No follow-up from BBC on Bat Yam bus bombing

Readers will no doubt remember the attempted bus bombing in Bat Yam on December 22nd in which disaster was narrowly averted due to alert passengers and prompt action on the part of the bus driver and the fact that it took the BBC News website twenty-three hours to report on that incident at the time. 

On January 2nd 2014 Israeli security forces announced the arrests of suspects in connection with that terror attack. The four main suspects are from the Bethlehem area and are members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with one of them also being a member of the PA security forces. 

“The four Islamic Jihad operatives were named as Yosef Salamah, 22, Sahaha Tamari, 24, Hamadi Tamari, 21 and Sami Harimi, 20. Sahaha and Hamadi Tamari, brothers, have both served time in Israeli prisons, and Salamah is a Palestinian Authority police officer.”

The Jerusalem Post reports:

“The bomb was created by the Hamadi brothers and Yosef Salamah. They used 2 kg of improvised explosives, nails and screws and attached it to a cellular operating system for remote operation.

The bomb was delivered to Harimi, hidden inside in a black handbag. On the morning of December 22 Harimi traveled to the southern Hebron hills and illegally crossed over the border to Israel.

Harimi then got into the car of a Bedouin Israeli citizen and was driven, along with other men that had crossed with him, to Jaffa. After praying in a mosque, Harimi got on the Dan bus line 240, put the bomb in the center of the bus and got off the bus. A few minutes later he called the cellular device attached to the bomb to set it off.

During his interrogation Harimi, who was arrested in Bethlehem on December 26, stated his intention to commit a larger act of terror in the Tel Aviv area around the same time period. His arrest prevented him from doing so.

During the interrogation of Hamadi, police uncovered 20 kg of explosives near his home.”

To date, the BBC News website has not reported this development to the story it belatedly covered two weeks ago.

Also on the evening of January 2nd, the first missile attack from the Gaza Strip in 2014 (and the second of the week) was launched, hitting the Sdot Negev area. The Israeli air-force responded by targeting a terror infrastructure site and rocket launching sites. Earlier in the evening, a group of Gaza Strip residents approached the border fence and tried to damage it

“A group of suspects had approached a buffer zone near the fence from the Gaza side and were attempting to damage it, an IDF spokesperson told AFP, adding that after “numerous” warnings to desist, “soldiers then resorted to aiming fire at the individuals’ lower extremities,” and reported “one hit.”

A Hamas official later confirmed that a 16-year old male was wounded in the leg during the incident and had been hospitalized in moderate condition.”

That latest missile fire has also not been reported by BBC News, even though it is clearly aware of the incident. 

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BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

A filmed report from Bethlehem by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell – titled “Christmas eve celebrations in Bethlehem’s Manger Square” – which was broadcast on BBC television news, also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on December 24th. 

Knell Bethlehem

Knell starts off well enough, describing the scene to viewers. However the item takes a different turn when studio presenter Nik Gowing says:

“Yolande, I hope you can hear me. What about security and the practicalities of getting to Bethlehem? After all, emm, there is a significant amount of building around where you are at the moment. The reality has changed quite significantly in recent years.”

Knell replies:

“That’s correct. In the Bethlehem Governorate there are more than twenty Pal..err…Israeli settlements and now Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. It appears as a high concrete wall around Bethlehem and the people here complain that it has strangled their economy. Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab. For Christmas though, there are three gates that open up, enabling the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city and so this does open up the city and it makes it a joyful occasion in that way as well.”

Let’s take that one claim at a time.

The ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ is an entity arbitrarily created by the Palestinian Authority. The area which the PA claims as the ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ does not however include areas exclusively under the control of the PA – i.e. districts falling into the categories of Area A or B according to the Oslo Accords – but also includes (as do other ‘Governorates’) large parts of Area C, which is currently under Israeli control according to the agreements willingly signed by the Palestinians and the status of which is to be determined under final status negotiations according to the terms of those same Oslo Accords.  Hence, according to the narrative adopted and propagated by Yolande Knell, the area of Gush Etzion also falls within the ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ in much the same way as, say, Gibraltar falls within the ‘Algeciras Governorate’. 

Of course Knell conveniently neglects to inform viewers that Jewish communities existed on Jewish-owned land in Gush Etzion long before 1948 and that those communities were destroyed, massacred and ethnically cleansed by British financed, equipped and led Jordanian troops.

What about Knell’s claim of “a high concrete wall around Bethlehem”? Audiences will naturally understand “around” to mean – as it does in the English language – encircling, on every side. However the anti-terrorist fence does not encircle Bethlehem – it is located to its north and west as can be seen on the UN-produced map below.

Bethlehem map 2

And is the section of the fence near Bethlehem “a high concrete wall” as Knell claims? Well, apart from one small section, no. On the map below, concrete sections of the anti-terrorist fence are marked with yellow and grey stripes whilst parts made of wire fencing appear in purple and the orange section represents road protection from sniper attacks. 

Bethlehem map 3

Predictably, Knell also inserts the problematic standard BBC ‘impartiality box-ticker’ which we recently discussed on these pages.

“Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab.”

And what of Knell’s claim that special Christmas arrangements “open up the city”? Well there are buses which run from Jerusalem to Bethlehem every day and the crossing is open 24 hours a day, so clearly the city is already open.  

As we see, in a report lasting less than one and a half minutes, Yolande Knell has managed to exploit Christmas Eve in Bethlehem in order to mislead, lie and promote her all too transparent political agenda to millions around the world. And as if that is not bad enough, the BBC News website went on to make sure that anyone who missed the televised version will catch it online by featuring the video for a second time in a written report titled “Bethlehem: Christmas crowds gather in town” and stating in the text:

“Despite the erection of Israel’s separation barrier with the West Bank, which appears as a high concrete wall around the town, three gates have been opened for Christmas to allow the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]

Thanks to Knell, BBC News and BBC Online, the BBC Trust’s claim that “BBC News aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” is exposed for the corny pound shop Christmas cracker joke it is.  

Related articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 3

‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

One of the less attractive features of the Christmas season in recent years has been its exploitation by politically motivated NGOs as a spring-board for augmented delegitimisation of Israel, with a dominant feature of those opportunistic campaigns being the deliberate conflation of present day Palestinians with the characters depicted in the Christmas story. For example, in recent years some charities have been selling blatantly political Christmas cards which portray Joseph and Mary as Palestinians and one-sided inaccurate representations of the anti-terrorist fence feature widely in seasonal merchandise. 

Here are two Christmas cards being promoted this year – along with other products – by the Amos Trust.

Christmas merchandise 1

Christmas merchandise 2

Here is one item from what ‘War on Want’ describes as its range of “ethical” products on sale this year.

Christmas merchandise 3

Here is another Christmas card produced by ‘War on Want’ a few years ago.

Christmas merchandise 4

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign is currently marketing the following items.

Christmas merchandise 5

Christmas merchandise 6

This time of year also often sees members of the international media amplifying the same memes as those promoted by anti-Israel campaigners, with the BBC unfortunately being no exception. Christmas Eve of 2011, for example, saw Jon Donnison piling on the pathos in a reworking of the well worn ‘Bethlehem shepherds’ theme on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme and on the same day the BBC News website published a particularly egregious example of campaigning propaganda produced by Yolande Knell under the transparent title of “Bethlehem’s modern-day nativity characters“. 

Knell article Bethlehem nativity

In its editorial guidelines on the subject of reporting terrorism, the BBC declares:

“We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments….”

No less a threat to the BBC’s impartiality is the adoption of the trite and jaded memes to be found among the arsenal of some of the most unabashed anti-Israel campaigners. Let’s hope that this year the BBC can resist the temptation to fall back on that default option and perhaps even come up with some original, interesting and cliché free reporting.

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Opportunity knocks for BBC’s Donnison in Bethlehem

BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive


Opportunity knocks for BBC’s Donnison in Bethlehem

The BBC’s Jon Donnison was to be found in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and – as may be expected – coverage of the Christmas celebrations there could not pass without a degree of political opportunism. 

In the Middle East section of the BBC News website appears a report entitled “Christmas celebrated around the world” which has undergone numerous changes since it first appeared. The report states that:

“The patriarch, who was born in Jordan, led a symbolic procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to the West Bank city, passing through the separation barrier and checkpoint built by the Israelis.”

As usual, no context is provided as to the reasons for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence or the continued need for checkpoints. 

In the short film footage which accompanies the report (also available here and broadcast on BBC TV), Jon Donnison states:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

In some of his other reports for domestic British television, Donnison expanded on that theme, with the following being one of the milder examples: 

“Jon Donnison: Few places do Christmas better than Bethlehem. Palestinian marching bands were up early to start the celebrations. Santa, very much at home here, with no shortage of helpers and all on hand to welcome thousands of Christian pilgrims.

 Tourist: I come from London – Elephant and Castle – and have come to Bethlehem to experience the birth of Jesus Christ all over again.

JD: And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.

Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem: Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

Of course Bethlehem has not been ‘occupied’ for a full seventeen years as it came under the control of the Palestinian Authority on Christmas Eve 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords, but no correction to that effect is offered by the BBC.

Neither does Donnison bother to point out that one of the immediate effects of last month’s decision by Hamas to fire long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was a wave of cancellations from tourists planning to visit the region, with some cancelling reservations made for as far ahead as next spring. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Christmas tourism sector should be affected too, although we are unlikely to hear the Mayor of Bethlehem discussing Hamas’ part in reducing tourism to her town.

Neither will Ms. Baboun – or Jon Donnison – elaborate on the fact that incidents such as the one which took place on December 18th in which locals in Hebron attacked a tourist bus with rocks, as well as the recent rise in the number of attacks with stones and Molotov cocktails on drivers in Judea & Samaria in general and the presence of terror cells in the region, are hardly conducive to a thriving tourist industry.  

Rather than doing any real investigative journalism into the ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ attitude of the Palestinian Authority towards its tourism industry, it is much easier to just to tap into existing stereotypes and blame a non-existent ‘occupation’ instead. 

Interestingly though, a recent article in The Independent (of all places!) painted a somewhat less monotone picture of Bethlehem’s economy. 

“After years of financial depression amid violent confrontation with Israel, the West Bank city of Bethlehem is celebrating the beginnings of an economic revival.

The ancient city, built around the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square that marks the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born, has recently been re-energised by a combination of overseas investment, micro-finance initiatives and a record-breaking tourism rush.”

The phenomenon of Western reporters suddenly flocking to Bethlehem around Christmas time is nothing new. Neither is their repeated use of the ‘season of goodwill’ to paint trite, one-dimensional pictures of Israeli ‘oppression’ of a wonderful multi-culti Palestinian society anything other than tediously predictable, with those messages of course enabled and cultivated by Palestinian Authority PR operations. Such reporting too often puts new meaning into the words of the familiar Christmas carol about the little town of Bethlehem: “How (come) still we see thee lie”. 

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the BBC adhere to its remit of increasing its audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the world by just sticking to the subject matter of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem rather than succumbing to the temptation to broadcast opportunistic political propaganda? 

BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive

You can always tell that Christmas is on the horizon by the fact that as the nights get longer, Western journalists suddenly develop an interest in Christianity in the Middle East. To his credit, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly at least refrained from going down the over-trodden route of tracking down a photo-op with a wizened old shepherd from Bethlehem. 

Instead, he produced a report on the falling numbers of Christians throughout the region which was aired on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Broadcasting House’ programme on December 16th (available here from around 20:43) and also appeared as an article on the BBC News website. 

R 4 Broadcasting House

One may certainly wish to take issue with Connolly’s identification of the defining factors behind the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East.

“And one of the reasons why the flight of Christians from Middle East in general is a difficult story to tell is that it is in general not a story of persecution but of subtler demographic factors.

There has been anti-Christian violence – most notably in Iraq in recent years.

But the Christian population is falling in statistical terms partly because it has a much lower birth-rate than the Muslim population around it.

And it has a high propensity to emigrate.”

Connolly remarks that:

“Christians are no longer a majority in Lebanon, which was once a political and cultural stronghold – and they’re even in a minority in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, the very birthplace of Christ.”

In 1947 the population of Bethlehem was 85% Christian. In 1990 23,000 Christians lived there, as a 60% majority. After the Palestinian Authority took over control of the town in 1995 the town’s municipal boundaries were altered to include concentrations of Muslim population, turning the Christians into a minority. By 2010 the number of Christians in Bethlehem had fallen to 7,500.

Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has reported on the situation of the Christians in Bethlehem on numerous occasions.  For example, in 2007 he wrote

“A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city. The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of “intimidation” for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded “collaborators” with Israel. But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.”

And in 2009

“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.

In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.”

Strangely though, Kevin Connolly’s worrying overview the decline of Christian communities in the Middle East neglects to mention that there is one country in the region in which the Christian population is growing steadily. 


In 1949 there were 38,000 Christians in Israel. By 2000 that number had risen to 130,000, by 2005 to 146,000 and one year ago, at the end of 2011, there were 154,500 Israeli Christians.  Nazareth has 22,000 Christians among its population, Haifa (currently celebrating the ‘Holiday of Holidays’ festival, as featured by the BBC itself in this photo essay) around 14,000, and Shfaram around 9,300.

In 1947 there were 28,000 Christians living in Jerusalem. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule over the eastern part of the city, 61% of them left, with the population reduced to 11,000 when the city was reunited in the Six Day War. At the end of 2010, the Christian population of Jerusalem was 11,600.  

Connolly’s failure to mention the one place in the Middle East in which Christians thrive and have total freedom of worship leaves his audiences with a partial – and therefore inaccurate – picture of Christianity in the Middle East.