BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the Easter and Pessah holidays, the BBC News website’s Middle East page included in its ‘Features & Analysis’ section a written report about Jerusalem published on April 17th.Jerusalem written

What makes Jerusalem so holy?” – by Erica Chernofsky - laudably avoids some of the more common errors made by many a foreign journalist by correctly pointing out the 1949 ceasefire (or armistice) line and by accurately depicting the Western Wall.

“The Jewish Quarter is home to the Kotel, or the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood.

Inside the temple was the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in Judaism.

Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Today, the Western Wall is the closest place Jews can pray to the Holy of Holies.”

However, the article also states that:

“The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four and contains the shrine of the Dome of Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on a plateau known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.”

Jerusalem written 2

The Temple Mount or Haram al Sharif – location of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque – is of course a separate area and it is not located within the Muslim quarter any more than it is situated in the adjacent Jewish quarter, although both those quarters adjoin parts of its walls.   


One to listen out for on the BBC World Service

On Saturday April 19th the BBC World Service programme ‘The Documentary’ will broadcast an edition titled “Africans in the Holy Land” at 18:06 GMT. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Africans in the Holy Land WS

“Paul Bakibinga travels to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to explore the lives and experiences of people from three different African communities. 

Mahmoud Salamat takes Paul around the narrow alleyways of the old city of Jerusalem to the hidden African quarter and introduces a small but close-knit community, who are descendants of Muslim pilgrims or soldiers who came to the Holy Land during the time of the British Mandate. 

Paul also explores the experiences of different Ethiopian Jews who have returned to their ancient homeland, including rising star musician Ester Rada. 

And he spends time in South Tel Aviv, where the bulk of African asylum-seekers live – stuck in a legal limbo amid growing hostility from politicians and local residents. The state cannot deport them – but neither will it grant them refugee status.”

Mahmoud Salamat previously appeared in another BBC feature back in March 2010 – titled “In pictures: Jerusalem’s African quarter” by Heather Sharp.

BBC African quarter 2010

The ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website currently features a filmed report about Israeli singer Ester Rada which also appears on the website’s Middle East page.

Ester Rada

With Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt of course being part of Africa, it will be interesting to see whether Paul Bakibinga also addresses the subject of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who originate from those African countries and the reasons for their mass exodus from the countries of their birth.

The BBC World Service might care to correct the caption to the photograph illustrating this programme’s webpage which currently reads:

“Picture: A ‘Kessim’, a leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community”

The ending ‘im’ in Hebrew indicates the plural form of a masculine word: thus the two words “A Kessim” are incompatible. One religious leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community is a Kess - spelled קס or קייס in Hebrew and originating from Amharic – and the plural form of the word is Kessim קסים or קייסים.  




Route 35 terror attack gets a grand total of 34 words in BBC report

Over twenty-eight hours after the April 14th terror attack on Route 35 in which father of five Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi was murdered and his wife and son injured, the BBC finally managed to come up with a brief mention of the incident, buried at the bottom of an article titled  “Israelis and Palestinians in bid to extend peace talks” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the night of April 15th.

The article was illustrated using the misleading photograph below (which appeared at the top of the report’s original version and was moved further down about 12 hours after its initial publication, only to be removed completely in an even later version of the report) which reasonable readers would interpret as intending to inform them of some sort of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

talks art w attack pic

The photograph’s equally misleading caption reads:

“Tensions are high in Hebron after an Israeli policeman was killed in the West Bank”

That choice of wording reinforces the mistaken impression already given to BBC audiences by the photograph that the said policeman was killed in the line of duty rather than in a terror attack against him and his family. 

In the original article’s final paragraph the BBC managed to come up with the following thirty-four words to describe the incident, with notable use of the politically partial term “occupied West Bank”:

“Israel is also angry at the killing of an off-duty Israeli policeman in the occupied West Bank on Monday on the eve of the Passover Jewish holiday. The officer’s wife and child were wounded.”

talks art w attack para

The fact that this was a terror attack in which a Palestinian terrorist deliberately targeted random Israelis travelling along a major road is concealed from readers, along with the actual circumstances of the incident - details of which were amply available by the time the BBC got round to composing this report.

“The senior Israeli police officer was killed while driving to Hebron to celebrate Passover with his wife’s family. His pregnant wife, Hadas, was moderately injured in the attack and was transferred to Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem for treatment. The couple’s five children spent the holiday with their relatives as planned, and on Monday night were informed by their mother of their father’s death.

Hadas Mizrahi told the Ynet news website that while driving, her husband had seen the terrorist and cried “They’re shooting, they’re shooting, there’s a terrorist.” After her husband was shot, she took the wheel, drove out of sight, and alerted the authorities.

“I covered my blood with a rag,” Hadas, who was shot twice and broke a rib, said. “I saw that Baruch was dead. When the soldiers arrived I told them ‘Bandage me and take the children to the armored vehicle, so that they don’t see their father lying [there] dead.’

In the version of the report after amendment some 12 hours later, those thirty-four words became forty-one with the appearance of “a gunman”, an apparent realisation of the inappropriateness of the use of the term “occupied West Bank” by a supposedly impartial news organisation and a misleading new location for the incident which actually took place near the village of Idhna.

“Israel is also angry at the killing of an off-duty Israeli policeman by a gunman in the West Bank on Monday, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover. His wife and child were wounded in the attack outside Hebron.”

In the even later version of the report, that paragraph was changed slightly yet again:

“Tensions were raised on Monday when an off-duty Israeli policeman was killed by a gunman in the West Bank, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover. His wife and child were wounded in the attack outside Hebron.”

In the report’s first two versions, audiences were not informed of the fact that no condemnation of the attack came from the Palestinian Authority until two days afterwards or of the celebratory announcements issued by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The report’s later version promotes the statement made in condemnation of the attack by the PA Minister for religious affairs, but fails to inform audiences that the same minister praised convicted terrorists just two weeks previously.talks art w attack

Additionally, the article continues to mislead BBC audiences with regard to the current impasse in the talks between Israel and the PLO, with the original version having stated:

“The talks hit a major crisis this month when both sides took what Washington called “unhelpful steps”.

The Palestinians launched moves to join 15 UN treaties and bodies, while Israel refused to release a tranche of Palestinian prisoners and unveiled plans for more settler homes in east Jerusalem.”

In the later version those paragraphs were altered to read as follows:

“The direct talks, which resumed last July, appeared on the verge of collapse earlier this month when both sides took what the US called “unhelpful steps”.

The Palestinians submitted applications to join 15 UN treaties and conventions, while Israel refused to release a fourth group of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners and reissued tenders for more than 700 new homes at a Jewish settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.”

Whilst in fact there is no clause in the agreement which was the precursor to this round of talks which limits Israeli construction of what it chooses to term “settler homes” (thereby pinning clearly political colours to its supposedly impartial mast), the BBC continues – as has been the case in its last two reports on the subject – to imply to audiences that the reissuing of building tenders first publicized six months ago for housing in a Jerusalem neighbourhood which, according to any realistic scenario will remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement, was somehow a contributing straw to the breaking of the camel’s back.

Notably too, Israel is inaccurately described as having “refused” to release the fourth and final tranche of Palestinian prisoners whereas in fact the release was actually delayed until the PA made its unilateral bid to join UN agencies: a move which was in breach of the agreement from last July which kick-started the current round of negotiations.

 The organization which cynically claims to aspire to “remain the standard-setter for international journalism” continues to lower the bar in order to reduce those ‘standards’ to the deliberate misleading of audiences and the whitewashing of Palestinian terrorism. Hence, it is worth reminding ourselves of the wording of the opening sentence of the BBC’s own guidelines on the subject of reporting terrorism: 

“We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly.” 

None of those four conditions was met in the BBC’s reporting of the Route 35 terror attack.  




BBC continues to yawn at PA glorification of terrorism

We have noted here on numerous occasions in the past that the consistent glorification of terrorism by official Palestinian Authority bodies is systematically unreported by the BBC.  

Recently, yet another example of that practice came to light when the Palestinian Authority chose to name a forest after the terrorist leader and planner of numerous terror attacks Khalil al Wazir – a.k.a. Abu Jihad.PMW forest

Via PMW we learn that:

“The official Palestinian Authority daily reported that the PA and Fatah inaugurated a forest they chose to name after arch-terrorist Abu Jihad: “The Martyr Abu Jihad Forest.”

Abu Jihad was a founder of Fatah and deputy to Yasser Arafat. He headed the PLO’s military wing and planned many deadly terror attacks. These attacks, which according to the official PA daily killed at least 125 Israelis, included the most lethal in Israeli history – the hijacking of a bus and killing of 37 civilians, 12 of them children.  […]

The inauguration ceremony was attended by several PA officials: Minister of Agriculture Walid Assaf, District Governor of Hebron Kamel Hamid and representatives of the PA Security Forces, as well as several mayors from the Hebron district and relatives of terrorist Abu Jihad, the paper reported. 

Official PA TV also showed footage from the ceremony. “

Can we really imagine that if the Northern Ireland Assembly chose to name a forest after an IRA terrorist and to televise the inauguration ceremony on state-run TV, that would not make BBC headlines? 

We’ve said it before, but unfortunately we have to say it again: BBC audiences cannot reach an “understanding of international issues” if the habitual glorification of terrorists and terrorism by a party to the peace process is consistently and deliberately kept out of their view.

Related Articles:

Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad


Another dose of context-free Gaza Strip pathos from Yolande Knell

On April 12th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt gives Hamas and Gaza the cold shoulder“. On the Middle East page itself, the link was presented under the title “Hemmed in”, with the sub-heading “Gazans suffering effects of Egypt’s drive against Muslim Brotherhood”.Knell piece on hp

The article is actually a near transcript of an audio report by Knell which was broadcast in the April 12th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent” on BBC Radio 4. The audio version of the report can be heard here from around 12:23 or as a podcast here. Presenter Kate Adie opens her introduction of Knell’s item with a gratuitous context-free statement which, like a recent BBC News article on the same subject, neglects to inform audiences that “economic sanctions” are actually a way of trying to reclaim over $400 million of Palestinian Authority debt to Israel.

“Israel this week said it would bring in new economic sanctions against the Palestinians. The move came amid mounting pessimism over the eventual outcome of the ongoing peace talks between the two sides. And in Gaza it came as the Islamic militant group Hamas was facing its deepest crisis since it took control of the Strip in 2007. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union. And now, as Yolande Knell has been finding out, the interim government in neighbouring Egypt has begun to take a tougher approach as well.”

Had she simply added the two words ‘among others’ after her incomplete list of countries which designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, Adie could have avoided the pitfall of inaccuracy caused by her elimination of Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand from that list.Knell GAza FOOC

Since the departure of Jon Donnison last summer, the BBC has not had a permanent foreign correspondent in the Gaza Strip, but Knell has been among those paying occasional visits and reporting from there. Like most of her previous reports from the past few months (see for example here, here and here),  this one too is an exercise in context-free pathos and promotion of the theme of poor, blameless, downtrodden Gazans.  

The most striking feature of Knell’s report is its framing of Egyptian actions and policy solely as a “crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood” and the failure to make any mention of the connections between the Gaza Strip and terrorist activity in the northern Sinai.

“Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has led to a sharp deterioration in relations with the Islamist group Hamas in neighbouring Gaza, and the people there are paying the price. […]

Relations with Gaza’s Hamas government have dramatically worsened since Egypt’s elected president Mohammed Morsi was ousted last summer following mass protests.

Hamas was closely aligned with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Now Cairo’s new military-backed authorities accuse Hamas of meddling in their affairs. They have banned all its activities.

And ordinary Palestinians feel the consequences.”

Also notable is Knell’s anodyne portrayal of the cross-border smuggling tunnels and her failure to clarify to audiences that Egypt’s actions against those tunnels were not inspired by their use for the smuggling of commercial goods, but because they are also used to move weapons and Jihadist fighters in and out of sovereign Egyptian territory.

“Already hundreds of smuggling tunnels under Egypt’s border have been destroyed by its troops.

They used to act as a lifeline to get around restrictions that Israel tightened seven years ago after Hamas wrested control of the Palestinian territory from Fatah forces loyal to the president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Trade is visibly down at a market in southern Gaza.

“Nobody can bring in goods any more and people are suffering,” says a grizzled stallholder, Waleed, “our economy’s at zero.”

Without the tunnel business, unemployment has risen sharply.

There is a shortage of building materials.

And there is no cheap, subsidised Egyptian fuel. That means longer power cuts.”

Of course Knell does not bother to make any attempt to provide audiences with any relevant background as to why it is essential that there are limitations on the entry of dual-use goods – including some building materials – to the Gaza Strip and she fails to clarify that legitimate construction projects are able to receive the supplies they need.  Neither does she inform audiences of the full background to the Gaza Strip’s electricity crisis.  

“Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell goes on to quote Raji Sourani, whom she describes simply as a “human rights campaigner” without clarifying his link to the PCHR as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines. Using Sourani’s words as a hook, she implies that the recent barrage of missile attacks on Israeli civilians in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip was the inevitable – and hence presumably ‘understandable’ – result of economic frustration.

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference


“Back in Gaza City, I find the veteran human rights campaigner Raji Sourani looking uncharacteristically miserable.

“Egypt’s added another dimension to this siege that’s suffocated Gaza socially and economically. It’s a collective punishment. We’re reduced to hostages and beggars,” he says.

“And I don’t think anybody should expect Gazans to be good victims. Things will ultimately explode.”

Already there have been explosions. Last month fighters from Islamic Jihad in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at their historic enemy, Israel.”

That is quite a remarkable piece of whitewashing of the motivations of an internationally proscribed terrorist organization (which, in the audio version of the report is revealingly described by Knell simply as “an armed group more extreme than Hamas”) inspired by religious supremacist ideology and funded by Iran. Knell’s downplaying of Hamas’ extremism also includes the failure to mention its recently improved ties with Iran and a distinctly woolly portrayal of the latest Hamas rally in Gaza which the BBC failed to report in English at the time.

“Hamas – which fell out with its other regional patrons Syria and Iran earlier during the Arab uprisings – was left feeling even more squeezed.

A massive rally held soon after in Gaza was meant as a show of force.

Hamas leaders spoke defiantly about Israel and the failing peace talks led by their political rival, President Abbas.

But some also criticised Egypt and what they called its military coup.”

Once again BBC audiences are herded towards focusing their attentions exclusively on the issue of the economic difficulties facing the ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip without any proper context being provided regarding the responsibility of the ruling Hamas regime for those very real hardships. And once again, that policy actively prevents BBC audiences from being able to form an understanding of international issues based on the full range of facts.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell amplifies Hamas propaganda, downplays its terror designation

BBC science and technology reporters continue to lead on accuracy and impartiality

Showing once again that some of the best BBC reporting on Israel comes from the corporation’s science and technology correspondents, here are a few recent reports which have appeared on the BBC News website.Phone battery story

On April 2nd a written report by science reporter Melissa Hogenboom on a study of the effects of oxytocin on the behaviour of members of groups, carried out by a researcher from Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, appeared on the ‘Science & Environment’ page of the BBC News website.

On April 8th a written report on an Israeli start-up company which is in the process of developing a mobile phone battery capable of full charging in thirty seconds appeared in the BBC News website’s ‘Technology’ section.

The next day, a filmed report on the same topic from a BBC news programme also appeared on the ‘Technology’ page of the website.

What a pity it is that the same standards of interesting, pertinent, accurate and impartial reporting are so hard to come by on Israel-related topics with a political component.

Why does the BBC Trust’s ESC pretend that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing?

Readers no doubt remember that in the summer of 2012 the BBC’s Sports department produced a profile of Israel on its dedicated Olympics webpage which claimed that Israel has no capital city whilst listing “East Jerusalem” as the capital of “Palestine”.BBC olympics

After much public outcry, changes were made to the webpage and Jerusalem was listed as Israel’s “seat of government“, with “East Jerusalem” becoming the “seat of intended government” for “Palestine” according to the BBC.

Complaints were also made regarding the amended version of the webpage and in March 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its January 2013 findings regarding appeals made (but not upheld) following those complaints (see page 34 onwards here).

A year later, in March 2014, the ESC published its January 2014 findings regarding yet another request for appeal on the same topic (see page 49 onwards here).

But the story does not end there. Via the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem (who was recently featured – in one case without identification of her PSC ties as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines – in several BBC reports) writing at Electronic Intifada, we learn that two Hamas-linked anti-Israel lobbying groups are still pursuing the issue of Israel’s capital city.

“At the end of 2013, PSC [Palestine Solidarity Campaign] and FoA [Friends of Al Aqsa] made a direct request to the BBC asking that it release these documents under a Freedom of Information request. The aim was to find out how and why the BBC Trust had made a decision that referencing Jerusalem as Israeli was not in breach of its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, and what had influenced the Trust’s decision.PSC and Hamas

This request was rejected by the BBC, leading to last week’s appeal to the commissioner, which is the next stage in the Freedom of Information process.

In the appeal, both organizations set out the background to the request. PSC had challenged the BBC in 2012 and 2013 over reporting on its online pages and radio broadcasting, where Jerusalem was called an “Israeli city,” and no distinction was made between East Jerusalem — which is considered by the United Nations to be occupied Palestinian territory — and West Jerusalem.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign website also carries the story, claiming that:

“…East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory by the UN and the international community, including the UK government. West Jerusalem is considered to be under de facto Israeli control only, but not under Israeli sovereignty.”Ismail Patel

The fact that this is a transparently political campaign being run by two Hamas-linked organisations which have no other raison d’etre than professional anti-Israel campaigning and have taken part in delegitimisation projects such as the 2010 flotilla and the 2012 ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ (see here and here) is patently obvious – and predictable.

Whilst the BBC has so far not succumbed to this pressure to take a political stance from what Jeremy Bowen is unlikely to describe in future interviews to British papers as ‘full-time anti-Israeli lobbyists’, one particular section of the ESC’s two publications regarding the complaints is especially worthy of note.

In both of the above documents produced by the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee (page 39 here and page 51 here) it is stated that:

“The [BBC Trust's Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “

Yes, you read that correctly: the highest BBC body charged with ensuring the corporation’s adherence to editorial standards (including those of accuracy and impartiality) claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – aka UN GA resolution 181– has some sort of relevance or validity and based upon that gross misinterpretation, presumes to dictate that a city in which there has been a Jewish majority since the nineteenth century “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.

Despite what the members of the BBC Trust’s ESC may choose to believe, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, 181 was non-binding and in fact it was no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known (although apparently not in the higher corridors of the BBC) the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan en masse and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant.

 “Resolution 181 has no legal ramifications – that is, Resolution 181 recognized the Jewish right to statehood, but its validity as a potentially legal and binding document was never consummated. Like the proposals that preceded it, Resolution 181′s validity hinged on acceptance by both parties of the General Assembly’s recommendation.

Cambridge Professor, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice, a renowned expert on international law, clarified that from a legal standpoint, the 1947 UN Partition Resolution had no legislative character to vest territorial rights in either Jews or Arabs. In a monograph relating to one of the most complex aspects of the territorial issue, the status of Jerusalem, Judge, Sir Lauterpacht wrote that any binding force the Partition Plan would have had to arise from the principle pacta sunt servanda, [In Latin: treaties must be honored - the first principle of international law] that is, from agreement of the parties at variance to the proposed plan.”

In any case, the corpus separatum proposal had a sell-by date: the proposal was only intended to last for ten years, after which a referendum of the city’s residents was to be held to determine its status. As Sir Elihu Lauterpacht pointed out in the monograph mentioned above: [emphasis added]

“The role of the U.N. in relation to the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places is limited. In particular, the General Assembly has no power of disposition over Jerusalem and no right to lay down regulations for the Holy Places. The Security Council, of course, retains its powers under Chapter VII of the Charter in relation to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression, but these powers do not extend to the adoption of any general position regarding the future of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.”

Further, as Dr Dore Gold points out in his book “The Fight for Jerusalem” (p. 134): [emphasis added]

“The UN took upon itself certain commitments with respect to Jerusalem as a result of the passage of Resolution 181. It pledged “to ensure that peace and order reign in Jerusalem” and that it would “promote the security, well-being and any constructive measures of development for the residents.” It empowered the newly created UN Trusteeship Council to draft and approve a detailed statute for UN administration of the Holy City. This was a necessary legal step for the UN to assume the responsibilities of the British Mandate after its termination.

But no Jerusalem statute was adopted. On May 14, 1948, the UN General Assembly convened in a special session to determine whether to assume formal responsibility for Jerusalem as the Partition Plan had proposed. The UN determined that it would have to take action before the Mandate expired on May 15. But the UN failed to adopt any proposal giving it legal responsibility for Jerusalem that would enable it to become the effective successor to the British Mandate as the General Assembly had envisioned.”

The issue of the BBC’s stubborn refusal to list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city is one which comes up with tedious regularity on these pages and others. At least now we have gained some insight into the type of historic illiteracy which lies behind that misconstrued thinking. Perhaps fewer cosy chats between “senior BBC executives” and members of the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel lobby in the UK would help the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee to get a better grip of the historical and geographical facts.  

A Middle East reality show winner who doesn’t interest the BBC

If readers have formed the impression that the BBC has an extraordinary interest in Middle East reality TV shows, that is probably the result of the fact that in the past year, the BBC News website has covered the Israeli version of ‘The Voice’, the ‘Miss Israel’ beauty contest, the 2013 ‘Arab Idol’ competition (in no fewer than seven reports!), a Palestinian TV show called ‘The President’ (two reports) and the Israeli version of ‘X-Factor’.Nof

To date, however, there has been no BBC report on Dr Nof Atamna-Ismaeel’s recent win of the Israeli version of MasterChef.

One might have perhaps thought that an Arab-Israeli woman with three children, a PhD in microbiology from the Technion and no fewer than four post-doctoral degrees could open the door to a somewhat different view of the region than that to which BBC audiences are usually exposed. In the meantime, however, that door remains closed. 


In which the BBC ‘forgets’ to tell readers about $400 million of Palestinian debt to Israel

April 11th saw the appearance of an article titled “Israel to impose sanctions against Palestinian Authority” on the Middle East page of the BBC News website.sanctions art

Like the previous report on the subject of the impasse in the talks between Israel and the PLO published two days earlier, this one too signals the beginning of a departure from the promotion of the faux equivocal stance enabled by carefully selected omissions which has so far been adopted to describe to audiences the reasons for the breakdown in negotiations.

As we noted in relation to the previous article:

“The report goes on to quote and promote unnamed “correspondents”, providing no information which would enable audiences to assess the relevance or validity of the claim made by those anonymous sources.

“Correspondents say Mr Netanyahu’s action has dealt another blow to the faltering US-brokered peace process.” “

This latest article has equally anonymous “observers” instead of “correspondents” but the message to BBC audiences is the same: Israel is to blame for the talks’ lack of success.

“Israel has imposed sanctions against the Palestinian Authority (PA) in retaliation for signing a number of international treaties, officials say. […]

Observers say it further complicates US-led talks, which resumed on Thursday and have faltered in recent weeks.”

Likewise, this latest report again promotes the inaccurate notion of reissued building tenders in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo as being “new” and fails to inform readers that the very same tenders were already issued six months ago, that not even the Palestinians believe that Gilo will become part of a future Palestinian state or that the agreement which preceded the commencement of the latest round of talks in no way limited Israeli building. The report even uses the same picture (see below) as it predecessor and audiences are clearly meant to conclude (mistakenly) that these building tenders were one of the reasons for the breakdown in talks.

“Talks had previously stalled after Palestinians were angered by Israel’s decision to approve 700 new settlement units in East Jerusalem – which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and formally annexed the area in 1980.

Settlements built there and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

sanctions art pic

Notably, the report makes no attempt whatsoever to inform audiences of the nature of the “debt payments” it describes.

“In the latest development, Israeli officials are quoted as saying that debt payments would be deducted from tax transfers routinely received by the PA.

Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinians, and transfers about $100m (80m euros) per month, accounting for two-thirds of the authority’s budget.

It is not yet clear how much money will be withheld or for how long.”

Hence – and not for the first time – readers remain unaware of the fact that “[t]he Palestinians owe Israeli companies hundreds of millions of dollars for electricity, power and other services” or that the PA’s Minister of Labour recently admitted that:

“… the PA owes the Israel electric company alone some $400 million.”

Despite the fact that another aspect of the withholding of tax transfers has been noted by the Israeli media, the BBC – in keeping with its long tradition – avoids any mention of the subject of PA payments to convicted terrorists. As the Times of Israel, for example, reports:

“On Wednesday, a senior official warned about the imminent drastic tax cuts, but said the suspended funds were “the money they spend on terrorists and their families.”

“This step would be less dramatic than cutting entirely our monthly tax payments to the PA, but it would be step that would be in place,” he said.

Israel considers the Palestinian payments to Palestinian security prisoners and their families as “funding terrorism,” the senior official said.”

Although that same subject was also raised by the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the BBC – as we have previously noted here – scrupulously avoids informing audiences even of the existence of such PA policy.  

WSJ art

The BBC’s latest report does, however, include uncritical promotion of statements made by Saeb Erekat - with no qualification or balancing quotes from named Israeli officials.

“Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has condemned the move as “Israeli hijacking” and “theft”. […]

Mr Erekat told AFP news agency it was “theft of the Palestinian people’s money” and a “violation of international law and norms by Israel”.”

Is the BBC really at ease with promoting the notion to its audiences that “international law” dictates that Israeli citizens must subsidise the electricity bills of their Palestinian neighbours to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars?

Much of the latter half of this report is no more than a bland reproduction of the BBC’s previous April 9th article and once again it promotes misleading impressions of the terms of the agreement which preceded the current round of negotiations and omits from audience view vital background information crucial to their understanding of the current status of those talks.

Despite being an organization committed under the terms of its constitutional document to building “a global understanding of international issues”, the BBC is making a remarkable job of doing the exact opposite of that with regard to this topic. 

Another report on talks impasse fails to break the BBC mould

On April 9th an article appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israel PM Netanyahu curbs contacts with Palestinians“. The report opens:curbs contacts art main

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his ministers to stop high-level meetings with their Palestinian counterparts.”

Only from the fifth paragraph onwards are readers informed that the issue is a lot less dramatic than the BBC’s initial presentation may have led them to believe.

“The government officials said Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, would be an exception from the PM’s edict.

Defence and security officials will also be allowed to continue to engage with the Palestinians, according to reports.

Otherwise, only low-level co-operation will be permitted.”

As has been the case in previous BBC reports on the impasse in the current round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, this report fails to clarify to audiences that the commitment on the part of the Palestinians not to apply to join UN agencies was part and parcel of the initial agreement which preceded the current round of talks (as recently confirmed by the PA president’s spokesman) and not just an understanding on the part of Israel as has repeatedly been implied by the BBC.

“The order follows “Palestinians’ violation of their commitments under peace talks”, officials said.

It comes after a request by the Palestinians to join 15 UN treaties and conventions as a state party.”

The report goes on to quote and promote unnamed “correspondents”, providing no information which would enable audiences to assess the relevance or validity of the claim made by those anonymous sources.

“Correspondents say Mr Netanyahu’s action has dealt another blow to the faltering US-brokered peace process.”

Under a sub-heading of “Unhelpful” the report goes on to promote the notion of equivalence as has been the case in previous BBC reports on the same topic.

“On Tuesday, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said the US would continue to promote the talks despite recent setbacks.

He blamed both sides for taking “unhelpful” steps.

The peace talks resumed in July under US auspices after a three-year hiatus.

Each side blames the other for violating previous promises.”

The article continues:

“The Palestinians were furious when Israel did not sanction the release of a fourth batch of prisoners, as agreed in principle under the terms on which the Palestinians returned to peace talks last year. The Palestinians wanted the group to include a number of Israeli Arab prisoners.”

Once again, no attempt is made to explain to BBC audiences the significance and implications of the Palestinian demand for the release of prisoners who are Israeli citizens.

That particular section of the article is illustrated using the photograph below, captioned “Israel has announced plans to build about 700 new homes in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem” and the same claim is reiterated in the body of the article, with no mention of the fact that the relevant tenders –situated in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo – had already been issued six months previously, meaning that the proposed oddly termed “settlement units” are therefore obviously not “new”. No attempt is made to clarify to audiences that limits on Israeli construction were not part of the agreed terms which preceded the recommencement of negotiations. 

“They [the Palestinians] were further angered by Israel’s approval of about 700 new settlement units in East Jerusalem.”

curbs contacts art pic

The report continues with the standard BBC insert which both fails to clarify to audiences the status of the relevant parts of Jerusalem before 1967 (occupied for 19 years by Jordan after its invasion of foreign territory) and breaches BBC editorial guidelines by failing to inform audiences that other legal interpretations of “international law” exist.

“Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and formally annexed the area in 1980. Settlements built there and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The article goes on to once again present aspects of the agreement which preceded the latest round of talks as though they were Israeli interpretation only and fails to clarify to readers that those points were actually part and parcel of the agreement.

“Israel stressed that it had predicated any prisoner release on progress being made in the negotiations and on the Palestinians abiding by a commitment not to seek membership of international agencies.”

As has been the case with all previous BBC reports on this topic, this article continues to avoid informing BBC audiences about crucial background factors which have contributed to the current impasse including the PA’s refusal (with Arab League support) to renounce future claims and thus bring an end to the conflict by recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.

In fact, in all its coverage so far of the topic of the current round of negotiations, the BBC has systematically avoided informing its audiences of the importance and significance of the issue of Palestinian – and wider Arab – recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and as time goes on, it is increasingly difficult to attribute that glaring omission to mere oversight.

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