting to ethnically cleanse Palestinians

The Guardian, PalFest and the ‘culture’ of anti-Israel activism

 

 

BBC: Nasser ‘asked’ UN peacekeepers to leave Sinai in 1967

We previously discussed here one of the first results which appear when an internet search is carried out for information on the Six Day War complied by the BBC. Another result appearing on the first page of search results is the backgrounder below, dating from 2008.Six Day War 2008 vers

The item opens with a curious one-liner which, it seems, is the BBC’s account of post-Suez crisis Middle East events.

“The Israelis had used the 10 years since the Sinai invasion to build up their air force.”

Of course contrary to the impression given by the BBC, all had not been quiet during those ten years and Israel had good reason to maintain and strengthen its armed forces in light of factors such as the repeated threats against it made by members of the Arab League, that organisation’s plan to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River and its establishment of the PLO in 1964. The article goes on:

“When Egypt’s President Nasser asked for the UN monitoring force in the Sinai to be removed, sent an army there himself, closed the Straits of Tiran (blockading Eilat again) and called for Arab action against Israel, the Israelis saw this as a cause for war.”

Did Nasser really ‘ask’ UNEF to leave the Sinai? Any accurate account of events would have to use a distinctly more decisive verb.

“Calls for UNEF’s withdrawal were reintroduced at the Arab League Conference in April 1967. The president of the United Arab Republic (UAR), Gamal Abd al-Nasser, did not immediately move to dislodge the UN force, yet it was obvious that if the UAR was to retain its self-assumed position of leadership among the Arab world, more was needed than just words alone. To this end, the Syrian-UAR Mutual Defense Pact was reaffirmed and an offer was made to provide the Syrian Air Force with Egyptian MiG 21s. […]

The message to withdraw UNEF was first conveyed to the commander of UNEF, Major General Indar Jit Rikhye, on May 16, 1967. The UAR Liaison Officer, Brigadier General Ibrahim Sharkawy, called Rikhye in the afternoon to inform him that a special envoy would be arriving with an important message for the UNEF commander. The letter–delivered by a courier holding the rank of brigadier general–was from the UAR Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Muhammad Fawzy, and simply stated:

‘I gave my instructions to all UAR armed forces to be ready for action against Israel, the moment it might carry out any aggressive action against any Arab country. Due to these instructions our troops are already concentrated in Sinai on our eastern border. For the sake of complete security of all UN troops which install outposts along our borders, I request that you issue your orders to withdraw all these troops immediately.’ “

Here is the UN’s account of events:

U Thant and Nasser, May 1967

U Thant and Nasser, May 1967

“In the evening of 16 May, the UNEF Commander received a request from the Egyptian Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces for withdrawal of “all UN troops which installed OP’s [observation posts] along our borders”. The General who handed the message to the Force Commander told him that UNEF must order immediate withdrawal from El Sabha and Sharm el Sheikh, commanding the Strait of Tiran and therefore access to the Red Sea and southern Israel. […]

The Secretary-General met with members of the UNEF Advisory Committee and told them of the events in the field, making it known that if a formal request for UNEF’s withdrawal came from the Egyptian Government he would have to comply. He pointed out that the Force was on Egyptian territory only with the consent of the Government and could not remain there without it. [..]

The fundamental fact is that United Nations peacekeeping operations are based on the principle of consent. To maintain UNEF in Egypt against the will of the Egyptian Government, even if it had been possible to do so, which was not the case, would have created a dangerous precedent which would have deterred potential host Governments from accepting future United Nations peacekeeping operations on their soil.”

In other words, the terms of UNEF’s deployment in Sinai were conditional upon Egyptian agreement to their presence and so when Nasser “asked” the UN to leave – as the BBC phrases it – he was in fact ordering UNEF to go.

According to the BBC’s account above, it was “the Israelis” who interpreted the removal of UNEF forces from Sinai, the build-up of Egyptian troops there and the closure of the Straits of Tiran and the accompanying threatening rhetoric from assorted Arab leaders as “a cause for war”.

However, the records show that not only the Israeli government perceived the actions of Egypt and its allies as a build-up to an invasion of Israel. On May 20th 1967 the UN Secretary General U Thant wrote:

“I have felt it to be an obligation to submit this report in order to convey to members of the Council my deep anxiety about recent developments in the Near East and what I consider to be an increasingly dangerous deterioration along the borders there. […]

I am very sorry to feel obliged to say that in my considered opinion the prevailing state of affairs in the Near East as regards relations between the Arab States and Israel, and among the Arab States themselves, is extremely menacing. […]

A number of factors serve to aggravate the situation to an unusual degree, increasing tension and danger. […]

El Fatah activities, consisting of terrorism and sabotage, are a major factor in that they provoke strong reactions in Israel by the Government and population alike. Some recent incidents of this type have seemed to indicate a new level of organization and training of those who participate in these actions. […]

Intemperate and bellicose utterances by other officials and non-officials, eagerly reported by press and radio, are unfortunately more or less routine on both sides of the lines in the Near East. In recent weeks, however, reports emanating from Israel have attributed to some high officials in that State statements so threatening as to be particularly inflammatory in the sense that they could only heighten emotions and thereby increase tensions on the other side of the lines. […]

The decision of the Government of the United Arab Republic to terminate its consent for the continued presence of the United Nations Emergency Force on United Arab Republic territory in Sinai and on United Arab Republic controlled territory in Gaza came suddenly and was unexpected. The reasons for this decision have not been officially stated, but they were clearly regarded as overriding by the Government of the United Arab Republic. […]

 I do not wish to be alarmist but I cannot avoid the warning to the Council that in my view the current situation in the Near East is more disturbing, indeed, I may say more menacing, than at any time since the fall of 1956.”

Two days after U Thant wrote those words and whilst he was en route to Cairo, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran: a move which was a clear casus belli and which was condemned by the American president. On June 19th 1967 – just after the war had ended – Lyndon Johnson stated:

“If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Strait of Tiran would be closed. The right of innocent maritime passage must be preserved for all nations.”

Having implied to readers that Israel had prepared itself in advance for the Six Day War and chosen to launch it on the basis of debatable interpretations of the actions of the other side, the BBC article goes on to state:

June 1967

June 1967

“They [Israel] launched their air force with devastating effect in a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and followed up with victories over Jordan and Syria. The war ended after six days, with Israel in control of the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.”

No mention is made of the fact that Jordan was informed on June 5th by the Israeli prime minister that if it stayed out of the hostilities, no action would be taken against it and neither is it noted that Syrian air attacks on civilian targets in Tiberias and Haifa preceded Israeli action on the northern front.

The BBC article concludes:

“But despite Israeli jubilation, the war did not settle the issue between Israel and its neighbours and the Palestinians.

It led to Security Council resolution 242, the basis of subsequent efforts to trade land for peace. The resolution called for an Israeli withdrawal from “territories occupied in the recent conflict” and for all states in the region to be able to “live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries”. It also led to Israel beginning the settlement of the “territories occupied”. “

Significantly, that conclusion does not include any reference to the Israeli offers of ‘land for peace’ with Egypt and Syria which immediately followed the war or to the ‘three nos’ of the Khartoum Declaration.  

“The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of June 5. This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.”

With the BBC basing so much of its Middle East reporting upon a version of history which begins with the Six Day War and ignores much of what went before that event, it is clearly vital that audiences should understand its background and build-up. This backgrounder fails to provide a coherent, accurate and impartial account of events before, during and after the hostilities and yet it has remained on the BBC website for over six years.