Yolande Knell’s Gaza borders campaign continues on BBC Radio 4’s PM

h/t JK

Since July a prevalent theme in BBC reporting on the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has been the context-free amplification of Hamas’ demands to lift border restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel in response to the activities of that terror organisation and others.

Initially, Hamas declared that the lifting of border restrictions was a precondition to any negotiations on a ceasefire and the BBC provided plenty of publicity for that obviously unrealistic demand – see examples here, here, here and here. Notably, the BBC also adopted Hamas terminology as part of its amplification of the terror group’s demands and began to inaccurately describe very specific restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege”.

Later, Hamas found itself obliged to climb down from that particular tree and demands for the lifting of border restrictions joined others, such as the construction of a seaport and an airport, as part of what Hamas promoted as its conditions for a long-term ceasefire. Those demands were also given ample promotion by BBC correspondents – see examples here, here, here, here, here and here.  

Even before the August 26th ceasefire agreement was reached the BBC’s focus turned to promoting the topic of the lifting of border restrictions via the subject matter of reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. With BBC representation in the area having returned to pre-conflict staffing levels, most of that particular advocacy campaign has been carried out by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell who has in recent weeks produced several ‘reporter in the rubble’ items all designed to impress upon BBC audiences that those same border restrictions must be lifted in order to facilitate the reconstruction of houses destroyed or damaged during the conflict. Examples can be seen here, here and here. PM 18 9  

On September 18th the BBC Radio 4 news magazine ‘PM’ broadcast an audio item by Yolande Knell (available for a limited period of time from 50:52 here) which recycles material from two of her previous reports for television and the BBC News website.

The programme’s presenter Eddie Mair introduces the item with citation of Gaza Strip casualty figures which fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

EM: “The human toll of the most recent violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza is well known. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed. As our correspondent Yolande Knell reports, the physical damage to Gaza is also significant.”

Knell opens:

“There’s a single bulldozer working to clear a path through an enormous pile of rubble in Shuja’iya in Gaza. The scale of destruction here is overwhelming. Last month this area was pounded with tank fire and airstrikes as the Israeli military said it set out to destroy a network of tunnels used by militants for cross-border raids and storing rockets. Dozens of local people were killed and thousands were left homeless.”

There is of course absolutely no editorial justification for Knell’s use of the phrase “as the Israeli military said”. Knell and her editors know full well that Hamas turned the Shuja’iya neighbourhood into a district overflowing with military targets including missile launching sites and the entrances to some ten cross-border attack tunnels. There is also no reason to assume that Knell is unaware of the fact that among the “dozens of local people” killed in Shuja’iya were a significant number of terrorists who engaged in fierce fighting with Israeli forces tasked with decommissioning the tunnels. And yet Knell deliberately refrains from communicating that fact to listeners, who next hear a local man – who cannot have been unaware that his neighbourhood had been used by terrorists as a missile launch site – feigning surprise that those sites came under attack.

Man: “I was shocked. I didn’t expect to see my house, my street, my neighbours’ houses destroyed like this. Now the war is ended but really we suffer from now here diseases. We suffer from no water, no electricity. Everything is destroyed really.”

Knell: “Abdel Karim Abu Ahmed is an English teacher. As the chickens run through the ruins of his house he shows me where he sleeps on a mattress alongside his brother and sons.”

Man: “Now we haven’t furnitures, we haven’t blankets, we haven’t walls. This is a problem. But we have – inshallah – to rebuild these houses. We hope through negotiation – inshallah – they will bring what we need here.”

Abdel Karim Abu Ahmed the English teacher also appeared in Knell’s recent feature on the BBC News website which included an aerial photograph of the location of his house in Shuja’iya.  

English teacher's house

As can be seen from the IDF’s aerial map of the neighbourhood, at least five missiles were fired from close proximity to Abu Ahmed’s house and yet Knell neglects to inform listeners of that fact and amplifies his feigned surprise at the consequences.

English teacher's house missiles fired

Knell continues with promotion of the main purpose of her report.

“But so far, nothing’s changed to ease the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt and that means reconstruction can’t yet begin. By the Kerem Shalom crossing lorries are bringing in commercial goods – mainly food – but Israel bans the import of building materials for private use, saying that militants use them to build tunnels.”

Again, Knell’s presentation of Hamas’ proven misappropriation of construction materials for the purposes of terror in terms of “Israel says” has no editorial justification. She also fails to clarify that construction materials for the private sector were imported into the Gaza Strip until last October when a cross-border tunnel was discovered. Knell continues with a Norwegian Refugee Council official who also appeared in one of her previous filmed reports.

“Now international aid agencies are calling for a rethink. Ruth Allan represents the Shelter Cluster. It’s worked out there would still be a housing crisis in Gaza even if this crossing ran at its full capacity.”

Allan: “We’ve calculated that it would take 20 years to rebuild the homes. This is not including schools, not including hospitals, not including any other civilian infrastructure – oly houses. Basically 17 thousand homes were destroyed in this last war. Also, there is huge population growth and therefore there is a shortfall of homes.”

Next comes promotion of propaganda straight from the Hamas horse’s mouth.

“In Gaza City I meet another Palestinian inspecting his damaged house. Mahmoud Zahar knows that he was Israel’s intended target here as a founder and leader of the Islamist movement Hamas. He insists the recent conflict was a great victory.”

Al Zahar: “Now I think if we are going to make any election in any area in Palestine, Hamas will be number one – just because this is the first war that Israel failed to achieve any of its goals. Destruction of the tunnels: tomorrow we are going to start doing more tunnels. Tunnels was a self-defence. Rockets was a self-defence. Resistance was our style. Israel started the war and they finished by big losses.”

Knell makes no effort to ensure that listeners are not misled by the inaccurate claims of a man who, despite being on record as having legitimised the murder of Jewish children anywhere in the world and despite UK legislation on the encouragement of terrorism, is apparently still deemed by the BBC to be an appropriate interviewee with something to contribute to audiences. She continues:

“Such attitudes have angered the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who heads a unity government backed by Hamas. He’s warned they hamper efforts to rebuild Gaza. As far as Israel’s concerned, they justify its caution, particularly when it comes to construction supplies. Mark Regev is the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman.”

Regev: “As to materials that could be syphoned off by Hamas to once again rebuild their terror machine, well we’re taking now to the international community – to the United nations, to relevant governments – of how we can have mechanisms in place that will prevent Hamas stealing what is ultimately supposed to reach the people of Gaza. I mean the amount of cement that went into those terror tunnels could have built a dozen hospitals; let’s be clear.”

Knell concludes:

“Back in Shuja’iya residents are trying to clean up their homes. While Gaza’s now calm, they know there’s still no political solution to its underlying problems and now they’re feeling them more acutely than ever.”

Despite al Zahar’s clear declaration of intent to re-engage in the construction of terrorist infrastructure, Knell fails to join the dots and clarify to listeners that there is no chance of success for any “political solution” to the Gaza Strip’s “underlying problems” which does not include adherence to the PA’s existing agreements with Israel – i.e. the disarming of all terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. Neither is she apparently concerned by the fact that her own role in the BBC’s repeated advocacy for Hamas’ political campaign to lift border restrictions is likely to contribute to the current calm in the Gaza Strip being very short-lived. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similarly, in his written article Lloyd states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That framing is reinforced by Chris Doyle of CAABU:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lloyd too appears to have adopted the same view:

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

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

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

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

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

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

On Saturday September 13th at 20:00 UK time BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4′ will broadcast an episode titled “Media and the Middle East“. The synopsis reads as follows:Archive on 4

“The rockets and missiles fly, from Israel into Gaza, from Gaza into Israel. It’s the latest iteration of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours which has flared since the very founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

Accompanying the conflict has been an unprecedented level of media coverage. And almost nothing is uncontested. Every sentence, every word of a news report is parsed for signs of bias by individuals and organisations dedicated to ensuring a fair deal for their point of view. Coverage is measured in minutes and seconds of airtime. Media organisations stand accused, by both sides, of prejudice, systemic bias and deliberate distortion.

Why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does? And why does it create such strong emotion, even among those with no connection to the region?

John Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times, examines the evolution of coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the founding of Israel to the present day.

With contributions from journalists and those who monitor them, Lloyd asks why there is such focus both on the conflict itself and on those who report it. He traces the way reporting has developed from the early television age, through the introduction of 24-hour news channels to the inception of social media. And he examines the challenges of reporting fairly and accurately on a conflict in which every assertion is contested.”

John Lloyd is also a founder and director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (which readers may recall has been the recipient of BBC funding) and in addition he writes a blog at Reuters. Some of his recent entries relevant to the topic under discussion in the above programme can be seen here, here and here

Mainstreaming Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology on BBC Radio 4

On September 8th BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of ‘Beyond Belief’ titled “Religious History of Iraq. Here is the programme’s synopsis:Beyond Belief

“Today life for religious minorities in Northern Iraq is perilous as the militant Islamist group, Islamic State, continues to attack a range of diverse groups across the country in its pursuit of establishing a new Caliphate. But in this programme Ernie Rea and guests explore how up until the 20th century Iraq was known as a harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity. How true is that assessment? What has happened to change that? Is there any way for Iraq to step back from the brink? And could a Caliphate ever be part of the solution?

Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the current situation in Iraq from a religious perspective are Gerard Russell, former British and United Nations diplomat and author of “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East”; Dr Erica Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Eastern Christianity in the Department of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London: and Dr Reza Pankhurst author of The Inevitable Caliphate.”

Part of the programme relates to the topic of the former Iraqi Jewish community and there are few better qualified to assess the BBC’s treatment of that topic than Bataween at the excellent Point of No Return blog.

“You can hear Edwin Shuker (at 10 minutes into the programme) give an eloquent potted history of his life in Iraq, how the ancient Jewish community was persecuted again after the murder of King Faisal ll in 1958 and most of its remaining members fled to freedom over the mountains of Kurdistan in the 1970s.

Shuker was introduced by presenter Ernie Rea as an ‘Arab’ Jew, approved BBC-speak. Shuker told Point of No Return that he has never used this expression in his life to describe either Jews or Christians.” […]

“Ernie Rea and his guests projected the BBC party line that until the 20th century Iraq was known as a ‘harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity’. No mention of the 1941 Farhud.

All agreed that the persecution of the Jews (attributed solely to the Ba’ath party) was ‘political’ rather than religious.”

Zooming out a little though, this programme raised another issue which is becoming increasingly pertinent as Europe debates its approach to the topic of the thousands of young Muslims born and raised in Europe who have gone to fight with Jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq during the past few years – and in some cases, later returned to Europe.

As some observers – at least outside Europe – have noted, the issues of what strain of Islam young Muslims in Europe are being taught in schools and mosques and their exposure to extremist groups is obviously of paramount significance to that debate. The UK is one country in which a less than robust approach to the topic of extremism has often prevailed in recent years, with one manifestation of that being the mainstreaming of extremist opinions by the media – including the BBC – and a prominent example being the frequent appearance of Jihadist recruiter Anjem Choudary on BBC television.

More than twenty-four minutes into this thirty-minute BBC Radio 4 programme, listeners suddenly get a clue to the fact that Dr Reza Pankhurst is in fact not just some tweedy academic – and certainly not an objective commentator – when presenter Ernie Rea says:

“Reza, I’m interested in your response to this particular question about a Caliphate because as I understand it you would support a new Caliphate. You are a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir; the main plank of their platform is really the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, so I wonder how you would think an authentic Caliphate would differ from what IS are proclaiming?”

Beyond that brief “main plank” description, Rea makes no attempt to clarify the ideologies of his guest and the group to which he belongs (an organization about which the UK government has for years said it has “serious concerns”) and listeners are therefore unable to put Pankhurst’s opinions into their appropriate context.  Pankhurst’s links to the London-based Hamas support group MEMO and his sharing of platforms with assorted extremists, hate preachers and supporters of terrorism seeking to promote the notion of “the Islamophobic nature of the criminalisation of those who believe in fighting in Syria” are not revealed to listeners.

Moreover, in the last five minutes of the programme when Dr Erica Hunter challenges Reza Pankhurst about the discriminatory nature of marriage laws under a Caliphate, Rea quickly cuts off the conversation.

EH: “But that’s discriminatory because a man can marry a Jewish woman or a Christian woman but not vice-versa. If you’re a Christian man you can’t marry a Muslim.”

RP: “That’s…that’s…that’s fine Erica. There’s reasons for that but the point being is that’s the rules. I mean you won’t find anyone saying otherwise.”

EH: “But that’s discriminatory. That’s discriminatory.”

RP: “I don’t believe it is.”

Ernie Rea: “Well we must bring this programme to an end…”

Had the conversation been permitted to continue, listeners might at least have discovered more about the kind of ideology to which the BBC obviously considers it appropriate to give a platform, including the discrimination against minorities and women and the rejection of secularism, human rights, pluralism and democracy.

One of the public purposes defined in the BBC’s Charter is “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. In the opening paragraphs of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality it is stated:

“Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” [emphasis added]

As we have remarked here before:

“Needless to say, it would be perfectly obvious to most licence fee payers that “detachment from fundamental democratic principles” includes the promotion and amplification of the views of people to whom democracy is an anathema to be rejected on the basis of ideology.”

And of course the vast majority of people who fund the BBC – including those who share Reza Pankhurst’s faith – most likely view democratic principles as underpinning the kind of citizenship and civil society they expect their national broadcaster to sustain.

There is obviously a conversation to be had about the BBC’s provision of platforms to the proponents of extremist ideologies and the resulting legitimization and mainstreaming of those views. As time goes by, that conversation becomes increasingly urgent. 

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BBC R4 guest promotes Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”

In which BBC R4 misrepresents an Israeli law and its roots

The September 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Matters of Life and Death” and included an item by Claudia Hammond, described in the synopsis as follows:FOOC Hammond

“Claudia Hammond discovers that many patients in Israel remain on life support for years”.

 The programme is available here, with the relevant segment beginning at 18:10, or here as a podcast under the different title “The Silent Wards”.  

The item is introduced by programme presenter Kate Adie thus:

“The news from Israel has been dominated recently by events in and around Gaza. On this programme though, we like to give ourselves the space to examine other aspects of life and death. In January this year a former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died after eight years in a coma following a massive stroke. In many other countries the machines keeping him alive would have been turned off earlier. Jewish law forbids people ending a human life. As Claudia Hammond discovered in Jerusalem, the result is that large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support.”

Hammond’s item is mostly devoted to the telling of individual stories, with the background she provides to listeners limited to the following segment:

“In most countries a ward like this would not exist and doctors and families in discussion together might have made the decision to turn off Hava’s husband’s ventilator to allow him to die. But since 2005 this has been illegal in Israel and is considered to be killing the patient, even if they’re already dying. The law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition. But talking to families of other faiths in the hospital here, it seems to have become a cultural viewpoint too.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy of some of those statements.

Kate Adie claims that “large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support” but listeners are not told how many people “large numbers” actually are. In January 2011, for example, there were 787 people on life support in hospitals throughout Israel but by no means all would have been long-term chronic patients as that number includes, for example, premature babies and people in ICUs as the result of an accident or an illness. Israel’s population at the time was 7.7 million people: in other words, Adie’s “large numbers” are a few hundred people out of millions.

Adie states that “Jewish law” is the factor responsible for the “large numbers” of patients on life support. In fact Israeli state law is of course a separate issue from Jewish law, which is itself open to many different interpretations and by no means as simple and straightforward as Adie suggests.

According to Hammond, “the law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition”. In fact the relevant law was the product of years of discussion by a public committee – the Steinberg Committee – appointed in the year 2000 by the Minister of Health. Members of that committee included, for example, Mr Ziad Abu Moch – Director of the College for the Study of Shari’a and Islamic Sciences in Baka al Gharbiya; Father Dr George Khouri – theologist and psychologist, President of the Greek-Catholic Court in Haifa and Sheikh Professor Fadel Mansour – member of the management committee of the Higher Druze Religious Council in Ussafiya and a biologist at the Vulcani Centre. Other members of the committee included experts in civil law, Jewish religious law, ethics, philosophy and medicine.

As we see, Hammond’s claim that the law “was informed by Jewish tradition” is a very partial and selective representation of the facts.

The law itself (a translation can be seen here), although passed in December 2005 actually came into effect in December 2006. Its wording is in fact considerably more nuanced than this BBC report suggests and it provides the opportunity for the patient to define in advance what sort of treatment he or she wishes to receive – or not receive – by means of signed advance directives. Hammond’s claim that “since 2005 this [turning off a ventilator] has been illegal in Israel” is both overly simplistic and inaccurate. Article C, clause 16 (a) for example states:

“Where an incompetent terminally ill patient is suffering significantly, and in respect of whom it has been determined pursuant to the provisions of section 5(b) that he does not want his life prolonged, medical treatment relating to his incurable conditions should be withheld from him, including tests, operations, resuscitation, ventilation, chemotherapy, radiation or dialysis, all in accordance with his wish as ascertained pursuant to section 5(b).”

In addition to its misrepresentation of the law itself, this BBC report clearly sets out to present an inaccurate view of an Israeli law as being synonymous with and defined by Jewish religious law. The political motivation behind that deliberate misrepresentation is all too apparent. 

Update:

A written version of this report by Claudia Hammond appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ sections of the BBC News website’s Middle East and Health pages on September 14th under the title “Suspended between life and death“. Unfortunately the inaccuracies evident in the audio version were not addressed before the written version was published. Moreover, they seem likely to be further amplified on BBC World Service radio in the near future. 

BBC R4 promotes unchallenged anti-Israel propaganda and warped histories of Jerusalem

On September 3rd BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of a programme called ‘Agree to Differ’ which will be repeated on the evening of September 6th and is available here. The title of the edition is “Jerusalem” and the programme is presented by Matthew Taylor – today the chief executive of the RSA and formerly Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to Tony Blair during his premiership.R4 Agree to Differ

At the beginning of the programme Taylor informs listeners:

“…we’re going to give you a completely new way to understand a controversial issue and to decide where you stand.”

“We’re looking at a dispute that’s almost as old as civilization itself. We’re exploring the respective claims of Palestinians and Israelis over the city of Jerusalem.”

That historical illiteracy unfortunately continues throughout the programme with Taylor promoting a variety of bizarre and inaccurate interpretations of historic, political and legal issues as we will soon see. 

Taylor’s guests are Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue in London and Rafeef Ziadah who is introduced only as a “Palestinian performance poet and human rights activist”. Listeners are not informed that Ziadah is a leading anti-Israel campaigner whose day job at ‘War on Want’ is titled Senior Campaigns Officer (Militarism and Security)“. Neither are they informed that she is a prominent BDS activist who sits on the steering committee of PACBI and campaigns for the dismantling of the Jewish state. So much – once again – for the supposed BBC commitment to “summarizing the standpoint” of interviewees as part of its editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Rafeef Ziadah’s political propaganda – which Taylor fails to challenge throughout the entire 42 minute programme – begins early on with her introduction of herself.

“My family are refugees, originally from Haifa. They were forced out of Palestine in 1948 and ended up in Lebanon. My grandfather died in a refugee camp still holding the key to his home in Haifa and wanting to go back.”

History, however, shows that the Arabs who left Haifa in 1948 were not “forced out” at all.

“In early April [1948], an estimated 25,000 Arabs left the Haifa area following an offensive by the irregular forces led by Fawzi al­Qawukji, and rumors that Arab air forces would soon bomb the Jewish areas around Mt. Carmel. On April 23, the Haganah captured Haifa. A British police report from Haifa, dated April 26, explained that “every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe.” In fact, David Ben-Gurion had sent Golda Meir to Haifa to try to persuade the Arabs to stay, but she was unable to convince them because of their fear of being judged traitors to the Arab cause. By the end of the battle, more than 50,000 Palestinians had left.

‘Tens of thousands of Arab men, women and children fled toward the eastern outskirts of the city in cars, trucks, carts, and afoot in a desperate attempt to reach Arab territory until the Jews captured Rushmiya Bridge toward Samaria and Northern Palestine and cut them off. Thousands rushed every available craft, even rowboats, along the waterfront, to escape by sea toward Acre (New York Times, April 23, 1948).’

In Tiberias and Haifa, the Haganah issued orders that none of the Arabs’ possessions should be touched, and warned that anyone who violated the orders would be severely punished. Despite these efforts, all but about 5,000 or 6,000 Arabs evacuated Haifa, many leaving with the assistance of British military transports.

Syria’s UN delegate, Faris el-Khouri, interrupted the UN debate on Palestine to describe the seizure of Haifa as a “massacre” and said this action was “further evidence that the ‘Zionist program’ is to annihilate Arabs within the Jewish state if partition is effected.”

The following day, however, the British representative at the UN, Sir Alexander Cadogan, told the delegates that the fighting in Haifa had been provoked by the continuous attacks by Arabs against Jews a few days before and that reports of massacres and deportations were erroneous. The same day (April 23, 1948), Jamal Husseini, the chairman of the Palestine Higher Committee, told the UN Security Council that instead of accepting the Haganah’s truce offer, the Arabs “preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings, and everything they possessed in the world and leave the town.” “

The propagation of such historical inaccuracies continues throughout the broadcast, with the first question put by Taylor being as follows:

“Who has the greater attachment and entitlement to the city and for whom Jerusalem has the greater religious, cultural, historical, political importance.”

Initially unable to get a straight answer out of Ziadah regarding Palestinian history in Jerusalem and obviously unwilling throughout to curb her exploitation of any and every question posed to promote baseless political slogans such as “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing”, Taylor eventually asks:

MT: “Rafeef, to what extent is your argument that there was a de facto Palestinian state before 1948, for example if you take that particular moment; the establishment of the State of Israel?”

RZ: “Historically in that part of the world even referring back to Roman times that area was referred to as Palestine. There is a Palestinian nation. I’m a Palestinian person. I know that within Israeli and Zionist mythology they say Palestinians don’t exist but the reality is Palestinians have always existed in that territory.”

Taylor then asks his other interviewee:

“Do you recognize, Barry, that in the rich history of Jerusalem there certainly was a time when it effectively was part of a Palestinian nation?”

Taylor then promotes his own remarkably unrealistic and embarrassingly anachronistic New Labour-style view:

“OK, now let me suggest a proposition that you might agree about and see whether you’re happy with this. Jerusalem is a city that experienced many, many different rulers, different peoples in charge; that we must respect different historical and religious claims, but that no one claim can ultimately trump the others.”

He further labours the point:

“There is a recognition from both of you […] for the diverse history of Jerusalem both politically and religiously. There is a commitment that you both have that this should be a city that respects those traditions.”

Of course anyone who is familiar with Jerusalem knows full well that since June 1967 all cultures and religions have free access to their places of worship and sites of cultural importance. Later on, Taylor promotes the following notion:

“Since Israel took control in 1967, around 400 Jewish families have moved there [the Jewish Quarter in the Old City] and in 1981 Israel’s High Court ruled that to maintain its character, non-Jews were not allowed to buy property there.”

Significantly, at no point does Taylor inform his listeners that in 1948 all Jewish residents of the Old City were expelled by the Jordanians and their property taken over. Although he does not specify the court case to which he refers, Taylor apparently alludes to the Burkan case in which Jordanian citizen Mohammed Said Burkan was refused residency in the Jewish Quarter because he did not meet the requirement of being an Israeli citizen who had served in the IDF or was exempt from service. The court’s main point (p138) was that the State of Israel had an interest in the restoration of the historic Jewish Quarter from which Jews had been expelled by the Jordanians and was therefore entitled to employ positive discrimination to encourage Jews to return to the Jewish Quarter.

As is all too often the case in BBC depiction of Israel, Taylor elects to mislead audiences by discounting any history before 1967, failing to note the San Remo declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Listeners are at no point informed that the city of Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority population since the mid-nineteenth century and furthermore he fails to point out to listeners that Jordan’s 19-year occupation was not recognized by the international community.

MT: “Before the Six Day War in 1967 Jerusalem was divided into the east annexed by Jordan and the west controlled by Israel. Since the war, Israel has controlled the whole city and many Jewish settlements have been established on the eastern side. The international community deems the Israeli occupation to be illegal, but how important is international law based on the pre-1967 boundaries?”

Listeners are – as usual and in breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality – not informed of the existence of differing legal opinions and the inaccurate myth of “pre-1967 boundaries” which were in fact 1949 Armistice Lines with no legal standing is promoted.

Taylor devotes a significant part of his programme to the discussion of “international law” and Jerusalem but revealingly, at no point does he enlighten listeners by informing them to which clause of “international law” in which document he refers or what that supposed “law” actually says. Instead, the entire discussion is based on the unsubstantiated premise that somewhere there is a legal document which rules that Israeli control of parts of a city which was only ever divided by the belligerent actions of Jordan is illegal. But the really interesting part of this programme – and what appears to be its actual aim – is Taylor’s promotion of his own view of the ‘solution’ to the issue which – remarkably or not – dovetails with existing BBC policy.

MT: “Take the religious dimension out of it. What about the United Nations proposal after the Second World War that the Old City with its key religious sites be a corpus separatum that is basically an independent city-state governed by the international community. What’s your view on that?” […]

“Barry what do you think of that United Nations idea that the Old City be a kind of separate statelet under international supervision? You think that might help things?”

Of course Taylor is misrepresenting this issue from two points of view. Firstly, he inaccurately portrays the corpus separatum idea as relating to the Old City alone when in fact it related to a considerably larger area, including parts of the territory today governed by the Palestinian Authority. Taylor also neglects to inform listeners that the plan had a ten-year time limit.

Map UN Jerusalem 1947

Secondly, as has been noted here on previous occasions, that UN proposal formed part of the 1947 Partition Plan (resolution 181) which, as Rabbi Marcus points out in the programme, was rejected by the Arab side outright and has no legal binding whatsoever because its adoption was conditional on the agreement of both parties.  

The BBC, however, not only stubbornly refuses to recognize the fact that resolution 181 has no significance but also continues to implement an editorial policy of promoting it, as can be seen in some of its Editorial Standards Committee’s distinctly odd decisions.

“The [BBC Trust's Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “

Matthew Taylor appears to have taken it upon himself to promote this red herring too in a programme which – far from achieving its stated aim of giving audiences “a completely new way to understand a controversial issue” – can only contribute to their further confusion with its misrepresentation of history and “international law”, its unchallenged promotion of baseless political propaganda such as “ethnic cleansing” or “apartheid” and its advancement of a totally irrelevant ‘solution’ which was rejected almost 70 years ago by the same Arab nations who then invaded Israel – causing people such as Rafeef Ziadah’s grandfather to become refugees and dividing Jerusalem for the first and only time in its history.

Had Matthew Taylor chosen to accurately and impartially represent those events as they actually happened, he may actually have succeeded in bringing audiences a “new way” to understand the topic: one which is not based on anti-Israel political propaganda and his own redundant culturally specific beliefs.

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

On August 22nd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ included an item on the topic of casualty figures from the Gaza Strip which purported to provide listeners with information pertaining to the questions “[w]hy are men over-represented in civilian death tolls and how are the statistics gathered?” The segment can be heard here and the whole programme is here with the relevant item beginning at 13:23.More or Less R4 22 8

After an introduction composed of statements from BBC news bulletins, presenter Tim Harford (also a Financial Times columnist) begins the item.

TH: “The number of civilians killed in Gaza during the conflict between Palestinian militants there and the Israeli military has raised international concern and condemnation. A UN report estimated that between the 7th of July and the 20th of August this year there were 1,999 deaths in Gaza caused by the conflict. Of those killed, the UN estimate that 70% were civilians and of those thought to be civilians, approximately 250 were women, 450 were children and 700 were men. The figures, say the United Nations, are subject to change based on verification. The same UN report states that on the Israeli side, 64 soldiers have been killed and three civilians.

Now the fact that among the Palestinian civilian casualties there are nearly three times as many men as women has been in the spotlight. Indeed an article on the BBC News website said “if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”. Well that’s a comment that attracted controversy and a number of e-mails from listeners who’ve written to ‘More or Less’ directly. It might be worth spelling out why. The comment invites people to conclude that if Israeli attacks were indiscriminate, we wouldn’t see far more men than women killed; we’d see roughly equal numbers. And joining the dots, perhaps many of the men thought to be civilians weren’t civilians at all. Now, none of that was explicitly said in the BBC article but some critics have complained to ‘More or Less’ that that’s what it was hinting at. And the Times of Israel – an online newspaper – ran an article citing the BBC’s analysis in support of these conclusions. All very sensitive stuff, needless to say. Well, Ruth Alexander’s here to help me investigate. Ruth, before we get to the issue of what’s happening in Gaza, what’s the latest on that BBC article?”

As BBC Watch readers already know, the original article by the BBC News head of statistics underwent initially unannounced changes several days after its publication – apparently because its content displeased certain parties. Four days after those changes were made a footnote acknowledging them was added to the article as it appears online.

Footnote to Reuben art

The programme’s producer Ruth Alexander then comes in:

RA: “Well that particular statement about how it’s hard to square the UN’s findings of indiscriminate attacks with the fact that more men than women had been killed….”

TH: “Yeah, that one.”

RA: “…it’s gone. The article’s been edited to remove it and a few days later the BBC added a note about a series of clarifications such as the inclusion of some possible explanations for why men were disproportionately likely to be casualties.”

TH: “I spoke about this gender imbalance to Matthias Behnke from the office of the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights on the 19th of August. Matthias was speaking from Ramallah in the West Bank.”

Indeed Matthias Behnke was in Ramallah on August 19th and obviously managed to find time to talk to the BBC either before or after he took part in a symposium at Birzeit University where he shared a platform with Sharwan Jabarin (known for his alleged ties to the PFLP) of the political NGO ‘Al Haq’ which is a leading organization on the lawfare scene. That symposium was promoted as follows:

“During the workshop, colleagues Matthias Behnke (The head of the OHCHR – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) and Shawan Jabareen (Al-Haq’s Director) will introduce participants to the role of the ‘Independent Commission of Inquiry´ also compared to alternative investigations and comparative experiences. There will be a discussion on expectations from the said investigation and possible next steps.”

The so-called “Independent Commission of Inquiry” was announced by the UN OHCHR on July 23rd after that body accepted a draft resolution proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – the same organization which claims to have been the initiator of the ‘Goldstone Report’ and has pressed the UN to introduce a “global blasphemy law”. During the ‘debate’ on whether to establish yet another of its now infamous ‘independent’ inquiries, the UN HRC heard from assorted notable champions of human rights.

Syria said that extremist gangs of settlers had been allowed to abduct a Palestinian child and burn him alive, which had led to further massacres of the innocent, particularly women and children. Israel had continuously shown utter disregard for international law. The international community had to ensure that such crimes did not go unpunished. Syria supported the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people.

Sudan said with 650 dead, thousands wounded and many thousands more displaced, the violations committed by Israel represented a policy of racial and ethnic cleansing, a massacre and genocide at a time when mankind had rejected the racist law of the jungle and moved into a time of human dignity. The Council must recognize that Israel was an occupying power supported by a superpower that could do whatever it wanted.

Iran said the brutal use of force by Israel against the Palestinian people, including in residential areas, hospitals and schools, added to the long list of violations by Israel over the past 60 years, in systematic and flagrant breach of international law. The international community must not repeat previous mistakes; it must take some responsibly for the situation. The Council must also identify the Israeli officials who had perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

According to BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality Tim Harford should have informed listeners that his supposedly objective interviewee represents a body which – even before the conflict has ended – has initiated a politically motivated and already controversial ‘inquiry’ which is part and parcel of the lawfare campaign in which the topic of civilian/combatant casualty ratios is used as a tool. Harford however failed to meet that obligation. Listeners then hear Behnke:

MB: “Men will generally be more exposed. They will move around more. Even when they are in shelters they will be staying outside; not inside the buildings but in the hallways outside. They will go back to check on their homes. They will go out to get food and water whereas children and women will usually be more sheltered and protected.”

Ruth Alexander continues by bringing in another interviewee from an organization which – as we documented here last month – is both one of the primary sources of UN casualty statistics and is also engaged in lawfare against Israel. Like her colleague, Alexander breaches BBC Editorial Guidelines by failing to clarify that fact to listeners.

RA: “Other researchers have told us that men are usually over-represented in counts of civilian casualties in war. It can be about the tasks men undertake, how they socialize, and also that they may be in general more of a target – more easily mistaken for fighters. We’ve been speaking to Mahmoud Abu Rahma from the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza which is a Palestinian group which has researchers on the ground gathering information and statistics on who has been killed. He gave an example of an attack that hit a beach café where people were watching a World Cup match.”

MAR: “Now in a place like this in southern Gaza Strip this café is more or less man only during the evening hours at least. So you have many explain. Our colleague was killed because he was on a motorcycle and Israelis suspected him. So many more men die because of the suspicion, I believe, than women.”

Harford goes on:

“So this idea that combatants are wrongly being counted as adult male civilian casualties – it’s not necessarily true. Or at least that high male civilian death toll isn’t strong evidence that a miscount is happening. There are several groups who are publishing casualty figures and their estimates vary. For example the UN says that about 70% of casualties are civilian. The Israeli Defence Force has been reported as saying civilian casualties are 50% but when we called the IDF they said they weren’t able to confirm that. Well the UN numbers are seen as perhaps the most authoritative but they’re not without their critics. So, how are they gathered? Here’s Matthias Behnke, the man in charge of them.”

MB: “They’re gathered in partnership with a number of organisations working in Gaza. There are Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations that gather data and we compile the information in a data base that we run which we also cross-check and verify with data provided in the public domain, whether that be the Ministry of Health, the IDF, even the armed groups sometimes provide information on websites and other social networks about their dead. On top of that we have a team on the ground also checking and cross-referencing these figures so it’s quite a comprehensive process. We by no means claim that it’s a final, perfect figure. We stress very clearly that these re subject to further verification which we do as we go along.”

TH: “Some people have criticized these figures on the basis that fundamentally the source of the numbers is the Ministry of Health and that’s basically a Palestinian organization – it’s controlled by Hamas. How would you respond to that criticism?”

MB: “I would say as I said before; that the Ministry of Health figures are one of our sources. It’s certainly not the main source. For instance the Ministry of Health does not differentiate in their figures between combatants and civilians. Furthermore, you will maybe have seen at times our figures have actually been a bit higher than the Ministry of Health because we have more sources to rely on.”

TH: “I wanted to press Matthias for further detail about how exactly his statistics are created and how these armed groups figure in the process. But he said he couldn’t give any more information. Perhaps that indicates how politically sensitive these numbers are.”

So that’s it then: listeners are not told exactly how the UN gathers its information or of the political motivations of its primary sources. Neither are they informed of the results of the ongoing work of those who take the trouble to cross-reference Hamas-supplied information with announcements on the websites of terrorist organisations such as the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre. Harford goes on:

“There are several reasons the count of the dead may differ between organisations. Yes, there are of course politics but these groups are trying to make sense of what’s going on in the fog of war.”

Ruth Alexander then introduces a representative from yet another political NGO which is one of the UN’s primary sources, but does not inform listeners either of that fact or of B’Tselem’s political agenda.More or Less chapter

RA: “Hagai Elad from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has researchers on the ground in Gaza and he gave us a picture of how dangerous and how difficult their work is.”

HE: “For instance there would be news about the IDF ordering the evacuation of a certain Palestinian hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Ideally we would want our own researcher to go there and independently tell us what is the situation on the ground. But sometimes trying to drive over there could be dangerous and sometimes being in a location itself could be dangerous. So the confusion and the general intensity of the numbers are, I would say, the number one difficulty in analysing the data.”

RA: “And how easy is it for researchers collecting statistics on the ground to tell who was a fighter and who wasn’t? I mean they can ask people but will they always get a straight answer? Here’s Hagai Elad again.”

HE: “Sometimes there’s a desire…it’s more courageous for someone to have died as a combater [sic] for some families. In other cases maybe there’s a desire to show that the percentage of non-combatants that died is high. So yeah – there will be pressures; no question about that.”

For more on B’Tselem’s methodology – see here. Ruth Alexander concludes the item by saying:

“This is why they and the other groups we’ve spoken to say that they do cross-checks. They don’t take what they’re told at face value. But counting the cost of war is always hard and usually controversial.”

So what did listeners to BBC Radio 4 get in this nine minute-long item? Well, they learned for a start that the BBC is ‘squeezy': it will amend an article written by its head of statistics not because it is inaccurate, but because of pressure from people who, for political reasons, don’t like what it says. It will then alter and add to that article to present a viewpoint more in line with its critics’ agenda and will even produce a nine-minute radio item as further damage control – because this is actually what Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander’s item actually is.

Harford and Alexander have brought listeners interviewees from three organisations which are all connected but without informing audiences of their ties or of their mutual political agenda. Beyond several opaque references to “politics”, they have failed to clarify to audiences  how civilian/combatant casualty ratios are used in the campaign of lawfare against Israel and to generate a specific climate of public opinion and they have failed to make any mention of the related directives issued by Hamas instructing that all casualties should be described as civilian.

Remarkably too they have framed this issue as one concerning a civilian/combatant ratio caused by Israeli actions alone, with no information provided to listeners regarding the very significant fact that the practices of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip such as launching missiles (a significant proportion of which fall short) and storing weapons and explosives in residential areas and booby-trapping houses all cause civilian casualties which of course are then attributed to Israeli actions – as the BBC should know only too well.  

In addition to the fact that this programme will be available on the BBC website for the coming year, it will also be repeated on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, August 24th at 20:00. It would of course be appropriate for its numerous failures to meet BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality to be corrected before that happens by means of the addition of full disclosure of the political agendas of its interviewees and their role in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

The BBC’s funding public might also be interested in some frank disclosure concerning the editorial policies behind the growing list of BBC contributions (including this programme) to that same campaign.  

Contact details for ‘More or Less’ can be found here and the programme’s e-mail address is moreorless@bbc.co.uk . 

 

‘From Our Own Correspondent': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

Readers no doubt remember that on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.

Andrew Roy: “Well we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side. So it’s not a minute by minute thing, no.” […]

Presenter: “When you get people complaining that they feel one side has been given more air-time or more favour than the other, what do you do?”

Andrew Roy: “We answer them by giving them the evidence that we’ve tried to put the other side as often as we can.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy and validity of Roy’s claims by using a test case: BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.FOOC

Between July 8th (commencement of Operation Protective Edge) and the present, eight editions of the programme have been broadcast. The first two (July 10th and July 12th) did not include any content related to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The July 17th edition included an item by Yolande Knell (available here from 00:42) which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie using the description ‘fasting under fire’. Knell’s report focuses entirely on the presentation of life in the Gaza Strip with descriptions of shortages of food, frightened children, reduced business in markets and evacuees. Much focus is also put on the topic of border restrictions with Knell twice quoting interviewees referring to a “siege” which of course does not exist and no explanation given regarding the terrorism which brought about the border restrictions.

On July 19th the programme featured an item by Jeremy Bowen which is available here from 00:45. Whilst the item is introduced as being about the whole Middle East, the BBC’s Middle East editor has his sights firmly set on one tiny part of that region. Using the language of Hamas Bowen tells listeners:

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Like Knell before him, Bowen makes no attempt to tell listeners about the Hamas terrorism which brought about border restrictions.  He later continues:

“And there’s been a reminder in the last few days of the terrible potency of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. [..] But the new war in Gaza shows how the Palestinian –Israeli conflict still has resonance across the world as well as in the region. People care about it, get angry about it in a way that they don’t about other crises and wars. I’m calling what’s happening in Gaza a war though I’m aware that it perhaps is not a perfect description. Some people have even told me I shouldn’t use the word because of the enormous imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. I disagree. Wars are increasingly fought between the strong and the weak. By the way, it’s wrong to pretend that there’s any kind of equality between what Israeli citizens are going through and the experience of Palestinians. The trauma of Israelis caught up in mass attacks is unquestionable but the trauma in Gaza is of an utterly different degree. The only long-term way to end this chronic killing is through a permanent settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It has to be one both sides can tolerate. An imposed peace would just contain the seeds of the next war. But at the moment peace is not conceivable. Even a long-term absence of war is unattainable. What’s the alternative? If nothing changes more and more of these mini wars, which will eventually become major wars.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s Middle East editor makes no effort to inform listeners that Hamas is not interested in the kind of “permanent settlement” which has been on the table for two decades, neglecting to inform them that Hamas was one of the Palestinian factions which rejected the Oslo accords.

On July 26th listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ heard Paul Adams. That item is available from 00:50 here and includes the following. [all emphasis in bold added]

“Generations have experienced nothing but occupation, embargo, blockade, war and death. It’s had a slow, brutalising effect. Perhaps that’s why some of them are seized by such a furious desire to tunnel out and seek revenge. For Gaza is a giant prison surrounded by a wall, watch towers and the most sophisticated military in the Middle East.”

Although he makes no effort to inform listeners of the fact that nine years ago, when Israel withdrew, Gaza stood at a crossroads which could have taken it in a very different direction had its leaders not chosen terrorism as their raison d’être, notably Adams does tell of things which – like the rest of his colleagues – he failed to report whilst he was in Gaza

“Of course it would be wrong to suggest that this prison 66 years in the making is full only of the innocent. There are men of violence here. Men who will never, ever accept Israel’s right to exist in the land they still regard as theirs. Men who will store weapons in mosques and schools and take great pride in launching almost entirely indiscriminate rockets from the midst of populated areas, hoping – in the name of resistance – to cause death and fear on the other side. During a week in Gaza I caught occasional glimpses of them; weapons stuffed under shirts, furtive in civilian clothes, moving with purpose through the ravaged streets of Shuja’iya looking for a fight. But when so many of those dismembered and burned by Israeli rockets and shells are not the fighters but women, old people and especially children, then it’s really, really hard not to conclude that the Palestinians are being collectively punished.”

The August 2nd edition of the programme included an item by Chris Morris, available here from 00:42 or here. In addition to Morris’ very graphic descriptions, audiences hear the following. [emphasis added]FOOC Morris

“Because things have got worse; much worse. Could anyone have imagined that twenty years on this would be their fate? Bombed from land, sea and air. Stuck inside the world’s largest prison with nowhere to run. […]

That’s why Hamas’ main demand is now in tune with public opinion: lift the siege of Gaza, open the borders, give people a chance to live.”

Like his colleagues, Morris of course makes no attempt to explain to listeners that it was Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians which brought border restrictions into being.

On August 9th listeners heard a report by Tim Whewell: the first (and last) making any attempt to portray the Israeli side of the story. That item can be heard here or here from 00:45. Especially, given the track record of his BBC colleagues as far as promoting the notion of a mythical ‘siege’ and failing to report on the context and background of border restrictions is concerned, one interesting part of Whewell’s report is this:

“Why, they [Israelis] demand, don’t you – foreign correspondents – ever report that? And again and again I slip into the same argument. We do report the reasons but we also have to report the results and then much of the audience for our reporting concludes that being afraid or traumatized like Honi [phonetic] is bad, but not nearly as bad as being dead – as so many more Palestinians now are. We’re talking now uncomfortably about hierarchies of suffering and Israelis reply ‘so what do you want? More dead Jewish children? Do we also have to die just to make you report the story fairly?’ “

The August 16th edition of the programme featured a report by Kevin Connolly on the children of Gaza already discussed here and with the audio versions available here from 06:00 or here.

As we see, between July 17th and August 16th six editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 included items pertaining to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Only one of those items presented an Israeli point of view, with the other five not only presenting the opposite viewpoint, but often promoting the terminology of a terrorist organization and failing to provide essential context.

Surely even Andrew Roy cannot possibly claim that any attempt was made to “give fair balance to each side” in that series of programmes.

Related Articles:

BBC pats itself on the back for its ME coverage

Half a picture, half a story: how the BBC compromises its own impartiality in Gaza

 

 

 

BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Gaza: high on pathos and sunsets, low on accuracy and facts

The BBC Radio 4 version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ featured an item by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly in its August 16th edition which can be heard from around 06:56 here or as a podcast here. A very similar written version of Connolly’s report appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 17th under the title “Gaza: What does the future hold for the children?“.FOOC 16 8

Kevin Connolly is currently located in the Gaza Strip and, as the title of his report suggests, his last few days there seem to have understandably prompted him to worry about the children living in that territory.

“For children in Gaza, living through war must seem like an habitual part of life. Is it possible to imagine what the future may hold for them? […]

The children fizz with energy and curiosity, singing out their names across the gap between the buildings and demanding to know ours.

They quickly learn to wait until we are on air using the balcony’s portable satellite dish, before shouting across. They know that our desperate requests for quiet then have to be mimed, much to their amusement.

I find myself worrying what the future holds for them. […]

If you are a six-year-old in Gaza, you have already lived through three separate wars – the ugly and brutal confrontations with Israel which flared in 2008, 2012 and again this year. It is as though Gaza is a kind of junction box where the dysfunctional neural wiring of the Middle East fused a long time ago.”

Of course if you are a six year-old less than a mile away in Sderot you have also lived through those same three wars and if you are a thirteen year-old from any of the towns and villages surrounding the Gaza Strip, you have never known life without the constant missile fire from the Gaza Strip which – whenever the terrorist organisations there choose to escalate it – is the cause for the “brutal confrontations” which Kevin Connolly ambiguously describes as having “flared” without explaining why that is the case.

Interestingly though, since Connolly arrived in the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau in June 2010, neither he nor any of his colleagues have been sufficiently worried about the children in Sderot to make the 90 minute drive down there and ponder their future. The last BBC correspondents to do anything of that sort were Nick Thorpe in 2006 and Tim Franks in 2008. Perhaps some insight into Kevin Connolly’s comprehension of the situation can be gleaned from this segment of his report:

“And yet, decisive victory seems to elude Israel, just as it eludes Hamas. The fighting will probably end in ways which are ambiguous and unsatisfactory, just as it has in the past.

That will be tough on the civilians of southern Israel, who will almost certainly find themselves running for their air-raid shelters again in future.

But it will be tougher still for those children on the roof next door. They have no air-raid shelters and very little chance of escaping to the wider world as long as Israel and Egypt maintain strict controls on all movement across Gaza’s borders.”

Connolly makes no effort to inform his listeners or readers that the reason Israeli children have air–raid shelters is because their country invests considerable resources in the protection of its citizens and the reason the children in Gaza do not have air-raid shelters is that Hamas invests considerable resources in acquiring missiles and using concrete to build cross-border attack tunnels rather than air-raid shelters. Like the rest of his colleagues he of course refrains from mentioning that those controls on Gaza’s borders with Israel are necessary precisely because of those Hamas policies.

So whilst Connolly tugs at listeners’ heart strings with his artistic descriptions of Gaza and its young residents, he manipulatively blocks any mention of the root cause of the picture he paints from audience view.Connolly FOOC written 17 8

He also returns to the BBC practice of trivialising terror attacks against Israeli civilians by promoting the jaded ‘homemade rockets’ theme.

“These confrontations are hopelessly asymmetrical. Many of Hamas’s rockets are out-of-date or home-made, compared with Israel’s powerful and sophisticated weapons.”

Likewise, Connolly fails to convey to listeners and readers the fact that it was Egypt’s belligerency which eventually resulted in the Gaza Strip coming under Israeli control in 1967, that Israel withdrew from that territory nine years ago and that Israel controls the coastal waters and air-space of the Gaza Strip because the representatives of the Palestinian people – the PA – signed agreements stipulating those conditions two decades ago.

“In the Six Day War of 1967 Israel came back and has occupied Gaza – or controlled life inside it – ever since.”

Obviously, if Connolly’s statement were accurate and Israel did control life inside the Gaza Strip, there would not have been thousands of missiles fired at Israeli civilians from that territory or cross-border attack tunnels dug over the years. Connolly is no less inaccurate when he tells audiences:

“At one point, Hamas appeared to be navigating the treacherous cross-currents of the Arab Spring effortlessly. It seemed able to count, at different points, on the support of Syria, Egypt and Iran – all powerful regional players.

Now, through a combination of misjudgement and misfortune, it can count on none of them.”

The great misfortune of the children of the Gaza Strip is of course that the place they live is under the control of a nihilistic terrorist organization which puts their welfare way down its list of priorities and the terrorisation and murder of Israeli children at the top. Had Kevin Connolly bothered to properly explain that crucial point to BBC audiences instead of making do with flowery clichés and trite descriptions of sunsets, he might actually have made a step towards doing what the BBC exists to do: informing its funding public not just what is going on in the world, but why. 

 

Two BBC programmes claim criticism of Israel brings accusations of antisemitism

h/t: DL, Amie

One annoying aspect of being an Israeli, or a person with family in Israel, at a time like this is having to listen to pundits (who it is quite safe to assume have never had to grab their children and rush to a bomb-shelter within seconds because of missile fire from terrorists) sitting safely in a studio thousands of miles away and pontificating about the rights and wrongs of a conflict upon which they apparently believe they are qualified to comment because they have read about it in the papers or watched it on television.Any Questions

This last weekend the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Any Questions?’ had on its panel the former (2000 – 2004) BBC director general Greg Dyke, former LibDem MP Susan Kramer, Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie and MEP Dan Hannan. In the section of the programme which related to the current hostilities (available here from around 33:13 or here on iPlayer), listeners heard the editor of a fashion magazine opine that life in Gaza “is like living in a big prison”. They also heard a British MEP describe the Gaza Strip as a “sealed concentration camp almost” and then add “I should say sealed refugee camp”. Most interestingly though, they got to hear the following remarks from the man who headed the BBC during most of the second Intifada before resigning his position in the wake of the Hutton Report.

Greg Dyke: “I have to say, I do find the Israeli response massively over the top. [applause] I look at…and I look at what’s been happening this week with horror. I also….the problem is, if you criticize Israel you are – by certain sections of the Jewish community around the world – immediately accused of being antisemitic – which I am not in any way. And we have got to overcome…and you have to look at why is the American response always so limited; why do the Americans actually….because they’re scared of the Jewish community and the Jewish vote in America. We somehow have got to separate the concept of antisemitism…and supporting an Israeli government that I think is not supportable or doing things that are not justifiable. [applause]“

Presenter Jonathan Dimbleby then says:

“Greg, as you will know, historically the BBC has come under great external pressure from the interest groups in this – very severe. At the moment the criticism seems to be coming principally not from the Israelis for the BBC coverage but from those who think that the Palestinians and those who live in Palestine are not being fairly, adequately represented with enough background information to form a clear judgement. Yet…is the BBC eternally locked in that or does the BBC have something to answer for?”

Dyke: “It’s incredibly difficult. I mean I was director general of the BBC for four years in a period of conflict. There was no doubt there was more pressure on me from the Israelis than any other state anywhere in the world. To the extent that in the end I stood up and said look I’m sorry – you cannot be the judge of impartiality. You are so one-sided in this you have got to leave it to us to be the judge of impartiality but we have got to be impartial and we have got to try to be impartial. I do find – I have to say – this week I have found every time the BB…eh…BBC news talks about Israel and then militant Palestinians, I find that a difficult…if I’d been director general this time, I’d be saying hang on – this is…is this not judgemental? We call one bunch a government and the other bunch we call militant Palestinians and the word militant implies somehow illegitimate.”

So, apparently the man who was at the helm whilst the BBC spread the lethal narratives of the ‘Jenin massacre’ that never was and the Al Dura story is more concerned about the risk of implying via terminology that a person who indiscriminately fires military grade missiles at civilians is “illegitimate” than he is with those acts themselves. One can only wonder if that ‘gem’ crops up in the Balen Report of 2004 which the BBC has spent ten years and hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money avoiding publishing.

Another programme broadcast by the BBC this last weekend was the July 27th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Weekend’ – available here for a limited period of time. It is worth listening to the programme in full in order to hear the context-free descriptions of the Gaza Strip from Chris Morris and Ian Pannell, including further promotion of Hamas’ pre-ceasefire demand to “lift the economic blockade” – described as a “smart demand” by Morris.WS Weekend

That programme also has two guests: one a woman in Paris called Vaiju Naravane – a novelist and former European bureau chief for the India’s Hindu newspaper, which apparently qualifies her to discuss the issue of this conflict although the fact that she describes Israeli towns and villages in Judea & Samaria as “colonies” is probably sufficient clue as to her political orientations. Right at the end of the programme she is given a platform to promote the following notions.

“Oh I think it’s a huge challenge [covering the story in the Gaza Strip]. I mean this is bigger than anything we faced in the Balkans in the 1990s for instance. […] and we’re not talking also about the essentials of the problem. I mean when France was occupied during the Second World War there were people who were planting bombs and there were people who were undertaking terrorist acts in order to get rid of the Germans from here and they were hailed as heroes. Now the same thing is not being applied to Hamas. I have no sympathies for Hamas because I think they’re extremists and all that. But at the same time you cannot in any moral sense have the kind of occupation – the way in which these people – this 1.4 million population is living in 140 square meters [sic] of territory without any kind of access and this is going on year after year after year and Israel’s demand seems to me to be submit, don’t do anything, don’t hit back and we’ll be OK with you but we will not remove the blockades, we will not remove the restrictions we place on your life. Now what sort of an argument is that?”

The other guest on that programme was Robert Fox – formerly a BBC defence correspondent and currently an occasional BBC contributor. Notably, Fox came up with the same claim promoted by Greg Dyke the day before.

“One of the difficulties that I’m having is that every time you criticize Israel… somebody of my position who’s been at the game for 47 years….ah, but you’re being antisemitic. That is a confusion of language. It’s a monstrosity… [..] This is a debate. There is an argument on all sides because what the criticism of Israel…what Israel is doing – and it’s a fundamental of international law – it is disproportion.”

So there we go: two ‘cultured’ BBC radio programmes in one weekend – both of which include promotion of the notion that it is not possible to criticize Israel without being accused of antisemitism – with one of the speakers making his own none-too-veiled insinuations based on the ‘Jewish power’ trope and another who – through her claim that Hamas is like the French Resistance and her comparison of Israel’s non-existent occupation of Gaza with that of Germany in France in WWII  – using a Nazi analogy.

Could it get more surreal than that?