Tonight: two to watch out for on BBC 2

On Saturday October 11th BBC Two will screen ‘The Gatekeepers’ at 21:45 UK time. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:

“For the first time ever, six former heads of Israel’s domestic secret service agency, the Shin Bet, share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has been unable to transform its crushing military victory into a lasting peace. Throughout that entire period, these heads of the Shin Bet stood at the centre of Israel’s decision-making process in all matters pertaining to security. They worked closely with every Israeli prime minister, and their assessments and insights had – and continue to have – a profound impact on Israeli policy.

The Gatekeepers offers an exclusive account of the sum of their successes and failures. In the process it sheds light on the controversy surrounding the occupation in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.”

Gatekeepers on BBC 2

Following that, at 23:20, BBC’s Two’s ‘Newsnight’ will be hosting a discussion on the topic with a group of as yet unidentified guests.

“Evan Davis presents a discussion in which a panel of guests debate the issues raised by Dror Moreh’s documentary about Israeli secret service Shin Bet, which features interviews with six of the agency’s former heads.”

As readers are no doubt aware, this is by no means a new topic for the BBC.

Related Articles:

BBC uses ‘Gatekeepers’ to advance its own weary mantras on Israel

BBC Four’s documentary series ‘Storyville’ to show Palestinian propaganda film

BBC’s Reynolds in Shuja’iya: still no reporting on what really happened

The last few weeks of BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip have been characterised by a repeated pattern of much of that reporting taking place during humanitarian truces or ceasefires. One of the earliest and most striking examples of that pattern took place on July 20th in the Shuja’iya neighbourhood where, after hours of fierce fighting, Hamas requested that the ICRC broker a short ceasefire of several hours and after Israel agreed. The Western media – including the BBC – immediately moved in (with or without Hamas encouragement/facilitation) and the result was ample ‘disaster zone’ style reporting of destruction and casualties, but with details of the actual battle completely overlooked. In the weeks since then, no BBC report has properly described to audiences the battle which took place in Shuja’iya neighbourhood and no real effort has been made even to inform them of why a battle took place there.

The latest 72-hour ceasefire is now also being used by the BBC to produce yet more of its ‘aftermath’ reports and one of those – presented by James Reynolds – was aired on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight on August 6th. In that report too, Reynolds passed up on the opportunity to properly inform BBC audiences why a battle took place in Shuja’iya. He does, however, continue the prevalent BBC practice of making over-dramatic, sweeping and simplistic characterisations of complicated situations.

“Mousa has had leukemia. He still gets treatments in a hospital in Israel. His parents find themselves depending on the same country that bombs their land.” [emphasis added]

“The Shuja’iya neighbourhood was torn up by Israel’s offensive. I want to give you a sense of where we are and of what’s happened here. Israel itself is in that direction where the fields are and for almost a month the Israeli air-force and then the Israeli army carried out strikes across the border here into Gaza. This is the Shuja’iya neighbourhood and the destruction here is immense. Wherever you look buildings have been either hit or they’ve got bullet holes in them. Windows have been blown out and there is rubble all around me. Israel’s army says it went against this neighbourhood because it believed that Palestinian militants were digging tunnels from here to go across the border into Israel and that those militant groups led by Hamas were also carrying out rocket strikes from here. Of course those militants were here. But also when you stand here you realise that many, many civilians will have been hit as well. This was their home.”

From the beginning Reynolds sets the scene by subjectively characterising Israel’s actions as an “offensive”. That of course eliminates from audience view all that came before: the fact that Israeli communities in southern Israel have been under attack for fourteen years, the hundreds of missiles launched by terrorists in the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians between June 12th and the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th and the efforts made by Israel to avoid a military operation, which were rejected by Hamas.

“On Thursday [July 3rd], a senior military official sent an unusual message to Hamas. “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” he told journalists hours after a rocket hit a house in Sderot. “Israel has no interest in escalation. If Hamas reins in the shooting now, we won’t act, either.” “

Notable too is Reynolds’ insertion of the following interestingly worded sentence:

“Israel’s army says it went against this neighbourhood because it believed that Palestinian militants were digging tunnels from here to go across the border into Israel and that those militant groups led by Hamas were also carrying out rocket strikes from here.” [emphasis in bold added]

Shuja'iya map sites

Click to enlarge

But the fact is that the Israeli army did not ‘believe’ that Shuja’iya was the site of tunnels and missile launchers – it knew that for certain. Over 140 missiles were fired from Shuja’iya alone in thirteen days before July 20th and the district was the site of the entrances to no fewer than ten cross-border tunnels. That, of course, is precisely why Israeli forces had to act there.

Although he does admit the presence of terrorists in Shuja’iya neighbourhood, Reynolds makes no attempt to inform his audience of the scale of their operations and infrastructure there. He also neglects to tell viewers that the IDF advised the residents of Shuja’iya to evacuate four days before taking action there. He fails to clarify how that attempt to reduce Palestinian civilian casualties undoubtedly led to a higher Israeli death toll because – as veteran war reporter Ron Ben Yishai explains – that period of evacuation for civilians was used by terrorists to organise themselves ahead of the IDF’s entry into the district.

“Regarding the fighting in Shejaiyya: it is reasonable to assume that the main reason there was so much resistance, was the lack of surprise. Four days prior to entering Shejaiyya, the IDF demanded again and again from the residents to evacuate. Towards the entrance, the IDF started a heavy artillery attack on the outskirts of Shejaiyya. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad, therefore, had four days and a warning of a few hours that the IDF is going in. This is why – as opposed to Hamas fighters escaping to their hiding places when the IDF launched the sudden ground attack – this time they hid traps, prepared anti-tank ambushes and waited for the Golani brigade, tanks and bulldozers to come in.”

Two other themes we have seen energetically promoted in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip in recent days also make their way into Reynolds’ report. One of those is the theme that this round of hostilities has made Hamas more popular. The BBC of course has no factual, quantified evidence upon which to base that claim, but nevertheless it is being vigorously promoted by all its reporters on the ground, mostly by means of snapshot ‘man in the street’ interviews. The BBC, however, does not make any effort to inform audiences as to how free those people are to say what they really think on camera.

Another theme we have seen promoted intensely on a variety of BBC platforms of late is the Hamas eye-view of its demand to lift restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel on their borders with the Gaza Strip. Reynolds says:

“For the first time in almost a month people here are able to take some steps back towards a normal life. Here they’re getting money to buy things for their families. But they want so much more than that. They want the ability to come and go from Gaza. The ability to get things in from the outside world and they want Israel to end its restrictions and that is the same demand that Hamas itself is making of the Israeli government in indirect negotiations.”

Like the rest of his colleagues, Reynolds opts for inaccurate, context-free cheer-leading for Hamas’ demands but makes no effort whatsoever to clarify to viewers that the reason for the restrictions imposed by Israel (and Egypt) is terrorism and that “the ability to get things in from the outside world” crucially includes building materials for the construction of more cross-border attack tunnels and missiles from Iran.

Reynolds’ caricature portrayals of border restrictions on the Gaza Strip and the fighting in Shuja’iya hence join an already long list of BBC reports which fail to meet the BBC’s obligations to “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”. 

 

Why has the ‘impartial’ BBC adopted Hamas terminology?

Over the past week or so, the BBC has put considerable effort into amplifying and promoting Hamas’ main pre-condition for a ceasefire: the removal of border restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel in response to terrorism against their citizens carried out by terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. Documentation of some of those BBC efforts can be seen here, here, here and here.

In the past few days, however, we have seen a shift in the BBC’s approach to the topic. No longer content with ‘merely’ providing context-free advertisement for the demands of a proscribed terror organisation, the BBC has now adopted that organisation’s terminology, ditching its former use of the phrase “economic blockade” for the inaccurate and partial term “siege”.

Here is a screenshot from the July 28th edition of BBC Two’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newsnight’.

Screenshot Newsnight 28 7  siege

One presumes that the BBC is familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary. Here is its definition of a siege:

“A military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender.”

A besieging army does not ensure and facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid including food and medical supplies to those it surrounds. It does not supply them with 50% of their electricity supply, with oil and diesel or with cooking gas. It does not help them export their produce and give their farmers agricultural training. It does not evacuate their sick and treat them – sometimes at its own expense – in its own hospitals.

Israel of course does all of the above – and more – and critically, Israel’s aim is not to compel “those inside to surrender”, but to prevent in as far as is possible the flow of weapons and dual-use goods which can be used to manufacture weapons into the Gaza Strip because for fourteen years its own civilians have been under attack by terrorist organisations located there.

So why does Hamas insist upon inaccurately calling the border restrictions implemented by Israel and Egypt a “siege”? Firstly because it sounds much more dramatic for propaganda purposes and enables it to assume the role of the attacked. Secondly, any real and honest presentation of the situation should prompt observers to ask why those restrictions were implemented in the first place and that leads to the subject of Hamas terrorism, which does not line up with the current Hamas strategy of presenting itself to the world as the freedom-loving champion of impoverished, besieged Palestinian victims.

Another example of this recent embrace of the language of that terrorist organization was seen on July 30th in yet another filmed backgrounder report produced by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Robbins. The item was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza conflict: Is there hope for a ceasefire?“.Robbins 30 7 siege

There, Robbins distinguished himself by managing to present BBC audiences with an inaccuracy and/or a serious omission in almost every sentence of his report.

“It’s almost three weeks since Israeli airstrikes against Hamas in Gaza began.”

What preceded those airstrikes – almost a month of incessant missile fire on Israeli civilian communities – is not communicated to BBC audiences.

“All the appeals to both sides to stop have so far failed.”

Not so. The actual timeline of events reads thus:

  • 15 July: Israel accepted the ceasefire initiated by Egypt and stopped all fire at 09:00. However, terrorists fired more than 50 rockets at Israeli communities. Only after six hours of continuous rocket attacks did the IDF respond.
  • 17 July: Israel agreed to a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire. The terrorist organizations rejected it and fired rockets, including at the city of Be’er-Sheva.
  • 20 July: Israel approved a two-hour medical/humanitarian window in the area of Shejaiya, following an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) request. Forty minutes after the ceasefire began, Hamas violated it. Nevertheless, Israel implemented the ceasefire, even extending it for two more hours.
  • 26-27 July: Israel respected an UN-requested humanitarian ceasefire from 08:00-20:00 on Saturday, 26 July. Israel announced its readiness to prolong the ceasefire until midnight, but a few minutes after 20:00, Hamas renewed firing rockets at Israeli civilians. On the same day (26 July), Hamas announced a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire, at 14:00. Hamas violated its own ceasefire a short time later.Despite Hamas’ continuous fire, Israel decided to extend the humanitarian ceasefire a second time, from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday.
  • 28 July: Israel accepted Hamas’ request for a ceasefire in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The IDF was instructed to cease military attacks, but Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israel.
  • 30 July: Israel announced a temporary humanitarian ceasefire between 15:00-19:00. A few minutes after the ceasefire began Hamas fired rockets at the southern cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, as well as other Israeli communities.

Robbins goes on:

“The scale of civilian death and suffering in Gaza has opened up rifts between Israel and her traditional ally the United States, creating another layer of mistrust.”

Aha – that must be why the US has just approved a new transfer of military equipment to Israel.

“Israeli deaths, although much lower and overwhelmingly of soldiers – not civilians – continue to rise. It’s a price Israel’s leaders believe has to be paid to disarm Hamas completely.”

Robbins makes no effort to inform viewers of two very significant factors which contribute to the difference in the numbers of civilian casualties in Israel and Gaza: Israel’s extensive investment in civil defence, including the Iron Dome, and Hamas’ use of civilians in the Gaza Strip as human shields. Then, for the second time in six days, he misrepresents the aim of Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip: a topic on which he goes on to inaccurately elaborate.

“So what is still driving this conflict? Why is the search for a ceasefire proving so difficult? Partly because Israel’s overriding aim is to disarm the militant Palestinian organization Hamas completely. To destroy so much of its arsenal that it would be hard for Hamas to rearm in the future. Israel needs more time to continue that destruction.”

Remarkably, Robbins fails to inform viewers of the rather critical fact that Hamas is an internationally proscribed terrorist organization.

The disarming of Hamas was never declared an objective of this operation by Israeli leaders. Its often repeated aim is to enable the civilians of Israel to live their lives quietly and securely without missile fire from terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. The attempted cross-border tunnel infiltration by Hamas terrorists on the morning of July 17th made a ground operation to neutralize Hamas’ attack tunnels necessary. Whilst many politicians and members of the general public in Israel are of the opinion that Hamas should be disarmed and the Gaza Strip made into a demilitarized zone for the wellbeing of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, it was never Israel’s declared (and unrealistic) aim to destroy every last missile in the Gaza Strip.

Robbins continues, with use of Hamas terminology both in his narration and in the accompanying illustrative graphic.

Robbins 30 7 seige lge

“The Hamas priority is to force the lifting of the siege of Gaza and get Israel to commit to that before – not after – a ceasefire. For the past eight years the thin sliver of land which is the Gaza Strip has been largely cut off, with Israel and Egypt controlling all movement in and out across its borders – of people and supplies as well as food – while the Israeli navy blockades Gaza from the sea.”

Once again, Robbins fails to inform BBC audiences what brought both Egypt and Israel to implement border restrictions, but of course it is rather difficult to explain Hamas terrorism if one has already avoided any mention of the fact that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Despite Robbins’ obviously deliberate attempt to mislead viewers, there are of course no restrictions on the entry of foodstuffs to the Gaza Strip; the only controlled items are dual-use goods which could be used for the purpose of terrorism.

He carries on with still more use of Hamas terminology:

“But the siege hasn’t stopped Hamas building a network of concrete reinforced tunnels under its borders and arming itself with rockets to fire at Israeli towns and cities.”

Notably, Robbins makes no attempt to explain to audiences the purpose of those tunnels and – like all BBC reporting in the past three weeks – fails to mention which regional actors have helped Hamas to arm itself and why the removal of border restrictions would make rearming – and further conflict – inevitable in the future.

Robbins then goes on to display the full extent of his lack of Middle East expertise.

“And there are wider reasons why it’s so difficult to stop the fighting. Israel insists that Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist and says it can never trust Hamas if it’s committed to destroying the Jewish state. But Hamas won’t trade away that big card – at least until peace talks are at such a stage that they’re much closer to delivering an independent Palestinian state.”

Frankly, it is becoming excruciatingly embarrassing to see a succession of so-called BBC experts claiming that Hamas would down arms and disband if only a Palestinian state came into being. The fact that this grossly inaccurate notion is pawned off to BBC audiences as analysis not only shows the lack of competence at work, but also the inability of BBC staff to come to terms with the unpleasant underlying realities of the conflict.

Robbins then brings in an expert – Dr Hisham Hellyer – whose decidedly non-academically objective sentiments on the topic are easily identifiable on his Twitter feed.

“So expert observers suggest this current conflict can have no good outcome.”

Hellyer: “I think it produces yet another generation of people in Gaza who will not be interested in securing Israel’s security but ensuring Israel’s insecurity. And I think that bombardment is simply not going to work. It may delay another period of disquiet, as the Israelis put it, but that’s all it’s going to achieve; a delay.”

Robbins closes:

“For now the killing seems unstoppable. Both sides want any eventual ceasefire to look like their victory. And so far, neither side has got what it wants.

Beyond the glaringly obvious problem presented by the fact that a publicly funded Western media organisation has chosen to embrace, amplify and promote the language of a proscribed terror group, there is clearly another very simple issue at stake with the BBC’s adoption of the term “siege” in relation to the Gaza Strip: it is not accurate.

And not only does it not accurately describe the situation, but its use actively prevents BBC audiences from understanding why border restrictions do exist. Remarkably, despite this topic being the subject matter of numerous BBC reports over the past week or so, the BBC apparently thinks it acceptable to fob off audiences with dumbed-down Hamas propaganda rather than to accurately and comprehensively explain the issue. 

 

What Beit Hanoun tells us about BBC impartiality

Here is a Tweet from one of those impartial BBC journalists currently reporting from the Gaza Strip: Tweet Chris Morris Beit Hanoun So, did the IDF actually say that “people didn’t die” in Beit Hanoun last Thursday as Morris facetiously claims? No. What the IDF investigation into the incident at the UNRWA school in which sixteen people were killed did reveal is that during a battle between IDF soldiers and terrorists located in the area, an IDF mortar did land in the schoolyard, but that yard was empty at the time. Ha’aretz has further details:

“The IDF released the findings of its investigation into the incident on Sunday morning. According to the inquiry, Palestinian militants opened fire from the area of the school, shooting mortars and antitank missiles at Israeli forces. In response, the investigation reveals, the IDF decided to return fire with mortars.

According to the army, whose inquiry included investigations of the ground forces and video footage of the incident, “one of the mortars fell in the school’s courtyard whilst it was empty of people.” “

An official statement adds:

“It has been established that Hamas rockets landed in the area and may have hit the UN facility. The investigation of the incident has revealed that Hamas terrorists fired anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers from the area of the UN school. The IDF responded with mortar fire, and one of the rounds fell in the school’s courtyard, which was empty at the time. This was the only IDF fire that hit the school compound. These findings disprove the claim, made by various parties, that IDF fire caused casualties on the school grounds. Israel regrets all civilian casualties, but they are the direct result of Hamas’ decision to use Palestinian civilians as human shields.” [emphasis added]

In light of these findings BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis would of course do well to address the topic of her hastily reached conclusion that “You hit it. You killed them.” – which was broadcast to millions of viewers in the UK on July 24th.Maitlis Likewise, the editors of the filmed report by Yolande Knell which was shown to television audiences and promoted on the BBC News website on July 24th might like to reconsider the wisdom of the inclusion – before the circumstances of the incident were clear – of footage of a woman saying:

“The Israelis hit us in our homes and they hit us at the school”

That same footage of the same woman also appeared in a filmed report by Ian Pannell from the same date which was promoted on the BBC News website and shown on BBC television news. Both Pannell’s report and the ‘Newsnight’ interview by Emily Maitlis appear in a written report published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 24th. Listeners to an edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ heard the presenter saying:

“For the fourth time in as many days a UN facility there found itself in the eye of the storm; hit by what the Palestinians say was an Israeli shell.”

If readers are perhaps anticipating that this incident will prompt the BBC to reconsider its current policy of refraining from anything approaching robust reporting on the issue of the use of the local civilian population as human shields – which is precisely what a terrorist who fires anti-tank missiles at Israeli soldiers from the vicinity of a UN school is doing – then they may be in for some disappointment. That same ‘Newsday’ programme includes parts of Stephen Sackur’s recent interview with Khaled Masha’al. In addition, amplification is given to the following denial by Masha’al of Hamas’ use of human shields.GAZA MOI

“This is wrong information. Hamas does not give orders to people to stay inside their home. Hamas encourages people to stand fast and let the Palestinians show their steadfastness. This is the will of the people. Go to Gaza and see the people in hospitals and see the areas destroyed. These people are determined to preserve their land. You should not put the blame on the victims. The blame should go to the Israeli that has committed this massacre. We have several hundred Palestinians killed – most of them civilians – whereas Hamas is focusing on killing Israeli soldiers who came to Gaza to attack Palestinians. This is the ethical difference between the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli aggression.”

One presumes that the BBC must be aware of the ample filmed and written evidence of Hamas’ spokesmen and Ministry of the Interior telling civilians in the Gaza Strip not to leave their homes. Nevertheless, its journalists not only fail to report adequately on the issue itself and even promote denial of it, but also amplify Masha’al’s obviously inaccurate claims. In that ‘Newsnight’ interview on July 24th, Emily Maitlis asked Mark Regev:

“If, after the fog of war has passed, this does turn out to be the fault of Israel, will you pause? Will you reset your rules of engagement tonight?”

We might well ask Emily Maitlis, her editors and numerous other BBC correspondents, editors and producers a very similar question.

Update:

Here is the IDF video footage showing the empty school yard at the time of the errant mortar strike. 

 

BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis to Israeli spokesman: “You killed them”

On the afternoon of July 24th an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun where many Palestinians were sheltering was hit by projectiles of origins as yet unknown. Some sixteen people were killed and many injured. It is not yet clear exactly what happened there and the incident is under investigation by the IDF. What is known, however, is that the vicinity of the school had been previously used by terrorists to fire missiles into Israel, apparently with some falling short. Because of that fact, the IDF had advised UNRWA to evacuate the civilians from that school and a four-hour humanitarian corridor had been agreed. Although UNWRA representatives claimed differently – at least one eyewitness seems to suggest that an evacuation was planned.Maitlis

“Sabah Kafarna, 35, had also been sheltering at the school. “At about 11.30 someone from the municipality came to tell us that we were going to be moved because it was too dangerous. But the buses didn’t come. That’s why [there were] so many people all outside when the shells landed,” she said.”

The New York Times reports:

“The Israeli military warned on Monday that the shelter should be evacuated. By Thursday, the United Nations had decided to withdraw its staff and to stop providing food.

Then, as the Palestinians gathered in the courtyard on Thursday, believing they were about to be bused elsewhere, blasts tore through the crowd, killing 16 people and sending scores of wounded, mostly women and children, streaming into local hospitals.”

It is also known that at the time of the incident, a battle was raging between terrorists and IDF soldiers operating in the area. Below is an IDF statement concerning the events.

“In the past few days, the area surrounding the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun has turned into a battlefield, therefore prompting the IDF to insist those present to evacuate it. Furthermore, the IDF authorized a humanitarian time window for evacuation between 10:00-14:00 IDT earlier today.  Hamas prevented the civilians from leaving it and once again used their infrastructure and international symbols as human shields. In the course of the afternoon, several rockets launched by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip landed in the Beit Hanoun area. From initial inquiries done about the incident, during the intense fighting in the area, militants opened fire at IDF soldiers from the school area. In order to eliminate the threat posed to their lives, they responded with fire toward the origins of the shooting. The IDF is still reviewing the incident.

Furthermore, according to the COGAT Spokesman, the UNRWA claims that Israel prevented the safe evacuation of the school in Beit Hanoun are unfounded. It should be emphasized that during recent days, COGAT has been maintaining close contact with representatives of the UNRWA, the ICRC, and Palestinians in Beit Hanoun. COGAT made every possible effort to ensure the safety of local residents by evacuating them from the area, which has been marked by intense fighting and Hamas rocket launching towards Israel, including from the vicinity of such facilities. It should be further emphasized that following this contact, the humanitarian window was authorized.”

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ presenter Emily Maitlis however did not need to wait until investigations had been completed in order to determine whether the UN facility was hit by an errant IDF shell, a shortfall terrorist missile, terrorist mortar fire aimed at IDF troops or any combination of the above. Interviewing Israeli spokesman Mark Regev just hours after the incident – and clearly completely misunderstanding the nature and intention of IDF warnings to evacuate because of fighting in the area – she emotionally charged Regev with the following:

“But you said you were going to hit it. You hit it. You killed them.”

Beyond Maitlis’ distinctly unprofessional demeanor throughout this interview, her repeated interruptions and her obvious urgency to promote her own version of events to audiences, one patronizing statement she makes is extremely revealing and actually captures the essence of much of the BBC’s reporting of the current hostilities in a nutshell.

“You have a very effective defence system. It’s called the Iron Dome. It stops you for the most part being hit. They [the people in Gaza] don’t and they’re paying the price with their dead children.”

An abridged version of this interview is also being promoted on the BBC News website in addition to the promotion of the full item on the ‘Newsnight’ Youtube channel. The head of the BBC’s Middle East Bureau described it thus in his Twitter promotion of the item:

Colebourn Maitlis int

Whether “strong” is an appropriate adjective for the performance of an interviewer obviously less interested in hearing about the actual circumstances of an event than in promoting her own already fixed – and frankly tediously parochial and uninformed  – narrative of events is clearly a matter of taste.   

BBC’s ‘History of Syria’ erases ancient Jewish community, distorts Six Day War

On March 11th 2013, an hour-long documentary entitled “A History of Syria with Dan Snow” was broadcast on BBC Two. An accompanying article under the heading “Syria’s priceless heritage under attack” appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on March 10th. 

Readers familiar with the history themselves will no doubt have noticed that in Dan Snow’s extensive portrayal of the rich tapestry of ethnic groups making up Syria  throughout its history, one particularly ancient community was conspicuous by its absence. No mention whatsoever was made of the centuries-old Jewish community of Syria, either in the television programme or in Snow’s written article which featured the city of Haleb (Aleppo)  – home to Jews for millennia and formerly one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – very prominently. 

Towards the end of the film (at 57:32 in the version above), Snow informs viewers that: 

“Between eruptions of violence, there is actually a long-standing tradition of tolerance and opposition to extremism in Syria.”

That portrayal of course airbrushes out the persecution of Jews in Syria completely, as well as their subsequent flight from the country. 

Another no less amazing bout of airbrushing – especially coming from someone with a background in modern history – appears at 34:23 in the above video when Dan Snow tells his audience:

“In 1967 [Hafez al] Assad was Minister of Defence when Israel launched a series of strikes against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Israelis humiliated Arab forces and took control of part of Syria; the Golan Heights.”

Snow of course fails to inform his audiences that the Golan Heights can only be considered to have been “part of Syria” for a maximum of 45 years before 1967, but it is his one-liner on the subject of the Six Day War which in particular stands out as a blatant breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy. 

Children in an air-raid shelter at Kibbutz Gadot during an attack by Syrian shell fire, April 1967

Viewers are given no inkling of the events leading up to that war; indeed they might reasonably conclude from Snow’s account that Israelis simply woke up one morning and decided to attack three of the surrounding countries. Snow avoids any mention of the Arab League project to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River (the source of Israel’s main water supply at the time) and the relentless Syrian attacks upon Israeli communities below the Golan Heights during the years preceding the Six Day War.

He completely ignores the build-up to the war, including Egypt’s massing of troops in the Sinai and its expulsion of the UN forces from that area, after which Nasser informed the Arab world by radio that:

“As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”

A Syrian tank in its fortified position at “Tawfik”, Golan Heights, dominating Kibbutz Tel Katzir and the Jordan Valley.

Likewise Snow fails to mention the massing of Syrian troops in the Golan Heights on May 18th 1967 and the bellicose statement made by Hafez al Assad two days later: 

“Our forces are now entirely 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.”

The closure of the Straits of Tiran on May 22nd 1967 – a clear casus belli, as noted by President Lyndon Johnson at the time – is also ignored by Snow, as are the subsequent almost daily statements put out by Nasser.

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight,” (May 27th 1967)

“We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel…Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel….The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.” (May 28th 1967)

Kibbutz Daphna (foreground) and Kibbutz Dan as seen from the “Tel Azaziat” fortifications, Golan Heights.

“The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations.” (May 30th, 1967 – following the signing of the defence pact with Jordan.) 

While Israel did indeed launch pre-emptive strikes on the Egyptian air-force on June 5th 1967, that was of course far from either the beginning or the end of the Six Day War as Snow so erroneously implies. 

This is far from the first time that the BBC has broadcast or published politically motivated historically revisionist versions of events surrounding the Six Day War. This blog post from CMEW regarding a complaint already made to the BBC about Snow’s above statement suggests, however, that the BBC chooses to remain bunkered in its ahistorical view of those events. 

It is high time for the BBC to ensure adherence to its own Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality with regard to this subject and to cease the advancement of political narratives under the guise of “history”. It is the BBC’s self-declared role to contribute to audiences’ knowledge of the world – not to seek to manipulate viewers’ political opinions regarding the Middle East or any other region.

 

 

 

Where did Jeremy Bowen learn the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

In May 2008 – at the time of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations – the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen produced a documentary entitled “The Birth of Israel” which was broadcast on BBC 2. Anyone who watched that programme then will surely not have forgotten its numerous instances of playing fast and loose with carefully selected nuggets of history – as was pointed out at the time by Honest Reporting  and others

Below is the first part of that documentary (the other parts can be seen here). 

At 05:55 Bowen says:

“In 1897 the Zionist movement in Europe met and declared that it wanted to found a state for Jews in Palestine. Two years later the Arab mayor of Jerusalem begged them to leave Palestine alone and warned there’d be an Arab uprising if they didn’t. After the meeting in 1897, two Rabbis were sent to Palestine to see what the country was like. They reported back – the bride is beautiful, but she’s married to another man”. 

Bowen’s two Rabbis are nameless and he provides no factual evidence for his tale – which is designed to show that the early Zionists knowingly ran roughshod over an existing indigenous Arab population and thus to ‘prove’ the ‘original sin’ of the founding of Israel. 

So where did Bowen get that story from? Here is a passage from the introduction to Avi Shlaim’s 2001 book entitled “The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World”. 

Shlaim

So possibly Bowen had been reading the new historian anti-Israel polemicist Shlaim – the man famous for declaring that “the job of the historian is to judge”. Or perhaps his reading matter came from one-stater Ghada Karmi, who also used the same theme in her 2007 book entitled “Married to Another Man“.

Karmi

What is Karmi’s source for story? Earlier this year some light was shed on that question by Shai Afsai, writing in the journal ‘Shofar‘. Dr. Ghada Karmi3.JPG

“Where did Karmi get this story from? For some time, she did not respond to e-mails requesting information on her source, but in 2010 she furnished this reply: “The story’s origins has caused me problems. I got the citation from Avi Shlaim at Oxford, who gave me a reference for it, which turned out not to be correct. I then searched hard for the source and have come up with a blank. I fear it might be apocryphal, much as I had not wanted that. Sorry!” She later added that Shlaim told her “the story had appeared in a book by Muhammad Hassanein Heikal. But it was not there.” “

So Karmi’s source is Shlaim, but she cannot verify the quote attributed to the two nameless Rabbis. And what of Shlaim’s source? 

“As with Karmi and Pagden, Shlaim provides no source for the “married to another man” story he tells, despite there being twenty-one pages of notes at the back of The Iron Wall. Responding to a question about his source, Shlaim wrote in a 2009 e-mail that it was Mohamed Heikal’s Secret Channels (1996). This book is listed in Shlaim’s bibliography, along with two other works by Heikal, a prominent Egyptian journalist, author, and commentator, who was the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram for many years, as well as an adviser to (and mouthpiece of) Egypt’s President Nasser. In Secret Channels, Heikal writes:

‘Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress, which brought together Jewish representatives from many countries. It was held in Basel, Switzerland on 23 August 1897 and is regarded by Jews as a landmark in the creation of the state of Israel. The World Zionist Congress was created with the aim of establishing “a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” After the Basel conference the rabbis of Vienna decided to see for themselves what Herzl was talking about, and sent two representatives to Palestine. A cable sent by the two rabbis during their visit became famous: “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” It was a message Zionists did not wish to hear, and the inconvenient husband was never acknowledged.’

As with Karmi, Pagden, and Shlaim’s accounts, no source for the Viennese expedition and its “famous” cable is provided in Heikal’s Secret Channels. In fact, the book has no endnotes at all, nor does it contain a bibliography, which raises the question of how Shlaim could consider Secret Channels an adequate source for the veracity of the “married to another man” story.”

Regardless of whether Bowen’s source was Karmi, Shlaim or anyone else, the bottom line is that he either elected to repeat this myth to millions of BBC viewers without checking the veracity of the quote or that he knew that it did not come from a reliable source, but chose to use it anyway.  

But at least we now have some idea of the sort of ‘history books’ upon which Bowen’s Middle East expertise is based. 

BBC sidesteps Hamas terrorism and oppression in order to advance a narrative

Here’s a real tear-jerker of a story from BBC 2 ‘Newsnight‘ reporter Tim Whewell. Entitled “Unusual jobs highlight restricted choices of Gaza youth“, it appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on December 11th

There is also a film version of the report, entitled “Life as a teenager on [sic] the Gaza Strip”, which appeared on the BBC’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight‘.

Unfortunately, Whewell’s selective and stereotypical treatment of the subject matter ensures that his resulting story has all the essential ingredients of a Victorian-era novel. Noble, poverty-stricken young people are unable to pursue their dreams due to being forced into dangerous manual labour in order to support ageing, invalid parents and numerous siblings. In the background is a shady, oppressive, all-powerful entity which controls their lives and shatters their hopes and dreams from afar. One can almost hear Tim Whewell channelling his inner Isabella Banks.  

In Whewell’s story, a young man is forced – against his will – to work 12 hour shifts in Rafah’s smuggling tunnels. Highlighted in bold in the side bar are Mohammed Ismail’s words:

“Have you ever seen anyone dig their own grave? While you are digging, the tunnel might collapse. It could collapse any time and kill you.” 

Not only does Whewell fail to provide proper context regarding the smuggling tunnels of Rafah, but he also distorts the history and facts. Whewell states:

 “The smuggling tunnels have flourished since Israel imposed its blockade, assisted by Egypt, in 2007, after Hamas came to power in Gaza.”

In fact, the smuggling tunnels have been in existence since the time of the Oslo Accords, but from the beginning of the second Intifada – i.e. for a good seven years at least before the partial blockade was introduced – they were used to smuggle weapons and terror operatives into the Gaza Strip in addition to drugs and contraband. Rather than the tunnels being a product of the partial blockade, they are actually one of its causes.

Whewell continues: [emphasis added]

“Although travel restrictions for people crossing the Rafah border were eased in 2011, the shipment of goods into Gaza remains blocked. All building materials must be smuggled, since Israel fears Hamas might use them for military infrastructure.”

We have previously noted here – in light of one of Jon Donnison’s attempts to promote the same theme – that the notion that “all building materials must be smuggled” is entirely inaccurate and a clear breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines. As pointed out two months ago: 

“In practice, thousands of tons of building materials are transported into Gaza on a regular basis and in accordance with their having been designated for a particular project. Thus we see, for example, that in June 2012 alone, 1,142 truckloads of building materials and 476 truckloads of ceramics and plumbing entered the Gaza Strip. 

As well as monthly reports, COGAT also issues more detailed weekly reports and so, for example, we can see that in the week September 16th to 22nd 2012, 155 truckloads of aggregates, 27 truckloads of cement, 4 truckloads of iron and 10 truckloads of glass, aluminum and wood profiles entered the Gaza Strip – ie a total of 413 truckloads of construction materials in one week alone. 

For a detailed look at projects in the Gaza Strip between 2010 and 2012, see this comprehensive COGAT report which includes details of 17 approved housing projects, 17 approved clinic projects, 70 approved new schools and 24 school renovation projects, 37 approved water and sewage projects, 14 approved road projects and 39 approved infrastructure projects – all since 2010.” 

Whewell – conveniently for his emotions-targeted story which goes on to include the abuse of narcotic-like painkillers – makes absolutely no mention in the written version of the use of those same smuggling tunnels to flood the Gaza Strip with military-grade missiles and other weaponry which is later used by terrorist organisations for the purpose of committing the war crime of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. In the filmed version, a brief throwaway line of narrative says “weapons of course must be smuggled too” and Whewell informs his audience in a derisory tone that “a few rockets from here have hit central Israel”. 

Neither does he bother to include in his story the aspect of Hamas control over and profit-making from those tunnels or their export functions. Only in the film version is a brief reference made to the fact that goods smuggle through the tunnels are “taxed by Hamas, providing much of the government’s revenue”. The written report fails to include even that brief sliver of information. 

Instead, Whewell frames the narrative to be absorbed by his audience to include only hapless, poverty-stricken Gazans who have no choice but to operate smuggling tunnels in order to survive the ravages of the completely unexplained – but obviously evil – partial blockade. The decision made by Hamas and other terrorist organisations to turn the Gaza Strip into a launching pad for non-stop terror activities against the civilians of a neighbouring country has no place in Whewell’s narrative because it is one in which Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility for their situation.

That same lack of context for the partial blockade continues in his second story, which feature a young woman named Madeline Kullab who works in fishing. Again, sad tales of a beleaguered Gazan fishing industry are told, with only a bizarre and unexplained reference to what Whewell euphemistically terms “gun-running” – as though the problem were a few dusty old carbine rifles.

“But the ceasefire has already brought a small benefit to Madeline. Before, Israel – afraid of gun-running – only allowed Gaza’s fishing boats to go up to three nautical miles offshore. Now, the limit has been extended to six miles.”

There is, however, another story here which Tim Whewell could have chosen to tell but did not. In what is almost an aside, Whewell makes a brief reference to Madeline Kullab’s difficulties with the Hamas authorities:

“She has been going out to sea almost every day since she was 14, despite attempts by Gaza’s police force, run by the Islamist movement Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, to stop her working in an otherwise wholly-male industry.”

Western journalists often gravitate towards the same people and stories in this region – often guided in the ‘right’ direction by their local fixers. Thus a simple internet search shows that Ms Kullab has been making headlines at least since summer 2010. 

Here is an ITN story from August 2010 and here is another one from the same month in which we learn that Madeline “has just finished her training in fashion design at Gaza’s Union of Churches”. In August 2012 Madeline Kullab was featured in a Press TV report  and a month later she was the focus of an article by Yann Renoult on the International Solidarity Movement’s French website. According to that article, it seems that the naval blockade is hardly the Kullab family’s only problem. [emphasis added and here in the original French – the link can be translated.]

“La raréfaction des ressources halieutiques, conséquence de la minuscule zone de pêche autorisée, ne lui permet de ramener beaucoup de poissons. Mais pour son père, c’est Hamas qui leur fait le plus de mal.

Au début, certains pêcheurs refusaient l’idée qu’une femme puisse être des leurs. Même si quelques uns, des amis de son père, l’ont appuyé comme des frères, d’autres refusaient son choix ou l’enviaient pour son talent. Des rumeurs nausé abondes ont été lancées sur elle. On a dit d’elle qu’elle travaillait avec des hommes n’appartenant pas à sa famille, ce qui est interdit, et pire encore. Elle s’est fait dénoncé auprès des autorités, qui ont commencé à les harceler.

Pour son père, le Hamas est un cauchemar quotidien. Insultes, intimidation, mesures coercitives et injustes… Il s’est fait arrêter plusieurs fois, et Madeline a négocier avec la police pour qu’il soit libéré. La première fois, un officier leur a dit qu’il avait un document leur interdisait d’accéder au port, à la plage et de partir en mer, tout en refusant de le leur montrer. La deuxième fois qu’ils ont arrêté son père, elle a écrit une lettre demandant sa libération et la restitution de son permis de pêche et de navigation. Elle s’est tournée vers des organisations humanitaires qui sont intervenues auprès du gouvernement, qui a fini par renvoyer l’officier de police concerné. Pour se venger, la police continue à les harceler. Elle peut maintenant partir pêcher du port de Gaza, mais pas des plages au nord de Gaza, contrôlées par la police. Mais elle a retrouvé sa licence de pêche.

Après quelques années, la famille a pu acheter un bateau à moteur, mais il a été rapidement confisqué par le Hamas qui ne le lui a jamais rendu. Elle est donc retourné à son petit bateau à fond plat. Quand elle le peut, elle emprunte ou loue le bateau d’autres pêcheurs pour ramener plus de poissons. Sa cahute de pêche a été incendiée. Le Hamas trouve moyen de lui nuire jusqu’en mer. Son père explique que pour les pêcheurs qui partent des plages, le Hamas a mis en place des couloirs de 100m ces pêcheurs peuvent travailler. Cela correspond à l’emplacement des différents îlots de cahutes sur la plage. Chaque pêcheur se voit allouer un couloir dans lequel il doit pêcher. Le Hamas a refusé de leur donner la totalité de ces 100m. Ils ont été jusqu’à retirer son filet de l’eau, parfois à le détruire.”

It seems, however, that the story of Hamas’ harassment of Ms Kullab and her father did not interest the BBC’s Tim Whewell very much. Like Hamas terrorism and Hamas weapons smuggling, that story just does not fit into the narrative he is trying to advance to his audience.

The promotion of specific politically-inspired narratives through the blatantly selective use of information and the advancement of stereotypes can never meet the standards required of the BBC on accuracy and impartiality and that should clearly be a cause for concern to Tim Whewell’s editors.

But no less disturbing to them should be the fact that a campaigning organization such as the ISM – the whole raison d’etre of which is to discredit, defame and destroy Israel – is capable of being more open and honest about Hamas oppression of women than the BBC.