A round-up of BBC reporting of security incidents in March 2014

Security incidents of one sort or another made up the subject matter of quite a substantial proportion of the BBC News website’s coverage of Israel throughout the month of March and so it is interesting to look at what was deemed newsworthy and what was not, as well as at the quality of those reports. 

Beginning in the north, as we noted here on March 13th, by that stage of the month the BBC had already ignored the discovery of two Katyusha rockets near Majdal Shams on March 1st and an attempt to plant an improvised explosive device on the Syrian-Israeli border on the night of March 4th/5th

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

 

On March 14th another IED was activated against an Israeli patrol in the HarDov area on the Israel-Lebanon border. That incident was not reported by the BBC until four days later when a brief mention of that attack and the one of March 4th/5th appeared in a report relating to a separate incident. Hizballah has since claimed responsibility for that attack, but that news has not been reported by the BBC to date.

On March 18th, on the Israel-Syria border, another IED was activated against an Israeli patrol. The BBC published a report titled “Israeli soldiers wounded by bomb blast in Golan Heights” which was later replaced by another eventually titled “Israeli air strikes in Golan ‘kill Syrian soldier’” after Israel responded to the attack.

On March 28th an attempted infiltration of the border between Israel and Syria took place near Kibbutz Ein Zivan, with the two armed men reportedly killed. That incident was not reported by the BBC. 

During the month of March the BBC elected to report on two incidents occurring in the central region: the March 10th incident at the Allenby Bridge border crossing (which is still under investigation) and the March 22nd incident in Jenin in which Israeli forces trying to arrest a wanted terrorism suspect were attacked and three terrorists killed in the resulting gun-battle.

Among the many other incidents in the same region which the BBC elected not to report were a stabbing attack carried out by a member of the PFLP near Petah Tikva on March 2nd, the arrest in Hebron of a Hamas operative wanted since 1998 and the arrest of a resident of Jabel Mukaber with ties to Hamas on charges of sabotaging gas pipelines in the capital with the intention of causing explosions. The man also admitted carrying out a terror attack with an axe in 2012.

Incidents in which rocks and firebombs were thrown at Israeli vehicles included that of March 20th when a bus carrying schoolchildren was attacked with a firebomb near Nablus. On March 23rd an Israeli soldier was seriously injured at Rachel’s Tomb when a concrete block was thrown at him. In all, 107 incidents were recorded in Judea & Samaria and three in Jerusalem during March, with the majority (95) involving firebombs. All of those incidents were ignored by the BBC, as is habitually the case. In fact, throughout the last nine months since the current round of talks between Israel and the PLO commenced, according to ISA statistics, 916 firebomb attacks have taken place in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem. Only one of those attacks (in November 2013) has been reported by the BBC.

Attacks July 13 to March 14 incl

In the southern region the BBC used a report on an incident on March 1st in which a woman was shot near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip to once again promote a flawed report by Amnesty International. On March 4th a strike against two terrorists who were in the process of firing missiles at Israeli civilian communities was the subject of a problematic BBC report. Incidents of missile fire from the Gaza Strip on the night of March 6th did not receive any BBC coverage.

On March 11th a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell fired a mortar at an Israeli army patrol on the Gaza Strip – Israel border and the IDF responded. Later that evening a missile fired from the Gaza Strip exploded near Sderot. Neither of those incidents received coverage until the evening of the next day when the BBC produced the first of four reports (see also here and here)  concerning the subsequent heavy barrage of missiles from the Gaza Strip was fired at civilian communities in Israel over a period of two days. All those BBC reports were hallmarked by their amplification of PIJ propaganda, their absolving of Hamas of any responsibility for the attacks and the fact that they failed to clarify that some of the attacks were carried out by additional terrorist factions including Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Despite having sent a correspondent to Sderot, the BBC refrained from informing audiences of the point of view of Israeli civilians under attack. 

Gaza from Zikkim beach

Gaza City from Zikkim beach

 

Subsequent incidents on March 17th and 18th and the discovery of two improvised explosive devices on the border on March 25th were not reported. The discovery on March 21st of another cross-border tunnel prompted a BBC report which amplified Hamas propaganda.

BBC coverage of the March 5th seizure of a ship transporting weapons destined for terrorists in the Gaza Strip from Iran via Sudan included a blatant ‘smoke and mirrors’ report, the use of inaccurate maps, amplification of Iranian propaganda and the failure to inform audiences of evidence of Iranian involvement in the shipment.

Clearly a considerable proportion of security events – especially those not resulting in casualties – continue to be ignored by the BBC. Throughout March that was once again particularly notable in the central regions of Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem with the number of incidents reported by the BBC confined to two, whilst a total of 110 violent attacks against Israeli civilians and security personnel actually took place. Clearly too, BBC audiences are not able to form fact-based opinions if such a large proportion of information is consistently withheld.

Related Articles:

90% of missile attacks from Gaza Strip in February ignored by the BBC

Review of the BBC’s reporting of security incidents in Judea & Samaria in January

One hundred and sixteen stories the BBC chose not to tell

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC reporting on Golan Heights attack passes up on providing crucial background

On the afternoon of March 18th Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern part of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights noticed something suspicious near the fence which marks the western (‘Alpha’) side of the demilitarised zone, adjacent to an area of the border currently controlled by the Syrian army. After they got out of their vehicle to investigate, an explosive device was detonated, injuring four soldiers: one lightly, two moderately and one very seriously. Israel responded with artillery fire towards Syrian army positions.

Several hours later a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israeli soldiers wounded by bomb blast in Golan Heights“. The incident itself is described in three short paragraphs phrased to suggest to readers that the information has not been confirmed by the BBC. IED Golan Tues 1

“Four Israeli soldiers have been hurt by a bomb blast near the demilitarised zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria, Israel says.

The device was detonated as the troops approached the frontier on foot after identifying “suspicious activity”, an Israeli military spokesperson said.

Israeli artillery subsequently fired on Syrian military positions in the area.”

The only reference to the severity of the injuries sustained by the soldiers comes in the caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article.

“The Israeli military said one of the soldiers was seriously wounded by the explosion”.

The report goes on to mention (partially) two previous recent incidents among several ignored by the BBC at the time.

“Two weeks ago, Israeli troops shot two “Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists” attempting to plant an explosive device near the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone, the Israeli military said.

And on Friday, an explosive device was detonated near soldiers patrolling the nearby border with Lebanon. No casualties were reported after the incident in the Mount Dov area, which Israel blamed on Hezbollah.”

The article’s next four paragraphs repeat versions of information appearing in the profile of the Golan Heights which appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – despite being last updated in May 2013 – still erroneously refers to “the pre-1967 border” instead of 1949 Armistice lines. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.

Since the uprising began in Syria three years ago, both government forces and rebel fighters have repeatedly crossed into the buffer zone, and there have been several exchanges of fire with Israeli troops.”

The report fails to make clear to readers that all of those “exchanges of fire” took place after cross-border attacks – intentional or not – from the Syrian side of the fence. It also fails to clarify sufficiently to readers that the presence of armed Syrian military forces inside the demilitarised zone contravenes the ceasefire agreement of 1974. Additionally, BBC audiences are not informed that the demilitarised zone is now only partially monitored by UNDOF or that the routine weapons inspections that body is supposed to carry out (to ensure that both Israel and Syria adhere to the permitted quotas specified in the ceasefire agreement) are no longer being carried out by UNDOF on the Syrian side.

Early in the morning of March 19th Israel responded to the previous day’s attack with strikes on Syrian military facilities on the eastern side of the Golan Heights. Here is how that event was presented by one official BBC Twitter account:

tweet bbc world response

And here by another:

tweet bbc me english response

An article titled “Israel attacks Syrian army sites in Golan Heights clash” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on March 19th. The caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article states: Golan incident response report

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has great political and strategic significance”. [emphasis added]

Earlier versions of the article opened:

“Israel says it has attacked several Syrian military sites in retaliation for a bombing that wounded four of its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel’s military said its targets included a Syrian army headquarters, a training facility and artillery units.”

Readers of the report’s initial versions were not provided with any updated information regarding the wounded soldiers (one of whom, at the time of writing, remains in a critical condition) and most of the information given was recycled from the previous day’s report in the form of a link.

“It comes after four Israeli soldiers were hurt in an explosion on Tuesday. […]

Israel said four of its soldiers were injured as they approached the demilitarized zone after identifying “suspicious activity” on Tuesday.”

In the report’s third and fourth versions (which appeared some two hours and four hours respectively after the original) the above was replaced by the following statement:

“On Tuesday, the four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, when an explosive device was detonated as they approached the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone.”

In the report’s two earlier versions, once again audiences were encouraged to see prior cross-border incidents in terms of equivalence rather than them being accurately described as Israeli responses to attacks from the Syrian side.

“Syrian and Israeli forces have traded fire a number of times over the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights since the uprising in Syria began.” [emphasis added]

The third and fourth versions of the report included the following:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several attacks on Syria since the uprising began three years ago.

Those air strikes are believed to have prevented the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that supports President Bashar al-Assad.”

Of course Israel has not given any official notification of having carried out those strikes, but yet again it appears that in this case – despite editorial guidelines on accuracy - the BBC is in no need of confirmation before turning its correspondents’ conjecture into ‘fact’. 

This report too includes general background material based on the BBC’s less than accurate Golan Heights profile. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.”

Once again, the BBC failed in all versions of this report to adequately clarify to audiences the current situation regarding the demilitarised zone, the decline in UNDOF supervision and the presence there of armed Syrian forces in violation of the ceasefire agreement. 

The article’s fourth version (which had its title changed to “Israeli air strikes in Golan ‘kill Syrian soldier’”) included Syrian state media notification of military casualties resulting from the Wednesday morning strike and uncritically quoted a bizarre official statement from a regime which has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens over the last three years. Golan response art vers 4

“But the Syrian General Command of the Army and Armed Forces was quoted as saying the air strikes were an attempt to “divert attention from the successive victories” of its troops against rebel forces, particularly the recapture of the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, over the weekend.

It also warned Israel that “such aggressive acts would jeopardise the region’s security and stability, and make it vulnerable to all options”.”

That version of the article also included the following outlandish assumption from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

“The choice of targets demonstrates that Israel is clearly blaming Syrian government forces, and not rebel fighters or units of Hezbollah, for the attack on its patrol, our correspondent says.”

In fact, whilst it has yet to be established which organisation carried out the attack, the Israeli minister of defence made it clear that “Israel viewed Syrian President Bashar Assad as the person responsible for what happens in his country”.

Earlier versions of the report  included the following:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the border with Syria has been recently “filling up” with jihadist fighters hostile to Israel and militants from the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.”

No attempt was made to provide BBC audiences with further background information on the topic of the different armed elements to be found on the Syrian side of the border.

The article ends by again mentioning the previously unreported incidents of March 4th in which an attempt was made to plant an IED in the same area and last Friday’s attack at Har Dov. It is not made clear that Tuesday’s attack took place along a stretch of the frontier controlled by Assad’s forces, in contrast to much of the rest of the border which is held by opposition militias of one description or another. 

The BBC’s coverage of incidents in the Golan Heights over the past year or so has been patchy at best.  Hence, with audiences already lacking much of the context to this latest incident, proper provision of factual information relevant to the story’s background would have enhanced readers’ understanding of events. Unfortunately however, the opportunity to inform audiences on the current state of affairs along the border and of the reasons for the growing ineffectiveness of the demilitarised zone in preventing attacks such as the one which took place on Tuesday – and any future ones – was passed up by the BBC.

Northern exposure: what the BBC isn’t reporting about the Israel-Syria border

As was noted here recently, two errant mortars fired from Syria exploded in the Golan Heights on the afternoon of February 18th. A few days later a bout of particularly heavy fighting took place south of Quneitra – which, unlike other areas proximate to the border, is still held by Assad’s troops – with the latter apparently retaking two villages from the anti-regime forces.  On March 1st the IDF found the remains of two Katyusha rockets in the northern Golan, which appear to have been fired from Syria. 

On the night of March 4th another attempt was made to place an improvised explosive device on the northern section of the border fence between Israel and Syria. Israeli forces responded with live fire. 

On the morning of March 7th Israeli Air Force jets had to be scrambled several times as Syrian aircraft came very close to the border during their attacks on an opposition-held village just beyond the ceasefire lines.

Like many other incidents which have taken place in the Golan Heights since the Syrian civil war began, none of the above was reported by the BBC, despite their staff clearly being aware of at least some of the events. 

Tweet Shuval Golan 18 Feb

Meanwhile, the flow of wounded Syrians arriving at the border to seek Israeli medical care continues. BBC Watch recently went to meet one of the doctors working at the field hospital established by the IDF in the Golan Heights to provide ‘first stop’ care for the wounded. Captain Dr S. noted that the types of injuries her team is treating – mostly gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions – are ones which are rarely seen in Israel these days and hence her generation of young doctors had little practical experience in dealing with such cases before the field hospital was set up. She also noted that the wounded Syrians arrive in a state of extreme fear seeing as they are, after all, coming to a country which they have been educated to regard as an enemy. Hence, she and her team deliberately avoid speaking Hebrew in the presence of the patients so as to try to reduce at least one stress factor, and instead converse with them in English and Arabic. 

Patients with more complex injuries are transported to one of several civilian hospitals in the north of Israel. Here is the director general of the Western Galilee hospital in Nahariya, Dr. Massad Barhoum, talking at the recent AIPAC conference about his institution’s work in helping Syrian patients. 

 

BBC silent on doubling of terror attacks since renewed ME talks

On the morning of Monday, December 2nd a mortar fired from within Syria landed about fifty meters from a house in Majdal Shams in the northern Golan Heights, luckily causing no injuries. On the same day, Israeli soldiers came under fire from Syria further south along the border and returned fire. Majdal Shams

On the afternoon of Friday, December 6th an explosive device was detonated near an Israeli army border patrol in the northern Golan Heights. Luckily once again, no injuries were sustained but the vehicle in which the patrol was travelling was damaged. Subsequent investigation indicated that the attack was deliberate and that the device was activated from inside Syria by as yet unknown parties. 

As has been the case with previous recent incidents in the Golan Heights, none of the above was reported by the BBC.

On Saturday, December 7th, three missiles were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. All three fell short and no injuries were caused. The attacks were once again not reported by the BBC.

On December 4th two more residents of the Sur Baher neighbourhood of Jerusalem were detained in connection with the stoning attack near Armon HaNetziv (unreported by the BBC) in which two year-old Avigail Ben Zion was injured the week before.

“We are holding five suspects,” Superintendent Yigal Elmaliach, who is heading up the investigation, said Tuesday. “Four of them were interrogated and admitted to the act and also implicated the others in the event. Some of them are still being questioned. We are talking about a planned attack. They met beforehand and planned to arrive in the evening in order to throw rocks. In the interrogation they said that the reason was hatred of Jews.”

In a recently published summary of terror attacks carried out in November 2013, the Israel Security Agency notes a rise in the number of attacks. In Judea & Samaria, 107 attacks took place (compared with 99 in October) and in Jerusalem 53 attacks occurred (compared with 32 in October).  The majority of incidents in Judea & Samaria and in Jerusalem – 135 out of a total of 160 – were attacks with fire-bombs, whilst twenty-one of the attacks involved the use of improvised explosive devices and two were small arms shootings.

A look at the statistics provided by the ISA for the months July to November 2013 shows that the number of terror attacks taking place in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem since the renewal of direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO on July 29th has more than doubled. 

Terror Jul to Nov 13

The BBC’s consistent under-reporting of terror attacks against Israeli citizens in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem means that BBC audiences are – in contravention of the BBC’s public purposes remit – unaware of the context of the doubling of the number of attacks in the months since the renewal of talks, just as they are also largely unaware of the continued missile attacks from the Gaza Strip and security incidents along Israel’s border with Syria for the same reason. 

At last: an accurate and impartial BBC report on Syrian patients in Israel

Nine months ago, in February of this year, it became publicly known that Syrian patients were being treated in Israeli hospitals. In all of that time the BBC has produced one rather odd article by Wyre Davies on its website and one filmed report by BBC Arabic’s Sam Farah – shown on BBC television news and on the BBC News website, but not on the BBC Arabic site.

As we have noted here on numerous occasions, besides that very sparse coverage of the story, it has remained off the BBC’s radar.

On November 3rd the Israeli media gave extensive coverage to the story of a baby boy born to a Syrian mother in Tsfat’s Rifka Ziv hospital. On November 25th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly on that specific case and on the general subject of Syrian patients treated in Israel appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The report also includes filmed footage broadcast on BBC television news programmes. 

Connolly medical care Syrians

Both the written and filmed reports are interesting, factually accurate and impartial, showing that the BBC can meet its obligations to audiences when it so wishes. 

Missiles fired into Israel not news for the BBC

Here is a Tweet sent by the BBC Middle East Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville on the morning of Wednesday, October 9th.

Tweet Sommerville missile

In fact two missiles were fired but one fell short within the Gaza Strip, endangering the local population. No news of the attack appeared on the BBC News website. 

ME pge 9 10

Early in the afternoon of the same day – October 9th – two Israeli soldiers were lightly injured when a mortar shell fired by the Syrian artillery during a battle with rebel militias exploded in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with fire at the Syrian position and lodged a complaint with the UN.

Like the episode last week in which shots were fired from Syria at workers constructing the new border fence on the Golan Heights and along with numerous other recent incidents in the area, this event also received no coverage from the BBC. 

BBC backgrounder on Yom Kippur war misleads on Syria

The entry for the year 1973 in the backgrounder titled “A History of Conflict” which appears on the BBC website opens with the following words:

“Unable to regain the territory they had lost in 1967 by diplomatic means, Egypt and Syria launched major offensives against Israel on the Jewish festival of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.”

1973 page

That statement of course suggests that Egypt and Syria had tried engagement in diplomacy – i.e. negotiation between the parties involved – and failed. A reasonable reader would also understand from that statement that it was the failure of negotiations which lead those countries to initiate the Yom Kippur war. But is that actually the case?

With regard to Egypt, the statement over-simplifies the issue and ignores multiple additional factors, including domestic ones, but with regard to Syria, it is obviously inaccurate. 

Neither in this entry or in the one preceding it (1967) is any mention made of the Khartoum Declaration of September 1st 1967, according to which the Arab states rejected negotiations with Israel.

“The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of June.” 

“This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” [emphasis added]

Later efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict by the UN’s Special Representative Gunnar Jarring were rejected outright by Syria. 

“Delivering messages to the different sides, Jarring shuttled between Jerusalem, Amman and Cairo, and sometimes also Beirut. Damascus was not part of the picture, since the Syrians categorically rejected Resolution 242.” [emphasis added]

Syria also rejected other diplomatic initiatives:

“Syria did not accept the resolution and continued its adamant opposition to it throughout the period. It gave its negative reaction to the five-point general plan for peace advanced by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 19, 1967 and also refused to accept the reactivation of the negotiations as provided for in Resolution 242 through the offices of U.N. representative Dr. Gunnar Jarring. It also refused to consider the Rogers peace proposals of June 25, 1970.”

Hence, the BBC’s claim that Syria’s decision to take part in the Yom Kippur war was the product of failed negotiations is patently false and misleading. 

Security incidents in northern & southern Israel not newsworthy for BBC

On the evening of Sunday July 14th 2013, residents of communities near the border with the Sinai Peninsula were ordered to take shelter in their homes for several hours due to shooting in the area by gunmen on the Egyptian side of the border. 

Kadesh Barnea

The BBC apparently did not consider that development to be newsworthy.

On the same evening, a mortar shell landed near the village of Majdal Shams in the northern Golan Heights and early on the morning of Tuesday, July 16th, three more mortars landed in areas further to the south, with more following later in the day and tens of mortar shells found on the Israeli side of the border by mid afternoon. During the fighting between the Syrian army and rebel paramilitary groups in the vicinity of Quneitra, the former once more introduced tanks into the demilitarised zone in violation of the ceasefire agreement. Israel has lodged a formal complaint with the UN, but has so far refrained from responding. 

As of Tuesday night local time, there is no mention of any of those incidents on the BBC News website. Likewise, the continuing stream of Syrian wounded receiving medical treatment in Israeli hospitals is also consistently ignored.

 

BBC continues to ignore majority of attacks on Israeli civilians

Readers of the BBC News website’s Middle East page will have learned during this past week that Barbara Streisand received an honorary PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and that celebrations of Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday took place in the same city with an impressive array of dignitaries on the guest list.  

What they will not have learned is that the residents of the Ashkelon area awoke to the sound of the air-raid siren at around 05:40 on Wednesday morning due to missile fire from the Gaza Strip.  Neither will they know that mortar fire from Syria hit the orchards of Kibbutz Elrom in the north Golan Heights on Thursday morning and that another Syrian mortar landed inside Israeli territory later the same day. No-one was hurt in any of the incidents above and Israel did not respond.

The same readers will also have no idea of the seventy-two cases of rock-throwing and fifteen firebombing incidents which took place in Judea & Samaria between June 11th and 17th alone or that in April 2013 ninety attacks (excluding stone-throwing) took place in the same region and in May, eighty-three. 

June 11 - 17 IDF

Back in April the BBC claimed that attacks on civilians in Judea & Samaria “are rare”, later revising the statement to read “fatal attacks on settlers are rare”. We are all aware of the old journalistic adage “if it bleeds it leads”, but the BBC seems to have taken that several steps further by totally ignoring the vast majority of violent attacks directed at Israeli civilians. 

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.