BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

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

The article opens by informing readers that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC amends article on DEC Gaza appeal concerns

Yet another problem Tweet from the BBC’s Jon Donnison

Despite having relocated to Australia some eighteen months ago, the BBC’s Jon Donnison continues to Tweet energetically about Israel-related issues, frequently breaching his employer’s editorial and social media guidelines in the process. Some examples from the past year alone can be seen here, here, here and here.editorial guidelines  

Honest Reporting has the story of yet another Tweet sent by Donnison on December 10th.

“Now Donnison, despite currently being posted to Sydney, Australia, has weighed in with this tweet about the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein from a heart attack while confronting Israeli soldiers.”

The rest of the story can be read here.

So much for the  BBC Editorial Guidelines - again. 

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.” 

How the BBC cherry-picked its Jihadist terrorists

In recent days quite a few people have let us know via e-mail or social media that they were surprised to find that a BBC special feature on “Jihadist attacks” during the month of November did not include Israelis murdered during that month by terrorists linked to organisations such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.countries Jihadists

After all, in a fourteen day period during that month, nine Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists and a tenth victim injured in the November 5th attack died of his wounds a month later. Despite that fact, Israel does not appear on the list of countries in which, according to the study carried out by the BBC and the ICSR, Jihadist attacks took place. Notably too, the word terrorism does not appear in the BBC’s main feature on the topic – “Jihadism: Tracking a month of deadly attacks“, December 11th – although it is evident in the complimentary article by Professor Peter Neumann, “Jihadist violence: The devastating cost“.

The reason for the absence of any data concerning Israel in that study is to be found in a document detailing the study’s methodology. There, the interpretation of the term Jihadism used in the study is explained as follows:

definition Jihadism

Neither Hamas nor the PIJ are of course Salafists or Wahhabists and they do not belong to the Deobandi or Ahl e Hadith traditions. Hence, those two Palestinian terrorist organisations are not included in the BBC’s study despite the fact that Israel is cited as a ‘motive’ and even though some of their aims and ideologies dovetail neatly with those of groups which are defined as Jihadists and they have certainly proved their “readiness to kill” to achieve their religiously motivated aims.

It is, of course, much easier to promote (even by omission) the notion of a fundamental difference between Hamas and Salafist Jihadists such as Ansar Beit al Maqdis which does appear in this study if one ignores the relationship between them (as the BBC has largely done) and if one presents (as the BBC consistently does, according to its own politically motivated narrative) the Hamas raison d’être exclusively as politically inspired ‘resistance’ to ‘occupation’ whilst ignoring the religious elements underpinning it as demonstrated, for example, in article 11 of the Hamas charter.

“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?

This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.”

It is probably pretty safe to assume, therefore, that we will not be seeing the outcome of acts by Palestinian terrorist organisations classified as “Jihadist violence” by the BBC anytime soon and hence its audiences will continue to lack crucial information on the issue of terrorism against Israelis. 

 

BBC’s Israel profile updated to include Jewish refugees from Arab lands

On December 13th an article by Matthew Teller titled “The Jews of Arabia” appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and in its Magazine section.Jews of Arabia

Based on material recently digitized by the British Library, the article represents one of the rare occasions on which the BBC relates to the topic of Jews from Arab lands. However, it also includes the following statement:

“…Bahrain has a tiny Jewish minority, comprising only a few families – though they wield significant power. Until last year, Bahrain’s ambassador to the US was a Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo.” [emphasis added]

According to most accounts, there are about three dozen Jews in Bahrain. Their one synagogue is permanently closed and they are not permitted to visit Israel. The BBC would nevertheless have audiences believe that, in an absolute monarchy ranked ‘not free’ by Freedom House in 2014, those thirty-odd people “wield significant power” without giving any further details with regard to what that power entails and how it is “significant” in that authoritarian regime, beyond the fact that one Jewish woman served as an ambassador for five years. 

Relatedly, via the Point of No Return website, we learn that an addition has apparently been recently made to the timeline on the BBC’s Israel profile which, despite its many other faults, now includes the following:

“1949-1950s – About a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries, plus 250,000 Holocaust survivors, settle in Israel.”

That at least is a step in the right direction. 

 

BBC News website’s written reports on Abu Ein continue to spread rumour

In addition to Kevin Connolly’s filmed report on the subject of the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein after an altercation at a demonstration near Turmus Aya and Yolande Knell’s filmed report from his funeral, the BBC News website also produced a written article on December 10th titled “Palestinian minister dies at West Bank protest“.Abu Ein written 10 12

The report underwent numerous changes after its initial publication which can be seen here. However, even the later versions of the article continued to amplify unverified rumours promoted by assorted actors.

“Palestinian medics told the BBC Ziad Abu Ein had died from complications related to tear gas exposure.

But several witnesses said the minister had been hit and shoved by soldiers. One said he had been hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by them.” […]

“Leading Palestinian activist Mahmoud Aloul, who was also at the protest, told the Associated Press news agency the soldiers had fired tear gas and had beaten some of the activists with rifle butts.

At one point, Mr Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister, Mr Aloul said.

A Reuters photographer said he had seen Mr Abu Ein being struck by a hand on the neck during an altercation with two soldiers.

An AFP news agency photographer said the minister had been hit in the chest.”

Mahmoud Aloul is actually a member of the Fatah Central Committee rather than a mere “activist” and although none of the various video reports filmed during the incident have shown that Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister, the BBC nevertheless elected to amplify his evidence-free claims.

Like Connolly’s filmed report, this one also misrepresents the background to the demonstration, failing to inform BBC audiences that it was organized by local councils to coincide with their presentation – together with the political NGO Yesh Din – of a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad. 

“Mr Abu Ein, a minister without portfolio, was among dozens of foreign and Palestinian activists taking part in a protest against land confiscations.

They had planned to plant olive tree saplings on a patch of land near the Jewish settlement of Shiloh, which Palestinians believe has been earmarked for annexation by Israel.”

The report includes the following cryptic statement:

“There are reports he [Abu Ein] had a health condition that may have contributed to his death.

The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says Palestinians are likely to see the exact cause of death as a secondary issue, and it will serve to sharpen tensions.”

No attempt is made to inform readers why the actual circumstances of the incident should be considered “a secondary issue” in Palestinian circles or how the assorted and inconsistent ‘witness statements’ amplified by the BBC should be viewed in light of that legitimate observation by Connolly.

Ziad Abu Ein’s conviction for a terror attack in 1979 is presented in vague terms at the end of the report. His extradition from the US is not mentioned.

“Mr Abu Ein once received the death sentence, commuted to life imprisonment, from a court in Israel for a 1979 bombing that killed two Israeli teenagers.”

On December 11th the BBC News website produced an additional article titled earlier “Palestinian minister’s funeral held amid Israel tensions” and currently going under the heading “Palestinian minister buried amid tensions over cause of death“, changes to which can be seen here.Abu Ein written 11 12

Once again the BBC fails to contribute to its audiences’ understanding of the issue by providing them with a clear, factual, verified account of events and instead opts to juxtapose fact with rumour and propaganda which – as readers will no doubt notice – changes from article to article and even from version to version. Earlier editions of this report stated:

“Palestinians have blamed Israel for his death, saying he died after being hit by a soldier and inhaling tear gas.”

Later versions informed readers that:

“Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Ziad Abu Ein had been suffocated and beaten by Israeli soldiers.” […]

“Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told the BBC his death had been caused by “Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein”, saying he held the Israeli government fully responsible.”

As was noted here in relation to Yolande Knell’s uncritical amplification of Erekat’s claims, none of the ample video evidence shows Abu Ein being either ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten up’ and, despite a similar lack of proof that Abu Ein was “killed”, the BBC also elected to promote the following statement from Erekat.

“He said the [pathologists’] report clearly stated that Mr Abu Ein had been “killed in cold blood”.”

The article also informs readers that:

“Earlier in the day, Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian pathologists attended a preliminary examination of Mr Abu Ein’s body, but Israel and the Palestinians issued differing accounts. […]

Palestinian pathologist Saber Aloul told reporters the main cause was a blow to Ziad Abu Ein, not natural causes.

But Israel’s ministry of health said the examination showed Mr Abu Ein had underlying heart problems, and the immediate cause of death was a blockage to a cardiac artery.”

Sharp-eyed readers will no doubt have noticed that the quoted pathologist has appeared in previous BBC reports. Back in March 2013 Dr Saber al Aloul was quoted and promoted by the BBC’s Jon Donnison when he determined (despite evidence to the contrary) that Arafat Jaradat had died of “intensive torture” whilst in an Israeli prison. Notably, the PA’s Ministry of Prisoner Affairs changed the official story just one day later to “killed by collaborators”. The same PA chief pathologist was also present at the autopsy of bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni last month.

“Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine director Dr. Chen Kogel notes that Palestinian pathologist Dr. Saber Al-Aloul, appointed by the family of the driver, was present throughout the autopsy and concurred with the conclusion that the cause of death was suicide. […]

The controversy over Ramouni’s death began with a report from the Palestinian news agency Ma’an saying that the Palestinian coroner had reached the opposite conclusion and that Al-Aloul, who attended the autopsy on the family’s behalf, believed the cause of death to be homicide and not suicide. The report did not quote Al-Aloul directly, but ascribed this claim to him. The Palestinian pathologist has neither confirmed nor denied the report since its publication.”

The Times of Israel reported that the Palestinian pathologist refrained from answering calls and as was also noted here at the time, despite the available scientific evidence the BBC promoted the notion that the bus driver had been murdered on no fewer than seven different occasions and suggested that was a relevant ‘background factor’ to the terror attack at the synagogue in Har Nof.

Obviously Dr Al Aloul has quite a history of questionable statements but nevertheless, the BBC continues to quote him without qualification.

Like the filmed reports by Connolly and Knell, this article also avoids mentioning that in between his altercation with the Border Police officer and the point at which he sat down on a rock feeling unwell, Ziad Abu Ein managed to give an interview to the media.

“Footage and images from the scene of the protest, near the unauthorised Jewish outpost of Adei Ad, showed a standoff between troops and Palestinians, followed by a scuffle between a protester and a soldier.

At one point Mr Abu Ein is seen being pushed by his throat by the border guard. He is subsequently seen collapsed on the ground. He was later taken to hospital in Ramallah but died on the way.”

And also in common with those two reports, the full background to the demonstration in which Abu Ein took part is not provided to readers.

As was the case in the earlier written report, this one also promotes the allegation made by a Fatah central committee member, despite the lack of evidence in support of that claim.  

“Palestinian witnesses and news agency journalists said tear gas was fired. Palestinian activist Mahmoud Aloul said Mr Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister.”

Ziad Abu Ein’s conviction for a terrorist attack was not included in this report.

As we see in both these written reports the BBC has promoted a plethora of varied and often contradictory ‘witness accounts’ of the events surrounding Ziad Abu Ein’s death. Those accounts, along with the BBC’s own descriptions of events, include “complications related to tear gas exposure”, “hit and shoved by soldiers”, “hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister”, “struck by a hand on the neck”, “hit in the chest”, “suffocated and beaten”, “grabbed by the throat”, “pushed by his throat” and “killed in cold blood”.

Clearly the sheer number of different versions of the story alone should have been enough to prompt some serious fact-checking before these two articles were published. Instead, the BBC simply published whatever rumour and second-hand hearsay came its way, once again failing to provide audiences with anything which can be described as a reliable, informative, evidence-based account of events. 

Why the BBC Middle Editor’s Northern Ireland analogy is wrong

“Now, Britain negotiated with the IRA and finally managed to make a peace agreement and Britain continued to negotiate with the IRA even when they were taking action against the British. Isn’t that the sensible way to make peace?”

That statement-cum-question was put to the Israeli prime minister in April of this year by the BBC’s Middle East editor and of course Jeremy Bowen is far from the only person within media circles and beyond to use the inaccurate Northern Ireland analogy. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the person who has the last word on the accuracy, impartiality and tone of the corporation’s Middle East related content, as well as playing a role in defining the content of the mandatory Middle East module taught at the BBC College of Journalism, subscribes to the erroneous and misleading notion that the two conflicts – and their solutions – are comparable.

The fallacious nature of the Northern Ireland analogy was recently laid out in a detailed article by writer Eamonn MacDonagh.

“In recent years, debates over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be resolved have begun to make frequent reference to a fairy tale. This tale is based on the supposedly similar conflict in Northern Ireland between Great Britain and the Provisional IRA. That conflict was ultimately resolved with a peace treaty, and the suggestion is frequently made that if only Israel and Hamas could be persuaded to implement its lessons, then all would quickly be made well. […]

In fact, drawing an analogy between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Middle East is not simply unjustified; it is an error of the grossest kind.”

Read the whole article here

More BBC wind in the sails of NGO’s lawfare campaign

On December 9th the BBC News website published an article titled “Amnesty: Israeli strikes on Gaza buildings ‘war crimes’” on its Middle East page. Ninety-one of the article’s 535 words are devoted to BBC produced background information. Of the remaining 444 words, two hundred and eighty-three are repetition or paraphrasing of Amnesty International’s claims and one hundred and sixty-one represent Israel’s response to the report.AI report

Whilst the article uncritically repeats the various claims made by Amnesty International – including that of “collective punishment” – it does not inform BBC audiences of the dubious methodology used in the report’s compilation. Neither are readers informed that the report was written without AI having access to information regarding the military value of the sites beyond the hearsay its unnamed researchers gleaned from members of the public in the Gaza Strip and cherry-picked quotes from media reports.

In its background information, the article informs readers that:

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza between Israel and militant groups led by Hamas left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

Let’s look at that oddly phrased claim more closely. The BBC tells its audiences that “at least” 2,189 Palestinians died, of whom “more than” 1,486 (a very precise number) were civilians. But how many more? If the BBC is sure that “more than” the 1,486 were civilians, why can it not tell audiences exactly how many of the casualties were civilians and how many were combatants? Of course what these quoted numbers also mean is that the BBC is informing audiences that at the very most, 703 of the casualties were not civilians. In other words, a maximum 32% of the casualties were, according to the BBC, combatants.

As we know, the BBC has been uncritically quoting Hamas and UN supplied casualty figures (for details on how the UN arrives at those figures, see here) from the beginning of the summer conflict itself and ever since. However, nearly four months after the conflict came to an end we have still not seen evidence of any effort by the BBC to independently confirm the figures it repeatedly promotes.

The ITIC has to date examined approximately 54% of the names of casualties provided by Palestinian sources. Its research so far indicates that some 52% of those casualties were terrorist operatives and 48% civilians. That is obviously a very different picture than the one presented by the figures the BBC chooses to quote and yet, at no point has the BBC adhered to its own impartiality guidelines by informing audiences of the existence of the ITIC’s research.

As regular readers will be aware, this is far from the first time that the BBC has provided uncritical amplification of reports or statements from political NGOs in general and Amnesty International in particular. Examples of BBC promotion of Amnesty material relating to Israel during the past year alone can be seen here, here, here, here and here.  

The raison d’être of Amnesty International’s latest report is, once again, not difficult to determine.

“These attacks need to be independently and impartially investigated, as do all serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law alleged to have been committed during the conflict. Amnesty International’s view is that no official body capable of conducting such investigations currently exists in Israel. It is therefore all the more important that the Commission of Inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2014 is allowed to conduct its investigations without hindrance.”

In other words, this report is part of the lawfare campaign initiated just days after the start of the summer conflict by Amnesty International and additional political NGOs (several of which have also been extensively promoted by the BBC). And once more, that campaign is getting uncritical BBC wind in its sails.

One cannot but be reminded of the words of Matti Friedman in his recent article on the topic of foreign media coverage of Israel.

“The best insight into one of the key phenomena at play here comes not from a local reporter but from the journalist and author Philip Gourevitch. In Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa, Gourevitch wrote in 2010, he was struck by the ethical gray zone of ties between reporters and NGOs. “Too often the press represents humanitarians with unquestioning admiration,” he observed in The New Yorker. “Why not seek to keep them honest? Why should our coverage of them look so much like their own self-representation in fund-raising appeals? Why should we (as many photojournalists and print reporters do) work for humanitarian agencies between journalism jobs, helping them with their official reports and institutional appeals, in a way that we would never consider doing for corporations, political parties, or government agencies?”

This confusion is very much present in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where foreign activists are a notable feature of the landscape, and where international NGOs and numerous arms of the United Nations are among the most powerful players, wielding billions of dollars and employing many thousands of foreign and local employees. […]

In my time in the press corps, I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them. For many foreign journalists, these were not targets but sources and friends—fellow members, in a sense, of an informal alliance. This alliance consists of activists and international staffers from the UN and the NGOs; the Western diplomatic corps, particularly in East Jerusalem; and foreign reporters.”

As we see above, the BBC continues to indulge its ‘journavism’ habit of uncritical repetition and amplification of claims made by political NGOs of a certain genre.   

Related Articles:

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later on listeners are told by Bowen that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his introduction to this item Bowen states:SONY DSC

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC serves up political propaganda with olives

Vital information missing in BBC reports on alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria

On the afternoon of December 7th the BBC News website published an article now titled “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian army“. Changes made to the various versions of the report can be seen here and its initial version read as follows:

bombing Syria

In addition, a filmed report by Beirut correspondent Jim Muir was broadcast on BBC television news and appeared on the website under the title “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian state TV“.

With Israel having declined to comment on the claims made by Syrian media and officials, both reports follow the format of previous ones on similar events, relying upon unconfirmed hearsay and conjecture. Notably, even after BBC News found itself under severe criticism nineteen months ago for uncritical repetition of the Assad regime’s propaganda (see here, here and here), the written article states:

“”This afternoon, the Israeli enemy targeted two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the Damascus International Airport,” the military statement said.

It described the air strikes as “direct aggression” carried out to help the Syrian government’s opponents.” [emphasis added]

No effort is made to inform audiences of the redundancy of that Syrian regime propaganda.

But both these reports are in fact far more notable for what they do not include than for what they do. Neither of them informs audiences of Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, with the written article stating:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several air strikes on Syria since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

They appear to have been mainly aimed at preventing weapons transfers to Syria’s allies in Lebanon, the militant Hezbollah movement, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Beirut.”

In the filmed version Muir stated:Muir filmed

“…which would be the fourth time that the Israelis have struck inside…erm…Syria since the war there began in 2011 – mainly attacks aimed at hitting or preventing weapons being transferred to Hizballah, according to the evidence that came out later. That’s of course Israel…Syria’s ally here in Lebanon.”

So, from international criminal and terrorist organization, Hizballah has been upgraded by Muir to the status of “Syria’s ally”, meaning of course that BBC audiences are being told a very selective part of the story. Interestingly, the BBC’s profile of Hizballah (faulty as it is) was not included in the ‘more on this story’ links presented at the side of and below the main article.

Neither was any effort made in either of the two reports to inform audiences of the highly relevant fact that, according to UN SC resolution 1701 all militias – including Hizballah – should have been disarmed and the sale or transfer of weapons to non-state actors is prohibited.

That factor, along with Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, is crucial for proper audience understanding of the story as it is presented. The BBC, however, elected not to provide the information to its audiences.

Related Articles:

BBC promotes Assad propaganda in Syria reports

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ promotes more Syrian regime propaganda

BBC suggests failure to convene Syria peace conference will be Israel’s fault

BBC transforms its correspondents’ conjecture into fact 

BBC’s Knell revamps ‘reporter in the rubble’ for promotion of a political agenda

It’s a story BBC audiences have heard many times before but on December 8th two more reports produced by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell continued the now well established tradition of context-free descriptions of damage to structures resulting from the summer conflict in the Gaza Strip as a means of amplification of the campaign by Hamas and its sympathisers to lift restrictions on dual-use goods into the territory, to which the corporation – and Knell in particular – self-conscripted back in July.

Listeners to BBC World Service radio heard an item titled “Slow reconstruction of Gaza” which was also promoted as a podcast on Twitter. The synopsis to that podcast reads as follows:Knell reconstruction audio 8 12

“At least 100,000 Palestinians lost their homes in this summer’s conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, according to the UN. The BBC’s Yolande Knell has found that very little reconstruction has taken place in this Palestinian territory. Israel tightly monitors the import of building materials and equipment into Gaza, arguing that militants could use them to rebuild tunnels and carry out attacks.”

As has been noted here previously, the BBC has shown no interest whatsoever in investigating how Hamas managed (despite supposed supervision by international bodies and aid agencies) to comandeer thousands of tons of construction materials in order to build the dozens of cross-border attack tunnels which led to the ground operation in this summer’s conflict. Instead, what has already been shown to be reality continues to be represented by the BBC as theoretical Israeli claims.

English teacher's house

click to enlarge

Knell opens her audio report with a visit to Shuja’iya – the neighbourhood also featured in her big report last September. Once again, she refrains from informing listeners of the scale of Hamas operations in that neighbourhood which caused parts of it to become military targets, or specifically that the street highlighted in her report is near the location of missile launching sites used by the terrorists during the summer war.

“Three months on from the ceasefire that ended this summer’s fighting in Gaza, I’ve come back to Nazaz Street in one of the worst affected neighbourhoods – Shuja’iya. It’s much colder than last time I was here and some areas are flooded because there’s been really wet, wintry weather in the past week. But otherwise, surprisingly little has changed: there is still rubble everywhere.

[Man’s voice] See – this is the kitchen. Our cups…destroyed here.

Knell: I’ve met up once again with Abdul Kareem Abu Ahmed. An English teacher, he shows me around the ruins of his large home and rose garden.

AKAA: We were hoping that they will immediately rebuild our houses. But after three months we feel now very frustrated.

Knell: Have you had any progress with the United Nations coming to look at the house?

AKAA: Yes, they came here. They visit us, they took photos. They promised us they will give us money to pay for renting flat but nothing happened. They didn’t give us concrete. They didn’t give us equipments to rebuild, so we still as we were.”

The same Brontë-loving, rose-growing English teacher has of course already appeared in a succession of BBC reports – see examples here, here and here. Regular listeners to BBC World Service radio were no doubt confused by the next segment of Knell’s report seeing as just days earlier they had been told that there are no building materials (or electricity or water) in the Gaza Strip.

“Knell: But here at the Burj al Jamil [phonetic] building firm we’ve finally found some signs of progress. There’s a big crowd of men around the office door. They’re getting their ID cards checked against names on a computerized system. Then they get given a coupon which they hand over here at the warehouse. There’s a forklift truck loading up cement into the back of a horse and cart. Now, there are security cameras all around this warehouse so that monitors can keep an eye on what’s happening to these bags of cement. This company had to get special clearance to import the building materials into Gaza.

[Man’s voice] If the system stays like this it will take at least ten years to rebuild Gaza.

Knell: And yet the manager, Sami Abu Obeid, is disheartened. He tells me he could easily distribute much more cement.

Manager: Instead of 160 tons a day coming in, make it six or seven thousand tons. Also send in more gravel and iron. I will guarantee that everyone gets the right amount. Give me the names and I’ll take responsibility.”

Again, Knell makes no effort to inform listeners how the previous system of supervision failed to prevent cement, gravel and iron from reaching Hamas. She continues, describing the half year-old Palestinian unity government as “new” and failing to clarify to BBC audiences that Robert Serry’s decidedly cryptic message actually means that – as has been obvious for some time – that ‘unity government’ is not capable of solving the problems facing the population of Gaza Strip.

“The UN special coordinator Robert Serry was just in Cairo for more talks on Gaza. He secured the current arrangements to work around Israel’s blockade – tracking goods to make sure they don’t fall into militants’ hands. The new Palestinian unity government is supposed to oversee reconstruction. But Mr Serry admits there have been a lot of hold-ups.

Serry: I understand the frustrations in Gaza: that it has taken time and that it is still not really working at the required scale. To be successful, we need a government of national consensus to be empowered there. They don’t even control the crossings yet. We still have a very fragile ceasefire and then that’s why I’m worried because I also know that the consequences of failure can be that a next conflict is around the corner. Nobody wants that.

Knell: So for now, people in Gaza face an uncertain future and a long wait to rebuild their homes. For many of those I’ve been revisiting here, life is simply miserable. I’ve come into the Habeeb family house in Shuja’iya. There’s lots of water on the stairs as I go up. There’s still the whole exterior wall that’s missing from the last conflict – it was blown away – and you have more than 20 members of the family living here in just two rooms.

When it rains it’s a disaster. It’s like we have waterfalls coming through the roof and all the children are soaked, says Um al Ez [phonetic]. We just use blankets to keep warm. What else can we do?

And as her grandchildren play football in the next room, their warm breath misting up the cold air, there’s no easy answer.”

Of course had the Palestinian unity government fulfilled its existing obligation to disarm terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip when it first came into being, Knell might be telling a very different story now. 

Knell’s second report from December 8th was a filmed item promoted on BBC television news as well as on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza struggling to rebuild after conflict“. The synopsis to the report includes the following statement, once again failing to clarify that the use of construction materials imported into the Gaza Strip for the purposes of terrorism is not theoretical.Knell reconstruction filmed 8 12

“Very little reconstruction has taken place in Gaza since the conflict there which killed over 2,100 Palestinians and destroyed more than 100,000 homes.

Donors have pledged more than $5bn but Israel strictly regulates the import of building materials and equipment into the Palestinian territory.

They say that militants could use the equipment to carry out attacks.”

In that report audiences once again heard from the BBC’s favourite English teacher and from the manager of the building supplies warehouse. They were also informed by Knell that:

“A deal brokered by the UN works around Israel’s blockade of Gaza.”

“Israel wants guarantees militants won’t take these goods to rebuild tunnels they can use for cross-border attacks.”

She goes on to introduce an interview with UNRWA’s director of operations in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “The huge sale of destruction means it’s taking longer than expected to assess the damage. UN officials also blame Palestinian politics for delays in reconstruction and say ultimately Israel needs to lift its tight border restrictions. Their efforts can only achieve so much.

Robert Turner: The mechanism is a significant step. It’s important to ensure that the families that were affected by the conflict can rebuild their homes. It’s not a replacement for the lifting of the blockade. If there’s going to be peace and security, if there’s going to be stable Gaza, then the blockade needs to be lifted.”

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have heard ostensibly ‘neutral’ UNRWA officials promoting the Hamas demand to lift border restrictions designed to prevent it from rearming and acquiring dual-use goods for the purposes of terrorism: a step which Turner apparently bizarrely believes would bring “peace and security”. In October of this year, listeners to the BBC World Service heard Turner’s colleague – the former BBC correspondent with a direct line to the BBC’s Middle East editor, Chris Gunness – say of the UN’s supervision of building materials:

“But let’s be clear: this mechanism is not a substitute for lifting the blockade.”

Neither is there anything new about the fact that UNRWA’s political campaigning dovetails with the agenda of the internationally recognised terrorist organization which took control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup and the BBC’s collaboration in amplifying it. Yolande Knell was to be found doing exactly that long before the last conflict.

“But a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees Chris Gunness says that ultimately, the precarious situation in Gaza is created by seven years of tight border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt.”

And:

“Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness said […] “While Unrwa understands the frustration of the population, heightened by the tightened blockade on the Gaza Strip, and respects the right to peaceful demonstrations, Unrwa must ensure the safety and security of its staff.” ” [emphasis added]

Of course were the BBC to actually get around to providing an accurate and impartial representation of when and why those border restrictions had to be imposed in the first place, audiences would be able to judge UNRWA’s political campaigning – and the BBC-supplied free PR – for what it really is. Instead, the BBC continues to uncritically quote UNRWA, obviously with no journalistic curiosity as to why the ‘human rights’ organisation’s agenda is indistinguishable from that of an Islamist terror group.