BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

On December 12th the BBC News website published an article titled “Audit ‘clears Islamic Relief’ of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price; the chief correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In addition to appearing on the website’s UK page, the article was also posted on the Middle East page where it remained for three consecutive days.Islamic Relief art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Britain’s biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.”

In the next paragraph readers learn that the audit was commissioned by the organization itself.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.”

Further along readers also learn that the public is not being informed which company carried out the audit, although it is obviously a very efficient one because it managed to carry out the work “in a few days”.

“It [Islamic Relief] says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows “absolutely no evidence” of any link to terrorism.” […]

“The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit – but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.

Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the “sensitivities in the region” it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.”

Although the BBC report does not relate to the topic of the publication of the report, we learn from Reuters that it too will be kept from the public view.

“Islamic Relief has not named the ‘leading global audit firm’ which carried out the investigation or published the audit because of what it calls “sensitivities in the region” and the need to ensure people’s safety.”

Via the charity itself we also discover that “a number of major stakeholders” have been given access to the audit, one of which we can conclude from the BBC’s report is the DEC

“The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it “has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

It added: “We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” “

Matthew Price refrains from informing readers that the chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohammed Ashmawey, also sits on the DEC board of trustees.

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

“Israel has not responded so far.” […]

“Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.”

Reuters journalists apparently put a little more effort into getting an official Israeli response:  

“A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Friday that Israel stood by its designation of Islamic Relief as an “unlawful association” and repeated a previous statement that the charity funnelled millions of dollars a year to Hamas.”

So, to recap the story so far: a charity banned in Israel because of Hamas ties commissions and pays for an audit by an unidentified company which produces a report not made accessible to anyone other than a selected few chosen by the charity itself and, on the basis of the charity’s own interpretation of the unpublished findings, the BBC rushes to inform its audiences (on the same day that the charity puts out its press release) that the organization is above-board, implying that Israel’s reasoning for banning the charity is invalid.  

Clearly the BBC is remarkably unperturbed by the blatant lack of transparency displayed by Islamic Relief Worldwide. It also apparently lacks any journalistic curiosity with regard to the methodology used in this audit such as, for example, the critical questions of how the auditors chose to define “links to terrorism” and “funding terrorism”. As John Ware explained in an article from August of this year, the answers to those questions are far from obvious, but very important: an issue which clearly Matthew Price did not find cause for concern.

Related Articles:

BBC amends article on DEC Gaza appeal concerns

Jeremy Bowen’s olive harvest feature fails to offer BBC audiences anything new

As readers are aware, the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen’s audio report titled ‘Olive Wars’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 7th. The programme is available here from 01:25.Bowen olives audio

In order to appreciate the rationale behind Bowen’s report it is useful to look first at his closing remarks.

“Now, in its own way, what’s happening in this valley is a microcosm of the entire conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. One fundamental aspect of it – not the only one, but a vital thing to understand – is the fact that there is one piece of land and historically there have been two peoples who want it. The whole point of the peace process – now collapsed, of course – was to find a way to divide it between them. Travelling around the harvest I’ve seen that what they have instead is no kind of acceptable status quo. Ask Bassem and Naja Rashid; the couple whose olive trees were cut down by settlers. Or in Israel, the olive producer Yaniv Zaban; looking on uncomfortably as he sees Palestinian farmers’ trees being destroyed. Jewish settlers like Avraham Herzlich in Tapuach seem fairly content under the current Israeli government: the force is with them. But the way things are there isn’t just a risk of more bloodshed: it’s certain. That’s not good for any Palestinian or Israeli and – at a time when the whole world can feel the impact of the tumult in the Middle East – that’s not good for the rest of us either.”

The take-away message for BBC audiences is therefore that the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is all about land, that it can be solved by the division of that land and that as long as it remains unsolved, it will affect “the rest of us” negatively because the Middle East’s mess is spreading beyond the region.

Leaving aside Bowen’s obviously specious linkage between events such as the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS and other Islamist Jihadists and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and his transparent attempt to inflate the latter’s regional and global significance – the obvious question is why did Bowen seek to convey his take-away message through the medium of the olive harvest? The answer to that is found in the opportunities it presents for framing the story in a manner which advances an already well-worn political narrative.

One very dominant theme in Bowen’s report can be summed up as old versus new, ‘authentic’ versus modern, ‘traditional’ and ‘artisan’ versus industrial. In his opening sentence he informs listeners that “the olive harvest is all about tradition”. Two and a half minutes into the item he goes to visit “the oldest olive tree in these parts”, located near “ancient terraces” and there he – and of course BBC audiences – are told that the supposedly four thousand year-old tree:SONY DSC

“…stands as a symbol to the Palestinian people – the history and civilization.”

The report’s opening message is clear: like their olive trees, the Palestinians have been there since time immemorial, with no history worth mentioning having existed beforehand – or indeed since.

Bowen next visits the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane where he links the local olive trees to Christian tradition and the New Testament. At no point are listeners told what the original Hebrew name for Gethsemane – Gat Shmanim – means or that olive oil production was integral to ancient Jewish culture. Bowen tells listeners:

“…and from up here on the Mount of Olives you get the classic view of old Jerusalem but you can see the modern parts of the city  as well, including the settlements for Jews that Israel has built on the territory it captured during the 1967 war. That’s forbidden by international law and it’s taken big chunks out of the land that the Palestinians want for an independent state.”

Bowen’s partisan representation of “international law” of course breaches BBC editorial guidelines by not informing listeners of the existence of alternative legal opinions on the issue and his claim that the Jerusalem neighbourhoods he chooses to brand “settlements” were built “for Jews” is inaccurate: residents of other faiths (or none) and ethnicities also live in those districts.  

Later on listeners are told by Bowen that:

“Palestinian farmers get a quarter of their incomes from olives but it’s about more than money. The trees are the most powerful symbol of Palestinian attachment to the land.”

Bowen also visits an olive farm at Moshav Sde Uziahu in the Be’er Tuvia district where he compares farming methods.SONY DSC

“I’ve crossed from the West Bank to Israel and it’s a very different approach here in the olive harvest. The farm here’s called The Olive People; they have seven thousand trees. Flat land – not mountainous like the West Bank – and they’re using a machine to harvest the olives: an extraordinary sight. The machine grabs the trunk of the tree, gives it a good shaking. Some of the workers hit the branches as well to get the olives off. It is a very, very big contrast to the old, artisanal methods they use in Palestinian areas.”

Bowen’s travels also take him to another unnamed area:

“I’ve come from Israel into the occupied West Bank to a beautiful area of hills. But this is a controversial place because up over to my right are a number of Jewish settlements – quite radical, ideological ones – and here on the adjoining hill there is a timeless area of terracing and olive trees and Palestinians farming them.”

An additional theme promoted by Bowen is the contrast between the physical Palestinian attachment to the land symbolized by their “ancient” and “timeless” connection to the olive trees and Israeli claims to the land – which are framed exclusively by Bowen in terms of intangible religious belief.

“I’m at the home of Bassem Rashid and his wife Naja and they’re harvesting their olives here. […] Now, this couple have other trees up near the settlement of Tapuach where there are Jews that believe that this land should belong to them. And they are not able to get to those trees and worse still, they heard only a couple of days ago that those trees up there – some they say are a hundred years old – have been cut down by the settlers.”

Note how later on in his closing words (see above) Bowen transforms something the Rashid’s have heard – but has obviously not been independently verified by the BBC – into fact. Significantly, Bowen refrains from making any direct reference to instances in which Palestinians have caused damage to Israeli agriculture. Quoting the highly partisan UN OCHA, he unquestioningly informs listeners:

“According to the UN office for humanitarian affairs, attacks by Jewish settlers in the last five years on Palestinians and their property have destroyed around fifty thousand fruit trees – mainly olives. […] The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, breeds violence. Jewish settlers and Palestinians attack each other. Some Jewish settlers moved to the occupied territories to get cheap housing but extremists in ideological settlements believe the land is theirs alone and the trees are a legitimate target.”

Interestingly, Bowen later on uses the term “settlers” in a different context.

“The first Jewish settlers – the early Zionists – were mainly secular. Their conflict with the Palestinians was first of all about possession of land. But religion is more prominent now on both sides. Some Jewish settlers, like Avraham, believe that God gave the land to them and Islamists on the other side are a big part of Palestinian nationalism. If you think you’re doing God’s will, there isn’t much room for negotiation.”

Of course the pre-state conflicts between Jews and Arabs were by no means limited to disputes about land, as the fact that the riots of 1929 were directed particularly at the ancient Jewish communities in Hebron, Jerusalem and Tsfat indicates. Bowen downplays the long-standing influence of religion on the conflict and elects not to explain to listeners the concept – in particular relevant to Islamists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – according to which ‘Muslim lands’ cannot be given up or negotiated away.

But what is most noticeable about Bowen’s framing of the issue is that it completely erases from audience view the very relevant subject of the Mandate for Palestine and the fact that the area designated for the creation of the Jewish National Home included Judea and Samaria – later conquered (with more than a little help from their British friends) and belligerently occupied by Jordan for the nineteen years between 1948 and 1967. Of course any reference to that key point would have undermined Bowen’s use of the term “Palestinian land”, which features in another of the themes he promotes in this item: the anti-terrorist fence.

Apparently describing the terror attack of October 22nd, Bowen tells listeners:

“Tension’s always high around here and in this part of Jerusalem there’s just been an attack on some Israelis so the police, the military are out in force. You can see guns, there are sirens, there’s confusion. Palestinians argue that if there wasn’t an occupation there wouldn’t be attacks.”

He refrains from informing audiences that, inter alia, the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip long since disproved that claim and continues:

“The Israeli government disagrees and insists it must protect its people by building walls and fences: the so-called West bank separation barrier. But that doesn’t follow the boundary Israel had before it captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. It cuts through Palestinian land and separates some Palestinian olive farmers from their trees.”

Along with his misrepresentation of the 1949 Armistice Line as a “boundary” (the Armistice Agreement specifically states that it is no such thing), Bowen refrains from informing listeners of the fact that the “Palestinian land” he describes was previously occupied by Jordan, administered by Britain and prior to that, controlled by the Ottoman Empire for five hundred years. He also avoids mentioning the campaign of terrorism during the second Intifada which brought about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence as a result of public pressure on the Israeli government and, significantly, he fails to clarify that the terror initiated by Arafat came after Israel had handed over control of Areas A and B to the Palestinian Authority, indicating once again that the evacuation of land by Israel does not prevent terror attacks. Later on Bowen even egregiously and entirely unnecessarily promotes the defamatory and inaccurate term “apartheid wall”:

“I’m right up against what the Israelis call their security fence. Palestinians call it an apartheid or segregation wall and the problem for the people of Anin – the farmers here – is that yes; they do get access during the harvest and the gate is only open even then for limited periods during the day, but for the rest of the year when they want to maintain the land, look after the trees, they can’t get at it. It’s a once a year visit that they do to harvest the olives themselves.”

Bowen later meets the owner of the Canaan olive press, Palestinian-American Nasser Abu Farha, although Mr Abu Farha’s American citizenship apparently did not fit in with his promoted themes. Neither apparently did the tanks used to store the olive oil at Canaan Fair Trade (see related articles below) – in contrast to similar ones seen at Moshav Sde Uziahu which Bowen took the trouble to describe as “modern stainless steel vessels”. Bowen alleges:SONY DSC

“Now, not far from here there are Jewish settlements which are known for mounting raids on the trees, cutting them down, burning them, sometimes stealing the finished oil. From your point of view, what does that say to you about the situation here?”

Abu Farha: “I wouldn’t blame it all on the settlers. I think the settlers are more encouraged in the areas where the government have fenced these areas as security buffer zones for their settlements. Somehow this fencing and barring the farmers from regularly tending their farms becomes a perception to the settlers that maybe this farmer shouldn’t be there in the first place. I would put more blame on the system.”

Notably, the issue of Palestinian responsibility for bringing about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence does not arise because in this entire report Palestinians are portrayed as weak, passive and without any agency whatsoever.

 Bowen’s report is very obviously tailored for his British Radio 4 audience. “Authentic”, “traditional” Palestinian farmers engaged in Fair Trade production of olive oil from ancient trees pushes a lot of sympathetic buttons. So too does the notion that these farmers have to grapple with violent, religiously motivated extremist settlers and an “apartheid wall” to get to “Palestinian land”.

In his introduction to this item Bowen states:SONY DSC

“The olive harvest is about politics. Everything is politicized here and it’s the politics of the struggle for land between two peoples who want it. And in that struggle, the olive tree has become a very potent symbol and the olive harvest has at times become a very serious flashpoint.”

Of course much of the annual politicization of the olive harvest is attributable in no small part to the mutually beneficial collaboration between Western media outlets and local political actors, with this report being no exception. Whilst Bowen made it clear right from the beginning that BBC audiences were not going to learn anything about the non-political aspects of the olive harvest, his report is nothing more than a tediously predictable collection of well-worn clichés which do not contribute anything new to deeper audience understanding of the real political issues behind his subject matter and merely retread the routes taken by Bowen and his colleagues on countless previous occasions.

BBC audiences have already been told hundreds of times about ‘illegal settlements’ and their supposedly belligerent residents. The ‘evils’ of what the BBC mistakenly calls the ‘separation barrier’ have been done to death and audiences are already more than used to the BBC’s inflation of the Palestinian Israeli conflict into the major issue in the Middle East. In fact, apart from the licence fee payer-funded opportunity for Jeremy Bowen to purchase some cheap olive oil and the chance for yet more transparent promotion of the BBC’s chosen political narrative, there appears to have been no journalistic point to this exercise whatsoever.   

Related Articles:

BBC serves up political propaganda with olives

BBC’s Arab-Israeli conflict obsession distorts history

Over the past week or so the BBC has devoted quite a lot of coverage to the subject of the reburial of the ashes of Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson in Israel, in accordance with his last wishes.

Tel Hai

Tel Hai

That coverage has included:

An interview with adventurer John Henry Patterson” November 28th.

Benjamin Netanyahu recalls adventurer John Henry Patterson” November 28th.

Broadcasting House – BBC Radio 4, November 30th – Kevin Connolly from 34:33 here.

The lion-killer who became an Israeli hero” November 30th, Kevin Connolly.

Briton hailed as ‘Godfather’ of Israeli army reburied” December 4th.

Israel reburies ashes of British WW1 commander” December 4th.

The lion-killer who became an Israeli hero to be reburied in Israel” BBC World Service radio, December 4th

Much of that coverage was provided by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly and it once again provided an example of Connolly’s obviously keen interest in history and his ability to produce interesting, impartial and accurate reporting on related topics. Unfortunately though, BBC audiences do not get to read or hear such informative contributions from Kevin Connolly very often.

However, one inaccuracy did appear in an insert to Connolly’s November 30th feature article which profiled two members of the Zion Mule Corps commanded by Patterson.

Insert Connolly patterson article

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Tel Hai

The battle of Tel-Hai on March 1st 1920 was of course not “an early battle of the Arab-Israeli conflict”. Jewish settlement had begun there some fifteen years earlier on land purchased in 1893 by Baron Rothschild and in 1918 it became a kibbutz and was named Tel Hai. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the British withdrew from the area in 1919, handing it over to the French mandate authorities in accordance with agreements between the two powers. Local Arabs loyal to the Arab Kingdom of Syria rebelled against the French and the Jewish farming villages in the Upper Galilee – Metulla, Kfar Giladi, Hamara and Tel Hai – despite remaining neutral in the dispute, became regular targets for pillaging from December 1919 onwards, with two residents of Tel Hai killed in separate incidents in December 1919 and February 1920. The large group of armed Arabs who arrived at the gate of Tel Hai on March 1st 1920 led by Kamal Effendi demanded entry – not for the first time – in order to search for French soldiers. In the ensuing battle, six more residents of Tel Hai were killed, including Joseph Trumpeldor.

Hence, whilst Jews and Arabs were involved in that battle, its simplistic and inaccurate categorisation as part of the Arab-Israeli conflict detracts from the broader historic picture and misleads audiences. 

 

BBC Trust launches public consultation on R4, R5 live and more

The BBC Trust has announced a public consultation relating to four domestic radio stations: Radio 4, Radio 4 extra, Radio 5 live and Radio 5 live sports extra.logos 4 & 5

Members of the public can make submissions to the Trust until February 23rd 2015.

Notably, the consultation does not include the issues of editorial standards and impartiality.

Readers can find more details, including terms of reference and information on how to take part in the consultation here.  

 

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

As we noted here a few weeks ago, the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen recently found time to visit this part of the region for the annual olive harvest. The fruits of his labours will, we are told by the BBC Media Centre, beBowen Olive Wars broadcast to listeners to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday December 7th at 13:30 UK time under the title “Olive Wars”. The BBC’s publicity informs us as follows:

“The BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, shows how the olive harvest lies at the heart of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis for control of the land.

Jeremy has been travelling during the harvest through the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967 and wanted by the Palestinians for a state. He spoke to Palestinian farmers, Jewish settlers, oil exporters and Israeli soldiers, and found that the harvest is about a lot more than olives, or oil, or the soap they make from it.

In a land where everything is politicised, so is the olive harvest. It’s the politics of the struggle for land between the Palestinians and the Israelis who want it, and in that struggle the olive tree has become a potent symbol and the olive harvest has, at times, become a serious flashpoint.

Jeremy, who has been reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1991, finds that the status quo in the West Bank guarantees more bloodshed. He concludes that is not just disastrous for Palestinians and Israelis – at a time when the whole world can feel the impact of the tumult in the Middle East – it’s not good for the rest of the world either.”

Meanwhile, in an interview he recently gave to BuzzFeed about the Syrian civil war, Bowen yet again brought up the unrelated issue of the incident over fourteen years ago in which his Lebanese driver was accidentally killed.

“When asked if he had any regrets about his coverage, Bowen returned to the incident in 2000 when his driver was killed by an Israeli tank attack in Lebanon while Bowen was covering the Israel Defense Forces’ withdrawal from the area.”

Once more, Bowen’s subjective view of the incident he continues to raise in interviews and elsewhere does little to affirm his ability to report accurately and impartially on Israel-related issues. 

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Political messaging and inaccuracies in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’

On December 2nd another edition of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Terror Through Time’ (presented by Fergal Keane) was broadcast under the title “Death Wish: Battling Suicide Bombers“. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Terror Through Time 2 12 14

“Fergal Keane visits Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to discover how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers. He’s joined by Assaf Moghadan, a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, former Israeli Army commander Nitzan Nuriel and by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University.”

The programme begins with a recording of Bill Clinton speaking at the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, after which Keane informs listeners:

“But within months, a new campaign of terrorism was bringing carnage to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…”

Of course the post-Oslo terror campaign also took place in many additional locations in Israel besides its two largest cities, contrary to the inaccurate impression given by Keane. He goes on to interview Israeli film-maker Noam Sharon, stating “I’m here in the Old City of Jerusalem”. In fact, as Sharon states, the interview took place on Yoel Moshe Salomon street, which is not located in the Old City. After Sharon has described some of the suicide bombings which took place in that district in Jerusalem, Keane goes on to interview Assaf Moghadan and then states:Map Yoel Moshe Salomon

“By the 1990s the balance of power among the Palestinians was shifting. Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as militant elements within Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, were opposed to the peace process. Support for a path of violent opposition to Israel would grow sharply in the wake of a massacre of Palestinians carried out at the Cave of the Patriarchs by a Jewish extremist.”

After a recording of an archive news bulletin, Keane once again inadequately introduces political activist cum academic Rashid Khalidi, failing to provide audiences with the crucial background summary of Khalidi’s “viewpoint” which would enable them to put his contribution into its appropriate context.

Keane: “Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University, New York.”

Khalidi: “Suicide attacks were carried out in the wake of the Hebron Mosque massacre – the Haram al Ibrahimi massacre – by Baruch Goldstein in 1994, when dozens of worshippers were gunned down by this armed settler fanatic.”

But do the facts actually support Khalid’s claim? Suicide attacks had in fact already begun in 1989 with the one on the 405 bus carried out by the PIJ. Two attacks were carried out in 1993 by Hamas and in 1994 five attacks by Hamas took place. The years that followed showed a slight decline in suicide attacks – 1995: 4, 1996: 4, 1997: 3, 1998: 2, 1999: 2. The surge in suicide attacks actually came during the second Intifada which began six and a half years after Goldstein’s terror attack at the Cave of the Patriarchs – 2000: 5, 2001: 40, 2002: 47 attacks. Hence, Khalidi’s linkage is doubtful to say the least. Keane goes on to tell listeners:

“Rashid Khalidi says that Palestinian anger over a peace process that failed to stop the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land helped to create support for violent action against Israeli civilians.”

Of course Keane’s blind adoption and amplification of Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative means that he erases from audience view several vital points, one of which is the fact that the representatives of the Palestinian people willingly signed the Oslo Accords in which no limitation on Israeli (or Palestinian) building was stipulated. He also ignores the fact that construction in existing communities took place in Area C which, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords is to have its status determined in final status negotiations, making Keane’s description of that area as “Palestinian land” inaccurate and misleading.

Khalidi: “Instead of punishing the settlers by doing what a majority of his cabinet apparently wanted to do, which was to remove settlers from Hebron and perhaps even remove the Kiryat Arba settlement where the most fanatic, most extreme armed settlers were concentrated, Rabin did quite the opposite. He began the enforcement of incredibly restrictive conditions on the population of Hebron in the area where the Jewish settlers had set up in the city, such that it became clear to the Palestinians that the peace process was not delivering and to settlement and improvement of the situation for Palestinians: quite the contrary.”

Neither Khalidi nor Keane bother to inform listeners that the status of Hebron and the security arrangements there are the product of the Hebron Protocols – again willingly signed by the Palestinian leadership. Clearly that fact does not fit into Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative which portrays Palestinians exclusively as victims.

Keane then goes on to discuss with Ronen Bergman and Nitzan Nuriel Israel’s methods of coping with the wave of suicide bombings during the second Intifada before informing listeners that:

“The most profound, long-term impact was political. Suicide bombing created fear among the Israeli public and a sense of betrayal. Where were the promises of peace, they asked. And so voters gradually turned away from the likes of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak of Labour and towards the right-wing in the form of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. As suicide bombing reached its peak in 2002, Sharon ordered the army into West Bank towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Operation Defensive Shield was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the war of 1967. The compound of PLO leader Yasser Arafat was besieged and according to the United Nations, 497 Palestinians were killed along with 30 Israeli soldiers. Arafat was accused of supporting suicide bombers from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – a faction of his Fatah movement. Human Rights Watch said that while he didn’t have command responsibility, he bore a heavy political responsibility for the atrocities. More than a hundred people died in bomb attacks in Israel from March to May 2002.”

Notably, at no point in this programme is it clarified that Arafat was not only the leader of the PLO, but also the president of the Palestinian Authority. No mention is made of his instigation of the second Intifada and, as we see above, his role in financing that terror war is downplayed to the level of ambiguous “political responsibility”.

After discussing the role of the anti-terrorist fence in reducing suicide bombings with Assaf Moghadan, Keane once again turns his attentions away from counter-terrorism and towards politics.

“But Israel’s politics changed dramatically. The old existential fear dominated and produced governments for whom security – rather than a long-term pact with the Palestinians – became the primary focus. Along with this came the steady expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land: a deep cause of Palestinian fury. For the Palestinian militants, instead of suicide bombers the new terrorism would see hundreds of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.”

So according to Keane’s version of events, it was “Jewish settlements” which caused “fury” which prompted the continuation of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, with the tactic changing from suicide bombings to rockets.

The one major hole in Keane’s inaccurate theory is of course that the majority of the thousands – not “hundreds”- of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip took place after Israel’s disengagement from that territory in 2005 – including the evacuation of all ‘settlements’ – and hence one can in fact see that Keane’s linkage between the Palestinian terror organisations’ activities and ‘settlements’ is fallacious to say the least.

Missile attacks from GS

Keane proceeds with a very odd question:

“As with the airline hijackings of the 1970s, the suicide bombing campaigns focused attention on the Palestinian cause. But did they improve living conditions or bring a Palestinian state any closer?”

Keane gives the last word to Khalidi.

“Well, I would argue that attacks carried out in particular during the second Intifada which began in 2000 – and those attacks really reached a peak in 2001/2002 with bus bombs and other atrocities all over Israeli cities – had a devastating effect on the Palestinians, not only in terms of public opinion but in terms of hardening Israeli opinion against the Palestinians in terms of unifying Israeli opinion around the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics. So their ultimate impact, besides the havoc that the Israeli army wreaked on the Palestinians as part of the re-occupation of the tiny areas that they had originally evacuated as part of the Oslo Accords, the public opinion impact worldwide of the Palestinians blowing up buses – all of these things together in my view had a devastating impact on the Palestinians primarily. Obviously there was enormous suffering caused by the actual attacks, but strategically I would say the balance is entirely in Israel’s favour and that should be a strategic factor for any Palestinian political leader.”

In other words, BBC audiences are left with the message that suicide bombings are undesirable not because they are morally wrong or abhorrent, but because they do not serve the strategic interests of Palestinian public relations. They are also told that Israeli public opinion is ‘unified’ around “the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics” – a claim not borne out by the results of the 2013 elections or those which went before them. Khalidi also erases the fact that Arafat’s campaign of terror actually coincided with an increase in foreign donor contributions to the Palestinian Authority and that continuing terrorism cannot be said to have had a detrimental effect upon the provision of foreign aid funding.

Ostensibly, Fergal Keane set out to explore in this programme “how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers”. What he actually achieved was – once again – uncritical amplification of political messaging from the Rashid Khalidi show. 

 

Overview of BBC reporting on recent violence and terror in Israel

Since late October much of the BBC’s Israel-related subject matter has been focused on the surge in terror attacks and violence, with an integral part of that coverage being ‘explanations’ to BBC audiences of its supposed causes. As was noted in a previous post concerning BBC coverage of the November 18th terror attack in Har Nof, the factors promoted by the BBC as causes for that attack included (in reverse order of frequency) ‘discrimination’ against Arab Jerusalemites, a ‘cycle of violence’, supposed ‘attacks’ on or threats to Al Aqsa Mosque by Jews, the absence of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the Gaza casualty toll of the summer conflict, the campaign for equal prayer rights at Temple Mount and ‘settlements’.

The fact that so many and such varied factors were promoted as being the cause of “tensions” which, according to the BBC led to two Palestinians carrying out a brutal terror attack on early morning worshippers at a synagogue, of course indicates that the promotion of one factor or another in BBC reports depended very much upon the particular journalist.

In contrast, the subject of incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian functionaries and official Palestinian sources was presented uniformly and exclusively in the form of second-hand quotes, with the BBC making no effort whatsoever to independently inform audiences of those factors and their role in the creation of “tensions”.

In this post we will take a broader look at BBC coverage of other incidents which took place between late October and late November and examine the narrative promoted in the reports below.Pigua Jerusalem

October 22nd: terror attack on light rail passengers, Ammunition Hill, Jerusalem.

BBC News website: Jerusalem car ‘attack’ kills baby at rail station  (discussed here)

October 23rd:

BBC News website: Israel’s Netanyahu accuses Abbas over Jerusalem car attack (discussed here)

October 25th:

BBC News website: US urges probe after teenager shot dead in West Bank  (discussed here)

October 26th:

BBC News website: Jerusalem: Palestinian car attack claims second victim (discussed here)

October 29th: shooting of Yehuda Glick in central Jerusalem.Glick art main

BBC News website: Jerusalem holy site closure ‘declaration of war’ – Abbas  (discussed here)

October 30th:

BBC News website & television news: Abbas: Mosque closure a ‘declaration of war’  Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ (discussed here)

October 31st:

BBC News website: Jerusalem holy site is reopened amid tension (discussed here)

November 5th: terror attack on light rail passengers & pedestrians, Shimon Hatsadik, Jerusalem.Pigua 5 11 report

BBC News website: Jerusalem: Palestinian van attack kills policeman  (discussed here)

BBC News website & television news: Driver hits pedestrians in East Jerusalem  Yolande Knell

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ 1 (discussed here)

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ 2 (discussed here)

November 6th:

BBC World Service ‘WHYS’ (discussed here)

November 7th:

BBC News website: Israel to destroy homes of Palestinian Jerusalem attackers  (discussed here)

BBC World Service ‘Outside Source’ (discussed here)

BBC News website: Jerusalem a city on edge as tensions spiral  Yolande Knell (discussed here)

BBC News website & television news: Growing tension at Jerusalem holy site  Yolande Knell

November 8th:

BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (discussed here)

November 10th: terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Gush EtzionTA terror attack bbc report

BBC News website: Israel: Palestinian held as Israeli soldier stabbed and Israeli woman and soldier killed in two knife attacks  (both discussed here)

November 13th:

BBC News website: Jerusalem tension: John Kerry brokers Israel-Jordan talks (discussed here)

November 14th:

BBC News website: Jerusalem tension: Israel ends age limit on holy site access  (discussed here)

November 21st:

BBC News website: Israel: ‘Hamas plot to kill FM Lieberman foiled’  (discussed here)

November 28th:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ (discussed here)

As was the case in BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack, any use of the word terror or its derivatives in the above reports came in the form of quotes from (mostly) Israeli or American officials and in inverted commas. On no occasion did the BBC independently identify the incidents as terror attacks or the perpetrators as terrorists.

Likewise, all mentions of incitement propagated by Palestinian leaders in the above reports were presented to BBC audiences in the form of quotes from Israeli officials: no independent reporting on that issue was provided by the BBC.

In addition to the factors presented as causing “tensions” – and hence terrorism – appearing in the reports on the Har Nof attack, in the reports above a number of additional factors were to be found. On two occasions audiences were told that “tensions” had risen because Israeli security forces had killed Palestinians, on three occasions they were informed that “tensions” had risen because Israel had confiscated or demolished Palestinian homes (with no context provided) and on eleven occasions audiences were told that age restrictions and/or the closure of Temple Mount were the cause of “tensions”.

Once again the prime factor promoted by the BBC as context for the surge in violence and terror attacks was ‘settlements’. Taking the above articles together with the coverage of the Har Nof attack, we see that factor has been promoted by the BBC more than any other. Like the vast majority of the additional factors presented by the BBC, that one too would be perceived by audiences as Israeli action and thus the underlying message is that Palestinian violence and terrorism is attributable to rising “tensions” caused almost exclusively by Israeli actions.

Factors

Another interesting aspect of the framing seen in BBC reporting was that of the use of political labelling – or not. The people (according to the BBC’s narrative) driven to violent rioting and terror attacks on civilians because of “tensions” caused by a campaign for equal prayer rights for non-Muslims at a site holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike – and those inciting them to such actions – were not afforded any kind of political label in any BBC report.

In contrast, the BBC did find it necessary to describe to its audiences on numerous occasions the assumed political affiliations/stances/opinions of the people visiting Temple Mount and/or the people campaigning for equal rights there for people of all faiths, as can be seen in the few examples below.

“Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. Now some right-wing religious groups say Jews should be allowed to pray – a demand which causes anger and unease in the Muslim world.” (source)

“Fears that Israel is set to legislate to remove the ban have led to furious scenes as Palestinian Muslims try to block visits by parties of far-right, religious Jews escorted by Israeli police.

“We love it when it is calm to pray but the Israeli government is not helping the situation by sending right-wing extremists and ministers to visit,” says Omar Kiswani, director of al-Aqsa mosque.”

“On Thursday, a week after the attempted murder of a prominent right-wing Jewish activist, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, there was a rally by his supporters.” (source)

“A Palestinian suspected of shooting and wounding a prominent right-wing activist, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, in Jerusalem at the end of last month was also shot dead in a gun battle with Israeli police.” (source)  

On other occasions, the campaign for equal prayer rights at Temple Mount was inaccurately portrayed as an “Orthodox” issue.  

In earlier reports, audiences were sometimes provided with information about the links of some of the perpetrators to terrorist organisations – although of course they were not described as such. For example:

“Shaloudi was the nephew of a leading bomb-maker from Hamas, the Islamist militant group opposed to Israel, who was killed in the West Bank in 1988.” (source)

“Police say Hejazi belonged to the Islamic Jihad militant group and served time in jail in Israel before being released in 2012.” (source)

“The driver of the van – named as Ibrahim al-Akari – was from Shuafat refugee camp in the east of the city, police said.

His Facebook page states that he is a member of Hamas, and the Twitter account for the group’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, described him as a member and a martyr.” (source)

As time went on, however, those links were downplayed in later reports by means of statements such as the ones below:

“…the attacks appear spontaneous: the acts of individuals, not organisations.” (source)

“BBC Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly says there has been no real pattern to the recent spate of attacks – the attackers appear to have acted suddenly, meaning there is no advance intelligence to forewarn the authorities.” (source)

BBC reporting on the surge of violence and terror during October and November 2014 was largely limited to fatal attacks, with dozens of other non-fatal incidents ignored. As we see, the reports adhered to a specific template which ‘explained’ events by attributing them to “rising tensions” caused almost inevitably by Israeli actions.

For over a month, audiences have been provided with a picture of Israeli action and Palestinian reaction: a narrative which includes no Palestinian responsibility or agency and is carefully framed to exclude one of the story’s most important elements – the crucial issue of the repeated incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian leaders and official organisations, with no independent BBC reporting on that issue having appeared at all to date.

In short, the BBC’s obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues” has once again been trumped by a political narrative.  

Related Articles:

A round up of BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack

 

BBC R 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’ asks a silly question, gets a silly answer

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Terror Through Time’ – presented by Fergal Keane – is back with a new series and its November 24th edition was titled “Mossad: The Wrath of God“.Terror Through Time

The programme’s synopsis states:

“In the first episode of ten examining the world of terrorism in the run-up to 9/11, Fergal Keane asks if the reputation of Mossad has been a help or a hindrance to peace in the Middle East. Has the agency’s ruthlessness destroyed the efforts of moderate voices on both sides or stopped the worst perpetrators of violence in their tracks?”

Leaving aside the fact that (contrary to the asinine suggestion repeatedly promoted by the BBC) “peace in the Middle East” is obviously a much broader issue than the Arab-Israeli conflict, solving that particular conflict is not part of the job description of The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations – or Mossad – and hence that is a rather odd and redundant question to be asking in the first place.

And in fact, Keane does not really ask the question or provide any relevant or enlightening answers to it in his programme. What he does do, however, is to use it as a hook upon which to place some political messaging from a contributor misleadingly (and in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality which demand that the viewpoint of interviewees should be summarised) presented merely as an academic.

Keane: “So is it a successful policy as far as Israel is concerned? Have the assassinations weakened Israel’s enemies? Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s convinced that the killings have fundamentally weakened the political capabilities of the Palestinians.”

Khalidi: “I think it is the case, going back to the 1970s, that what Israel has done in assassinating Palestinian leaders – some of whom are literary figures, some of whom were spokespeople, some of whom were organizational leaders, some of whom were military leaders – has been to decapitate the secular Palestinian movement. If you look at the leadership of Fatah, at least a dozen of the most gifted leaders were murdered: most of them assassinated by the Israelis, some of them unfortunately assassinated by the intelligence services of Arab regimes; whether Syria or Libya or Iraq. And this has had a devastating effect on Fatah and on the PFLP and on other of the groups that make up the PLO. Something of the same sort has happened to Hamas and to Islamic Jihad in the more recent period when they were the ones leading…err….armed resistance and carrying out attacks on Israeli civilian and other targets, such that in a certain sense, the best and the brightest are all six feet under.”

Anyone familiar with Rashid Khalidi’s record of political activism will of course not be in the least bit surprised by his attempt to turn arch-terrorists such as Fatah’s Abu Jihad (Khalil al Wazir), the PFLP-GC’s Ahmed Jibril or Black September leader Ali Hassan Salameh into “the best and the brightest” and “gifted leaders” or by his far-fetched implication that a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has been thwarted by Israeli assassinations of the terrorists who – according to his spurious theory – would have made it happen.

The trouble is that the majority of listeners to BBC Radio 4 will not know who Rashid Khalidi is or what the political motivations inevitably underscoring his commentary entail and hence will be unable to put his words into their appropriate context. The bigger problem is, of course, that the BBC has denied them that ability. 

 

A round up of BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack

The BBC’s coverage of the terror attack in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof on November 18th provides us with an opportunity to take a closer look at how the corporation framed this story across a variety of platforms.

Below is a sample of BBC coverage: obviously it does not include all of the content broadcast across the range of BBC platforms on the two days upon which the story was run.Pigua Har Nof 2

November 18th:

BBC News Website:

Written:

Jerusalem synagogue: Palestinians kill Israeli worshippers    

Profile: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)  (both above are discussed here)

British-born man named as Jerusalem synagogue victim

Jerusalem synagogue: Three victims were US rabbis

As it happened: Jerusalem synagogue attack  live page

Jerusalem attack reflects rising Israeli-Palestinian tension   Jeremy Bowen

Synagogue attack: Netanyahu vow in ‘battle for Jerusalem’ (all of the above are discussed here)

Filmed: (the reports also appeared on BBC television News programmes)

Synagogue victim ‘concerned about radicalisation’  An interview with the cousin of Avraham Goldberg

Israel: ‘No justification for this wanton violence’  Mark Regev

‘Chaotic scenes’ after Jerusalem synagogue attack  Yolande Knell

Jerusalem synagogue attack: ‘We heard a flurry of shots’  Eye witnesses

Israeli Police: ‘Terrorists killed in gun battle’  Micky Rosenfeld

 John Kerry on Jerusalem attack: ‘An act of pure terror’

Hamas spokesperson: ‘Every day Jerusalem is boiling’  Ghazi Hamad (discussed here)

Mustafa Barghouti: ‘Occupation responsible for attack’  (discussed here)

Synagogue attack: Months of tension and revenge attacks  backgrounder  (discussed here)

Television:

Interview with Naftali Bennett (discussed here)

Jerusalem synagogue attack ‘followed months of tension’  Jeremy Bowen

Radio:

BBC Radio 4 – ‘PM’ (discussed here and here)

BBC World Service radio – ‘Newshour’  (edition 1 discussed here, edition 2 discussed here)

November 19th:

BBC News Website:

Written:

Jerusalem attack: Synagogue reopens for worshippers  (discussed here)

Regional media trade blame for Jerusalem attack

Filmed: (also on appeared on BBC television news programmes)

Anger in Jerusalem after deadly synagogue attack  Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

Synagogue attack: Eyewitness describes shootout

Palestinian intifada ‘dangerously close,’ warns former US envoy

Radio:

BBC World Service radio –’Newshour’ (discussed here)Pigua Har Nof 1

One outstanding – although predictable – feature of the BBC’s coverage is that despite the fact that the core story was about a terror attack perpetrated on the congregation of a synagogue, in all of the above reports the word terror and its derivatives were never used directly by the BBC. References to terrorism came only in the form of quotes from Israeli officials (placed in inverted commas by the BBC), from Israeli interviewees or from the US Secretary of State in the filmed report of his statement to the press.

Another remarkable fact is that in seven of the above reports and despite the existence of a pathologist’s report, the BBC nevertheless amplified or allowed the amplification of baseless Palestinian claims that a bus driver who committed suicide the day before the terror attack took place had been murdered by Israelis and presented that as a background factor for the attack.

On the day of the attack itself the BBC saw fit to broadcast interviews with Palestinian officials from several factions – Ghazi Hamad from Hamas, Mustafa Barghouti from the PNI and Hussam Zomlot from Fatah – all of whom were given free rein to promote falsehoods and propaganda, including claims of “attacks” on the Al Aqsa Mosque by Israelis.

The terror attack was presented across the board as being the result of “rising tensions” between Israelis and Palestinians and those tensions were attributed by the BBC to a variety of factors, with more than one usually proffered in each report and some factors emphasized multiple times in a particular item.

Two of the reports suggested that tensions could be explained by “discrimination” against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the issue of their right to Israeli citizenship was inaccurately represented. In three reports audiences were told that rising tensions were the result of “a cycle of violence” which, according to the BBC, began with the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers in June (not stated by the BBC as having been carried out by a Hamas cell) and the later murder of a Palestinian teenager from Shuafat.Pigua Har Nof filmed backgrounder

On five occasions tensions were attributed to the fact that no peace negotiations are currently underway and six reports cited the Palestinian death toll in the summer conflict between Israel and Hamas as a contributing factor but with no information provided to audiences with regard to Hamas’ instigation of that conflict or its strategies – such as the use of human shields – which contributed to the civilian death toll.

The campaign by some Israelis for equal rights of worship for non-Muslims on Temple Mount was cited on ten occasions as causing “tensions” but the BBC elected not to explore the topic of why that should be the case. On five occasions Temple Mount was described by the BBC as a “disputed site” and viewers of BBC television news were even told by Jeremy Bowen that Palestinians are “enraged” by “fears about the future of Aqsa Mosque”, with no attempt to put those “fears” in their correct and factual context.

But the factor most frequently promoted as a cause of “tensions” which purportedly led to the terror attack was what the BBC termed “settlements” or “settler homes”, with that factor being cited on eleven occasions and the district of Silwan once again being specifically named in two reports.

Clearly most of the factors presented were framed as Israeli actions. The overall impression received by audiences therefore was that the “tensions” which lead to Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis are Palestinian reaction to Israeli action.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC’s framing of this story relates to the issue of Palestinian incitement. That factor was mentioned directly in two reports (John Kerry’s statement to the press and the interview with Mark Regev), but not by BBC correspondents. In two additional reports the BBC quoted the Israeli prime minister on the issue of Palestinian incitement. Incitement coming directly from the president of the Palestinian Authority was downplayed and dismissed by Jeremy Bowen and Tim Franks. In the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ listeners heard Yolande Knell paraphrase a supposed Palestinian claim that “Israel is also inciting the violence”.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, BBC audiences have not been informed at all about incitement and glorification of terrorism on the part of PA and Fatah officials (see recent examples here, here and here) and official Palestinian Authority media and institutions (see recent examples here, here, here, here and here). The sole reference to the issue of incitement to appear on the BBC News website in recent months has been an article by BBC Trending titled “The Palestinians calling for the ‘car uprising’” which appeared on November 13th and related to a social media campaign rather than to incitement from official PA sources.

So, whilst BBC audiences were repeatedly told that the “rising tensions” which supposedly led to the terror attack in Har Nof can be attributed to a variety of factors which are mostly – according to the BBC’s portrayal – attributable to Israeli actions, they remained completely ignorant on the issue of the crucial factor of the atmosphere being engineered by the Palestinian Authority and its main party Fatah – also headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

That glaring and continuing omission in BBC coverage can only be attributed to a politically motivated narrative being allowed to trump the corporation’s public purpose remit. 

 

 

 

Religion, political narrative and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’

On November 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ – which claims to address “the religious and ethical news of the week” – included an item (available from 36:45 here) presented in its synopsis as follows:Sunday 23 11

“In the aftermath of the attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem, some politicians have warned against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict developing into a ‘religious war’. This week’s presenter William Crawley examines the latest wave of violence in the region. We also hear from Cardinal Vincent Nichols who has spent the last week on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.”

William Crawley introduced the item thus:

“On Tuesday two young Palestinian men armed with a gun, knives and meat cleavers went on a killing spree in a Jerusalem synagogue, leaving four rabbis and a police officer dead in their wake. Murder and brutality are tragically commonplace in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities have been committed by both sides. But the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn about Tuesday’s attack, in the judgment of the Israeli Justice Minister, is that this conflict over land rights and political identity is now poised to become a full-blown religious war. We’ll explore that claim in a moment.”

After a conversation with Cardinal Vincent Nichols in which the professed subject matter was not ‘explored’, Crawley (at 40:34) moves on to his next guest.

“The Cambridge University historian Dr Wendy Pullan is the author of ‘The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places’. Wendy – good morning to you.”

Dr Pullan’s title could have more accurately been presented to listeners as “Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Architecture“. Significantly, she is also the “principal investigator” at “Conflict in Cities and the Contested State” (a body funded by the ESRC) which, despite its broad title, focuses its attentions mainly upon two cities: Jerusalem and Belfast. Past readers of the Guardian may be familiar with the Israel-related political opinions of Wendy Pullan’s “Conflict in Cities” colleague Mick Dumper and Dr Pullan is apparently also not averse to co-opting the halo of ‘impartial’ academia in order to promote a political narrative, as can be seen in her signed support for the BDS campaign at her university and, for example, her erroneous claim in an article published at ‘Open Democracy’ in 2013 that Israeli construction in the area known as E1 near Ma’ale Adumim “would cut the West Bank in two”. That inaccurate claim was also repeated in a paper presented by Pullan in Ankara in May 2014 within the framework of the UN’s “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, in which the anti-terrorist fence constructed to curb suicide bombings and thus save Israeli lives was described by Pullan in the following words:

“In recent years the world has been transfixed by the extent and audacity of the separation barrier (wall). While not to diminish the extent of the human misery the wall has caused the Palestinians, it is worth noting that this structure is only part of a much larger system that keeps the occupation in place, resulting from harsh closure policies that have cut off Palestinian Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the West Bank. Effectively, the wall is a very visible ‘tip of the ice-berg’. Although the introduction of an eight-metre high wall that separates mostly Palestinians from Palestinians is a shocking spectacle repeatedly used in the media, we know from Berlin that walls can come down.” [emphasis added]

The conversation which took place in the Radio 4 programme is therefore best taken in the context of Wendy Pullan’s obvious political motivations. They, however, were not revealed to the programme’s listeners – in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality.

Crawley: “Let’s go to this claim of a developing religious war; to what extent to you buy into that analysis?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I don’t buy into it in the way it’s being portrayed by the various political leaders and then picked up by the press. I think that religion has played a role in this conflict for many decades but its role is not particularly new at this point.”

Crawley: How do we separate out a conflict with religious dimensions from a religious war? What’s the definition of that?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think that the many different aspects to this conflict that have a lot to do with national identity and a very prolonged occupation and that these will always figure in the conflict itself. It’s over land, it’s over rights, it’s over identity. Now religion obviously has a role in all of that but I don’t think it’s the only role. Whereas a religious war will normally be fighting only in the name of religion; where all of the other aspects just fall by the wayside.”

Crawley: “So you’re calming down the rhetoric but let’s come to Jerusalem – a city you know very well; you lived there yourself for thirteen years. That city is so key to the peace process at this point. Why is it always such a sticking point?”

Pullan: “Well it’s a sticking point because it’s coveted by many different groups of people. And the…in a lot of ways the occupation comes to a head there. Jerusalem is highly symbolic. I mean when I say this isn’t a religious war, it doesn’t mean that religion is unimportant. It is the centre for three major monotheistic faiths. So it’s the natural place to play out the conflict. On the other hand, it’s coveted as a capital for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Crawley: “And the fact that it has so many sacred sites is significant because sacred sites don’t cease to be sacred for future generations.”

Pullan: “No, the sacred sites…once a sacred site is numinous it usually continues to be numinous and certainly the area that the Jews know as Temple Mount and the Muslims know as Haram al Sharif is an area that’s gone back and forth in different hands and so on. But it’s remained holy, although this has been manifested in different sorts of ways.”

Crawley: “Very briefly, Wendy, what do you think it would take to calm down some of these tensions at the minute?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think it needs political savvy and sensitivity. I mean one of the things that we find over the years in Jerusalem is that political expression for a long time was not tolerated. Religious expression was.”

The conversation ends there, but obviously the take away message for audiences is that there is no need to worry about a religious war in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That clearly erroneous conclusion ignores both history and current events, as Dr Jonathan Spyer noted in a recent article well worth reading in full.SONY DSC

“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion”.”

So why did a religious affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 seek to brush aside the veteran religious component in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Well, clearly one answer to that may be that the promotion of a ‘black and white’ political narrative of the kind advanced by Dr Pullan and her colleagues becomes significantly more complicated if Western audiences are informed of the conflict’s religious dimensions.