Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

On September 2nd an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Arafat poisoning inquiry dropped by French prosecutors” and a similar report appeared on the BBC Arabic website.

Although this report is about the closure of an inquiry opened three years ago in August 2012 after Suha Arafat filed a civil suit at a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre claiming that her husband had been murdered, the caption to the main photograph illustrating the English language article continues to infer foul play.Arafat art 3 9 15  

“Swiss tests found abnormal levels of polonium on Yasser Arafat’s body”

That theme is also promoted in the body of the report:

“Arafat died in Paris in 2004, aged 75. His wife says he was poisoned, possibly by highly radioactive polonium.

The claims were seemingly backed up by tests carried out in Switzerland.”

Later on readers are informed that:

“Three teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators were allowed to take samples from Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah.

But, earlier this year, one French prosecutor said the polonium samples were of an environmental nature.”

Readers are not told that the Russian investigation also ruled out poisoning.

As we know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that its content must achieve both “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time“. The BBC’s coverage of this story over the past three years presents an opportunity to examine its adherence to those editorial standards.

The story began in July 2012 when an Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ claimed that Swiss experts had found “significant” traces of Polonium 210 on some of Arafat’s personal effects provided by his widow.

In August 2012 Suha Arafat filed her suit in Paris and BBC coverage at the time informed audiences that:

“…many Palestinians continue to believe that Israel poisoned him. Israel has denied any involvement.”

In November 2012 Arafat’s remains were exhumed. The BBC’s Jon Donnison had already prepared the scene with two reports on Arafat’s ‘legacy’ – here and here – and a filmed item in which he promoted the notion that Arafat was “killed at the hands of Israel”. Additional filmed and written coverage by Richard Galpin also promoted the PA’s conspiracy theory of Israeli involvement in Arafat’s death. The exhumation itself prompted no fewer than five reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, three of which again promoted conspiracy theories about Israel.

A year later, in November 2013, the appearance of a Swiss report with findings described as “moderately” supporting the poisoning theory prompted the BBC news website to produce no fewer than thirteen different reports, nine of which amplified conspiracy theories concerning Israel’s involvement in Arafat’s death.website 6 to 8 11

In December 2013 a leaked French report stating that Arafat was not poisoned was covered in two reports on the BBC News website, both of which included repetition of Palestinian conspiracy theories which accuse Israel of being responsible for Arafat’s death.

Later on in December 2013, the Russian team also announced that its findings ruled out foul play and that news was covered in one report on the BBC News website, which again promoted Palestinian conspiracy theories concerning Israel. By this time the website had promoted four times more reports promoting the Swiss report which “moderately supported” the poisoning theory than it had devoted to the French and Russian findings which determined that Arafat died of natural causes.

In January 2015 the BBC’s flagship interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ produced a special programme to “mark the anniversary” of Arafat’s death in which Suha Arafat was provided with a platform to further promote the notion that Arafat was murdered.

In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.

In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.

In August 2015 the BBC found it appropriate to rebroadcast its January 2015 ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Suha Arafat despite the fact that it was obvious that the case was heading towards closure.

In this latest article concerning the French authorities’ decision to close the case from September 2015, the Swiss results are once again promoted as noted above.

So has the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” covered this story with “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time”? Well, for a start, the fact that the BBC’s backgrounder on the topic has not been updated since December 2013 does not enhance the impression of commitment to accuracy.

The repeated – if not obsessive – amplification of a baseless conspiracy theory even after two teams of experts had ruled that Arafat died of natural causes certainly cannot be said to contribute to the impression of accuracy in BBC reporting and licence fee payers may well be asking themselves how the BBC can possibly justify the use of resources, air time and column space to repeatedly propagate fact-free myth-cum-folklore and why it has spent three years lending an air of plausibility to this particular conspiracy theory.

As for impartiality, the volume of coverage of the Swiss results which “moderately” supported the poisoning theory has clearly been much greater than the BBC’s reporting on the results produced by the other two teams and their continued amplification even in this latest report suggests that “impartiality over time” was not a priority in coverage of this story.

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Why we need to talk about the BBC’s promotion of Middle East conspiracy theories

No BBC coverage of Gaza border shooting incident

Early on the evening of September 2nd a house in the Western Negev agricultural community of Netiv Ha’Asara was hit by bullets fired from the Gaza Strip and two children had a very lucky escape.Netiv Haasara

“One of the bullets shattered the window of a home in the Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara and hit a television while two children, aged 6 and 9, were watching it.

The other hit a wall in the home just north of the Strip.

Their mother and a baby were also at home at the time. No injuries were reported.

Initial reports indicated the two bullets were stray sniper bullets that originated from a Hamas training camp on the other side of the border, the IDF said.”

Later that night the IDF responded with strikes on the source of the gunfire, which has for several months been a concern for residents of Netiv Ha’Asara.

The BBC did not report on that incident despite clearly being aware that it had taken place.

Netiv haasara incident Abualouf tweet

Similarly, missile fire claimed by Salafists in the Gaza Strip early on the morning of September 1st and an additional incident later the same day did not receive BBC coverage. In both cases the missiles fell short and there were reports that the second missile attack caused injuries to civilians in the Gaza Strip when one of the missiles fell on a house.

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BBC News coverage of terrorism – July 2015

More BBC downplaying of Iranian destabilisation of the Middle East

An article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 31st under the title “Four wars and counting: Making sense of the anti-IS struggle” once again provides some interesting insight into the BBC’s Middle East narrative.Marcus ISIS

The article opens as follows:

“Adversity, they say, makes strange bedfellows. This is especially true in the contemporary Middle East.

The rise of so-called Islamic State (IS), which controls a swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq, has prompted the creation of a large, multinational coalition including the US, Turkey, and Washington’s Gulf allies, all intent on its destruction.

So too of course is Iran and, not surprisingly, Israel. This has resulted, for example, in pro-Iranian militias in Iraq appearing to be on the same side as the US.”

Marcus does not provide any supporting evidence for his dramatic claim that Israel is “intent” on the “destruction” of ISIS. Of course a more accurate and realistic portrayal would have clarified to readers that Israeli policy is to prevent ISIS, groups affiliated with it, or any other Islamist extremist elements from undermining her security – as clarified by the Israeli prime minister in July of this year.   

“We are partners with the Egyptians, and many other states in the Middle East and the world, in our battle against radical Islamic terrorism. This terrorism is directed by two different entities – Iran, and the radical Shiites, and ISIS and the radical Sunnis, as well as factions like Hamas.”

And:

“The world is facing two major threats, he [Netanyahu] said, the Islamic State threat, and the Iranian threat. “We should not strengthen one at the expense of the other,” he said, “we need to weaken both and prevent the aggression and military buildup of both of them.””

Later on in the article, the subject of Iran and its proxies is presented in muted language which does little more than obliquely hint at the real scale and significance of that issue and does nothing to clarify to BBC audiences exactly why so many actors in the region regard Iran as a very real threat.

“America’s Gulf allies – the Saudis and Qatar for example – have also been supporting various groups in Syria but they have had their eye very much on a second war: the battle against Iranian influence in the region exemplified by the embattled Syrian regime of President Assad and his (and Iran’s) Hezbollah allies from Lebanon.[…]

For the Gulf Arabs, the struggle against Iran is every bit as important as the battle against IS – possibly even more so. […]

The counter-Iranian struggle is also being played out in Yemen where the Saudis and their allies have intervened militarily […]”

Under the sub-heading “Israeli alliances”, towards the end of the article readers find the following:

“Indeed a fifth “war” – the region’s longest-running conflict – that between Israel and the Palestinians is also being influenced by the rise of IS.”

Some of course might question that description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the region’s longest running” and exactly how it is supposedly “being influenced by the rise of IS” is left unclear. Marcus continues:

“The collapse of Syria as a military player is a mixed blessing for Israel.

IS-inspired groups are active on both its northern border and in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. But the rise of IS (and a shared concern about Iran) has brought Israel and the so-called moderate Arab states closer together.

The most obvious manifestation of this are the growing military ties between Israel and Jordan. Israel has sold or transferred both attack helicopters and drones to Amman over recent weeks.

There are reports too that when Israeli and Jordanian warplanes flew to the US recently for a multinational exercise, the Jordanian F16s were accompanied on their transit by Israeli tanker aircraft.”

Jordan and Israel of course signed a peace treaty over two decades ago and collaboration in various fields is not novel. But even if that unverified report from one American website about accompanying Israeli aircraft and the similarly unconfirmed statement concerning retired helicopters originating from one anonymous Pentagon official do indeed prove to be correct, what is remarkable here is that Marcus puts the focus on ISIS as the reason for apparently extended ties between “Israel and the so-called moderate Arab states” whilst relegating the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme and the theocratic regime’s patronage of regional terrorist groups to a euphemistic comment in brackets.

He concludes:

“While all of the attention of analysts has been focused on the potential collapse of two existing countries – Syria and Iraq – the real driving force in regional politics is the response to the rise of two putative new states, the caliphate of Islamic State on the one hand, and the potential emergence of a new Kurdish nation of some kind on the other.

It is not just the demise of the old order that is forging unusual alliances, but the shock of the new.”

What Marcus coyly describes as “a shared concern about Iran” is obviously a no less “real” and important factor in contemporary Middle Eastern “regional politics” than ISIS or a potential Kurdish state. However, as has been the narrative in much of the BBC’s previous reporting, the issue of Iran’s destabilization of the region (particularly in Syria where its backing of the Assad regime has resulted in far more civilian deaths than those caused by ISIS) is downplayed and audiences are once again deprived of the full range of information needed to build a “global understanding of international issues”.  

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BBC amplification of Iranian regime charm offensive misleads audiences

 

Mission creep in BBC Trending report on Egyptian graduate’s speech about Israel

A few days ago we posted here a video of a speech made by Tel Aviv University valedictorian Haisam Hassanein who was born in Egypt.

Nine days later, BBC Trending produced a video relating to the same topic which was promoted on social media and in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Trending TA Uni vid on ME pge

The video – made by BBC Arabic’s Mai Norman – includes frames of excerpts from Haisam Hassanein’s speech interspersed with comment from the video maker, edited written responses to the original film and comment from two interviewees.

Examples of comment from the video maker include:

Trending TAU vid comment 1

Trending TAU vid comment 2

Audiences then see an unidentified woman saying:

“I find no fit between what he said and what I see in my everyday life.”

Viewers are told that the film of Hassanien’s speech went viral “but many Egyptians were angry”. “Many” is of course a very unclear term: there are currently 385 responses to the film – not all of them from Egyptians by any means – and some of those that are from Egyptians are very positive.  Viewers are then shown edited versions of a few of the comments left on that Youtube page.Trending TAU vid comment 3The full version of Hatim Boturos’ comment is as follows:

Trending TAU vid Hatim Boutros full

Viewers then see the following frames. The word ‘Jewish’ does not appear in Hassanein’s speech at that point and was inserted by the video maker.

Trending TAU vid frame kibbutzim

Trending TAU vid frame relationship

Another comment from the video maker then appears:

Trending TAU vid comment easy

The film then cuts to commentary from the same woman shown before – this time identified.

Trending TAU vid RNM

“What he said has nothing to do at all with what we experience every day as Palestinians in Israel. I wish at some point in the near future that the picture will be very similar to what he draw but up till now things are very different.”

Rula Nasr-Mazzawi is from Nazareth. She is actually an industrial organisational psychologist (not a psychiatrist as claimed by the BBC) who studied at the University of Haifa for her BA and MA, as well as at San Jose State University. Prior to her current position, she worked for Kav Mashve: a non-profit organization established to promote the employment of Arab-Israeli academics. Kav Mashve was set up by the Manufacturers Association of Israel and others and its activities are supported by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Of course that side of the picture gets no mention in Ms Nasr-Mazzawi’s mini-monologue or in Mai Norman’s film in general.

The ostensible reason for BBC Trending’s pick-up of this story is that the video of Haisam Hassanein’s speech got a lot of views on You Tube. Although BBC Trending claims that its mission is “[r]eporting on what’s being shared and asking why it matters“, rather than exploring – for instance – why so many people found the film interesting or what causes citizens of Egypt to hold such obviously mistaken beliefs and stereotypes about Israel, BBC Trending seemed to be more interested in discrediting Hassanein’s impressions and presenting  counter views to what it described in the synopsis to this filmed report as his “surprising take on Israel”.

Why was that mission creep deemed editorially acceptable? 

 

BBC amplification of Iranian regime charm offensive misleads audiences

BBC audiences could not have failed to notice the dominant theme promoted in the headlines of the plethora of multi-platform reports produced by Kim Ghattas during her recent visit to Iran.Ghattas Iran filmed

Iran to work with rivals for peace – VP Masumeh Ebtekar  (BBC News website, 18/8/15)

‘Iran Nuclear Deal Will Promote Peace’ (‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio, 18/8 15)

Iran VP Masoumeh Ebtekar: Nuclear deal ‘will help promote peace’  (BBC television news & BBC News website, 18/8/15)

Iran nuclear deal a step for ‘global peace’ (BBC television news & BBC News website, 18/8/15)

Iran Vice President: “We will promote peace and stability” (‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio, 18/8/15)

All of the above reports were based on an interview with one of Iran’s twelve vice-presidents, Masumeh Ebtekar. With the BBC not having had a permanent correspondent in Tehran for six years, Ghattas’ visit obviously presented a rare opportunity to provide audiences with an up-close, unembellished portrayal of a theocratic regime notorious for its human rights abuses which has recently featured heavily in the news and to enhance their understanding of the country and its influence on the region.

However, not only did almost half an hour of blatant regime propaganda go largely unchallenged in any meaningful manner by Ghattas but the ‘peace’ theme promoted in Ebtekar’s well-spoken charm offensive was amplified in the headlines the BBC chose for those reports.

When Ghattas raised the topic of Iran’s support for Assad and Hizballah – one of the obvious contemporary examples of Iran promoting anything but regional peace and stability – she not only allowed her interviewee to dodge the real issues but provided her with a platform for the promotion of crude propaganda.

Ebtekar: “You know Palestine has always…the issue of Palestine has always been a legacy for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s always been supporting the oppressed against the oppressor. It’s always been supporting a cause which is just and deals with a nation which is now oppressed because it has no home.”

Ghattas: “But we’re talking about Syria.”

Ebtekar: “Yeah but Syria is part of that. It’s part of the movement to support Palestine in a sense. It’s part of a general approach in the region to support the Palestinian nation, to resist; it’s part of the resistance. It’s important, I think, that a lot of the equations in the region take shape on the basis of the resistance movement and that is to resist occupation, to resist oppression.”

Ghattas noted the civilian death toll in Syria and the Assad regime’s use of barrel bombs against its own people before adopting her interviewee’s terminology:

“How does that fit into the issue of resistance and what do you tell those Syrians who are suffering today?”

Again, she allowed Ebtekar to dodge the real issue.Ghattas Iran audio

Ebtekar: “I think that what has happened in the past few decades in this part of the world, it has created many reasons for nations like the Syrian nation or the Lebanese nation to feel threatened by the policies of the Zionist regime. They have been increasing their settlements; they have been pushing forward in different areas, occupying many of the lands belonging to the Palestinians. So it is considered as an imminent threat and that is a reason for resistance and that is a reason for governments like the government of Syria to stand up in the face of that.”

In addition to failing to challenge that whitewashing of the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people, Ghattas made no attempt to relieve viewers of the misleading and inaccurate impressions created by her interviewee in relation to ‘increasing’ settlements or ‘occupying’ lands. Later on when Ghattas asked if any of the funds freed up by sanctions relief will be funneled to the Assad regime, she allowed Ebtekar to fob viewers off with talk of “environmental challenges” and “green technologies”.

Kim Ghattas’ failure to cut through any of the slick replies to her questions means that this widely promoted interview obviously did nothing to advance the BBC’s purpose to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”.  Rather, it actively misled BBC audiences by herding them towards ridiculous notions such as the idea that hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have been killed by their own government and millions more forced to seek refuge in Europe and elsewhere because of Israel.  

The idea that a regime which produces violent anti-Israel propaganda videos and includes officials who state openly that “[o]ur positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan” is a force for regional stability and peace is plainly risible. Nevertheless, the BBC chose to amplify that absurdity, selling out Syrians, Israelis, Iranians and many more along the way. 

Sadly, given the BBC’s record of reporting on Iran in recent months, there is nothing remotely surprising about that.

Related Articles:

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BBC WS airbrushing of the Iranian regime – part one

BBC WS airbrushing of the Iranian regime – part two

 

 

 

 

 

BBC: it’s not our job to tell audiences what the BDS campaign is about

h/t L

A reader who complained to the BBC about inadequacies in its coverage of the BDS campaign in three separate reports aired on television, radio and the internet in July received a reply from the BBC complaints department which was unsatisfactory and so contacted the complaints department again. The second reply received – this time from the ‘BBC News website’ with no name attached – includes the following interesting statement:Not my job

“We cover events as they happen and have reported on the Matisyahu affair. It is not our role to seek out any “true agenda” but to report events fairly and accurately.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the anonymous writer of that response thinks it is possible to report accurately and fairly about the BDS movement’s anti-Israel campaigning without informing audiences what that campaign really seeks to achieve remains unclear.

Notably however, when the EDL appeared on the scene in the summer of 2009 the BBC clearly did not think that it was ‘not our role to seek out any “true agenda”‘. At that time it found it editorially justifiable to send a Newsnight reporter to get “Under the skin of the EDL“, to devote an entire article to explaining “Who are the English Defence League?” in which it tried to clarify to readers “who are they and what do they stand for?” and to present audiences with views of the organization’s agenda in its day-to-day related coverage.  

So interestingly, whilst the BBC obviously found it necessary and appropriate to provide its audiences with the full range of information concerning one organization targeting people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, a similarly candid approach is absent from its coverage of the BDS campaign – which does exactly the same.  

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies and BDS whitewashing in BBC News’ Matisyahu story

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part three

Which got more cover on BBC News website this week – terror or ketchup?

On the evening of August 26th an incident took place near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in which a Border Policemen was wounded by a Palestinian attacker who stabbed him in the leg. The Israeli Police described the attacker as a 56 year-old man from Hebron, adding that he was carrying a knife and an axe.

“Close to 19:00 hours the suspect identified two Border Police officers who were on patrol in the area of Damascus Gate, jumped from behind them and brandished the axe at one of them. The axe slipped from his hand, missing the head of the officer. The suspect ran off to a nearby shop with the officers following him, drew a knife and stabbed one of the officers.”

Like the majority of attacks against Israelis, this one did not receive any BBC coverage. However, the attacker was later identified as being Muamar Atta Mahmoud – the convicted murderer of Professor Menachem Stern – who was released from prison in December 2013 within the framework of the ‘goodwill gestures’ supposed to advance talks between Israel and the PLO in 2013/14.prisoner release art 30 12

BBC coverage of those prisoner releases at the time made much of the terrorists’ status as “heroes of the Palestinian cause” and repeatedly promoted the description of them as “freedom fighters” and “political prisoners” whilst failing to adequately address the topic of glorification of terrorism – made especially relevant by the Palestinian Authority’s lavish receptions for convicted murderers. Nevertheless, the BBC has still not found it appropriate to inform its audiences of this incident.

On the other hand, visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page did learn this week that Heinz can no longer label its product ketchup in Israel.

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BBC yet again ignores Gaza missile fire – in English

 

BBC yet again ignores Gaza missile fire – in English

Late on the night of August 26th/27th a missile fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the Eshkol region of the Western Negev. The IDF responded by targeting a Hamas weapons manufacturing facility in the central Gaza Strip. There was no coverage of the attack on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of August 27th.

ME HP 27 8 15a

This was the second case of missile fire from Gaza hitting Israeli territory since the beginning of this month (at least two additional launches fell short). The prior attack was also ignored by BBC News but – like many of the previous incidents over the past year – the Israeli response to that attack on August 7th did receive Arabic language coverage.BBC Arabic report response missile 26 8

So too was the case with latest incident: whilst there was no English language coverage of the Wednesday night attack despite the BBC clearly being aware that it took place, on the morning of August 27th an article appeared on the BBC Arabic website with a last-first headline which leads with the Israeli response.

The BBC’s record of reporting missile fire from the Gaza Strip since the end of last summer’s conflict can be seen below. Not one of the missiles hitting Israeli territory was reported in English at the time the incident happened. On one occasion the Israeli response to missile attacks was reported in English and on six other occasions it was reported in Arabic.

September 16th 2014 – mortar fire at the Eshkol region – not reported by BBC News but briefly mentioned in a later article on another topic.

October 31st 2014 – missile fire at the Eshkol region – not reported by BBC News.

December 19th 2014 – missile fire at the Eshkol region – not covered by BBC News at the time but Israeli response reported in English.

April 23rd 2015 – missile fire at Sha’ar HaNegev region – not reported by BBC News.

May 26th 2015 – missile fire at Gan Yavne area – not covered by BBC News but Israeli response reported by BBC Arabic.

June 3rd 2015 – missile fire at Sdot Negev region – not covered by BBC News but Israeli response reported by BBC Arabic

June 6th 2015 – missile fire at Hof Ashkelon area – not covered by BBC News but Israeli response reported by BBC Arabic. Later briefly mentioned in a June 10th report by Yolande Knell.

June 11th 2015 – missile fire (fell short in Gaza Strip) – later mentioned in a June 12th article by Yolande Knell.

June 23rd 2015 – missile fire at Yad Mordechai area – not covered by BBC News but Israeli response reported by BBC Arabic.

July 16th 2015 – missile fire at the Ashkelon areanot reported by the BBC in English.

August 7th 2015 – missile fire at the Kissufim area – not covered by the BBC’s English language services, but Israeli response reported by BBC Arabic.

August 27th 2015 – missile fire at the Eshkol area – not reported by BBC News in English, but Israeli response covered by BBC Arabic.missile 26 8 Rushdi tweet

This now well-established pattern of omission of timely reporting of missile attacks in English, whilst covering the Israeli responses to those attacks in Arabic, is clearly not conducive to meeting the BBC’s pledge to audiences that it will “keep them in touch with what is going on in the world”. 

 

 

 

 

 

No BBC follow up on PIJ cell it promoted as ‘civilians’

As readers no doubt recall, on August 21st the BBC promoted a claim aired on Syrian state TV according to which the people killed in an Israeli strike on members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell which fired four missiles into Israel the previous day were “five civilians”.

On August 23rd Israel’s Channel 10 News reported that the five men were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Syria and residents of the Al Wafdin refugee camp north-east of Damascus. The report named the men as Mohammed Taysir Shehadeh, Yousuf Fathi al Hatib, Abdo Hishan, Mohammed Hishan and Jiat Abu Aishe, adding:

“On Syrian state television it was claimed that the vehicle targeted by the IDF was a civilian vehicle belonging to residents of the Quneitra district. However a check of the vehicle’s licence plate, number 494882, indicates that it belongs to the Damascus district which is known to host the headquarters of the Islamic Jihad and the headquarters of Iran’s liason with the Syrian intelligence.”

Despite having promoted the PIJ’s denial of involvement in last week’s missile fire on Israeli civilian targets and subsequently having also amplified the claim regarding “civilians” made on Syrian state TV, the BBC has to date shown no sign of having carried out any further investigation into this story in order to present its audiences with accurate information which would improve their understanding of the story.

BBC’s Knell continues Cremisan crusade with promotion of inaccurate information

Yolande Knell’s journalistic crusade against a section of the anti-terrorist fence near the Cremisan Valley has long been a permanent feature in BBC Middle East reporting and her latest contribution to that political campaign came on August 21st in an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian Christians urge help against West Bank barrier“.Knell Cremisan 21 8 main

Knell opens her article by telling readers that:

“Palestinian Christians are appealing for international support to oppose renewed construction of part of Israel’s West Bank barrier.

Residents of Beit Jala – a town along the planned barrier route – made the appeal at an open-air mass among centuries-old olive trees on Friday.

They have also been waging a long legal battle, backed by the Vatican.

The barrier will separate over 50 families from their land – but Israel says it is a vital security measure.” [emphasis added]

So BBC audiences learn that “renewed construction” of this particular section of the anti-terrorist fence (which began last week) “will separate over 50 families from their land”. That, however, is not true. The recent history of this case is as follows: [all emphasis added]

“On April 2, 2015, the High Court of Justice upheld the need for the construction of the security fence in the area on security grounds. That said, the Court found in favor of the petitioners regarding the proposed route of the security fence, and ruled that it may not separate between the Monastery and Convent and that the route must be crafted in consultation with the clergy, allowing both bodies to remain on the Palestinian side, preserving their territorial contiguity and their physical connection to the communities that they serve in the nearby villages.

Following and in line with this ruling, the Israeli authorities began work to construct 1200 meters of the security fence, excluding a 225 meter area in the vicinity of the Monastery and Convent in which no barrier will be constructed at this time. This gap enables the territorial contiguity of the monastery and convent, free approach by and to the local Palestinian population, and maintains for the Monastery unfettered access to their agricultural lands, thus respecting the High Court of Justice decision.  

Following the initiation of this construction, the 37 Beit Jala residents petitioned the High Court and requested a contempt of court order against the State in the Cremisan Valley Case (HCJ 5163/13).

On July 6, 2015, the High Court of Justice dismissed the contempt of court petition. The High Court of Justice noted that the actions of the State at present do not negatively affect contiguity between the Monastery and the Convent, nor their access to their vineyards and farmlands. Moreover, access to the town of Beit Jala is also not affected, nor is the daily routine of the population in the area. Accordingly, the current construction of the barrier in the area which excludes the 225 meter gap, are in full compliance with the April 2, 2015 High Court of Justice decision on this matter.”

Obviously then neither the issue of access to agricultural lands nor the previously cited topic of separation between the convent and the monastery is the real reason why political activists are still opposing the construction of this section of the anti-terrorist fence.

Knell then throws some  additional ‘reasons’ into her cocktail, including further promotion of the myth of locals ‘losing access to their land’ and an absurd claim relating to Palestinian Christians: [all emphasis added]

“The mayor of Beit Jala has written to diplomats from the European Union and the United States, asking them to put political pressure on Israel not to continue.

“We want people outside to come and say ‘enough is enough’,” says the mayor, Nicola Khamis. “Christians all over the world must stop being silent.”

“What Israel is doing here is against peace. It will prevent a two-state solution [to the conflict].”

Last year, Pope Francis met residents who stand to lose access to their land in the Cremisan Valley, when he visited nearby Bethlehem.

Foreign dignitaries have also expressed their concerns to Israeli authorities, listing the separation barrier among pressures that are pushing Christians to leave the Holy Land.”

Knell continues with the following obviously inaccurate paraphrasing of the Israeli side of the story:

“Israel says the barrier is needed in the valley as a security measure to protect the Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo.”

Despite the fact that legal status has no bearing on the need for security measures, she then inserts the standard BBC mantra:

“Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC has done little over the years to inform its audiences of the fact that the fence has proven to be effective in thwarting suicide bombers and other types of terrorist attacks and Knell’s half-hearted ticking of the context box does little to enhance audience understanding of the issue.

“Construction of the Israeli barrier began in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, after a series of suicide attacks.

In the Beit Jala area, at this time, there was shooting at the settlements.”

She then predictably inserts a specious claim regularly touted by the BBC over the last thirteen years:

“Palestinians believe the ultimate aim of the barrier – which includes stretches of high concrete walls and barbed-wire fences – is to grab land.”

Towards the end of the article readers are presented with the following opaque information which does nothing to clarify that Knell’s earlier allegations regarding access to land are inaccurate.

“In April, Israel’s High Court appeared to rule against proposed routes for the barrier in the Cremisan Valley, a local beauty spot filled with olive groves and orchards.

However, the court later said this prevented work only in a small area near a Salesian convent and school, and a monastery and winery.”

Knell ends her piece with the following hyperbole:

“Local church leaders – Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox – have been involved in the campaign to prevent the construction of the barrier.

“When you kill the olive trees, you kill the people here,” said the Catholic priest, Faisal Hijazin, during the mass. “We pray for God to protect the olive trees, the land and the people.””

Seeing as they do not even get a mention in this report, it is obvious that the 1,100 Israelis actually killed between 2000 and 2006 and the thousands more maimed and injured by Palestinian terrorists are of much lesser concern to both the quoted priest and his BBC amplifier.

It of course comes as no surprise to those who have followed Yolande Knell’s self-conscription to this political campaign and others over the years to find such inaccurate, misleading and one-sided ‘reporting’ on the BBC’s website.  Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that the BBC is supposedly obliged to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” by means of accurate and impartial reporting and that its editorial guidelines on accuracy state that “[t]he BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead its audiences”.

By telling readers that the renewed construction of the anti-terrorist fence near the Cremisan Valley “will separate over 50 families from their land”, Yolande Knell has done precisely that.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Knell’s follow up on Cremisan Valley marred by BBC mantras

Variations in BBC portrayal of fences, walls and barriers

Resources:

BBC News Online – contact details