BBC’s Bowen revives five year-old grudge in Indy interview

Below is a paragraph from an interview with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which appeared in the Independent on March 9th 2014. 

“He is still smarting from a controversial BBC Trust finding against him in 2009, which outraged journalists both inside and outside the BBC. He maintains that the ruling – relating to the sourcing of part of a story on Israeli settlements, following complaints by two full-time pro-Israeli lobbyists – was a “mistake” based on a “flawed” investigation process that has now been changed. “One person they took advice from who was held up as independent was later appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the United States,” he complains. The BBC Trust continues to defend its findings.”

Readers can view that “controversial” BBC Trust finding for themselves here and they can find out more about those “outraged journalists” here. They can also judge whether or not the claim that the BBC Trust’s ruling related “to the sourcing of part of a story on Israeli settlements” is accurate by reading details here of one of the complaints made (and its timeline) regarding Bowen’s article about the Six Day War titled “How 1967 defined the Middle East”, which is still available on the BBC News website.

If they dig through the BBC Trust’s long report, readers will find that the person Bowen complains was “later appointed as Israel’s ambassador to the United States” is in fact historian Michael Oren; the author of a comprehensive book about the Six Day War – although Bowen and the Independent of course neglect to mention that rather relevant fact. They will also note that in fact the BBC Trust actually “took advice” from two other historians – Sir Martin Gilbert and Avi Shlaim – and that references to Michael Oren’s book are to be found at an earlier stage of the process.

And if readers scroll down to the bottom of the Independent’s article they will find the comment below from one of the two people who made the original complaints – described by Bowen as “full-time pro-Israeli lobbyists” – with the last sentence of that comment capturing all that really needs to be said.

Jonathan Turner comment Independant

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen invents new quarter in Jerusalem

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

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Bowen on Sharon: what did BBC audiences learn?

We previously noted on these pages that, on January 12th in an item concerning the death of Ariel Sharon which was aired on the Bowen filmed 11 1 aBBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’, the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen inaccurately represented the findings of the Kahan Commission on Sabra and Shatila and inserted into his report a recording of an interviewee from Lebanon making the false claim that Sharon had both entered the camps and carried out the massacre. 

With Jeremy Bowen’s post having been created in 2005 as one of several BBC responses to criticism of its Middle East coverage which led to the commissioning of the unpublished Balen Report, it is worth taking a look at some of his additional broadcasts throughout the three days in which the BBC covered the death of Ariel Sharon and examining whether or not his role does in fact contribute to more accurate and impartial coverage of a major event and whether it actually provides “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” as the BBC claims

On January 11th – within hours of Sharon’s death – two filmed reports by Bowen – which were also aired on BBC television news programmes – appeared on the BBC News website. In the earlier of those two reports, which Bowen Bowen filmed 11 1 bliberally garnishes with words such as ‘butcher’, ‘villain’, ‘killer’ and ‘criminal’, supposedly whilst reflecting the opinions of others, he again misrepresents the Kahan Commission findings and misleads audiences by inaccurately stating that the second Intifada was the result of Sharon’s September 2000 visit to Temple Mount.

“As he pushed to become leader of the Israeli Right in 2000, he made a highly publicized, heavily guarded visit to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, providing the spark for the second Palestinian uprising.”

In the second report viewers were informed by Bowen that:

“…and of course from the Palestinian perspective he is seen absolutely without any shadow of doubt as a butcher with lakes of blood on his hands…”

That description also found its way to the BBC News website’s live page.

Live page Sharon Bowen comments

On January 12th, as Ariel Sharon lay in state, a further two reports by Jeremy Bowen were aired on BBC television news and appeared on the BBC News website, with the first headlined “Ariel Sharon death: Israelis pay respects at parliament“. Despite that title, it Bowen 12 1 atook just forty-five seconds of the report before Bowen was once again promoting more paraphrased Palestinian opinions of Sharon in his own highly charged and hyperbolic words.

“But Palestinians especially are not shedding tears for Ariel Sharon. They say he spent his life shedding their blood and taking land they want for a state for Jewish settlements.”

Bowen closes that report:

“It’s a sign though of his place in modern Middle Eastern history that there are still so many people here in Israel who venerate him and so many – especially Palestinians – who get very angry about what he did.”

The second report of that day is an interview by Bowen with Ehud Olmert in which he again uses the ‘butcher’ description.

“Now what about those episodes which Sharon’s name is also associated with abroad? Sabra and Shatila, the killings in the camp, the subsequent inquiry, personal responsibility that he took for that – he had to resign – and the other things as well; the raids into Gaza and the West Bank in the 1950s which mean that Palestinians of course looked on him very differently and saw him as a butcher with blood on his hands.” Bowen 12 1 b

His next question is:

“Now what about the fact that those episodes in Mr Sharon’s political career – many people believe – brought Israel into disrepute around the world, were a black mark on its record?”

Viewers are of course not informed who or how many are “many people”, but it is notable that Bowen uses the opportunity to advance the concept of the massacre of Palestinian Arabs by Lebanese Arabs (of course one of many carried out around that time in Lebanon by numerous parties including Palestinians) as a “black mark” on Israel’s record rather than on that of the people who perpetrated it.

On January 13th a fifth filmed report by Bowen appeared on BBC television news programmes and on the BBC News website. Titled “Ariel Sharon funeral: Tributes paid at memorial service“, that report too soon moves from reporting events to political commentary. 

At 1:26 into the two minute and forty second-long report, viewers see footage of the Old City of Jerusalem with Bowen saying:

“Ariel Sharon owned a house in the Old City of Jerusalem where most of the residents are Palestinians. For many years he led the drive to settle Jews in the occupied territories. Jewish settlers who live here in the Muslim Quarter have armed security guards.”

It is difficult to imagine three more context-free sentences. Bowen fails to inform viewers that Jews – some of whom had lived there for generations – were expelled from the Old City by the Jordanians in 1948 and hence he is able to describe those living there nowBowen 13 1 as “settlers”. He also neglects to mention that, despite being situated in the Muslim Quarter, the Wittenberg House in which Sharon indeed bought an apartment in the 1980s (and sold some years later) is named after Moshe Wittenberg who bought what was once a hotel from its former Christian owners roughly one hundred years before that. And of course Bowen provides no explanation as to why Jews living in the Old City might be in need of “armed security guards”, but at least this time he has actually got the name of one of the quarters of Jerusalem right. 

Bowen then interviews Mustafa Barghouti (who also featured widely in other BBC coverage of Sharon’s death with assorted unchallenged defamations and conspiracy theories), describing him as “a prominent Palestinian who believes in non-violent resistance to Israel”. Readers will no doubt however be aware of Barghouti’s participation in the riots in Qalandiya during the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ agitprop of March 2012 and his periodic appearance at the weekly violent riots in Bil’in. Unchallenged by Bowen, Barghouti says:

“He [Sharon] thought he can deal with Palestinians and Arabs and the rest of the world only through force. What Israel needs is a different kind of political generation: people who understand that they themselves will not be free as Israelis from the system of apartheid and occupation unless we the Palestinians are free.”

Bowen ends that report by saying:

“Many Palestinians and some human rights campaigners think he [Sharon] should have been put on trial as a war criminal but he goes to his grave mourned by Israelis who felt safer when he was around.”

So what have BBC audiences gained from watching these five reports by Jeremy Bowen spread over three days? They have been misled with regard to the findings of the Kahan Commission and the cause of the second Intifada. They have been presented with numerous examples of Bowen’s interpretations of what Palestinians think of Sharon, together with the views of selected interviewees, and they have repeatedly been exposed to Bowen’s use of hyperbolic language such as “butcher”, “villain”, “killer”, “criminal”, “war criminal”, “apartheid”, “lakes of blood on his hands” and “shedding their blood”.

Beyond the fact that much of this coverage cannot be said to meet BBC Editorial Guidelines of accuracy and impartiality, its overtly political nature means that, above all, in no way can it be said to meet Bowen’s job description of providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”. Given that Jeremy Bowen is not just one individual reporter, but the person in charge of setting the overall tone of the BBC’s Middle East reporting, his performance in this instance must raise questions as to the efficacy of the post of Middle East editor in producing accurate and impartial coverage of Israel. 

Related Articles:

Arafat death conspiracy theory featured in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ live coverage of Sharon funeral

Continuing serious breaches of editorial guidelines in ‘Newshour’ with Lyse Doucet

Jeremy Bowen promotes Sabra & Shatila lies on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Broadcasting House’

BBC’s Knell invents ‘settlements’, amplifies anti-Israel activist

Breaches of editorial guidelines in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special Sharon broadcast

Loving the hate: BBC coverage of Sharon’s death

Multiple breaches of editorial guidelines in Sharon report by BBC’s Paul Adams

BBC exploits Sharon’s death for more promotion of second Intifada falsehood

Jeremy Bowen promotes Sabra & Shatila lies on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Broadcasting House’

The January 12th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’, hosted by Paddy O’Connell and available here, includes (from around 28:00) a contribution by the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on the subject of Ariel Sharon who had died the previous day.

Broadcasting House 12 1

O’Connell introduces the item thus:

“The convoy with Ariel Sharon’s coffin has in fact just arrived at the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – where his body is now being moved to a podium. Israelis will be able to pass by to pay their last respects. The funeral of Areil Sharon takes place tomorrow in his family farm close to Gaza as we’ve been hearing in the news. World leaders will attend a ceremony although President Obama is not going; his vice president will represent the USA.”

Before informing listeners of any Israeli reactions to the news of Sharon’s death, O’Connell – in line with much of the rest of the BBC’s coverage of the subject – then finds it necessary to tell them what the Palestinians think of the death of somebody else’s former prime minister. 

“Palestinians see Ariel Sharon as a criminal and have condemned his record. As for Israelis, they will have their chance to pay their respects as his body lies in state in Jerusalem. Well I’ve discussed this with the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen begins:

“Now he hasn’t been a political factor of course in eight years. Israelis are very good at absorbing shocks and they did that in 2006 when he had his stroke and went into a coma. But he’s a very symbolic character as far as Israelis are concerned. He goes right back to their independence war in 1948; he fought in that and was wounded. Shimon Peres the former prime minister, now the president, who was a politician right back in 1948 himself, gave this tribute.”

Listeners then hear a recording of Shimon Peres speaking in English, after which O’Connell says:

“It’s notable when you look at the tributes that have come in – if you compare this to what happened when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, when Yasser Arafat paid tribute and himself went to a commemoration for the assassinated prime minister – this is not the case at all this time round.”

Bowen: “Yeah. Rabin was seen as a tough guy, a military commander who had – from the Palestinians’ point of view – certainly from Arafat’s point of view – who had changed. Ariel Sharon – as far as the Palestinians were concerned – was never going to change. 1982 Sharon as Defence Minister presided over an invasion of Lebanon. During the siege of Beirut there was a terrible massacre of Palestinians in a refugee camp. Hundreds dead – maybe thousands dead. Now they were killed by Lebanese Christian militiamen who were in alliance at the time with the Israelis and there was an official inquiry into all this afterwards in Israel itself. That commission of inquiry found that Sharon was personally responsible and he was forced to resign as Minister of Defence.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s account – and his implication that Sharon was found to be responsible for the massacres themselves – is of course not accurate. The Kahan Commission in fact found that Sharon (and others) bore indirect personal responsibility for not anticipating the possibility of Phalangist violence.

“On 7 February 1983 the Kahan Commission published its recommendations: Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut. The report attributed direct responsibility for the massacre to the Phalangists. However, the commission determined that indirect personal responsibility fell on several Israeli office holders. It stated that: “in our view, everyone who had anything to do with events in Lebanon should have felt apprehension about a massacre in the camps, if armed Phalangist forces were to be moved into them without the IDF exercising concrete and effective supervision and scrutiny of them “.”

Not content with misleading listeners on the findings of the Kahan Commission, Bowen goes on to present a recording which he has clearly selected in order to advance the impression he wishes to create. 

Bowen: “From the Palestinian point of view it made the man [Sharon] absolutely beyond the pale as far as they were concerned. And they are still very angry about what happened there. There are memorials there to the people who died and one of the survivors of the massacre – a man called Mohammed Srour spoke about that and he said that he wished Mr Sharon had been punished for his actions.”

Listeners then hear a recording of Mohammed Srour speaking in Arabic, with a BBC translation overlaid.

Srour: “Sharon has passed away but we didn’t wish him to die in such a way. I am one of the victims whose parents died in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. I was hoping he would be killed by the hand of a Palestinian child or a Palestinian woman because when he entered Sabra and Shatila and carried out the massacre, he killed the children and the women.”

Of course Sharon did not enter Sabra and Shatila and did not carry out the massacre, but  neither Bowen nor O’Connell make any subsequent effort throughout the whole of the rest of the item to correct the misleading impression created by the interviewee Jeremy Bowen deliberately chose to showcase.

Notably, given Bowen’s introduction to the interview with Srour, we can apparently conclude that the latter’s call for the murder of Ariel Sharon “by the hand of a Palestinian child or a Palestinian woman” is what Bowen regards as ‘punishment’. 

The BBC’s coverage of Ariel Sharon’s death has included considerable quantities of misleading, inaccurate and defamatory statements by assorted interviewees. The BBC cannot, however, hide behind the claim that these are not the words of its own employees as all BBC produced content is subject to its editorial guidelines.   

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell invents ‘settlements’, amplifies anti-Israel activist

Breaches of editorial guidelines in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special Sharon broadcast

Loving the hate: BBC coverage of Sharon’s death

Multiple breaches of editorial guidelines in Sharon report by BBC’s Paul Adams

BBC exploits Sharon’s death for more promotion of second Intifada falsehood





Bowen tweet not helpful to the BBC’s reputation for impartiality

Dr Eyad Sarraj, who recently died at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem where he had been treated for leukemia, was the founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

Despite its scientific and neutral-sounding title, the GCMHP has shown itself repeatedly (see p38 onwards) to be an NGO with political motivations and is involved with the BDS movement. In evidence he gave to the Goldstone Panel in 2009, Sarraj said:

“The Palestinian in the eyes of the Israeli soldier is not an equal human being. Sometimes this Palestinian even becomes a demon in their eyes. Therefore it is a state of demonization. This is unfortunately, uh, what can be seen in the behavior of the Israeli soldier not only killing children or fathers before…He is not dealt with as an equal human being. This is the base of everything and then there is the fact that there is no restraint, no discipline within the army and, uh, uh, even there’s an encouragement…Many Israelis need this and also the Palestinians because inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazi.”

Sarraj was also a member of the flotilla-organising, ISM-rooted Free Gaza Movement’s ‘Gaza Advisory Council’ – part of its Board of Advisors.

Hence, the Tweet below – sent on December 18th by Jeremy Bowen: the Middle East Editor tasked with being the gatekeeper of accurate and impartial Middle East reporting - does little to help the BBC’s reputation as an impartial body.

Bowen Sarraj tweet

What makes a story newsworthy for the BBC?

A Western journalist working in Israel once remarked to this writer that the reason so many of the foreign media’s reports from the country seem so similar is that a not insignificant number of them are written in the bar of the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem where journalists share stories and experiences. He wasn’t entirely joking. 

Reports such as the one appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 13th entitled “Israeli PM Netanyahu drops costly in-flight bedroom“, with its uncanny resemblance to – and reliance upon the same sources as – a Guardian article of the previous day, certainly do nothing to dispel that impression.  

The Guardian report stated:

“Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, Sima Kadmon said: “We thought that nothing could surprise us anymore when it came to the Netanyahus’ personal behaviour. Well, we thought wrong. It turns out that King Bibi and Queen Sara are entitled to do everything … The double bed that was installed on the plane cost the Israeli public, which is buckling under the weight of the austerity measures, half a million shekels. Is there no shame?” “

The BBC article stated:

” “Bibi is king, and in a monarchy, when the king and queen fly, price is no object,” said political commentator Sima Kadmon, referring to Mr Netanyahu by his nickname, in Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper Yediot Ahranot [sic].”

Both articles are based upon an item broadcast by Israel’s Channel 10 news on May 10th. Of course this domestic Israeli story has absolutely no relevance for the overwhelming majority of BBC audience members and quite why it was deemed newsworthy by the BBC News website’s editors is unclear – beyond its pandering to the obsession with all things casting Israel in a less than flattering light. 

That impression is reinforced when one takes a quick look at some of the other events which occurred in the region around the same time and which the BBC elected to ignore. For example, on the same evening as Channel 10 broke its in-flight bed story, two Palestinians were reportedly injured when gunmen opened fire on a PA police station near Hebron. Several hours later five others were injured in a separate incident in the same area, with the clashes being attributed to the shooting of a woman a few days previously.

“Sair has witnessed clashes since Palestinian police officers accidentally shot and killed a woman in the town on Wednesday night. 
Police officers opened fire at a fugitive’s vehicle and accidentally killed his wife, 30-year-old Khalida Kawazba. A security source told Ma’an that police had ordered the woman’s husband Nawwaf Kawazba to stop, but he instead accelerated, “forcing police to open fire.”
After the shooting, angry residents hurled Molotov cocktails and stones at PA police, who used tear gas to disperse the clashes.”

The BBC has made no attempt whatsoever to report these incidents. Another newsworthy story ignored by the BBC came to light on May 8th. In the village of Husan – located in the Bethlehem governorate of the Palestinian Authority – an IDF operation to clear the village’s farmlands of old Jordanian land mines began. 

“The Palestinian side is supporting and encouraging this project,” said Lieutenant Colonel Eyal Zeevi, who heads the Bethlehem  Coordination and Liaison Administration. “This project has two goals: First, to eliminate ongoing danger to human life, and ensure that all mines have been cleared. Second, to return the land to its rightful owners, for the use of the village as a community.”

Also last week – and also ignored by the BBC – Israeli doctors at the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon successfully operated on a four year-old Syrian child with a life-threatening heart condition as part of the Save a Child’s Heart project and with Israeli government co-ordination.

One might have thought that at least some of those stories would be as newsworthy as an in-flight bed, but apparently that is not the case according to BBC priorities. 

BBC’s Bowen invents new quarter in Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem – as the vast majority of people are aware – is comprised of four quarters. They are named the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Muslim Quarter, and have gone by those titles for donkey’s years. 

But then along came the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen and not only erased the Christian and Muslim Quarters from the map, but also invented a new one. 

In a December 2012 interview with the travel section of the Telegraph on the subject of Jerusalem, Bowen stated: [emphasis added]

“You should go to the Old City, home to the Western Wall (the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray), the Aq sa [sic] mosque and the Dome of the Rock, not to mention the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I like to visit the Old City’s various quarters – Jewish, Palestinian and Armenian.”

Obviously Bowen’s expertise in Jerusalem geography is about as precise as his knowledge of Jewish prayer traditions.

Somehow, this faux pas got past the Telegraph’s fact checkers. Perhaps they mistakenly relied on the assumption that the man ultimately in charge of Middle East content for the BBC would stick to the facts. 

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

The Monday May 6th 2013 edition of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme included a contribution from BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on the subject of the preceding weekend’s alleged Israeli air-strikes on targets in Syria.

Today R4 6 5


The recording can be heard here for a limited period of time, with the relevant section beginning from around 2:31:20.

Presenter Justin Webb opens the segment with the following introduction:

“Israel has not said publicly that it has attacked Syrian targets, but that is what has happened, twice in recent days. There seems to be no doubt about it and no real doubt about why either. In the short term at least, an effort to stop sophisticated Iranian-made weapons getting from Syria into the hands of Hizballah – the militants based in Lebanon. And perhaps a possible wider aim as well: to get President Obama involved. The risk, of course, is a wider war. A war that causes huge suffering but also destroys the fragile balances of power in the whole region.” 

So what do listeners learn from Webb’s introduction? They are informed that Israel’s alleged actions might well be an attempt to coerce the US in another Middle East war and that Israel is destabilising the entire Middle East. Does Webb have or provide any factual evidence for those very serious assertions? Of course not: this is mere speculation on his part, with no small amount of conspiracy theory-style mud-slinging thrown in.

Webb’s first guest is Jeremy Bowen who, inter alia, makes the following statements.

“And the Israelis are acting – they say – because of the need to stop weapons getting through to Hizballah – their rivals in err…their obdure enemies in Lebanon. But you know the thing about this war, this Syrian civil war, is that it’s always been a battle ground for wider regional struggles. You know one reason the Saudis and the Qataris are backing the rebels is to strengthen themselves against Iran, which backs Assad, and of course the Israelis have also got an eye on Iran and Hizballah and Assad because that triangle is err..self-styled axis of resistance against the Israelis themselves and you know you can go on about it too as well: the pressure on the US to get involved, an element of old-fashioned East-West rivalry: the US, UK and France backing the rebels, Russia and China supporting Assad and so on.”

Justin Webb continues to weave the web: 

“Um. Why though – I mean this is a sort of basic question, but an interesting one – these sophisticated weapons – we think these are missiles, aren’t they? Missiles: land to land missiles. Missiles that could be used from southern Lebanon into the heart of Israel if they were in the hands of Hizballah. But I mean given that Assad is fighting a pretty desperate war to stay in power – to stay alive indeed – it seems odd that he’d be passing any weapons to anyone.”

Bowen responds to Webb’s (pre-arranged?) cue:

“Yeah, strange, but I mean there’s speculation about this. Hizballah is increasingly said to be involved in the fighting in Syria. Hizballah very effective fighters in their dealings with the Israelis over the years. Perhaps he’s doing that as some kind of quid pro quo. Err…passing more weapons over to them. Perhaps he’s worried they might fall into rebel hands. Perhaps it’s part of a wider deal with the Iranians. I think nobody really knows. It is a bit strange as well because Hizballah is powerful in Lebanon and to…pretty much controls the airport. Now, [scoffing laugh] do they have to get weapons in through Syria if they could get them flown in direct from Iran, if that’s what they particularly wanted? And there’s been quite a bit of speculation in the Israeli press saying this is about a little bit more than moving weapons because it’s a big raid. It was a big raid in Damascus and the New York Times is reporting that ah..perhaps even hundreds of regime soldiers were killed in the raid.”

The BBC defined Jeremy Bowen’s job description as follows in 2006:

“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.”

To be frank, Bowen’s so-called analysis – in this case as in many others – does anything but make the story more comprehensible to BBC audiences. His insistence upon muddying the waters by throwing into the equation his own baseless speculations (yes, the “Israeli press” – by which one presumes Bowen  means mainly the English language version of Ha’aretz – is capable of writing drivel too) regarding occult ulterior motives for the alleged air-strikes unnecessarily complicates and clutters the picture. 

But Jeremy Bowen is by no means stupid or dumb and has certainly been knocking around the Middle East for long enough to understand exactly what went on in Syria – and why – over the last weekend, so his pretence that “nobody really knows” why weapons are being transported to Hizballah is about as credible as a pantomime horse.  Bowen’s near conspiracy theory insinuation that the target of the air strikes might actually not be weapons consignments because, according to him, Hizballah “pretty much controls the airport” in Beirut, can only be either the result of jaw-dropping ignorance of the extensive documentation of years of arms smuggling from Iran to Hizballah – particularly via Syria – or a deliberate attempt to herd audiences into the pens of his pet conspiracy theories. Neither of those alternatives is befitting of the Middle East Editor of a major media organization which chalks reliability and trustworthiness on its banner.  

Those following Bowen on Twitter will have noticed a similar exercise carried out on May 5th

Bowen stupid question

Neither Haifa nor Tsfat (Safed), where the Iron Dome was deployed are of course “close to border with Syria”, but the main point behind this Tweet was obviously to introduce over 35,000 people reading it to the idea that the deployment of a missile defence system could be anything other than a precautionary move. In this case Bowen had to back down pretty rapidly as Twitter users took him to task. 

Teach ESL tweet

Bowen stupid question 2

And then the ‘back-up’ was produced:

Bowen stupid question 3

Only an organization with a monopoly grip on the licence fee payers’ wallets could pass off Bowen’s speculations on the ‘Today’ programme as analysis. Any Middle East analyst worthy of the title would have reminded listeners of Iran’s long history of financial and military support for its terror proxies Hizballah and Hamas and pointed out Syria’s long-standing involvement in the violation of UN SC resolution 1701 as far as arming Hizballah is concerned. A worthy analyst would then have explained to listeners that the alleged air-strikes should be seen in that context, rather than as having any direct connection to the civil war in Syria. 

Fortunately, the guest following Bowen on the ‘Today’ programme was Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland, who tried to balance Bowen’s insinuations and those made during the conversation by Justin Webb. Nevertheless, it is past time for senior BBC management to make it clear to their Middle East Editor that his remit of “find[ing] stories away from the main agenda” does not mean making them up.

However, Bowen’s performance was not the only attempt made on that particular programme to advance a specific agenda regarding the recent events in Syria. More on that tomorrow. 

 Related articles:  

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

Ask Jeremy: Twitter Q&A gives insight into ME Editor’s approach

BBC’s Jeremy Bowen: “a deliberate escalation by Israel”

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”


BBC reports from Hebron funeral again promote PA propaganda

The BBC’s coverage of the funeral of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh – the 64 year-old Palestinian terrorist who died last week of esophageal cancer – includes a written report placed on the Middle East page of the BBC News website and a filmed report by Jon Donnison which appeared on BBC television news, both dated April 4th. 

Hamdiyeh funeral 1

Hamdiyeh funeral 2

Both reports continue the practices of previous recent related BBC articles in that they promote unverified Palestinian Authority propaganda regarding Abu Hamdiyeh’s death and downplay the rioting incited and fuelled by that propaganda.

The written report states:

“The clashes began after thousands took to the streets to mourn the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who died of cancer in an Israeli jail.

Palestinian officials have accused Israel of medical negligence – Israel says care was provided.

Abu Hamdiyeh was serving a life sentence for a failed bombing attack on a Jerusalem cafe in 2002. Palestinians say he should have been released on compassionate grounds and the death has sparked protests across the West Bank.”

Later on it also states:

“Palestinian officials claim Israel did not provide the 64-year-old with adequate medical care and failed to release him after diagnosing that his illness was terminal.”

The synopsis to the filmed report states:

“His death has sparked angry protests, with Palestinian officials accusing Israel of medical negligence.”

This repetition of PA propaganda does not represent ‘impartiality’ but rather the spreading of baseless hearsay and rumour which – as pointed out here previously – has long been employed by the PA in order to whip up fervour on the streets in order to serve its own political motives. The fact that the BBC – in this case and others – voluntarily aids and abets the spread of that conspiracy theory based propaganda, whilst lending it the coveted BBC stamp of legitimacy, raises some very serious concerns regarding the nature of the working relationship between the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and the Palestinian Authority and calls the BBC’s impartiality into question. 

The written report opens:  [emphasis added]

Palestinian rioters in Hebron, April 4, 2013.

Palestinian rioters in Hebron, April 4, 2013. Photo: Tovah Lazaroff

“Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron following the funeral of a prisoner who died in an Israeli jail.

Soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets – protesters threw stones.”

The construction of that last sentence shows a clear attempt to dictate the impressions received by the reader through the deliberate inversion of cause and effect.

The report also states: [emphasis added]

“The clashes began after thousands took to the streets to mourn the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who died of cancer in an Israeli jail.”


“Thursday also saw the funerals of two Palestinian teenagers killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday during clashes between soldiers and youths.”

In the article’s side box titled ‘At the Scene’, Yolande Knell writes:

“Many shops and businesses have been shut in a general strike and there have been violent clashes with Israeli soldiers.”

The synopsis of the filmed report states:

“Two Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday during clashes between soldiers and youths.”

The repeated use of the word ‘clashes’ in this article and others deliberately creates an impression in the reader’s mind of a violent conflict between two opponents. What it does not do is reflect the fact that all of the violent riots (whatever their pretext) and the hundreds of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers of the past few months – the majority of which have gone completely unreported by the BBC – are not inevitable. Contrary to the manner in which the issue is approached by the BBC, Palestinians are not obliged to throw stones and firebombs at Israeli vehicles or to riot after funerals and the Palestinian Authority has the ability to contain those riots should it wish to do so. 

The fact that instead of presenting audiences with an accurate and realistic picture of the scale of violence and its causes, the BBC adopts and promotes the PA narrative by inevitably rebranding riots as ‘protests’ or ‘demonstrations’ is displayed in this report by the decision to include the following:

“He [Mahmoud Abbas] also criticised Israel for continuing to use force to suppress what he described at peaceful protests.”

Donnison’s filmed report also includes an example of the advancement of a narrative by means of the failure to include relevant information.

Members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Hebron

At around 1:05 Donnison says:

“..there is nowhere else in the West Bank which is quite as tense as Hebron. It’s a city with around 160,000 Palestinian people and right in the middle there is an Israeli settlement which has a large number of soldiers in order to protect it.”

Of course Donnison fails to inform his audience that Israelis living in Hebron do so according to the terms of Article VII of Annex I of the Oslo Accords – i.e. with the consent of the Palestinian Authority and the approval of the agreement’s international midwives – and that according to the 1997 agreement signed by the PA, Israel is responsible for their security. Given the BBC’s repeated promotion of the notion that Israeli ‘settlements’ are ‘illegal’ that omission is a particularly glaring example of disingenuous inaccuracy. 

The BBC’s approach to the subject of the recent rise in violence in general, and the rioting under the pretext of various issues relating to Palestinian prisoners in particular, is increasingly problematic. A serious review of that approach’s role in repeated breaches of editorial standards is urgently needed because clearly the mechanisms put in place in order to guarantee adherence to those standards are not functioning.


BBC appoints Jon Donnison as ‘Shin Gimmel’ of Masharawi story

In Hebrew, the expression ‘the Shin Gimmel syndrome’ is used to describe a situation in which the public blame for an operational failure is placed upon the lowest ranking soldier – the one guarding the front gate – so that high-ranking officers can avoid having to take the responsibility and its consequences. Needless to say, the use of the ‘Shin Gimmel’ as a scapegoat is a symptom of a serious failure of leadership. 

That is precisely what the BBC has done in its belated attempt to stave off criticism of its handling of the Omar Masharawi story: it has sent Jon Donnison – the lowest ranking journalist involved in this story – to do damage control.

It has not allocated that task to Donnison’s boss at the Jerusalem Bureau, Paul Danahar, who Tweeted unverified claims that an Israeli attack had killed Omar Masharawi. Nor has the job been given to Danahar’s boss, Jeremy Bowen, whose position as Middle East Editor was created especially in order to avoid precisely such situations in the wake of previous criticisms of the BBC’s record of accuracy and impartiality when reporting on Israel. Neither was the Head of News or anyone else further up the chain of command required to provide explanations for the BBC failure. Instead, lowly Donnison was sent to take the rap.

Is it any wonder then that Donnison gives the impression of being distinctly out of his depth as he flails about trying to make passable-sounding excuses for the BBC’s failures? 

Donnison 11 3 Masharawi

Donnison’s article – entitled “UN disputes Gaza strike on BBC man’s house” – opens with the same picture of Jihad Masharawi carrying his son’s body which the BBC touted so extensively at the time. This time, however, the caption is particularly loaded. [emphasis added]

“Jehad Mashhrawi’s 11-month-old son Omar was killed in the attack on his house in Gaza”

In other words, the BBC wants to place in readers’ minds from the very beginning the idea that there was a deliberate attack on Masharawi’s house, rather than an accident. 

Donnison begins:

“The son of a BBC journalist and two relatives killed in last November’s war in Gaza may have been hit by a misfired Palestinian rocket, a UN agency says.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said its conclusions were based on a visit to the site a month after the attack.”

All the information in the first five paragraphs of Donnison’s article is for some reason repeated further on into the article and so we later find the following statements, which clearly intend to cast doubts upon the UN findings, not least because of the passage of time:

“UN officials visited the house four weeks after the strike.

They said they did not carry out a forensic investigation, but said their team did not think the damage was consistent with an Israeli air strike.

However, the UN said it could not “unequivocally conclude” it was a misfired Palestinian rocket.

A UN official said it was also possible the house was hit by a secondary explosion after an Israeli air strike on Palestinian weapons stores.”

The UN’s report states:

“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”

A footnote adds that the UN investigated the incident itself and the UN has confirmed that the above passage in its report indeed relates to the incident at the Masharawi home. 

Donnison’s “UN official” quote above also appears in an AP report which includes further information which Donnison elected not to include in his piece:

“Matthias Behnke, head of OHCHR office for the Palestinian territories, cautioned he couldn’t “unequivocally conclude” that the death was caused by an errantly fired Palestinian rocket. He said information gathered from eyewitnesses led them to report that “it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket.”

He said Palestinian militants were firing rockets at Israel not far from the al-Masharawi home. Behnke said the area was targeted by Israeli airstrikes, but the salvo that hit the al-Masharawi home was “markedly different.”

He said there was no significant damage to the house, unusual for an Israeli strike. He said witnesses reported that a fireball struck the roof of the house, suggesting it was a part of a homemade rocket. Behnke said the type of injuries sustained by al-Masharawi family members were consistent with rocket shrapnel.”

Donnison’s efforts to pick holes in the UN findings are a deliberate attempt to distract readers from the essential point. As BBC Watch noted last November:

“Whether or not Jihad Masharawi’s house was hit by a short-falling terrorist rocket, by shrapnel from secondary explosions of Fajr 5 missiles deliberately hidden by Hamas in built-up residential areas or whether an errant IDF shell targeting those rocket launching sites and weapons storage facilities caused that accident, we may never know.”

That essential point – which Donnison does his level best to bury – is that there was no solid evidence at the time that the Masharawi house has been hit in an Israeli air-strike and indeed, several other possibilities (as now confirmed by the UN) existed. The BBC, however, not only dismissed those other possibilities – to which it had been alerted by bloggers – but exclusively and unquestioningly promoted the notion of Israel’s responsibility for the infant’s death with no factual evidence to back up that assertion. 

Donnison continues:

“At the time, human rights groups blamed the deaths on an Israeli air strike.”

He later adds:

“The family, and human rights groups, said that the house was hit in an Israeli attack.”

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Donnison does not name the “human rights groups” he cites, but it can safely be assumed that he is referring to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) which claimed on November 15th – the day after the incident – without providing any concrete evidence whatsoever, that:

“ Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house belonging to Ali Nemer al-Masharawi in al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City.  Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Masharawi, 19, and Omar Jihad al-Masharawi, 11 months.”

Far from being an objective “human rights group”, the PCHR uses the mantle of human rights in its political campaign against Israel and has a long history of unreliability. This is certainly not the first time that Jon Donnison has unquestioningly promoted information from the PCHR – apparently being unable to distinguish between a genuine human rights organization and a Hamas accessory. 

Donnison continues his attempt to bring the reader back round to believing the original BBC claims of Israeli culpability by writing:

“The Israeli military says it never denied carrying out the strike because it was not clear what had happened.”

He later adds:

“The Israeli military made no comment at the time of the incident but never denied carrying out the strike.

Privately, military officials briefed journalists that they had been targeting a militant who was in the building.”

If that were true, and if Donnison was aware of the presence of a terrorist in the building, then the next question must be why no reference was ever made to that in any of the BBC’s reports on the subject – including his own. 

Donnison continues:

“The UN says 33 other Palestinian children died in Israeli attacks during the conflict.”

Towards the end of the article, and contradicting his own use of the words “33 other”, he adds:

“The UN report concluded that at least 169 Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks during the offensive.

It said more than 100 were civilians, including 33 children and 13 women. The report said six Israelis were killed by Palestinians attacks, including four civilians.”

As Elder of Ziyon has pointed out, the UN report – which apparently suddenly gains renewed credibility in Donnison’s eyes when it can be used against Israel – actually says:

“During the crisis, 174 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. At least 168 of them were killed by Israeli military action, of whom 101 are believed to be civilians, including 33 children and 13 women.” [emphasis added] 

As we have previously pointed out here, other reports on the casualty figures in the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Cloud indicate that as many as 60% belonged to terrorist organisations. 

Further on in his article Donnison states:

“Now, though, the United Nations says the house may have been hit by a Palestinian rocket that fell short.

This is despite the fact that the Israeli military had reported no rockets being fired out of Gaza so soon after the start of the conflict.”

However, the above claim of “no rockets” is contradicted by Donnison himself in his From our own Correspondent report of November 24th:

“But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, Israel’s military says mortars had been launched from Gaza, but very few rockets.” [emphasis added]

As BBC Watch remarked at the time, and as the UN official quoted by AP above confirms:

“Regarding Donnison’s claim of mortars, “but very few rockets” having been fired at the time (BBC Watch has seen no such statement by the IDF, but would be delighted if Donnison could produce it), as is pointed out here, “very few rockets” does not mean no rockets.”

Under the curious subheading “Rubbish”, Donnison goes on to inform readers that:

Jihad Masharawi at his brother’s funeral

“Jehad Mashhrawi dismissed the UN findings as “rubbish”.

He said nobody from the United Nations had spoken to him, and said Palestinian militant groups would usually apologise to the family if they had been responsible.”

Apparently Donnison seems to think that this anecdote adds some kind of back-up to his story, perhaps forgetting that his own organization had (probably unwittingly) broadcast footage of Jihad Masharawi’s brother being buried in a Hamas flag. 

Donnison also states that:

“A photo of BBC video editor Jehad Mashhrawi cradling the corpse of his baby son Omar became one of the iconic images of November’s short war.”

It certainly did, but only because the BBC deliberately and energetically promoted the story far and wide, despite having no concrete evidence whatsoever to back up its claims that Israel was responsible for Omar’s death. 

The disturbing fact is that the BBC’s only response to the findings of the UN report has been to belatedly send Jon Donnison out to offer up a badly written collection of excuses and insinuations published five days later on the Middle East page of its website, whilst Donnison’s original article remains intact on that same website’s ‘Magazine’ page with no correction and no link to his article on the UN report. 

Magazine 12 3

Donnison’s cringe-worthy attempt at damage control does nothing to address the real problem underlying this story. That problem is not one of determining which type of ordnance fired by whom hit the Masharawi house, but that the BBC knowingly published and extensively promoted a story based on local anecdote for which it had absolutely no proven evidence, purely because it fit in with the political narrative accepted and promoted by the BBC. 

Fronted by Donnison, but undoubtedly with the full knowledge of his superiors, this self-destructive attempt to shift the focus of the story away from the real issue of the BBC’s complete failure to meet its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality – and to protect those further up the chain of management from the obvious conclusions of that failure – calls into question, once again,  both the sincerity of the BBC’s commitment to the values behind which it hides and the quality of the organisation’s leadership.