Additions to stock BBC euphemisms for terrorist

On September 8th 2013 the BBC News website’s Middle East page offered visitors the opportunity to read a story headlined “Egypt army attacks Sinai militants”. 

HP attacks sinai militants

The link leads to a report now titled “Egypt army launches offensive against Sinai militants” but which originally ran under the same title as that homepage headline. Over the weekend that article was the most read of all the reports on the Middle East page.

Most popular

Confusingly, readers may also have come across another article at a different URL titled “Egyptian army bombards Sinai militants” which, despite having been last updated some five hours after the initial publication of the other article on the same subject, appears to have run alongside it for some time. 

Egypt bombards

Whilst the BBC’s usual practice of using the euphemism ‘militants’ to describe armed terrorists continues in the version of the report now appearing on the Middle East homepage, we also see some interesting additions to the terminology employed.

“A security official said “dozens” of insurgent suspects had been wounded in the attack.”

Rebel fighters in the region can threaten Israeli cities with long-range rockets. Weapons are being trafficked across the desert from Sudan and Libya into the Hamas-run Gaza.” [emphasis added]

The Oxford Dictionary defines the noun ‘rebel’ as:

“a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader”

And it defines ‘insurgent’ as:

“a person fighting against a government or invading force; a rebel or revolutionary”

Of course terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsula has been going on whilst three different ruling bodies were in power in Egypt – the Mubarak regime, the Morsi government and most recently the current Egyptian army-led administration. The terrorists operating in Sinai are therefore ill-defined as ‘rebels’ or ‘insurgents’: their activity is obviously not dependent upon a specific Egyptian government or leader being in power and the religious dimension to their ideology is not adequately reflected by the use of those terms. 

Interestingly, the BBC’s version of the story completely neglects to reflect the links or affiliations of what it at best terms “Islamist militants” in Sinai to Al Qaeda or to mention the presence of foreign terrorists in Sinai and once again the connection between terrorism in Sinai and the Gaza Strip is erased from the picture presented to BBC audiences.


Which themes got most exposure on the BBC News website in August?

The volume of articles concerning Israel which appear consistently on the BBC News website has been recorded over the last six months in our series of articles titled “BBC Israel focus in numbers”. There we record not only the appearance of an article, but also its exposure in terms of the number of days it is left up on the webpage. A closer look at the exposure of some of the articles published throughout the month of August 2013 suggests an interesting trend. 

The longest time any Israel-related article was left up on the Middle East homepage was eight days, with four articles falling into that category, including Jon Donnison’s attempt to persuade readers that Gaza has “some of the highest population densities in the world” which was discussed here. Two other articles which appeared on the website for eight consecutive days were Jonathan Marcus’ “Does Middle-East peace process matter?”  and Bethany Bell’s “Scepticism all round amid renewed Mid-East peace talks”

The fourth article left up for eight days was titled “Palestinian shot dead by Israeli troops on Gaza border” . Another article about an incident in Jenin, titled “Palestinian killed in Israeli raid in West Bank” , was left up on the webpage for seven consecutive days whilst the report on the riots in Qalandiya headlined “Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli police” was viewable for three days running.

A report titled “Israeli jets bomb Lebanon target after rocket strike” was viewable on the Middle East homepage for six consecutive days. In contrast, the BBC report on the missile fire which caused the Israeli response only appeared on the website for a matter of hours. 

A report on the closure of Eilat airport due to security assessments stayed on the website for two days whilst another article about an air-strike against terrorists in Sinai was viewable for seven consecutive days.

Here at BBC Watch we have frequently remarked on the BBC’s tendency to fail to report many if not most of the terror attacks – attempted and executed – against Israeli civilians. But according to the statistics for August, it appears that even when the BBC does report on threats or attacks against Israelis, those reports are given less exposure than articles dealing with Israeli responses to terror attacks or Israeli counter-terrorism activities in which there are Palestinian casualties. We will of course continue to monitor this apparent trend.

A great deal of the Israel-related content which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page during August was connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Three main categories of subject matter – often all appearing in the same report – can be identified: the issue of the talks themselves, the accompanying ‘goodwill gesture’ release of 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorist acts and the subject of Israeli construction which the BBC promoted vigorously throughout the month as ‘sabotaging’ the renewed talks – even though that was clearly not the case. 

Articles about the talks themselves included “Livni urges Israel coalition to support peace talks” which appeared on the website for three days and “Israel-Palestinian peace talks to resume in Jerusalem” which includes standard BBC presentations of the subject of Israeli building and ran for two days. The backgrounder titled “Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem“, which also presents Israeli construction as ‘sabotaging’ talks, ran for two days on the Middle East homepage and an article called “Israel-Palestinian peace talks resume in Jerusalem” likewise including promotion of the same theme appeared for four consecutive days. 

Articles about the prisoner release included “Israel names 26 Palestinian prisoners for release” which ran for one day and “Profiles of Palestinian prisoners set to be released” which likewise ran for one day – but not on the Middle East page. Also appearing for one day was the article titled “Palestinian prisoners ‘moved’ before Israel release” which actually devoted the majority of its content to the subject of Israeli building tenders.  That subject also appeared in Kevin Connolly’s “Little hope for talks among Israelis and Palestinians” which ran for three consecutive days.

Other reports promoting the theme of construction in neighbourhoods the BBC describes as “settlements” as a threat to peace talks included “Israel widens Jewish settlement subsidies” which ran on the Middle East page for five consecutive days, “Israel backs new Jewish settlement homes” which ran for several hours before being replaced with “New West Bank settlement homes anger Palestinians” which ran for one day and “Kerry: Israeli settlements move was expected” which appeared for two days. 

Thus we see that audience exposure to written articles promoting the notion of Israeli construction as a threat to peace talks throughout August was considerably greater than, for example, exposure to the issue of terror as an obstacle to peace. Obviously, the BBC’s reputation for impartiality depends not only upon actual written or spoken content, but also on the editorial decisions behind the prioritising of some reports over others. 

Related articles:

Filmed reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page in August

BBC Israel focus in numbers – August 2013

Filmed reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page in August

Our monthly count of Israel-related articles and comparison with the amount of exposure given to other countries in the region on the BBC News website’s Middle East page relates to written articles only. Also featured on the same webpage, under the heading “Watch/Listen”, are filmed reports which previously appeared on BBC television news.

During the month of August, a total of twelve such reports relating to Israel appeared on the Middle East page and they are categorized here according to the number of days they were left up on the site. 

Appeared for one day:

Kerry hopeful on Mid-East talks despite settlement move


Appeared for two days:

Syria crisis: Israelis queue for gas masks – Richard Galpin.

Galpin gas masks

Israel frees Palestinian prisoners – Yolande Knell – discussed here.

Knell prisoner release

Israel frees Palestinian prisoners – Yolande Knell – discussed here.

Knell prisoner release 2

Shimon Peres: ‘Live in peace side by side’


Israel’s President Shimon Peres turns 90 – Lyse Doucet. 

Peres 90 Doucet

Appeared for three days:

Israeli hospital treats Syrian war-wounded – Sam Farah – discussed here.

Syrian wounded

Appeared for four days:

Would new Israeli ports bring efficiency or job losses? – Jonathan Frewin.

Ports Jonathan Frewin

Why Mid-East peace talks now? – Bethany Bell – discussed here. Originally posted in July, continued to run in August. 

Bell talks

Appeared for five days:

‘Last airlift’ of Ethiopian Jews to Israel – Emily Thomas. Still on the website at the time of writing.

Ethiopian new immigrants

New Israeli settlement homes anger Palestinians - Kevin Connolly – discussed here.

Connolly construction

Appeared for six days:

Palestinian prisoner release highlights divisions – Kevin Connolly – discussed here.

Connolly prisoner release

As we see, more than half of these filmed reports are connected to the subject of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians and in terms of exposure, that issue was the subject matter of two of the longest running reports. Seven of the items promote the theme of Israeli construction as ‘sabotaging’ or jeopardizing the talks (which was a major theme on the BBC News website throughout August) and the BBC-written synopsis of the report featuring Shimon Peres’ speech does the same. The total number of days the eight articles promoting that theme remained on the website is twenty-four. 

BBC showcases convicted anti-Israel activist in context-free illustration

On July 31st 2013 an article by Bethany Bell titled “Scepticism all round amid renewed Mid-East peace talks” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section on the Middle East Page of the BBC News website. 

F and A Bell article hp

Bell’s article is of little interest, being nothing more than a collection of ‘he said, she said’ beachcombed from other media outlets and hearsay, and with the usual BBC euphemisms used to describe a terrorist organization.

“Many Palestinians are deeply sceptical about the prospects for peace, both in the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas is in power, and in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.” [emphasis added]

To her credit, however, Bell does at least mention the Hamas Charter:

“Under its charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. It has repeatedly condemned efforts for peace.”

But what really stands out about this article is the choice of photograph used to illustrate it. 

bell article abu rahma

That picture is over five and a half years old, having been taken in December 2007 in Bil’in.

Source pic abu rahma

The person on the right is prominent anti-Israel campaigner Adib (also spelt Adeeb) Abu Rahma (also spelt Rahmeh) who has played a lead role (literally) in the weekly violent demonstrations in Bil’in and appears extensively in the film ‘Five Broken Cameras’. Abu Rahma’s deliberate, and sometimes violent, provocation of Israeli soldiers guarding the fence at Bil’in is extremely well documented.  

abu rahma 1

abu rahma 2

abu rahma 3

In 2009/10 Abu Rahma – a taxi driver and father of nine who is a member of Bil’in’s ‘Fence Committee’ – spent 18 months in detention after having been convicted of incitement to violence and disturbing the public order, among other things. Ironically, filmed footage of Abu Rahma’s actions – shot by the co-director of ‘Five Broken Cameras’, Emad Burnat - was instrumental in his conviction.

The BBC, however, does not trouble its audiences with the all-important background to this picture: it presents it out of context as a representation of ‘the conflict’, when in fact it is an illustration of Palestinian provocation through amateur dramatics.

But of course what readers are supposed to take away after viewing this BBC-selected image is the simplistic impression of unarmed Palestinian civilians up against armed Israeli soldiers: an impression of an imbalanced conflict. And that is the overall narrative which the BBC promotes in words and by omission, as well as through the use of selected images.  


What are BBC audiences being told about ME talks?

The July 30th edition of BBC News website’s Middle East page promotes a filmed report entitled “Why Mid-East peace talks now?” in two of its sections. 


Bell MEPT filmed

Contrary to the impression viewers might receive, this report by Bethany Bell was not made for CBeebies, but was broadcast on BBC television news programmes aimed at adult audiences.

Bell informs her audiences that:

“The Americans are worried that time is running out for peace as more Jewish settlements are built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.” [emphasis added]

The jaded chimera of “time running out for peace” is of course an empty cliché which has been repeatedly promoted by assorted actors for over two decades, but apparently that fact does not stop the BBC’s new Jerusalem correspondent from offering up her own particular contribution to the altar of that myth. 

Neither does it seem that Ms Bell is particularly interested in accurately reporting on the subject of the building of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. She obviously has difficulty in distinguishing between “Jewish” and Israeli – despite that subject having been addressed in the BBC’s recently updated version of its “Key Terms” guide.


Be careful over whether you mean ‘Israeli’ or ‘Jewish’: the latter might imply that the story is about race or religion, rather than the actions of the state or its citizens.”

Bell also misleads audiences with regard to the location of building itself, which of course takes place within the municipal boundaries of existing towns and villages and not – as Bell’s report clearly suggests – on new sites.

Bell’s use of the phrase “occupied Palestinian land” is obviously both inaccurate and partial as the land in question is subject to final status negotiations according to agreements signed by the Palestinians themselves and was never “Palestinian”, but previously under illegal Jordanian occupation for 19 years, before that part of the British-administered Mandate established by the League of Nations and prior to that, part of the Ottoman empire for four hundred years.

So that’s three politically motivated deliberate inaccuracies and a myth in one sentence from a journalist charged with ensuring that BBC audiences remain informed about the Middle East. And it does not get any better: next Bell tries to co-opt her viewers to the plainly ridiculous notion that an Israeli – Palestinian peace settlement is at the epicentre of the Middle East as a whole. Apparently without realizing the comedy value of her words, she begins by telling audiences:

“And they’re [the Americans] concerned that Israel is getting more and more isolated in an increasingly volatile and unstable Middle East.”

After showing footage of the civil war in Syria and the unrest in Egypt, Bell goes on to opine that:

“Progress on the Israeli – Palestinian issue would bring some welcome stability to the region.”

Later in the report Bell does a couple of ‘standing on a hill overlooking the subject matter’ shots. With the Gaza Strip in the background she  talks about the euphemistically-termed “Islamist group Hamas” and with Jerusalem as her backdrop she gives audiences a dumbed-down caricature laced with obviously politically motivated equivalence.

“The issues at stake have eluded solution for years. One of the most difficult is this place – the Old City of Jerusalem with its holy sites – claimed by both sides.”

The renewal of talks provides ample opportunities for journalists to offer serious, in-depth information and analysis on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the peace process for audiences in the United Kingdom and around the world. Sadly, it seems that the BBC is not interested in making the most of those opportunities in order to meet its designated public purpose of providing it funders with “high-quality coverage of global issues in its news and current affairs and other output for the UK”.

 Instead, the best the BBC can do is to resurrect a standard set of dumbed-down, tired narratives which are so transparently politically motivated as to border on the cartoonish and which fail to conform to its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, making a mockery out of its professed aspiration “to remain the standard-setter for international journalism”.


BBC’s Bell suggests Maccabiah Games are racist

Participation in some international sporting events is conditioned on geography – for example the Pan-American Games, the All-African Games or the Pacific Games. The right to take part in the Commonwealth Games depends on historical and cultural alliances and in the Youth Olympic Games participation is limited by age. The Pan-Arab Games are open to athletes from predominantly Muslim Arab countries.  

As far as this writer is aware, it has not occurred to the BBC to imply to its audiences that controversy surrounds – or should surround – any of those sporting events due to the non-inclusion of participants who do not meet their specific criteria. 

So consider the following passage from a July 27th article about the Maccabiah Games by Bethany Bell which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

“While a handful of Israeli Arabs take part in the games, this is an overwhelmingly Jewish event, something that the Israeli sports commentator Ron Kofman has criticised.

“If there is a sports event, everyone who wants to come should come, from Morocco, from Tunisia, from Kuwait, from Iran, from Iraq,” Mr Kofman says. “It’s sport. There’s no room for religion or race in sports.” “

Whether or not Bell is familiar with the ‘colourful’ reputation of the one sports journalist she elected to showcase and quote in this article is unclear, but certainly she appears to be treading a path already well-worn by other BBC journalists by using the subject of sport as a springboard from which to try to influence audience perceptions of Israel.

Groundwork and maintenance on BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’

The June 13th 2013 edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the World Service – included an item by Bethany Bell (usually to be found in Vienna) reporting from the Golan Heights and a second item from Yolande Knell in the Gaza Strip.

The programme can be heard here, or as a podcast here. Bell’s report begins at 06:16 and Knell’s at 17:04. 

FOOC cherries Golan & Gaza

Concurrently, an article based on Bell’s report appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on June 14th, as well as on its Middle East page. 

cherries Golan Bell

Bell’s report focuses on the residents of the four Druze villages in the northern Golan Heights, currently busy with the cherry picking season. Like most journalistic forays into the area it presents a monochrome picture of the Golan’s Druze community, putting the accent upon their self-identification with Syria and – in the majority of cases – their support for the Assad regime, but obviously without understanding the background to those factors. Bell says: SONY DSC

“Traditionally the Druze have had close religious and political ties to the family of the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. The secretive Druze religion, like Mr Assad’s Alawite sect, draws on branches of Shia Islam and strong Syrian nationalism has tended to mean loyalty to the Assads.”

Bell makes little attempt to dig deeper, apart from her brief paraphrasing of one interviewee.

“But lots of people in the Golan are still in the middle and they’re too frightened to take part in [anti-Assad] protests they’ve seen here because they’re worried that could hurt their relatives in Syria.”

Listeners to Bell’s report are left in ignorance of the fact that a proportion of the Druze living in the northern Golan already hold Israeli citizenship and that those numbers have risen since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. They are not told of economic aspects such as the free tuition in Syrian universities which the Golan Druze have enjoyed for years or that Druze apple farmers, who were convinced this last season that they were going to be left with a business-destroying glut of fruit, were surprised and relieved when the Assad regime once again purchased their produce despite the ongoing civil war. Neither does Bell appear to be in the least bit curious about the wider connections of the minority of activists who openly oppose the Assad regime.

Having laid the groundwork for homogeneous BBC audience impressions of ‘occupied Syrians’ on Israel’s north-eastern border, the programme later moves on to the job of maintaining existing impressions about its south-western one with Yolande Knell’s report from the Gaza Strip. 

In that report audiences hear an introduction by presenter Kate Adie in which she says:

“Thousands of Palestinians marched from Gaza City to close to the Israeli border the other day to demand the liberation of east Jerusalem which was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.”

The event to which Adie refers was actually one of the events organised by the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ campaign: a conglomeration of Islamists from Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime, among others, but Adie’s reference to the event fails to inform listeners of that fact.

Adie also states in her introduction that:

“Israel continues to impose sanctions on Gaza. The blockade limits the movement of goods in and out of the Strip.”

Yolande Knell, however, opens her report with a tale of KFC fast food smuggled into the Gaza Strip from El Arish in Egypt and Hamas limitations on that enterprise – neither of which of course have anything whatsoever to do with Israel. But Knell is soon back on target, with references to “daily hardship” and “food rations” and explaining to listeners that:

“Their struggle’s largely caused by border restrictions that were tightened by Israel and Egypt in 2007 when Hamas – which refuses to recognise Israel – took control here.”

Knell’s meticulous airbrushing of the very significant subject of terrorism out of the picture continues throughout her report, compromising its impartiality and accuracy. Later Knell says:

“While border restrictions have been reduced, there are still regular power cuts and a ban on most exports. This constricts industry and unemployment is high at around 30%.”

The power cuts in fact have their roots in Hamas policies dating back to 2011:

“Meanwhile, Hamas has stopped buying fuel for the Gaza power plant from the Palestinian Authority. The fuel, which was itself purchased by the PA from Israel, is believed to have been replaced by a steady supply of fuel smuggled in from Egypt through the Rafah tunnels.

This is a significant coup for Hamas, from an economic point of view.

Hamas previously received 150,000 liters of fuel per day from Israel, via the Palestinian Authority.”

That Hamas plan went sour when Egypt began clamping down on smuggling through the tunnels, but Western journalists such as Knell still insinuate that power cuts in the Gaza Strip are Israel’s fault.  Likewise, Knell’s banal claim that “most exports” are “banned” is simply a fabrication and fails to provide listeners with the context of the effects of terror activity upon the crossings. 

Knell employs the same policy of omission of context in her story of Gazans “playing football on a field partly obliterated by an Israeli air strike” – without clarifying whether that same football field was one of those used to launch missiles at Israeli civilians. Her tales of “classic cars repaired for everyday use” and “Gazans resorting to donkeys when their cars ran out of fuel” naturally omit any mention of the latest craze for brand new Chinese cars in the Gaza Strip.

But Knell’s aim in this report is very clear: what listeners are supposed to go away with is not accurate and impartial insight into the situation in the Gaza Strip or new knowledge about it, but the much peddled emotion-directed message that:

“Gaza specializes in tales of creativity in overcoming adversity.”

Knell’s final story is that of Mohammad Assaf – a contestant in the ‘Arab Idol’ reality show who Knell claims is “a new hero” in the Gaza Strip, describing his participation in the show “another triumph in tough times”. Naturally, Knell avoids any mention of the fact that Assaf’s song, which she reports as being extremely popular in Gaza, eradicates Israel from the map of the Middle East. 

“Oh flying bird, circling round, 
My eyes protect you and Allah keeps you safe 
By Allah, oh traveling [bird], I burn with envy 
My country Palestine is beautiful 
Turn to Safed and then to Tiberias, 
And send regards to the sea of Acre and Haifa 
Don’t forget Nazareth – the Arab fortress, 
And tell Beit Shean about its people’s return 
By Allah, oh traveling [bird], I burn with envy 
My country Palestine is beautiful.” 

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ claims to offer:

“Insight, wit and analysis as BBC correspondents, journalists and writers take a closer look at the stories behind the headlines.”

Neither of these items by Bell and Knell meets that description. In fact, both reports actually do more to hinder audience insight than to promote it. There is something fundamentally disturbing and condescending about the attempts by Yolande Knell – and to a lesser extent, Bethany Bell – to shoehorn local populations in the Middle East into their own pre-existing tendentious narratives either by deliberate omission of context in the case of the former, or a lack of curiosity to look beyond the obvious in the case of the latter. That is made even more grave by the fact that these are journalists supposedly obliged to adhere to standards of accuracy and impartiality.