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.   

 

 

BBC online description of Six Day War: not accurate, not impartial, barely informative

A member of the public searching online for information on the Six Day War from the BBC will encounter the two maps below among the top results.

BBC Six Day War

The text to the first map reads:

“Six-Day War: Before the war
From 1948 to 1967, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was ruled by Jordan. During this period, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian military administration. Israeli troops captured Egypt’s Sinai peninsula during the 1956 British, French and Israeli military campaign in response to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The Israelis subsequently withdrew and were replaced with a UN force. In 1967, Egypt ordered the UN troops out and blocked Israeli shipping routes – adding to already high levels of tension between Israel and its neighbours.”

That explanation of course neglects to clarify to readers that rather than the regions described in the text being “ruled” (as the BBC so benignly puts it) by Jordan, they were in fact occupied, with Jordan’s subsequent annexation of those areas not recognized by the international community. It also fails to clarify that the same area had been designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920 – along with the Gaza Strip which was similarly occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1956 and from 1957 to 1967 – and that both areas were conquered by those invading foreign armies during the War of Independence. 

The BBC’s cursory description of the period immediately before the outbreak of the Six Day War fails to describe the organized build-up of Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Saudi Arabian and Iraqi troops on Israel’s borders from May 25th 1967 or the May 30th defence pact between Egypt and Jordan. No mention is made of the fact that by that time, some 500,000 troops, 5,000 tanks and 1,000 warplanes surrounded Israel or of the threatening rhetoric of numerous Arab leaders.

“All of the Arab armies now surround Israel. The UAR, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, and Kuwait. … There is no difference between one Arab people and another, no difference between one Arab army and another.” – King Hussein of Jordan, after signing the pact with Egypt May 30, 1967 

“The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map. We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.” – President Abdel Rahman Aref of Iraq, May 31, 1967 

Syria’s forces are “ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united…. I as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.” – Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad, May 20, 1967

Those omissions mean that the BBC is able to open the text appearing under the second map with the inaccurate claim that it was Israel’s pre-emptive attack on Egyptian airfields which “drew Syria and Jordan into a regional war”.

“Six-Day War: After the war
In a pre-emptive attack on Egypt that drew Syria and Jordan into a regional war in 1967, Israel made massive territorial gains capturing the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal.”

Clearly, the misleading and inaccurate text accompanying these two maps fails to provide BBC audiences with an accurate and impartial view of the causes of the Six Day War. 

Children’s BBC amplifies the language of terrorist propaganda to 6-12 year-olds

The CBBC (Children’s BBC) news programme ‘Newsround’ is aimed at six to twelve year-olds and, in addition to its television broadcasts, it also has a website.

On that website, young children can view an item from 2009 titled “Guide to Israel and the Palestinian territories” which in its ten different pages includes numerous accuracy and impartiality related issues – not least a distinctly inaccurate portrayal of the British mandate era which erases the Balfour Declaration, San Remo and the League of Nations from history as well as turning Jewish refugees from Arab lands into a group of people who simply moved house.Newsround main

“Before World War I, Palestine was a district ruled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

The Ottomans were defeated by Britain and her allies in the war.

After WWI, Britain took control of Palestine, but there was much trouble between the Arabs who lived there and Jews who wanted to live there too.

Jews have long historical and religious ties to the land dating back thousands of years. They believe it was promised to them by God.

In the early part of the 20th century thousands of Jews moved to the area before it became Israel to start new lives and set up new communities.

Many were escaping Europe and Russia as they were where they were being persecuted for being Jewish. Many more moved to Israel after the Holocaust, including from Arab countries.

After World War II, Britain decided to let the United Nations decide what to do with Palestine.”

In the section titled “What are the occupied territories?” children are fed the same one-sided political mantras used in other BBC News coverage and are informed that Jordan and Egypt merely “took control” of various regions whereas Israel “captured” them. [emphasis added]

“After the 1948 war, Jordan took control of the West Bank and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip.

The city of Jerusalem was split, with Jordan taking control of East Jerusalem while West Jerusalem was in Israel.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during another war in 1967.

Since then, Israel has set up many Jewish settlements – communities, some tiny, some as big as small towns – in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

These settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel does not agree with this.

Living under occupation

Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have lived under Israeli occupation since 1967.

Human rights groups have recorded widespread abuses by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians. For example, the Israeli army has put up lots of check points and roadblocks between villages and towns.

Palestinians say it makes it much harder to visit friends and family or get to work, school or hospital. Some Palestinians compare the restrictions on their lives to being in a prison.

The Israeli government says the checkpoints are to protect settlers and to prevent potential Palestinian suicide bombers from harming Israelis.Newsround 3

The Gaza Strip

Life for the many of the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip is difficult.

It is a narrow piece of land along the Mediterranean coast and access to it is very limited. It is fenced in and Israel controls its coastline and all the entry and exit crossings into Israel. There is another crossing point into Egypt. There is no working airport.

Because access is so restricted, not many goods get into or out of Gaza.

Food is allowed in, but aid agencies say families are not eating as much meat or fresh vegetables and fruit as they used to. There are often power cuts.

Large numbers of people have lost their jobs because businesses can get very few of their products out of Gaza to sell, and people don’t have much money to buy things.

Israel withdrew all of its settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005.”

No connection is made between restricted access to the Gaza Strip and the terrorism which made those restrictions necessary. On the page titled “Fighting between Israelis and Palestinians” the terrorism of Fatah and other organisations comprising the PLO during the second Intifada is also erased and terrorism is attributed to ‘frustration’.

“In the 1960s, many Palestinians grew frustrated at not having their own state. They formed armed groups that attacked Israelis and Jewish people.

The leaders of some groups, like the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Fatah, have said they won’t hurt Israelis anymore.

Other groups, like Hamas, are still violent. They have fired rockets towards Israeli towns and sent Palestinian suicide bombers to kill Israelis.

Between 2000 and 2008 more than 1,000 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.”

On the page titled “Who are the Palestinian refugees?” children are presented with the following one-dimensional account:

“During the 1948 and 1967 wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, or were forced out of, their homes and moved to neighbouring countries to become refugees.

More than 4.6 million Palestinians are refugees, many living in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They get help from the United Nations.

What happens to these refugees is one of the big topics the two sides disagree on.”Newsround barrier

On the page headed “The barrier” a version of the standard impartiality-challenged BBC presentation of the anti-terrorist fence appears.  

“Israel is building a massive barrier in the West Bank. It is mostly a fence, but some of it is a concrete wall.

The Israeli government says the barrier helps prevent Palestinian suicide bombers travelling to Israeli cities to kill Israelis. It says it is only temporary and can be removed once a peace agreement is reached.

Palestinians say it is creating a new border and cutting into land they hope will form a future state of Palestine. They also say the barrier cuts through Palestinian villages and land, stopping farmers from getting to their land.

The United Nations and countries including America and the UK have said they don’t think the barrier is a good idea.”

But perhaps the most disturbing part of this ‘guide’ comes on the page titled “Who are the main people and groups?” where children are fed the unqualified language of terrorist propaganda and encouraged to view an internationally recognized terrorist organization as a social welfare group. [emphasis added]

Hamas argues it has the right to what it calls ‘armed resistance’.” […]

“Although Hamas often makes headlines when there is fighting, it also organises things like schools and medical help in areas where Palestinian people live.”

No attempt is made to explain to the children reading this guide what the whitewashed term “armed resistance” really means. It is not clarified that the “right” claimed by Hamas and amplified by CBBC actually translates into the firing of military-grade missiles at children of their own age on their way to school and the bombing of school buses. The young readers of this ‘guide’ are not provided with any explanation as to why the indiscriminate murder of civilians is not actually a “right” which can be legitimately claimed by any person or group. 

The majority of licence fee-paying parents probably do not categorise CBBC as one of the internet sites they need to monitor for content inappropriate for their six year-olds. But the fact that for nearly five years that trusted national treasure has been amplifying the notion that “armed resistance”  – in other words, terrorism against civilians – is a “right” on a website aimed at child audiences should clearly prompt second thoughts about that view. 

 

BBC’s Knell promotes undiluted Palestinian propaganda in coverage of Pope’s visit

Among the BBC’s remarkably extensive coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle East is an article by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 25th under the title “Thorny issues await Pope in Holy Land“.Knell Pope art 25 5

In that article, Knell uses selected quotes from Palestinian interviewees – and adds her own commentary – to produce a concentrated version of some of the prime falsehoods which the BBC has been amplifying for some time now. Notably absent from Knell’s piece is the necessary background needed for BBC audiences to put the highlighted statements in their correct context.

Her first interviewee is Rania Bandak.

“We are not able to move freely to all parts of Palestine. Bethlehem is surrounded by Jewish settlements and the high wall that cuts us off from Jerusalem.”

As has been noted here before on numerous occasions, the number of checkpoints has been reduced dramatically as counter-terrorism measures have proved effective and hence movement within Judea and Samaria has vastly improved since the days of the second Intifada which brought about the need for security checkpoints; a point not made clear to readers either by Bandak or Knell.

removal of checkpoints

The false claim that “Bethlehem is surrounded by Jewish settlements” is a version of a theme also frequently seen in BBC reports – see for example here and here. The word ‘surrounded’ of course means enclosed on all sides but, as can be seen on the B’tselem-produced map below, that is not the case.

map Bethlehem

Neither is Bethlehem “surrounded” by “the high wall”. Not only is there no anti-terrorist fence to the south and east of Bethlehem, but the section which can accurately be described as a “high wall” is one small specific section. On the map below, concrete sections of the anti-terrorist fence are marked with yellow and grey stripes whilst parts made of wire fencing appear in purple and the orange section represents road protection from sniper attacks. 

anti terrorist fence bethlehem

So already in one sentence from her first interviewee, Knell has caused BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Palestinians are not able to travel around Judea & Samaria and that Bethlehem is encircled by “Jewish settlements” and a “high wall” – and all without even a single reference to the Palestinian terrorism which makes security measures necessary. But there is more: carrying straight on from those falsehoods, readers are fed the false implication that Israel is causing Palestinian Christians to leave the area, with Knell failing to make any reference to the issue of intra-Palestinian harassment of Christians.

” “The Pope’s message should be that he wants us to stay in this land,” adds souvenir shop owner, Rony Tabash.”

Under the loaded sub-heading “Barrier fear”, Knell goes on to promote the usual BBC formula regarding the anti-terrorist fence which ignores its proven track record of prevention of terrorism – as well as the issue of terrorism itself –  instead presenting the issue to BBC audiences as one of subjective competing narratives and thus legitimizing the notion of a “land grab” which does not exist whilst erasing from the picture the terrorism which does.

“One issue that is sure to come up is the barrier that Israel is continuing to build in and around the occupied West Bank. Israel says its barrier is needed for security reasons but the Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

Next, Knell returns to one of her favourite topics – the Cremisan Valley – allowing her interviewee to falsely suggest to BBC audiences (also in the accompanying film clip) that there is some kind of connection between the Pope’s visit and the legal proceedings concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence there and that land belonging to Palestinians from Beit Jala will no longer remain theirs if the fence is built on its proposed route.

“Israel’s Supreme Court has delayed its decision on a controversial section that runs through the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, where the land belongs to 58 Christian families and the Roman Catholic Church.

“This valley is very important for Beit Jala and for Christians,” says Maha Saca who joins the weekly open-air Mass in Cremisan. “It’s our land until now. And we’re afraid that after the Pope leaves Bethlehem, the Israelis will take our land through the court.” “

Under the sub-heading “We need our freedom”, Knell writes:

“Representatives from a small Christian delegation given Israeli permits to come to Bethlehem from the Gaza Strip hope to tell the Pope about the impact of border restrictions.

These were tightened by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist group, Hamas, seized control of the Palestinian territory in 2007, a year after winning elections and entering a unity government. Israel, along with other countries, views Hamas as a terrorist group.”

Predictably, Knell fails to clarify to readers that “border restrictions” are necessary measures which are part of Israel’s attempt to protect its citizens against the terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip – which she fails to even mention. Likewise, Knell fails to make any reference to the persecution of Christians in Gaza by Hamas and other Islamist extremists.  

As was noted here recently, the Israeli Ministry of Defence provided 500 permits for members of Gaza’s 1,500 strong Christian community to travel to Israel and the PA-controlled areas during the Pope’s visit. That is one-third: hardly a “small delegation” as Knell claims.

Permits Easter

Knell highlights a tided up quote from her next interviewee:

“Pope Francis is our hero,” says George Anton, a teacher at the Holy Family School in Gaza. “We would ask him to interfere so that we can get peace and the Palestinian state very quickly, because we need our freedom. We feel like we are in a big jail here.”

In the film clip of George Anton inserted into that part of Knell’s article, the BBC facilitates the promotion of the inaccurate notion that the Gaza Strip is under “occupation” nine years after Israel’s evacuation.

“We would ask him to interfere that they can get the peace and we can get the Palestinian state, you know, very quickly because we need our freedom, you know. We feel like we are in a big jail here in Gaza. We cannot move, you know. All the people they look to us like we are terrorists, we are criminals. It is really [unintelligible] because we are people, you know. We are Christians, we are Muslims, but we are people. We are under occupation, you know. We are the people who are suffering, you know, so we need somebody to stand by us.”

Neglecting to inform readers of the interesting fact that even the PA acknowledges that it is situated on land owned by the Jewish National Fund since before 1948, Knell then moves on to the topic of Dheishe refugee camp, inserting a passing context-free promotion of the ‘right of return’ without bothering to explain its implications and failing to clarify to readers that “the 1948 war which followed Israel’s creation” was in fact an attack on a nascent state by five Arab states, two irregular armies and an assortment of foreign volunteers – all of whom played their part in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

“As Pope Francis heads out of Bethlehem, he will stop off at a community centre by the Dheisheh camp where local children will sing for him. Their families fled or were forced to leave their homes in the 1948 war which followed Israel’s creation.

While the stop-off is only short, an organiser, Abu Khalil al-Laham, says it is symbolically important to meet Palestinian refugees.

“They’ll bring up the right for refugees to return to their towns and villages and their dream to live in peace and tranquillity,” he tells me.”

The filmed accompaniment to this part of Knell’s piece facilitates yet more context-free Palestinian propaganda, failing to inform viewers that over 95% of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria live under Palestinian Authority rule.

“The children here will deliver a message, in a natural way, about how Palestinians suffer because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. They’ll bring up the right for refugees to return to their towns and villages and their dream to live – like other people in the world – in peace and tranquility.”

Knell rounds off her article with a decidedly transparent attempt to inject the required dose of BBC ‘impartiality’ by briefly quoting two Argentinian-born Israelis on the topic of the Pope and his mission and she concludes by mentioning some other locations on the Pope’s itinerary.

Clearly, however, the main purpose of this ‘analysis’ was not to meet BBC obligations regarding the building of a “global understanding of international issues”. Had that indeed been its aim, readers would not have been subjected to the politically motivated promotion of the blatant inaccuracies and decidedly partial falsehoods which comprise this latest dose of the kind of context-free Palestinian propaganda which is rapidly becoming ever more entrenched as Yolande Knell’s trademark.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

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

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

Jeremy Bowen’s one-man messaging continues on BBC TV

It is interesting to note that BBC coverage of the end of the current round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO – which were defined even before their commencement as coming to an end on April 29th 2014 – has come almost exclusively in the form of reports produced by its Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.

Those reports – whether filmed, written or audio – are hallmarked by repeated promotion of a number of specific themes which are clearly the points intended to be taken away by BBC audiences.

Bowen’s messaging includes portrayal of the Arab-Israeli conflict as an exclusively Palestinian-Israeli affair and as one concerning land only, as well as the claim that the opportunity for a two-state solution to the conflict died with this latest round of negotiations (the end of which, significantly, had been attributed to Israel alone in previous BBC reports) and the prediction of  violence in the near future.

On April 29th Bowen produced another filmed report which was broadcast on BBC television news programmes as well as being promoted on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Mid-East talks: Is two-state solution beyond reach?“. That report joined a previous filmed report aired earlier in the day and an audio report broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Bowen opens that report with repetitions of most of his main messaging points.

“Jerusalem has been fought over since people first settled here six thousand years ago. For more than twenty years, off and on, Palestinians and Israelis have negotiated peace. Life didn’t stand still. Optimism gave way to despair and then to cynicism. Now it’s hard to find Palestinians or Israelis who care much about the latest negotiating failure; there have been too many of them. The last round of peace talks collapsed with Palestinians and Israelis blaming each other and President Obama blaming both of them. Since the peace process first started more than twenty years ago, it’s been about trying to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel so they divide the land that they fought over. More than two decades on, a state and peace seem as far away as ever. So perhaps the time has come to accept that the two-state solution isn’t going to happen.”

Once again, Bowen leaves the broader issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict out of the frame. Considering that a number of the stances adopted by the PLO during the last nine months of negotiations have had public backing from the Arab League (including the refusal to agree to security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and the all-important issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state), the broader picture is obviously context which BBC audiences need in order to fully understand the subject.

Notably too, Bowen continues to describe the failure of past peace-making efforts in opaque and overly generalised terms. From the Arab League refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan, through the ‘three noes’ of Khartoum and the PA’s decision to start the second Intifada and right up to the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept several potential plans over the last twenty years or so, Bowen refrains from providing audiences with the vital background which forms the foundations of the story upon which he is now reporting.

His framing of history is no less selective: once again Bowen’s version of Middle East history begins in 1967 and thus denies audiences the ability to comprehend that the conflict in fact is rooted in events long before the Six Day War. He continues:

“Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the 1967 war. After Jerusalem the most contested city is Hebron; the burial place of the prophet Abraham. Behind heavy security, a small number of Jewish settlers live right next to more than 150,000 Palestinians.”

As was the case in his previous filmed report from Hebron from the same date, Bowen makes no attempt to inform audiences of the essential context of the 1997 Hebron Protocols; the agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which is the basis for the Israeli presence in the H2 area of Hebron. He goes on:

“Shlomo Levinger’s father led the first Jewish settlers back to Hebron in 1967.” [emphasis added]

However, Bowen refrains from clarifying to audiences what “back to Hebron” actually means and – despite obviously being aware of the history – conforms to the usual BBC practice of refraining from mentioning the subject of the existence of Jewish communities in areas of Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem later conquered by Jordan in the 1948 war. He continues:

“Shlomo believes God wants Jews to live in Hebron and he’s raising seven children here. Peace talks are, at best, an irritant.”

The film then cuts to Shlomo Levinger speaking in Hebrew, with a voice-over in English.

“I don’t think talks will go anywhere. For close to twenty years the State of Israel has been giving and giving and giving. I don’t believe in it. I think the reality for Jews in Hebron is like the reality for Israel in the Middle East. The Arabs would be more comfortable if we didn’t exist.”

In fact, in his final sentence Levinger says in Hebrew “It would be more comfortable for the Arabs if the State of Israel did not exist.”

Against a context-free background of footage of unexplained scuffles between unidentified women and members of the security forces in an unidentified place, Bowen goes on:

“Palestinians and Israelis say they want peace, but when you cross the line from one side to another, you realize that their views of what peace should look like are very different. And, in the absence of peace, mutual hatred – never far below the surface – is boiling up again.”

The report continues with Bowen saying:

“This house in Jerusalem was bulldozed last summer after the Israeli authorities ruled that it was built illegally. For a while its Palestinian owner Khaled al Zeer lived with his family in this damp cave. He stayed on to protest. Now he’s been served papers saying that the lean-to he built in the cave’s entrance must also be demolished.”tsav rashut haatikot

The same cave also appeared in a previous filmed report by Bowen, but there the man involved was not identified. Indeed, the tin structure constructed in Silwan without planning permission by Khaled al Zeer was demolished in August 2013 – exactly as would be any illegal structure anywhere in the world, especially one put up in an area designated by planning authorities as a park. And indeed al Zeer has been informed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (with the backing of a court of law) that he must stop what he claims is ‘renovation work’ on the cave in Silwan in which he decided to squat. Bowen however neglects to inform audiences that many caves in Silwan are not just common or garden caves, but burial caves dating from the Iron Age, so building a “lean-to” there is something akin to bolting planks to Stonehenge.

Interestingly, the publicity-loving Mr al Zeer’s story has been extensively, if subjectively, promoted by the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre – the director of which Bowen interviewed in a previous audio item, without full disclosure of his associations. It is not therefore unreasonable to enquire whether Bowen’s extensive use and amplification of this half-told ‘Palestinian man and a cave’ story was facilitated by the politically partisan Wadi Hilweh Information Centre – an organization which is part of the Silwan Popular Committees and has links to a foreign organization which in turn is linked to the International Solidarity Movement.Bowen al Zeer film

Khaled al Zeer’s history of brushes with the law includes not only illegal construction. One judge described him thus in 2011: “Before us is a man who has a criminal past in offences of violence, property and drugs”.  Nevertheless, Jeremy Bowen apparently considers Mr al Zeer a commentator whose opinions on geo-political events are worth amplification to BBC audiences around the world and so the next section of Bowen’s report is devoted to a monologue from al Zeer:

“The negotiations are a big illusion. They didn’t achieve anything and they won’t because the Israelis are using negotiations as a cover to establish more settlements and to confiscate more land from Palestinians. The negotiations are a waste of time. They don’t want any Arabs or Muslims here.”

Bowen concludes by reiterating some of his set messages.

“Peace talks started because two peoples went to war over the same piece of land. They’ve helped manage the conflict but haven’t stopped it. Tension is rising. Another perfect sunset over the Holy City cannot disguise a stormy future.”

Once again we see that by leaving the story of the end of the latest round of negotiations exclusively in the hands of Jeremy Bowen, the BBC is denying audiences any other viewpoint than that promoted by Bowen in his subjective and repeated messaging.