BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack on Radio 4’s PM – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the final interview (available here from 16:14) in the long segment reporting on the terror attack at the Kehilat Ya’akov Synagogue in Jerusalem earlier that day which appeared in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ on November 18th, featured Rosemary Hollis – Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at City University, London.PM 18 11

As an academic, Professor Hollis’ contribution to the report was presumably intended to provide UK audiences with the type of context and analysis which would enable them to enhance their “awareness and understanding” of this particular “international issue”. However, basic inaccuracies and omissions in Hollis’ account in fact diminished the possibility of better audience comprehension.

The interview with Rosemary Hollis came directly after a previous one with the cousin of Avraham Goldberg who had been murdered in the terror attack just eight hours or so before the programme went on air. Presenter Eddie Mair opened his conversation with Hollis thus:

“We asked you in to talk about the status of Jerusalem. Just before we do that, we just heard the view of Israel and its place in the Middle East from a grieving relative. It’s a view that will be contentious.”

Hollis: “Yes; it was a beautiful tribute to Mr Goldberg and I think you would find that for many individual Palestinians, equally beautiful tributes could be paid for their awareness of the issues, for their innocence, for their devotion to family and to religious values and so on. One has to be careful here. If Mr Goldberg’s cousin is worried about a mind-set in the killers, that needs to be dealt with on a specific level in terms of where these young men were coming from, what their experience of life and occupation had been, and not to tarnish all Palestinians with some characteristics which may or may not be appropriate to apply to some individuals. It’s a classic problem in conflict and there is no justice in the killings that take place. To find it in the evilness of the perpetrator is a natural instinct but it’s not conducive to ending the kind of conflict that we’re in here.”

Yes, the BBC really did bring in an academic in order to promote to audiences a narrative of equivalence which, inter alia, suggests that hacking a man in his seventh decade to death with a meat cleaver for no other reason than his being a Jew should be seen in the context of the terrorist’s “experience of life and occupation” and where he was “coming from”. Hollis continued:

“Now, at the moment the tension in Jerusalem can be traced back to the beginning of the summer before the Gaza war. The tension started with the abduction and killing of Jewish students and then a revenge killing of a Palestinian.”

The BBC has of course also used those events as part of a menu of factors it promotes as ‘explaining’ the latest surge in violence and terrorism. Notably, neither Hollis nor her host bothered to point out to audiences that, crucially, the kidnappings and murders of the three Jewish teenagers were carried out by a Hamas cell from Hebron or that the attack was financed by Hamas in Gaza: the same Hamas which is partner to the Palestinian unity government which had been sworn in ten days before the three teenagers disappeared. Likewise, no attempt was made to clarify to listeners that the “Gaza war” (apparently nothing happened in Israel during July and August 2014 which BBC audiences need to know about) was instigated by that same terrorist organisation.Whilst those inconvenient facts would of course spoil the narrative of equivalence, facts they are and BBC audiences should be made aware of their existence. 

Hollis then went on to inaccurately represent the topic of the status of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

“It’s also worth remembering that the status of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem is unique in the pattern of the conflict. The East Jerusalem areas captured by Israel in 1967 – captured from Jordan who controlled them between the date of the foundation of Israel in ’48 and 1967 – that area of Jerusalem was annexed to Israel.”

Listeners not familiar with Middle East history would of course be unlikely to appreciate from that account that the euphemistically termed Jordanian “control” of parts of Jerusalem for 19 years came about after Jordan attacked the fledgling Jewish state and belligerently occupied and later annexed the areas concerned in a move not recognised by the international community. Hollis continued:

“The Israelis say it is their eternal unified capital and their sovereignty is indisputable. Of course the Palestinians who live there do dispute that sovereignty and the East Jerusalem Palestinian population are not citizens of Israel like the Arab citizens of Israel that Mr Goldberg’s cousin was describing. They have what they call laissez-passer: they have an East Jerusalem ID. They’re supposed to be lucky in the scheme of things compared with other Palestinians because they are not subject to direct occupation. But they are subject to security control and over the last few months hundreds of them have been arrested on suspicion – not on trial.”

Rosemary Hollis’ portrayal is of course factually incorrect. Arab residents of the areas of Jerusalem which came under Israeli control after the Six Day War are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship – and many have done so – which affords them the same rights as any other citizen of Israel of whatever religion or ethnicity. This was not the first occasion upon which this issue has been misrepresented to BBC audiences: the same inaccurate claim was made in a report by Yolande Knell on BBC World Service radio earlier in the month. Hollis also of course failed to point out to audiences that the vast majority of Palestinians  live under the administration of the Palestinian Authority in Areas A, B and the Gaza Strip and that the minority living in Area C where Israel still has civil and security control do so because their representatives agreed to that arrangement under the terms of the Oslo Accords and then subsequently sabotaged permanent status negotiations by instigating the second Intifada. Hollis’ reference to the arrest of “hundreds” of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem over the past few months of course erased from audience view the fact that there have been countless incidents of violent rioting and terror attacks during that period of time.  The conversation continued with presenter Eddie Mair saying:

“Can we step back even further than the summer to before any of us were alive? How did Jerusalem come to be a place that’s so important to people of different faiths?”

Hollis: “Well you can go back a couple of millennia if you like. [laughs] It is obviously of importance to Muslims, Christians and Jews. And I think I would say that there’s not a square inch of Jerusalem that isn’t contested and religious sites are as contested as others. And it’s a little bit confusing to start talking about freedom of worship because an aspiration since the beginning of the twentieth century – which saw the fall of the Ottoman Empire and originally the occupation of Jerusalem by the British and under the British mandate there – was to talk about what should be the future sovereign arrangement for Jerusalem. And there’s always been talk about it should be an international dispensation because of its importance in religious terms.”

This is of course also not the first time that we have seen the BBC promoting the idea of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum – see previous examples here and here. What Hollis of course did not tell listeners to Radio 4 is that the proposal was conditioned on the acceptance of the Partition Plan by the relevant parties and was rejected by the Arab side, and that in any case, the corpus separatum plan was conceived with a ten-year time limit, after which residents of the designated area were to vote in a referendum to determine its status. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see how Hollis used the redundant argument for a corpus separatum to deflect attention from the progressive issue of equal prayer rights for all at Jerusalem’s holy places. 

No less inaccurate was Rosemary Hollis’ portrayal of what she terms “Jewish doctrine” (as though there were one approach alone) on the subject of Jewish prayer rights at Temple Mount.

“What we’ve had in the Israeli context is an interpretation of Judaism on the part of religious nationalists – the bedrock of the settler movement – err…who are effectively contesting some positions traditionally adopted in Jewish doctrine which says that one should not wish to pray on the Temple Mount because that area is not to be treated as an area of worship until the coming of the Messiah. But the Religious Nationalists are talking about land which they consider both the national birth right of Jewish people and of religious importance. And that combination leads them to challenge most directly latterly the Palestinian and Palestinian Muslim position on some of these sites.”

Hollis’ misrepresentation of the topic of “traditionally adopted […] Jewish doctrine” of course not only confused the issue of differing approaches to equal prayer rights on Temple Mount with the separate subject of some strains of thought according to which the building of the third Temple is conditioned upon the appearance of the Messiah, but also erased the fact that different schools of thought on the topic of Jewish entry to and prayer at Temple Mount existed even before the appearance of the “settler movement” she clearly sought to portray as the root cause of the current tensions.

Once again, rather than providing listeners with accurate factual background intended to aid their understanding of the context of that morning’s murders of five Israelis in a terror attack not described as such by the BBC, this programme busied itself more with promoting a view of the issue framed by specific political motivations. And yet again, the issue of Palestinian incitement remained outside of that BBC framing. 

 

 

 

BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack on Radio 4’s PM – part one

Some eight hours after the terror attack in a synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem on November 18th, the BBC Radio 4 programme PM – which purports to provide audiences with “interviews, context and analysis” – spent some twenty minutes or so of its broadcast (available here for a limited period of time) covering that subject.PM 18 11

In the news bulletin which followed the brief introduction to the programme, listeners heard the newsreader say:

“Four Jewish worshippers have been killed at a synagogue in Jerusalem by two Palestinian men armed with butchers’ knives and a gun. One of the dead has been named as 68 year-old Avraham Goldberg from Britain who went to live in Israel in 1991. The two attackers, from occupied East Jerusalem, were shot dead by police. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell is in Jerusalem and says tensions are running high.”

Knell: “The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there will be a harsh response from Israel to this latest attack, calling it the cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers. Now on the Palestinian side, what they will say: Israel is also inciting the violence here in Jerusalem. In the last few weeks what we’ve had is this big flare-up in tensions over the Al Aqsa Mosque compound; about access to this important religious site. It’s the third holiest site in Islam. For Jews, who call it Temple Mount, it is the holiest site in their religion.”

Notably, a rare example of BBC use of the word incitement – a topic the BBC has consistently avoided addressing over the past few weeks when it is voiced by Palestinian leaders – came in the form of Yolande Knell taking it upon herself to paraphrase what she thinks “the Palestinian side” will say. Listeners then heard from Kevin Connolly who, after describing the incident – including a recording of the account of an eye-witness – and the subsequent funerals for four of the victims, went on to provide BBC audiences with ‘context’ for the incident which adds nothing new to the list of ‘reasons’ for the recent surge in violence and terrorism which the BBC has now been touting for weeks.

Connolly: “Now many underlying factors have contributed to a kind of toxic cocktail of grievances which is worsening the atmosphere here in Jerusalem, not least the summer conflict in Gaza and continuing Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. But the biggest single factor is a generations-old dispute over rights to worship at a holy place in Jerusalem’s Old City. Muslims alone have the right to pray at al Haram al Sharif or the Temple Mount. Israel, which controls the Old City, says no change is even contemplated but rumours that Jews might be allowed to pray there have an incendiary effect in Palestinian society and in the wider Islamic world.”

As ever, Connolly made no attempt to explore why “Palestinian society” and “the wider Islamic world” should be so offended by the prospect of equal prayer rights for members of all religions at a site important to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. After a brief recording of a statement by Israel’s Minister of Justice Tsipi Livni, Connolly continued:

“Now, Palestinians blame Israel for the increase in tensions in recent times, pointing not just to that religious dispute but to those other factors I mentioned: continuing Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem and the loss of life in the summer war in Gaza.”

Once again we see employment of the term “Arab East Jerusalem” – terminology the BBC’s style guide recommends should be avoided – as well as the inaccurate depiction of the summer conflict as having taken place exclusively in Gaza. Notably, Connolly made no attempt to inform listeners of Hamas’ responsibility for the “loss of life” in that war, be it by the terrorist organisation’s initiation of the conflict through missile fire at civilian targets in Israel, its use of cross-border attack tunnels or its deliberate employment of human shields throughout the conflict. Connolly continued, introducing a BBC frequent flyer‘ who is – not for the first time – described as “influential” despite the fact that his party secured a mere two seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in the last elections in 2006.

“Mustafa Barghouti is an influential Palestinian politician.”

Barghouti: “They’ve been provoking the Palestinians constantly. I want to remind you and I remind everybody that since the beginning of this year, the Israeli army and Israeli settlers have killed 2,260 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including 600 children. And they’ve been attacking the mosque in…Al Aqsa Mosque…and the settlers have been attacking Palestinians. This is a very explosive atmosphere and I hold Netanyahu himself responsible for every bloodshed that has happened whether for Palestinians or Israelis.”

Connolly made no attempt whatsoever to put Barghouti’s propaganda into its correct context by informing listeners how many of those Palestinian casualties were terrorists or violent rioters. He also failed to point out that, contrary to Barghouti’s baseless allegation, nobody has “been attacking” the Al Aqsa Mosque. Instead, Connolly’s closing words once again promoted the BBC’s redundant ‘cycle of violence’ mantra which of course avoids ascribing any agency to Palestinians.

The item then moved on to an interview with the cousin of the British-Israeli man murdered in the Har Nof terror attack, Avraham Goldberg, after which – presumably in order to provide audiences with the context and analysis promised by the programme – presenter Eddie Mair interviewed Professor Rosemary Hollis of City University London. That part of the programme will be discussed in part two of this post. 

BBC Radio 4 history programme misleads on Hebron massacre

The November 18th edition of the BBC Radio 4 history programme ‘Spin the Globe’ focused on the year 1929, with part of the broadcast – presented by historian Michael Scott – relating to that year’s Arab riots in what was then mandate Palestine. The programme’s synopsis states:Spin the Globe 18 11

 “…in Palestine, there was an outbreak of rioting between the Muslim and Jewish population.”

The relevant segment can be found from 14:40 here.

Scott’s introduction to the item misleadingly leads listeners to believe that efforts to establish a Palestinian state were underway in 1929.

“…in Palestine, 1929 was the year in which the ongoing dispute over the establishment of a Jewish and Palestinian state escalated to new heights of conflict, as Dr Eugene Rogan of Oxford University explains.”

Rogan: “Well the events of 1929 really demonstrated the way in which religion could come to take nationalist overtones. If you look at the origins of the massacres that took place in both Jerusalem and Hebron in 1929, we have to go back to a series of seemingly benign incidents that took place in the summer of 1928 when Jewish worshippers raised a screen to separate male and female worshippers at the side of the Western – or Wailing – Wall. This was for Jewish worshippers a way to create a more conducive environment for men and women to come together to pray. But for Arab onlookers it seemed as though the Jews were trying to create an open-air synagogue at the Western Wall that they feared could be a prelude to claiming the Western Wall as a sort of privileged area for the Jews. It is a retaining wall of the Haram complex – the area of great religious importance to Muslims in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque are both part of this Haram complex that overlooks the Western Wall so whatever happens to the Western Wall really proved to be a flash point to Muslim sensitivities as well.”

Notably, no effort is made to inform listeners of the very relevant issue of the significance of the Western Wall to Jews or of the fact that the Haram complex is also called Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism – or why that site is so important to Jewish culture and religion. The BBC’s style guide, however, clearly instructs that both terms should be used.

“Temple Mount – both words capped. Note that the area in Jerusalem that translates from Hebrew as the Temple Mount should also be described, though not necessarily in the first four pars, as known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (ie lower case ‘al’, followed by a hyphen – and never ‘the al-Haram al-Sharif’, which is tautological). The Arabic translates as the Noble Sanctuary.”

Rogan continues:

“And here I think British handling of the Jewish screen at the Western Wall was very clumsy. The British responded with much too much force, created tensions in the Jewish community, provoked an Arab hostility that then led to fights and really between 1928 and 1929 a deepening of tensions between Muslims and Jews over religious sites of importance to both communities. And they blow up in the summer of 1929 when those tensions go from being a matter of fist fights to becoming really massacres.”

Scott: “Around 130 Jews and 115 Arabs lost their lives in a week of fighting in several cities across Palestine with many more people injured. But there were some stories of individual kindness that provided a relief from the bloodshed.”

In fact – contrary to the impression of equivalence created by Scott – most of the Arab dead were killed by British police trying to stop the attacks rather than in “fighting” between Jews and Arabs.

The item then returns to Eugene Rogan, who revealingly describes Hebron’s Arab community as “indigenous” whilst the Sephardi Jewish families who had lived there for centuries are afforded no such title.

Rogan: “It is in Hebron where I think the indigenous Arab community’s response was most humanitarian. The total population of Hebron was about twenty thousand in 1929 and of that between 600 and 800 Jews lived among a majority Arab Muslim population. In the riots of the 24th of August there were about 67 Jews that were murdered by the mob. But the striking thing was 435 Jewish residents of Hebron were actually sheltered by their Arab neighbours. So some two-thirds of the Jewish community was given refuge in apparently 28 Arab households and their protection was recognized by the Jewish authority at Hebron who wrote at the time ‘had it not been for a few Arab families, not a single Jewish person would have remained in Hebron’. So it’s worth remembering that these were terrible events of mob violence but that there were also people of good values who, coming from the majority population – the Arab-Muslim or Arab-Christian population – were as abhorrent of the mindless violence as were the Jewish victims of the massacres.”

Of course “not a single Jewish person” did remain in Hebron because even those who survived the massacre were evacuated from the city by the British and later efforts to re-establish the ancient Jewish community in Hebron came to an end in 1936 when further Arab rioting again caused its evacuation.

Those familiar with the factual background to the Hebron massacre and the Arab riots of 1929 in general will of course note that Eugene Rogan’s account completely erases one key factor: the role played by the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al Husseini in inciting the violence. Contrary to the impression listeners receive from Rogan, Arab “hostility” was not “provoked” exclusively by the clumsiness of British policies or “tensions between Muslims and Jews over religious sites” but by a long and organized campaign of incitement headed by al Husseini. Just days before the massacre in Hebron, for example, Husseini announced in a sermon that “anyone who kills a Jew will be entitled to the next world”.

“According to the Davar newspaper of August 20, 1929, incitement against the Jews was rampant, especially in the Jerusalem and Hebron area. Rumors were spread that Jews had cursed Islam and intended to take over their holy places; Muslims were told that it was their duty to take revenge. “Defend the Holy Places” became the battle cry.”

“According to Dutch-Canadian journalist Pierre Van Passen who was in Palestine at the time, fabricated pictures of Muslim holy sites in ruins were handed out to Hebron Arabs as they were leaving their mosques on Friday, August 23, 1929.”

The political motivations behind this very selective presentation of a key event in the region’s history are glaringly obvious. Coming at a time when the BBC is doing its utmost to avoid informing audiences of contemporary incitement based to no small extent on a theme of ‘threats’ to the same holy sites which is remarkably similar to that used by al Husseini in his campaign, the omission of any mention of that factor is particularly jarring.

The item moves on to the topic of the Shaw Commission with Scott informing listeners:

“The British government, who had the mandate in Palestine at this time and were thus responsible for maintaining law and order, responded to the tragedy by setting up the Shaw Commission to investigate the causes of the August rioting. A subsequent White Paper was published [the Passfield White Paper – Ed.] which wanted to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine: seen as one of the contributing factors to tension in the lead-up to the events of 1929. Yet what happened in Palestine had an impact too on British politics at home, as Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway highlights.”

Cesarani discusses the 1930 by-election in Whitechapel, finally informing listeners that:

“….Ramsey MacDonald sent a letter to Chaim Weizmann – the leader of the Zionist organization – effectively cancelling the White Paper, pulling back all of the gestures that had been made towards the Palestinian Arabs.”

Together with Scott’s introduction, listeners would be likely to interpret Cesarani’s account as meaning that Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine was not limited by the British after all. That, of course, is historically inaccurate and misleading.

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BBC’s Connolly presents anti-Israel political activist as ‘community leader’

Kevin Connolly’s recent excursion to the Golan Heights was also reported in the form of a radio report which was broadcast on two separate BBC platforms on November 13th as part of the BBC News ‘Syria Days’ project.

In the morning the item appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 00:45:40 here) and later on a slightly expanded version was broadcast in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:47:00 here).

Both introductions to the item – from Sarah Montague and James Menendez respectively – ran along the following lines:

“Our correspondent Kevin Connolly has been to the Golan Heights where a line of separation divides Syria from Israeli-occupied territory and he’s been to see what the future looks like from there.”

In fact, Connolly’s item provides very little in the way of factual information – not least because at this stage of affairs, nobody can really proffer more than an educated guess about what future regional developments may bring. His report opens with the sounds of a theatre performance in Arabic and Connolly telling listeners:

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

“We are in the small, dark theatre in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The play – a one-man show – deals with the agonies of the past: the story of Palestinian refugees.”

There is of course no link whatsoever between the Golan Heights and “the story of Palestinian refugees” but what Connolly saw was probably part of a recent festival promoted by an organization which has relevance to an interview conducted later in his report.

The report’s first interviewee is Tal Pelter from Ein Zivan, described by Connolly as someone who “makes wine in an Israeli settlement on the Golan and is still making plans for the long-term future here.”

Connolly then goes on to promote the usual trite, homogeneous portrayal of Druze residents of the Golan Heights seen so often in the Western media:

“Most of the Druze of the Israeli-occupied Golan continue to regard themselves as Syrians. They follow the television news from Damascus and await the reunification of a country from which they were cut off by the wars of 1967 and 1973. But they know that the staggering destruction of Syria’s civil war is changing everything in the Middle East. Tayseer Maray – a community leader in Majdal Shams – senses that a historic process is now underway in which countries like Syria and Iraq created at the end of the First World War are disappearing, to be replaced by a single Arab State.”

Connolly’s introduction of his interviewee does not inform audiences that Tayseer Maray is in fact a long-time political activist who heads an organization called ‘Golan for Development’ (organizer of the above theatre festival) which is linked to OPGAI: a forum of anti-Israel campaigning organisations mainly from the Palestinian sector, including Badil and the AIC.

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

Listeners hear Maray say:

“This country or this new country that will emerge, it’s clear. I mean now we can see that the border between Syria and Iraq does not exist and also I think that Lebanon sooner or later will be part of what’s going on and Jordan is not in very stable situation. I see that we will have really very big Arab country that will exist in this area.”

Connolly: “Is this the end of the age of the nation-state in the Middle East?”

Maray: “I think that it will be the end of the nation-state in the normal meaning.”

Unfortunately, Connolly did not ask his interviewee what sort of “very big Arab country” he predicts – Sunni or Shia – or whether or not his latest predictions differ in any way from those he was making in 2010 (long before the Syrian civil war began) when he personally told this writer that an Iranian-led caliphate was just around the corner.

Connolly’s third interviewee is Efraim Halevi who raises the possibility of a different scenario than the one proposed by Tayseer Maray: one of the disintegration of Syria and Lebanon into ethnic, religious and political ‘statelets’.

What BBC audiences will have been able to take away from Connolly’s report is unclear, but one thing is certain: they would have been better equipped to judge the context and relevance of Maray’s predictions for the Middle East had they been informed – in line with BBC guidelines on impartiality – of his political activities and associations. 

 

BBC amplification of Hizballah propaganda

On November 13th the head of the BBC’s Middle East bureau proudly announced a scoop on Twitter.

Hizb int Colebourn tweet

Mishal Husain’s interview with Muhammad Fneish of Hizballah – conducted as part of the BBC’s recent Syria feature – was promoted on a variety of BBC platforms. An abridged version appeared in the November 13th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:10:10 here) with Husain describing the organization her interviewee represents as follows:Hizb int on website

“…founded to resist Israel, regarded by the United States as a terrorist organization, blamed for the killing of US marines and the kidnapping of Western hostages in Beirut in the 1980s…”

Following the interview, listeners heard ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen, who likewise played down Hizballah’s terrorist designation:

“…seen by the likes of Britain and America as a terrorist organization…”

Listeners were told by Bowen that Hizballah is one of the “friends of Iran” with no proper information provided on the topic of Iran’s role in the organisation’s founding, the material support it provides or the agenda it dictates.

Hizballah is of course designated as a terrorist organization in its entirety by Bahrain, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and the US and in part by Australia, the EU, New Zealand and the UK.

The interview was also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Hezbollah minister blames foreign ‘intervention’ for Syrian suffering” with no mention made of the fact that Husain’s interviewee is a member of a terrorist organization in that version’s synopsis and the Iranian connection erased altogether.

A video of most of the interview was also uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. Like the website version, its synopsis informs audiences that Husain’s interview marks the “first time the Hezbollah leadership has spoken to the international media since the Syrian crisis began in 2011″.

So, did the corporation which claims to be “the standard-setter for international journalism” use this rare opportunity to challenge the Lebanese minster with regard to his party’s primary allegiance to Iran and its role in exacerbating  the Sunni-Shia conflict both inside Lebanon and further afield? Was any attempt made to raise the issue of the terrorist-militia-within-a-state maintained by Fneish’s organization in contradiction of multiple UN resolutions? Did Husain question the Hizballah representative with regard to its terrorist and criminal activities both at home and abroad? Was he asked why his organisation provides support for a regime which has killed more than 200,000 of its own people? And did she ask him why Hizballah even continues to exist given that Israel withdrew from Lebanon almost a decade and a half ago?

Well; no. Instead BBC audiences were treated to undiluted, unchallenged Hizballah propaganda comparing Israel to ISIS, promoting the notion that Western support for parties opposing the Assad regime is designed to “protect Israel” and claiming that the organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is part and parcel of its so-called “resistance” against Israel.

Husain: “I wonder which you think is the bigger enemy today; the Islamic State or the enemy that Hizballah was founded to fight, which was Israel?”

Fneish: “We don’t really differentiate between the two really because the whole problem as we see it revolves around ending the resistance. When Israel, backed by the US, failed in 2006 to end the resistance, the focus on Syria was to stop it supporting the resistance. Therefore this whole battle aims to protect Israel. The role of the jihadists is to benefit from the political developments in the region and to work on their project which is a threat to the region and to all those who oppose their views. Syria is a key component in the balance of the regional conflict and was threatened by those groups due to Western policies. And those groups threaten Lebanon and the resistance movement in it. It means that this continues to be a battle against Israel but the rules and the locations of the engagement have changed.”

Given the docile and unchallenging nature of Mishal Husain’s interview with Fneish and her reverent approach to that senior representative of an international terrorist organisation, one can hardly find it surprising that Hizballah decided that speaking to the BBC fit its agenda. 

BBC’s Connolly fails to tell all about the ‘status quo’ on Temple Mount

The November 8th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ opened with an item by Kevin Connolly on the topic of Temple Mount. The programme is available here, with the relevant segment commencing at 00:38.FOOC 8 11 Connolly

Connolly’s account includes the following:

“A strict status quo governs rights of access to this holiest of places. Muslims alone have the right to worship. Jews may visit but may not pray. Any hint of change could instantly provoke widespread disorder. Here’s how powerful that status quo remains. Jordan controlled East Jerusalem until 1967 and so controlled access to the Western Wall – insensitively but memorably known to British troops of an earlier occupation as the Wailing Wall.”

In standard BBC mode, Connolly begins his historic account from 1967 and does not inform listeners when, why or how Jordanian control commenced or what the situation was before that brief 19-year stint of Jordanian occupation. He also fails to mention that Jordanian control of access to the Western Wall meant no access for Jews, along with the destruction of numerous synagogues in the Old City, from which all Jewish residents had been expelled. And of course Connolly’s description of the British administration of the Mandate for Palestine as an “occupation” is inaccurate. He continues:

“So when Israel captured the Old City in 1967 it put the most important place of prayer in Judaism back in Jewish hands.”

Connolly is of course referring to the Western Wall in that statement – as is apparent from his next lines – but his description is misleading in that it fails to inform listeners that whilst the Western Wall is in indeed the most important place to which Jews have access to pray, it is not the most important place. He goes on:

“But Israel also captured Haram al Sharif, or Temple Mount. There’s a photograph that shows young paratroopers flying the Israeli flag nearby. Their commanders quickly and smartly ordered them to take it down and then returned control of the sanctuary which contains the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock to the control of the Islamic religious authorities. Even in the afterglow of a series of stunning military victories that defined the modern Middle East, Israel was anxious to avoid doing anything here that might provoke a wider holy war. After all, a clumsily managed row over the site under British rule in the 1920s had triggered violent rioting and widespread loss of life.”

Connolly’s opaque reference is of course to the 1929 riots but he refrains from informing listeners which party instigated the “violent rioting” or of the similarity between the pretext used to incite then and that being used by the president of the Palestinian Authority and others today.

“In September 1928, a small group of Jews erected a “mechitza” (a divider to separate men and women during prayers) for Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall. The British forcibly dismantled the divider, but Husseini used this incident as a pretext to incite Muslims. He accused the Jews of attempting to seize Muslim holy sites, including the al Aqsa Mosque. […]

According to the Davar newspaper of August 20, 1929, incitement against the Jews was rampant, especially in the Jerusalem and Hebron area. Rumors were spread that Jews had cursed Islam and intended to take over their holy places; Muslims were told that it was their duty to take revenge. “Defend the Holy Places” became the battle cry.”

Instead, Connolly promotes other reasons for the current tensions in Jerusalem:SONY DSC

“But some Jews now talk again of revising the status quo. Why, they ask, should they not pray there since the place is sacred to them and since Israel controls access to the Old City? Jerusalem was already feeling edgy; a legacy of the summer fighting in Gaza and continuing Jewish settlement in Arab areas of the east of the city. The Israeli government says the status quo will remain, but you sense it wouldn’t take much to make things worse – a reminder to those of us who live in Jerusalem that the very things that make the place one of the glories of our shared civilization make it difficult and dangerous too.”

Whilst Connolly’s monologue puts significant emphasis on the topic of the ‘status quo’ on Temple Mount, beyond the issue of rights of worship and access he does not actually bother to inform BBC audiences what that status quo includes.

  • The Waqf, as an arm of the Jordanian Ministry of Sacred Properties, would continue to manage the site and be responsible for arrangements and for religious and civil affairs there.
  • Jews would not be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, but they would be able to visit it. (This right of freedom of access to the Mount was also eventually anchored within the context of the Protection of Holy Places Law.)
  • Israel, by means of its police force, would assume responsibility for security in the sacred compound, both within the site itself and regarding the wall and gates surrounding it.
  • Israeli sovereignty and law would be applied to the Temple Mount as to the other parts of Jerusalem, to which Israeli law was applied after the Six-Day War. (This stipulation was approved more than once by the Israeli High Court of Justice.)
  • It was later decided that the only entrance gate through which entry to the Mount by non-Muslims, including Jews, would be permitted would be the Mughrabi Gate, which is located at the center of the Western Wall, whereas Muslims would be able to enter the Mount through its many other gates.
  • Over the years the raising of flags of any kind was prohibited on the Mount.

Neither does Connolly inform his listeners how that status quo has been changed over the last 47 years.

Whatever one’s opinion of the campaign by some for equal Jewish prayer rights on Temple Mount (for some reason uniformly portrayed by the BBC as a “Right-wing” issue), it is clear that the Israeli government has no intention of changing that aspect of the status quo. However, the many other components of that status quo which have changed – including damage to antiquities, unauthorized construction, restriction of access to non-Muslims and harassment of visitors – are consistently concealed from audiences in BBC portrayal of the topic. Kevin Connolly’s latest item is no exception. 

BBC Radio 4 compares Israel’s anti-terrorist fence to the Berlin Wall

It did not – disappointingly – come as much of a surprise to find that the BBC was unable to resist the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall for the promotion of a trite and redundant comparison between that structure and Israel’s anti-terrorist fence.PM 10 11

On November 10th, listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ (available here for a limited period of time) heard presenter Eddie Mair introduce the item (from 21:06) as follows:

“‘The human longing for freedom can’t be suppressed forever’ – the words of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she led celebration to mark 25 years since the Berlin wall began to come down. She also said this: ‘The fall of the wall showed us that dream can come true. Nothing has to stay as it is, however high the hurdles’. How will those words sound to people in other parts of the world where a wall or walls of division still exist? Throughout tonight’s programme we’ll hear from BBC correspondents who can tell us. First Kevin Connolly has this, from Jerusalem.”

Kevin Connolly:

“There is a viewpoint near my house in Jerusalem where you can go to marvel at the golden canopy of the Dome of the Rock, glittering under the hot, pale sky. It’s framed by the walls of the Old City – a marvel of sixteenth century engineering. It is said the architects accidentally left Mount Zion outside the walls, so the Sultan who paid for the work had them executed. But your eye is drawn these days to a much newer wall on the landscape: Israel’s long, high, grey separation barrier. It is built on a startling scale. If and when it’s finished it will be 700 kilometres long. Israel says it was built to deter suicide bombings. Palestinians believe it was done to annex their territory and indeed there is Palestinian land on what the Israelis would consider to be their side. It’s far from complete and the obvious and depressing point is that walls take much longer to bring down than they take to put up. But I lived in communist Eastern Europe when the Berlin wall was still in place. I used to go through Checkpoint Charlie to shop in the West. And I can tell you that no-one foresaw that change for the better coming. With walls you never know.”

Connolly’s account fits perfectly into the far from impartial standard BBC template used to present the topic of the anti-terrorist fence. It includes the usual inaccurate misrepresentation of the anti-terrorist fence as a structure designed to “separate” two areas and fails to adequately inform audiences with regard to the years of terrorism which were the background to its construction.SONY DSC

Connolly employs the inevitable qualifying BBC formula of “Israel says” but refrains from providing BBC audiences with the readily available factual evidence of the fence’s effectiveness in preventing terror attacks. He inserts the equally uniform amplification of the evidence-free narrative according to which “Palestinians believe it was done to annex their territory” whilst concurrently misleadingly portraying areas which are supposed to have their status determined by negotiation – according to agreements signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – as “Palestinian land”. And as is so often the case in BBC reporting, Connolly misrepresents the physical nature of the structure, failing to inform listeners that well over 90% of it is fence rather than a wall.

Later on in the programme, listeners also heard about the wall in Nicosia, Cyprus and the ‘peace walls’ in Belfast (at 50:50). The latter item contrasted starkly with Connolly’s portrayal both in its positive tone and its provision of context, with reporter David Eades noting:

“So it is sad – but little wonder in a city still struggling with distrust, tension and sectarianism – that they [the walls] do still have their role to play.”

As has been noted on these pages before, the BBC’s portrayal of the ‘peace walls’ – and terrorism – in Northern Ireland employs remarkably different standards, language and tone to its presentation of comparable issues in Israel. This latest opportunistic exploitation of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall for the promotion of inaccurate and partial politically motivated messaging from Kevin Connolly was no exception.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3  (includes links to parts one and two)

A ‘peace wall’, a ‘separation barrier’ and a question for the BBC

 

BBC’s Connolly omits context from reports on Gaza reconstruction, promotes Hamas-linked charity

The topic of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the recent Cairo donor conference has been the focus of several items of BBC content over the last couple of weeks on a variety of platforms including the BBC News website (see here and here) and BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour‘.

In addition to the above, audiences could also read a report by Kevin Connolly published on October 16th under the title “Gaza reconstruction facing obstacles despite aid” which remained on the website’s Middle East page for five consecutive days.Connolly reconstruction art

BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ also promoted the same topic by means of an audio report by Kevin Connolly and saw fit to advertise the item separately on Twitter on October 23rd.

Connolly’s written report uses the same kind of context-free descriptions of damage seen in so many other BBC reports, with no effort made to inform audiences that the reason districts such as Shuja’iya were the focus of Israeli activity is that Hamas established infrastructure and placed military assets in such residential neighbourhoods.

“The level of damage in parts of Gaza is extraordinary – the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called it “destruction beyond description”.

No-one who has seen at first hand the power of modern missiles and artillery shells could fail to be awed by the destructive forces they unleash.

Huge buildings fashioned from thousands of tonnes of concrete have been reduced to dense, shallow, uneven mounds of rubble, as though they had been sucked in on themselves.

In some places – such as Shejaiya and Johr El-Deek – the pattern is repeated from house to house and street to street.”

No less lacking in context – or less predictable – is Connolly’s description of the effects of the border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt, with no effort made to inform audiences that those restrictions exist because Hamas elected to pursue a policy of terrorism. Once again we see BBC portrayal of Palestinians as having no agency and no responsibility for their decisions.

“And of course there is a continuing problem with funding the Hamas-run ministries of Gaza. Public-sector salaries are hugely important in a place where the private-sector economy has had the life squeezed out of it by an Egyptian and (mainly) Israeli economic blockade.”

As equally unsurprising is Connolly’s promotion of another frequent, yet erroneous, BBC theme: the notion that the solution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas is resolvable via negotiations.

“However quickly and completely those donor nations cough up the cash, the truth is that without some sort of political progress between Israel and the Palestinians – of which there is absolutely no sign – there is no guarantee that anything rebuilt in Gaza this year or next year won’t simply be destroyed again in the next conflict.”

Notably, Connolly deviates from the BBC’s previous promotions (see for example here and here) of a UN administered ‘mechanism’ to prevent construction materials being misappropriated by Hamas for the purposes of terror but fails to adequately clarify to readers that Israeli “security concerns” are based on past experience which shows that materials which were imported into the Gaza Strip under international supervision were indeed diverted to the building of terrorist infrastructure, including the 32 cross-border tunnels decommissioned during Operation Protective Edge.

“Any material intended for the reconstruction of Gaza is going to end up passing through Israeli territory. […]

That also means of course that the entire responsibility for making sure that Hamas does not use the reconstruction effort to re-arm will fall to Israel. […]

Israel has two security concerns.

The first is simple enough. Every bag of concrete will have to be searched to make sure it does not have guns, ammunition or rocket parts hidden somewhere inside.

The second is slightly more subtle and involves what are called “dual-use” materials – in other words anything that could be used to build either houses or rocket silos, such as concrete or steel.

Israel is going to have to find a way to measure the amount that enters Gaza and then the amount that is visibly used in civilian construction – if there is a gap between the two figures, they will assume that Hamas is creaming off the difference to build bunkers and tunnels.”

Connolly’s audio report – titled “Rebuilding Gaza” – for Radio 4 promotes many of the same context-free themes as his written article. Like Yolande Knell before him, Connolly features English teacher Abdul Kareem al Ejlah from Shuja’iya, but fails to inform listeners that the vicinity of the teacher’s house was used to launch missiles or that entrances to cross-border tunnels were located nearby, instead opting for the following emotive description.Connolly World Tonight tweet  

“Abdul Kareem’s street looks like it’s been hit by an earthquake. Modern missiles like Israel’s suck the life out of multi-storey buildings, collapsing them into dense, unlivable mounds of rubble.”

Connolly goes on to promote a project situated on “farmland near Gaza’s border with Israel”.

“And a British charity – Human Appeal International – has built a kind of temporary village: prefabricated steel housing units.”

Connolly is obviously less interested in adhering to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing BBC audiences of the fact that Human Appeal International is one of several British charities which come under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood’s fund-raising network for Hamas – the ‘Union of Good’ – chaired by Qatar-based Yusuf Qaradawi. As such, HAI is banned by Israel, has appeared on the US State Department’s list of charities linked to terrorism since 1996 and was cited by the FBI as a recipient of funds from the convicted Special Designated Terrorist Entity the Holy Land Foundation.

In 2005 Human Appeal International was one of two charities named on the charge sheet against Ahmad Salatna – a Hamas activist from Jenin who headed the Jenin Zakat Society and was convicted of providing some £6.2 million of funds originating in Europe to Hamas cells, suicide bombers and their families.

In his closing remarks Connolly says:

“The Middle East is full of refugees whose temporary miseries became more permanent and you sense that the same fate awaits these latest victims of violence.”

Of course the “more permanent” miseries of Palestinian refugees are the direct result of the intentional policies of Arab countries which have been using them as a political card for decades. Like those people, the currently homeless people in Gaza could also have their miseries relieved much more easily were Hamas to change its policies and abandon the terrorism which makes control of building materials into the Gaza Strip necessary.

Connolly, of course, exonerates Hamas from any responsibility for bringing about the conflict which caused thousands of people in the Gaza Strip to become homeless as well as for its role in delaying reconstruction. He fails to inform listeners that even before his report was broadcast Hamas was already boasting of renewed construction of cross-border tunnels or that – as documented by the NYT correspondent in Gaza – there appear to be building materials available for Hamas’ own projects such as its Al Aqsa TV building and its Interior Ministry building.

Notably too, despite its obviously extensive interest in the topic of reconstruction, the BBC has so far refrained from informing audiences that the mechanism of monitoring the entry of construction materials (made necessary by Hamas’ adherence to terror) so urgently needed by ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip hoping to repair their houses before the winter was one of the topics set to be discussed at talks in Cairo this week. Those talks were cancelled by Egypt after the terror attacks in northern Sinai and Egypt’s subsequent closure of its border with the Gaza Strip and claims of Palestinian involvement in the attacks.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Moral Maze’ does ISIS, ‘Zionist terrorists’ and ‘demonised’ Hamas

The October 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Moral Maze’ – repeated on October 18th and available here – was titled “Talking to Terrorists”. The synopsis on the programme’s web page reads as follows:Moral Maze

“Former US vice president Dick Cheney famously said “we don’t negotiate with evil – we defeat it.” Unfortunately history is not on his side. It seems that almost every time a new terrorist group comes along and we declare we’ll never negotiate with them, we end up doing just that. The IRA, the PLO, Taliban, Hamas to name a few – we’ve eventually talked to them all. So why not talk to ISIS? Policymakers understandably respond with righteous anger and determination after a horrible event. Negotiations can give legitimacy to terrorists and their methods and set a dangerous precedent. Yet terrorists are rarely, if ever, defeated by military means alone. ISIS may seem to be well beyond the pale at the moment, but will that always be the case? And how do we make that judgement? A former director of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet has said he’d advocate talking to anyone – even the Iranians. That way, he said “we discover they don’t eat glass and they that we don’t drink petrol.” Are people’s lives being sacrificed as conflicts drag on because we refuse to talk to preserve our moral purity? Or do we have to take a stand between right and wrong, good and evil when it comes to a group such as ISIS? Should we – can we – balance the forces of pragmatism and principle when it comes to the prospect of talking to terrorists?”

Most of the programme focused on ISIS which interestingly was described by presenter Michael Buerk as follows in his introduction:

“They’re painted with some reason as fanatics, operating on the border line between Salafist extremism and religious insanity – beyond the reach of reason.” [emphasis added]

Contrary to the impression perhaps received by readers of the synopsis there was actually very little content relating to Israel, with the exception being a couple of ‘gems’ from Michael Portillo.

“So you wouldn’t say then that the terrible things they’ve [ISIS] done – Michael Buerk listed some of them at the beginning – you wouldn’t say that that uniquely sets them apart, let’s say from Zionist terrorists…eh….who formed the State of Israel, Hamas with whom we want Israel now to speak, the Taliban with whom we have all spoken – so it doesn’t set them apart?”

“But might it also be an interesting paradox that as we come under such pressure from Islamic State that we’ll want to settle whatever we can in the region, so actually we’ll probably be pressuring Israelis to talk to the formerly demonised Hamas?” [emphasis added]

What is interesting about this programme is the glimpse it gives those of us in the Middle East into the kind of conversations among intellectuals and policy shapers in the West. Especially notable was the notion proposed by two participants that ISIS fighters are essentially frustrated Sunnis expressing their discontent with a Shia-run Iraqi government and that if that was sorted out, the ISIS balloon might be deflated.

Another remarkable point was the following argument from Michael Portillo:

“I’m amazed that in this whole discussion more weight has not been given to the impact over the last ten years or so [….] of Western violence. Now that is not to say that there is moral equivalence, but it is to say that one of the reasons why I think people are being very violent in these countries is that so much violence has happened in these countries. The alternative to violence is talk.”

As is so often the case, the really interesting aspect of this programme was what was not discussed and notably the topics of the age-old Shia-Sunni conflict and political Islam were not brought into the discussion at all.

Dr Jonathan Spyer recently wrote the following:

“Because the nature of this struggle is not widely grasped in the West, policy appears somewhat rudderless. This is reflected in the current discussion regarding the response to the Islamic State.

First, Assad was the enemy. This was made clear enough not only by his support for Hezbollah and attempts to nuclearize, but also by his unspeakable brutality and use of chemical weapons against his own citizens.

Then, when the brutality of some of the rebels became apparent, Western public interest in supporting the rebels receded. Soon the I.S. emerged as the new bogeyman. Declarations for its destruction became de rigueur, though it is far from clear how this is going to be carried out—and a de facto alliance with Iran and its clients, at least in Iraq, has emerged. This was seen in the expulsion of the I.S. from the town of Amerli, a pivotal moment in the major setbacks faced by the organization in recent days. In that town, Shi’ite militias were backed by American air power—to telling effect against the Sunni jihadis.

But is it really coherent policy to be backing murderous Shi’ite sectarians against murderous Sunni ones? It is not. Of course, when the West backs the Sunni rebels in Syria, the precise opposite is happening. Weaponry donated to “moderate” rebels then inevitably turns up in the hands of Sunni jihadis, who do most of the fighting associated with the Syrian “rebellion.” The result is that in Iraq the U.S. is helping one side of the Sunni-Shia war, and in Syria it’s helping the other side.

Only when it is understood that the West cannot partner with either version of political Islam does it become possible to formulate a coherent policy toward the Sunni jihadi forces, on the one hand, and toward the Iran-led bloc, on the other.”

Dr Spyer’s article – which, like this BBC programme, gives little cause for optimism that the West will come out of its Middle East ‘moral maze’ anytime soon – can be read here

 

 

 

Bowen tweets reveal the BBC’s idea of ‘pressing’ news from the Middle East

It’s olive picking season in the Middle East and – seeing as of course there is absolutely nothing more pressing (sorry about the pun) going on in the region at the moment – it would appear that the BBC’s Middle East editor has plenty of free time in which to provide audiences with yet another one of those perennial political propaganda items loosely tied to the topic of the olive harvest. 

Tweet Bowen olives 1

 

Tweet Bowen olives 2

Tweet Bowen olives 3

Well that already oozes impartiality, doesn’t it? 

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BBC serves up political propaganda with olives

The Naked (BBC Middle East Editor) Chef