BBC News coverage of worldwide anti-Charlie Hebdo protests omits Jerusalem

The BBC News website’s coverage of demonstrations against the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo which took place in various locations around the world on Friday, January 16th has included a filmed report about clashes in Karachi (“Clashes at Pakistan Charlie Hebdo protest“) and a written report on the same topic, a filmed report about protests in Amman (“Protests in Jordan against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon“) and a written report about clashes in Zinder (“Charlie Hebdo: ‘Four dead’ in Niger protest“).BBC News logo 2

In that latter report BBC audiences were informed that:

“Protests against the magazine were also seen on Friday in Pakistan, where protests turned violent in Karachi, the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and the Algerian capital, Algiers.”

That same information was repeated in an additional report on more rioting in Niger published the next day (January 17th) along with the following information:

“People in Somalia took to the streets on Saturday.”

Apparently though, there were no BBC journalists available to cover the demonstration held on January 16th at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem - a twenty-minute drive from the corporation’s offices in the city.

“Hundreds of Palestinians attended a rally on Friday afternoon on the Temple Mount against the new cover of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which featured a drawing of the Prophet Mohammad.

In a video uploaded by the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency, protestors can be seen burning a French flag , and shouting: “Burn it burn it! ….. in the cause of God. Allah the greatest. Prophet Muhammad is our leader forever”.”

Considering that the BBC has devoted considerable column space and air-time to the subject of Temple Mount in recent weeks, it is notable that this use of the site as a venue for protest by extremists was not reported. 

‘Hardtalk’ interview with Yehuda Glick reinforces entrenched BBC narrative

The January 7th edition of ‘Hardtalk’ – presented by Stephen Sackur and broadcast on BBC World News and on the BBC News Channel with three additional repeats – featured an interview with Yehuda Glick. The synopsis to the programme appearing on the BBC website reads as follows:Hardtalk logo

“Jerusalem boasts one of the most bitterly contested pieces of real estate in the World – known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. Jews aren’t allowed to pray there, many Jewish religious leaders say Jews should not set foot there; but that consensus is breaking down. Hardtalk speaks to Yehuda Glick an activist who’s been variously described as a dangerous extremist, and a campaigner for religious freedom. Three months ago he survived an assassination attempt. Why does he persist with his divisive campaign on Jerusalem’s holiest ground?”

The portrayal of the campaign for equal prayer rights for non-Muslims on Temple Mount as “divisive” is in tune with themes promoted in much of the BBC’s recent reporting from Israel. Indeed, that campaign was the second most promoted factor (after ‘settlements’) used by BBC journalists to ‘explain’ the rioting, violence and terror attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere during October and November 2014. Whilst the BBC has seen fit to employ political labels such as “extremist” and “right-wing” to describe people involved in that campaign or visiting the site, similar political labelling for those engaged in rioting, violence and terror ostensibly in response to that campaign was absent from all BBC reporting.

Notably, no effort has been made by the BBC to date to examine the real issues behind opposition to equal prayer rights at a site holy to members of three religions. Whatever one’s opinion on the issue of the implementation of such rights (and the Israeli government has made it perfectly clear on numerous occasions that it has no intention of changing the status quo according to which non-Muslims are not allowed to pray at the site), there is clearly a wider discussion to be had about the acceptance of limits on freedom of religion in the 21st century and the ideologies which form the basis for violent opposition to equality for members of all faiths.

Stephen Sackur, however, passed up on the opportunity to use this interview to present a more in-depth view of the topic to BBC audiences and elected instead to further promote the standard BBC approach to the issue. As readers can see for themselves below, viewers of this edition of ‘Hardtalk’ were not even informed who tried to kill Yehuda Glick on October 29th and that would-be assassin was certainly not depicted as a “provocative figure” or an “extremist” – as Sackur did describe his interviewee. In fact at one point (05:50), Sackur’s unfortunate turn of phrase appears to justify violence.

Glick: “…there is no reason in the world why that [non-Muslims praying on Temple Mount] should cause others to be violent towards…”

Sackur: (interrupts) “Well of course there is a reason because it contravenes the agreement upon which access to Temple Mount is currently governed…”

Purporting to explain the underlying issue to audiences, Sackur promotes inaccurate information:

“For some people watching this who don’t know the situation today, let us just lay it out in simple terms if we can. You know, the Temple Mount as you call it obviously is the site of the first and second ancient Jewish temples built by the kings, you know, thousands of years ago. That matters deeply to you. It is also, right now, today, the site of the third holiest Muslim shrine: the Al Aqsa Mosque – it’s known as Dome of the Rock. Of course generally; the compound described as the Noble Sanctuary. Deeply important to Muslims around the world and the arrangement is and has been for many years that Jews do not go into the compound to pray and have limited – very limited – access to the compound as long as they don’t pray.  

The Al Aqsa Mosque is of course not “known as Dome of the Rock”: the two are separate structures. Notably, Sackur’s explanation does not clarify that Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism – or why – and his claim that under the terms of the status quo agreement Jews have “very limited” access to Temple Mount is inaccurate, with the right of access also protected by the Protection of Holy Places Law.

Notably, every time the conversation does approach the issue of religious freedom, Stephen Sackur interrupts and redirects it elsewhere in accordance with his all too obvious agenda of reinforcing the framing of this story already so well entrenched in previous BBC coverage.

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part two

The second part of Tim Franks’ ‘Newshour’ special broadcast from Jerusalem on December 5th (available here from 00:30:00, part one discussed here) began with the following introduction from Franks:Newshour 5 12 Jerusalem special

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Franks’ next interviewee is introduced as follows:

“And the south [of Jerusalem] is where I am now with Aviv Tatarsky. He’s with the think-tank and advocacy group Ir Amim which plots the changes to Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim of course does a lot more than just ‘plot changes': it is an NGO with a clear political agenda which should have been clarified to BBC audiences before they were exposed to its researcher’s unchallenged claims.

Tatarsky: “Right, so we’re just on a lookout very close to Bethlehem on the southern perimeter of Jerusalem where right now it’s open land – open space – but Israel has published the official approval of a plan for a completely new neighbourhood – 2,600 housing units – called Givat HaMatos; that’s the name. And the significance is not only this big move to construct a neighbourhood and – for the world, for the Palestinians – a new settlement beyond the Green Line, but actually that this would really bring together Gilo and Har Homa and together with Givat HaMatos you would have continuous Israeli bloc that would finally separate Bethlehem – the south of the West bank – from East Jerusalem. I think everyone understands – the international community, certainly the Palestinians, also the Israeli government – to end the conflict, to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the conflict, there will be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Now when you decide to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, actually what the Israeli government is saying: this will not happen; there will not be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Basically we don’t want one and we’re actually interested in keeping the situation as it is.”

Contrary to the statement made by Franks, the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos is not “new” and it certainly is not from “the last couple of months”. In fact, the BBC has been misreporting that topic since December 2012 – a full two years before Franks’ report went on air – and since that date the BBC has also been claiming that new apartments in Givat HaMatos (around half of which are ear-marked for Arab residents of nearby Beit Tsafafa) would “cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland”, just as Tatarsky does.

What no BBC report so far – including this one – has told audiences is that Givat HaMatos is in an area which, under any realistic scenario of a peace deal, would remain under Israeli control. What has also not been made clear is that it would be perfectly possible – and even logical – to construct a road leading from Bethlehem to, say, the Palestinian Legislative Council building in Abu Dis without passing through Givat HaMatos.

Rather than informing audiences accurately about this issue, however, Tim Franks, elects to give a platform to politically motivated sloganeering which does not even hold geographical water. 

Map Givat HaMatos

Next Franks goes to Issawiya to interview one Naim Hamdan whose nephews built a house without planning permission and are apparently now upset that the municipality has since demolished the structure, just as would be the case in any Western country. Franks grants Hamdan a platform to promote an egregious and redundant comparison between the demolition of a structure lacking planning permission and a hypothetical armed mugging in London.

Franks: “What do your nephews think about this?”

Hamdan: “What you will think? When someone stronger than you in the middle of London and hold a gun to your head; give me your money. What you will think when someone come to demolish your home? Are you gonna be happy? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

Following that listeners hear an unidentified voice say:

“Today we are divided physically, we are divided geographically and we are divided by walls of fear and in many ways a more endemic and more personalized hatred.”

As Franks then informs listeners, that voice belongs to Daniel Seidemann who is introduced as “a lawyer and activist” and who has appeared with similarly inadequate introduction in several recent BBC reports. Franks fails to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign funded political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political motivations behind the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing uninterrupted monologue into context.

“We had the horrendous murder of a teenage Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted and burned alive. You had the outbreak of violence in Gaza. So the only place where Israelis and Palestinians have enough of an interface is Jerusalem and it erupted here. Underneath all of this is a big question. What possesses thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year-old kids – who are the leaders of this uprising – to go out on a nightly basis for five months and clash with the police? They’re not being sent by their parents. They’re not being sent by some sort of authoritarian leader. They’re doing this spontaneously and that’s a huge question and I think the answer to that is they sense they have no future.”

Tim Franks clearly embraces Seidemann’s simplistic and cherry-picked narrative which completely erases from audience view recent Palestinian terrorism (including the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens in June) and Hamas’ instigation of the summer conflict whilst simultaneously failing to ask why parents and community leaders have made no discernible effort to put an end to such violent rioting or how the background of official PA incitement and glorification of terrorism legitimizes and encourages such acts. He then goes on to reinforce Seidemann’s spurious conjecture by promoting his own, similar picture.

Franks: “That level of disaffection spikes in places like this one: it’s the busy Palestinian neighbourhood in the north of the city called Shuafat where some of the sharpest clashes of recent months have erupted. Shuafat is the place also where the new light railway runs up to from the south of the city. This railway was designed by the city authorities to be – as far as they were concerned – a symbol of how Jerusalem is one united city. But here in Shuafat the train carriages have also been seen by many as a further intrusion from the other side: a target also for teenage stone-throwers. I’ve come to meet three of them.”

Obviously, Jerusalem’s light rail system was designed primarily to provide transport for all the city’s inhabitants rather than for the reasons of symbolism dubiously attached to its construction by Franks. He then goes on to allow his three anonymous teenage “stone-throwers” an unhindered platform to make the unverified claim that they were “imprisoned” because they are relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and fails to make any effort to dig deeper into the kind of mindset which prompts statements such as “his cousin’s blood won’t go just like this without having any revenge” and “throwing stones feeds you dignity”. In fact, the main factor evident in this part of the programme is Franks’ attempt to impose his own Western standards and cultural relativism on the phenomenon of violent rioting by Palestinian teenagers.

Franks continues with an interview with the headmistress of a school in Jabel Mukaber and another with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat. Interestingly, he chooses to round off the special broadcast with an interview with the former British consul general in Jerusalem, Vincent Fean, who – as readers familiar with his record whilst he was in that position will not be in the least surprised to learn – is “now spending some of his time working to promote the international recognition of the Palestinian state”. Fean uses his unhindered platform to promote an inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the failure of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

Fean: “The reason why he [John Kerry] didn’t do it [reach a peace agreement] last time round is because Israel didn’t want it.”

In his introduction to this special edition of ‘Newshour’, Tim Franks outlined its purpose as follows:

“We’re here because…well, because this city has been in the news for most of recorded human history but in recent months, residents here – you’ll hear from them in this programme – they’ll tell you that an edge, a fear, a sense of division has sharpened. Why and how and what it means for any political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’ll be exploring.”

So what did BBC World Service listeners learn about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in that statement? They were told in the first part of the programme that one cause of tensions is Temple Mount, but provided with an inaccurate portrayal of the background to that topic. In the second half of the programme the focus was on ‘settlements’ and ‘disaffected’ youth with much misinformation and politically motivated manipulation of both those issues.

Listeners were not, however, told anything about the incitement focusing on Jerusalem and Temple Mount in particular coming from the Palestinian Authority and the topic of how that incitement serves the PA’s current strategies was not explored at all. Moreover, Tim Franks provided Fatah official Husam Zomlot with a platform from which to downplay that crucial factor.

The sole achievement of this special programme was in fact to reinforce the same mantras and narratives promoted by other BBC correspondents on other platforms so many times in the past. As usual, only things attributable to Israel are presented as factors contributing to ‘tensions’ and ‘division’. And as usual, Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility in the BBC’s chosen narrative. The very fact that Tim Franks managed to make an entire programme about Jerusalem without even once mentioning the recent terror attacks in that city speaks volumes about the motivations behind its production. 

Had Tim Franks’ trip to Jerusalem culminated in some serious reporting on the issue of PA incitement – which has been conscientiously swept under the carpet by the BBC for the past two months – the exercise would have been justified. As it is, the people who funded Franks’ trip actually gained very little new information which could enhance their understanding of the real background to this issue.

Related Articles:

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Tough luck Syrian and Iraqi Christians: the BBC’s Yolande Knell has other priorities

2014 has of course been a very difficult year for many minority ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East in general and not least for Christians in Syria and Iraq. With Christmas and the end of the Gregorian year approaching, it was to be expected that the BBC would turn its attentions to the plight of Christians in the Middle East but, as we will see in a moment, the topic of the decimation of those ancient communities in fact took a back seat due to Yolande Knell’s political messaging on a different topic.Newshour 21 12

On December 21st the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presented by Julian Marshall, included an interview (from 00:35:05 here) by Yolande Knell with the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani.  Marshall’s introduction to the item began promisingly:

“In recent months church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of more and more Christians from the Middle East. The civil war in Syria and the advance of Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.”

Next, however, listeners were given a hint of what the upcoming item is really about, with Marshall promoting one of the BBC’s newer themes seen in much of its recent content: the historically illiterate claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is morphing from one about land to one with religious overtones.

“In the Holy Land the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been to meet the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem to hear his thoughts on 2014.”

This entire item is four minutes and thirty-five seconds long. A mere thirty-four seconds were allotted to the Bishop’s generalised view of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.

Knell: “Good to meet you, your grace. We’ve come to get your reflections on the past year. Events have been taking place in the region. If we start off with Syria and Iraq – they’re two countries that are covered by your diocese – where we’ve seen Christians fleeing war, Islamic extremism. Of course Christians have been leaving the Middle East now for decades but how has this added to your concerns?”

In fact, Iraq is not part of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem (which includes Israel, the PA territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon): it falls under the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

Dawani: “It was a very difficult year for the people of the Middle East in general and for the Christian community in particular. When it has to do with the Anglican Church, I think that we lost most of our presence in Syria because of the conflict that has been in action for the last four years. It was also a big challenge to the Christian presence in Iraq, so it’s really our concern for the future presence of the Christians in the whole Middle East.”

One imagines that there is little in that short statement which BBC audiences did not already know. But Knell passes up on the opportunity to ask the Bishop for more details such as how many Christians remain in Iraq and Syria, what sort of threats they face, where those who have fled have gone and so on and quickly moves on to one of her own pet topics by means of some very dubious linkage between events in Syria and Iraq and those closer to her interviewee’s church in Jerusalem.

Knell: “And here in the Holy Land there have been troubles as well. After the summer conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza you went to Gaza yourself. What did you see there?”

Dawani: “In Gaza of course the war that took place it was a devastating one and as an Anglican church we run a hospital in Gaza – Al Ahli Arab Hospital – and during the war we used to receive more than hundred injuries every day and the hospital used to work around the clock. And after the war I visited the Gaza twice and of course I have seen, you know, lots of destruction and I’ve seen that people are very depressed. It wasn’t the last war or the last conflict. The conflict has been continuing year after year. So I believe that something must be done to alleviate the suffering for the people who live there.”

The topic of how many Christians remain in the Gaza Strip and under what sort of conditions they live, given the extremist Islamist regime which controls the territory, clearly does not interest Knell. Instead she turns the focus of her report elsewhere:

Knell: “And here in East Jerusalem, right on your doorstep, tensions have been rising as well. And what we’ve seen here really is in some ways the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians taking on a more religious dimension. I mean how dangerous is that, do you think?”

Dawani: “Let me start by saying that Jerusalem is a very dear city to the three religions – or the three Abrahamic faiths. And it witnessed lots of violence during the last ten months or so, in which religious places has been targeted by some extremists; I can say that whether Muslims or Jews. And Al Aqsa Mosque also witnessed the big fight and as a Christian leaders we really did visit to both Al Aqsa Mosque and even to the synagogue that has been attacked by some people. And our message was very clear: that please don’t attack any holy sites, whether to the Muslims or to the Jews or to the Christians. And I hope and I pray that religion will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Notably, organised violent rioting on Temple Mount by Palestinian youths which has necessitated a police response is placed alongside the terror attack in Har Nof (which, no less remarkably, is now portrayed to BBC audiences as an attack on a holy site rather than the premeditated murder of Jews) to supposedly demonstrate that the two sides are both victims and attackers. That warped narrative is not corrected by Knell and neither does she make any effort to enquire about the situation of Christians living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.

A slightly different filmed version of the interview with Suheil Dawani – with Knell’s questions edited out – was also published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem reflects on 2014” on December 21st. With similar messaging to that seen in Marshall’s introduction to the audio version of the report, the synopsis to the filmed version also places recent incidents in Israel in the same overall category as persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria in order to ease the shift to the report’s real subject matter.Knell filmed Dawani 

“In recent months, Church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of a rising number of Christians from the Middle East.

The civil war in Syria and the advance of so-called Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

In the holy land, the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute, with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, is head of a diocese that covers much of the troubled region. As he prepares to celebrate Christmas this week he gave BBC News his reflections.”

So tough luck for the few remaining Christians trying to survive in Iraq and Syria: their barely described plight is for Yolande Knell merely a hook upon which to hang yet more of the same political messaging, whilst their co-religionists in Jordan and Lebanon and in the de facto Hamas-run Gaza Strip and in the PA-controlled territories do not even get a mention.

Related Articles:

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part one

On December 5th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast a special edition from Jerusalem, presented by Tim Franks. Titled “The push to increase access to the Temple Mount”, this programme obviously presented an opportunity to provide some much-needed background information and context on a topic with which the BBC has been dealing very unsatisfactorily since late October.Newshour 5 12 Jerusalem special

The parts of the programme relating to the declared subject matter were presented in two segments – available here from 00:04 and from 30:00. In the first segment listeners heard from two Israelis and two Palestinians and Tim Franks opened the programme by explaining why the BBC World Service was devoting a special broadcast to the topic.

“Welcome to this special edition of Newshour from the BBC World Service with me, Tim Franks, live in Jerusalem. We’re here because…well, because this city has been in the news for most of recorded human history but in recent months, residents here – you’ll hear from them in this programme – they’ll tell you that an edge, a fear, a sense of division has sharpened. Why and how and what it means for any political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’ll be exploring.”

Having gone up to Temple Mount, Franks lets his first interviewee introduce herself.

“My name is Abir Zayad [phonetic]. I’m now working inside Al Aqsa Mosque as an archaeologist. I’m coming here almost on daily basis for the whole of my life.”

TF: “And do you also now have a job here as a…as a guardian of the compound?”

AZ: “Yes. As part of a person who grow up in the place, I feel like other people as a responsibility for protecting the Al Aqsa Mosque. If you hear what the settlers are saying, all the time they are saying that they want to demolish especially the Dome of the Rock.”

TF: “But the Israeli government has made it very, very clear that it does not want to change the status quo up here.”

AZ: “The difference is in many things. First we are not controlling the gates. We used to control the gates. Tourist; we was controlling the tourists. Now we are not controlling the tourists. They can anytime close Aqsa Mosque and tell us it is not allowed for Muslims to enter. They take the identity card – our identity card – before we enter to pray. They allow for settlers to pray inside Al Aqsa Mosque. So all this is a new things which is not accepted on us. So you are speaking about a new status. He is playing with the words, Netanyahu.”

So what would Tim Franks have had to insert into his report at this point in order to avoid listeners being misled by Zayad’s inaccurate claims? He would of course have had to point out that not only do “settlers” not pray “inside Al Aqsa Mosque” but that non-Muslims – Jews and Christians – are not allowed to pray anywhere on Temple Mount at all. He would also have had to clarify that Israel has been responsible for the site’s security ever since 1967 – including the gates – so the claims of changes made by Israel to the status quo (at least during the past 47 years) are inaccurate. He would also have had to inform listeners that closures of the compound to Muslims are extremely rare (twice in the last 14 years) and that such measures are only implemented in extreme security situations.

Not only did Tim Franks make no effort to inform listeners that his interviewee’s claims were false, he also failed to counter her inaccurate and stereotypical claim that half a million people – according to the BBC’s own definition of “settlers” – intend to destroy the Dome of the Rock. It is worth remembering that this programme was broadcast to audiences worldwide – including countries in which the amplification of such a defamatory allegation can have potentially dangerous effects.

And whilst he was at it, Franks should also have clarified to listeners that the female “guardians of the compound” (whose main activity is to hassle non-Muslims visiting Temple Mount), among whom his interviewee is apparently to be counted, are paid by the Hamas-affiliated Northern Islamic Movement with the funds often coming from Gulf countries.

After additional interviews with architect Gideon Charlap and MK Tsipi Hotovely, Franks goes to Ramallah to meet Fatah’s Husam Zomlot. In recent weeks the BBC has amplified Zomlot’s falsehoods and propaganda on at least two separate occasions – see here and here – and yet someone at the ‘Newshour’ production team apparently thought that audience understanding of this complex topic could be enhanced by providing that propagandist with a platform yet again.

Even more significant is the fact that Tim Franks passed up the opportunity to present audiences with a clear and accurate view of the crucial issue of Palestinian incitement which has up to now been whitewashed and ignored by the BBC.

Franks: “How concerned are you that the language of negotiation, the language of territory, the language of the United Nations may become redundant as we see increasing levels of anger and increasing levels of a more sort of religious nature to this war; to this conflict? Ahm…especially in light of what’s happened in recent weeks?”

Zomlot: “You’re absolutely right and this is a very alarming development thanks to the Netanyahu government. Not only the Netanyahu government have been murdering the two state solution via this phenomenal expansion of settlements everywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory…state. But also they have been shifting the identity of the conflict from a national one that could be resolved to a religious perpetual confrontation.”

The adjective phenomenal of course means very remarkable or extraordinary. Not only have Israel’s current and previous governments of course not been building housing “everywhere” in Judea & Samaria as Zomlot inaccurately claims, but the rates of construction – as has been pointed out here in the past – can in no way be accurately described as “phenomenal” in comparison to those under prior administrations. Tim Franks, however, allows Zomlot’s misleading propaganda to be heard unhindered.

Franks: “You talk about the radicalization on the Israeli side. What about on the Palestinian side where you have the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemning acts of violence but you also have senior figures in Fatah and elsewhere who praise the actions, for example, of those cousins from Jabel Mukaber who killed four rabbis who were praying in West Jerusalem. That sort of language – calling these…those cousins martyrs for example – what good does that do for the Palestinian cause?”

This is not the first time that we have seen Tim Franks downplaying Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and trying to create a faux separation between the PA president and incitement coming from the PA officials and Fatah officials he controls. Whilst Abbas himself did issue a form of condemnation of the Har Nof terror attack, he has publicly praised others. Zomlot does not miss the open goal provided for him.

HZ: “What we need to hear is always from the head of the state and from the president of the people. He is the one – or she – would represent the people.”

TF: “But do you deplore that?”

HZ: “Let me tell you: you ask a question and I’ll answer it. So when the head of the state come and condemn this in a very clear language I think this is really the most serious and the most expected outcome. We hear so many voices – individual voices – and if I want to get into that argument and tell you about the Israeli argument, some of it is sub-human…”

TF: “But I’m not asking you about the Israelis. I’m asking you about your fellow Palestinian politicians.”

HZ: “Where I am getting. I don’t want to quote you the hundred Israeli politicians so I don’t think, again, what is missing is our part of the story – condemnation. I believe the majority of Fatah would want to see a non-violent resolution to this.”

And that is that. Listeners to this BBC World Service special edition of ‘Newshour’ remain none the wiser about the scope and nature of incitement and glorification of terrorism from official Palestinian sources such as the PA and Fatah. Moreover, they are misleadingly led to believe by Tim Franks that Mahmoud Abbas has no part in that incitement.  

The second part of this programme will be discussed in a later post. 

Acid attack on Israeli children not news for BBC, false Barghouti ‘arson’ claim left standing

On December 12th a terror attack took place at the al Khader junction on Route 60, north of Gush Etzion.

“A terrorist threw acid on seven Israelis in the West Bank on Friday, including a mother with her three young daughters and her niece. Two other pedestrians were wounded in the attack. The Palestinian suspect then chased another Israeli with a screwdriver and was shot by an armed passerby.”BBC News logo

Like other non-fatal attacks, the incident has not been reported by the BBC.

Also on December 12th, a shooting attack took place at the Israeli embassy in Athens with no reported injuries. The incident was not reported on the BBC News website.

On December 7th a man wounded in the terror attack which took place at the Shimon Hatsadik light rail station in Jerusalem on November 5th died of his injuries. Sixty year-old Abd al-Karim Nafith Hamid was a resident of Jerusalem and his death brings the number of people killed in that terror attack to three. The BBC has not reported Mr Hamid’s death.

On December 11th investigators from the Fire Department announced that the November 12th incident in which a mosque in the village of Mughayir was severely damaged by fire occurred as a result of an electrical fault and was not a case of arson as had been suggested by Fatah’s Husam Zomlot in an interview with BBC World Service radio and stated by Mustafa Barghouti in an interview with BBC News.

Zomlot: “The incitement is happening on the ground on a daily basis. When every other week we have a theft of our land, this is an incitement for violence. When every other day we have a provocation to enter mosques and burn mosques, this is an incitement every day. We Palestinians are the occupied, are the ones who are subjected to the de-Arabisation of Jerusalem.”

Barghouti: “But Palestinians are attacked. During the last week a mosque was burnt. Yesterday a Palestinian bus driver was hanged by Israeli settlers.”

Both those interviews are still available on the BBC website. To date no footnote has been added to inform audiences that the claim that Israelis had burned the mosque in Mughayir is unfounded. 

Overview of BBC reporting on recent violence and terror in Israel

Since late October much of the BBC’s Israel-related subject matter has been focused on the surge in terror attacks and violence, with an integral part of that coverage being ‘explanations’ to BBC audiences of its supposed causes. As was noted in a previous post concerning BBC coverage of the November 18th terror attack in Har Nof, the factors promoted by the BBC as causes for that attack included (in reverse order of frequency) ‘discrimination’ against Arab Jerusalemites, a ‘cycle of violence’, supposed ‘attacks’ on or threats to Al Aqsa Mosque by Jews, the absence of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the Gaza casualty toll of the summer conflict, the campaign for equal prayer rights at Temple Mount and ‘settlements’.

The fact that so many and such varied factors were promoted as being the cause of “tensions” which, according to the BBC led to two Palestinians carrying out a brutal terror attack on early morning worshippers at a synagogue, of course indicates that the promotion of one factor or another in BBC reports depended very much upon the particular journalist.

In contrast, the subject of incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian functionaries and official Palestinian sources was presented uniformly and exclusively in the form of second-hand quotes, with the BBC making no effort whatsoever to independently inform audiences of those factors and their role in the creation of “tensions”.

In this post we will take a broader look at BBC coverage of other incidents which took place between late October and late November and examine the narrative promoted in the reports below.Pigua Jerusalem

October 22nd: terror attack on light rail passengers, Ammunition Hill, Jerusalem.

BBC News website: Jerusalem car ‘attack’ kills baby at rail station  (discussed here)

October 23rd:

BBC News website: Israel’s Netanyahu accuses Abbas over Jerusalem car attack (discussed here)

October 25th:

BBC News website: US urges probe after teenager shot dead in West Bank  (discussed here)

October 26th:

BBC News website: Jerusalem: Palestinian car attack claims second victim (discussed here)

October 29th: shooting of Yehuda Glick in central Jerusalem.Glick art main

BBC News website: Jerusalem holy site closure ‘declaration of war’ – Abbas  (discussed here)

October 30th:

BBC News website & television news: Abbas: Mosque closure a ‘declaration of war’  Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ (discussed here)

October 31st:

BBC News website: Jerusalem holy site is reopened amid tension (discussed here)

November 5th: terror attack on light rail passengers & pedestrians, Shimon Hatsadik, Jerusalem.Pigua 5 11 report

BBC News website: Jerusalem: Palestinian van attack kills policeman  (discussed here)

BBC News website & television news: Driver hits pedestrians in East Jerusalem  Yolande Knell

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ 1 (discussed here)

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ 2 (discussed here)

November 6th:

BBC World Service ‘WHYS’ (discussed here)

November 7th:

BBC News website: Israel to destroy homes of Palestinian Jerusalem attackers  (discussed here)

BBC World Service ‘Outside Source’ (discussed here)

BBC News website: Jerusalem a city on edge as tensions spiral  Yolande Knell (discussed here)

BBC News website & television news: Growing tension at Jerusalem holy site  Yolande Knell

November 8th:

BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (discussed here)

November 10th: terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Gush EtzionTA terror attack bbc report

BBC News website: Israel: Palestinian held as Israeli soldier stabbed and Israeli woman and soldier killed in two knife attacks  (both discussed here)

November 13th:

BBC News website: Jerusalem tension: John Kerry brokers Israel-Jordan talks (discussed here)

November 14th:

BBC News website: Jerusalem tension: Israel ends age limit on holy site access  (discussed here)

November 21st:

BBC News website: Israel: ‘Hamas plot to kill FM Lieberman foiled’  (discussed here)

November 28th:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ (discussed here)

As was the case in BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack, any use of the word terror or its derivatives in the above reports came in the form of quotes from (mostly) Israeli or American officials and in inverted commas. On no occasion did the BBC independently identify the incidents as terror attacks or the perpetrators as terrorists.

Likewise, all mentions of incitement propagated by Palestinian leaders in the above reports were presented to BBC audiences in the form of quotes from Israeli officials: no independent reporting on that issue was provided by the BBC.

In addition to the factors presented as causing “tensions” – and hence terrorism – appearing in the reports on the Har Nof attack, in the reports above a number of additional factors were to be found. On two occasions audiences were told that “tensions” had risen because Israeli security forces had killed Palestinians, on three occasions they were informed that “tensions” had risen because Israel had confiscated or demolished Palestinian homes (with no context provided) and on eleven occasions audiences were told that age restrictions and/or the closure of Temple Mount were the cause of “tensions”.

Once again the prime factor promoted by the BBC as context for the surge in violence and terror attacks was ‘settlements’. Taking the above articles together with the coverage of the Har Nof attack, we see that factor has been promoted by the BBC more than any other. Like the vast majority of the additional factors presented by the BBC, that one too would be perceived by audiences as Israeli action and thus the underlying message is that Palestinian violence and terrorism is attributable to rising “tensions” caused almost exclusively by Israeli actions.

Factors

Another interesting aspect of the framing seen in BBC reporting was that of the use of political labelling – or not. The people (according to the BBC’s narrative) driven to violent rioting and terror attacks on civilians because of “tensions” caused by a campaign for equal prayer rights for non-Muslims at a site holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike – and those inciting them to such actions – were not afforded any kind of political label in any BBC report.

In contrast, the BBC did find it necessary to describe to its audiences on numerous occasions the assumed political affiliations/stances/opinions of the people visiting Temple Mount and/or the people campaigning for equal rights there for people of all faiths, as can be seen in the few examples below.

“Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. Now some right-wing religious groups say Jews should be allowed to pray – a demand which causes anger and unease in the Muslim world.” (source)

“Fears that Israel is set to legislate to remove the ban have led to furious scenes as Palestinian Muslims try to block visits by parties of far-right, religious Jews escorted by Israeli police.

“We love it when it is calm to pray but the Israeli government is not helping the situation by sending right-wing extremists and ministers to visit,” says Omar Kiswani, director of al-Aqsa mosque.”

“On Thursday, a week after the attempted murder of a prominent right-wing Jewish activist, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, there was a rally by his supporters.” (source)

“A Palestinian suspected of shooting and wounding a prominent right-wing activist, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, in Jerusalem at the end of last month was also shot dead in a gun battle with Israeli police.” (source)  

On other occasions, the campaign for equal prayer rights at Temple Mount was inaccurately portrayed as an “Orthodox” issue.  

In earlier reports, audiences were sometimes provided with information about the links of some of the perpetrators to terrorist organisations – although of course they were not described as such. For example:

“Shaloudi was the nephew of a leading bomb-maker from Hamas, the Islamist militant group opposed to Israel, who was killed in the West Bank in 1988.” (source)

“Police say Hejazi belonged to the Islamic Jihad militant group and served time in jail in Israel before being released in 2012.” (source)

“The driver of the van – named as Ibrahim al-Akari – was from Shuafat refugee camp in the east of the city, police said.

His Facebook page states that he is a member of Hamas, and the Twitter account for the group’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, described him as a member and a martyr.” (source)

As time went on, however, those links were downplayed in later reports by means of statements such as the ones below:

“…the attacks appear spontaneous: the acts of individuals, not organisations.” (source)

“BBC Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly says there has been no real pattern to the recent spate of attacks – the attackers appear to have acted suddenly, meaning there is no advance intelligence to forewarn the authorities.” (source)

BBC reporting on the surge of violence and terror during October and November 2014 was largely limited to fatal attacks, with dozens of other non-fatal incidents ignored. As we see, the reports adhered to a specific template which ‘explained’ events by attributing them to “rising tensions” caused almost inevitably by Israeli actions.

For over a month, audiences have been provided with a picture of Israeli action and Palestinian reaction: a narrative which includes no Palestinian responsibility or agency and is carefully framed to exclude one of the story’s most important elements – the crucial issue of the repeated incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian leaders and official organisations, with no independent BBC reporting on that issue having appeared at all to date.

In short, the BBC’s obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues” has once again been trumped by a political narrative.  

Related Articles:

A round up of BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack

 

A round up of BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack

The BBC’s coverage of the terror attack in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof on November 18th provides us with an opportunity to take a closer look at how the corporation framed this story across a variety of platforms.

Below is a sample of BBC coverage: obviously it does not include all of the content broadcast across the range of BBC platforms on the two days upon which the story was run.Pigua Har Nof 2

November 18th:

BBC News Website:

Written:

Jerusalem synagogue: Palestinians kill Israeli worshippers    

Profile: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)  (both above are discussed here)

British-born man named as Jerusalem synagogue victim

Jerusalem synagogue: Three victims were US rabbis

As it happened: Jerusalem synagogue attack  live page

Jerusalem attack reflects rising Israeli-Palestinian tension   Jeremy Bowen

Synagogue attack: Netanyahu vow in ‘battle for Jerusalem’ (all of the above are discussed here)

Filmed: (the reports also appeared on BBC television News programmes)

Synagogue victim ‘concerned about radicalisation’  An interview with the cousin of Avraham Goldberg

Israel: ‘No justification for this wanton violence’  Mark Regev

‘Chaotic scenes’ after Jerusalem synagogue attack  Yolande Knell

Jerusalem synagogue attack: ‘We heard a flurry of shots’  Eye witnesses

Israeli Police: ‘Terrorists killed in gun battle’  Micky Rosenfeld

 John Kerry on Jerusalem attack: ‘An act of pure terror’

Hamas spokesperson: ‘Every day Jerusalem is boiling’  Ghazi Hamad (discussed here)

Mustafa Barghouti: ‘Occupation responsible for attack’  (discussed here)

Synagogue attack: Months of tension and revenge attacks  backgrounder  (discussed here)

Television:

Interview with Naftali Bennett (discussed here)

Jerusalem synagogue attack ‘followed months of tension’  Jeremy Bowen

Radio:

BBC Radio 4 – ‘PM’ (discussed here and here)

BBC World Service radio – ‘Newshour’  (edition 1 discussed here, edition 2 discussed here)

November 19th:

BBC News Website:

Written:

Jerusalem attack: Synagogue reopens for worshippers  (discussed here)

Regional media trade blame for Jerusalem attack

Filmed: (also on appeared on BBC television news programmes)

Anger in Jerusalem after deadly synagogue attack  Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

Synagogue attack: Eyewitness describes shootout

Palestinian intifada ‘dangerously close,’ warns former US envoy

Radio:

BBC World Service radio –’Newshour’ (discussed here)Pigua Har Nof 1

One outstanding – although predictable – feature of the BBC’s coverage is that despite the fact that the core story was about a terror attack perpetrated on the congregation of a synagogue, in all of the above reports the word terror and its derivatives were never used directly by the BBC. References to terrorism came only in the form of quotes from Israeli officials (placed in inverted commas by the BBC), from Israeli interviewees or from the US Secretary of State in the filmed report of his statement to the press.

Another remarkable fact is that in seven of the above reports and despite the existence of a pathologist’s report, the BBC nevertheless amplified or allowed the amplification of baseless Palestinian claims that a bus driver who committed suicide the day before the terror attack took place had been murdered by Israelis and presented that as a background factor for the attack.

On the day of the attack itself the BBC saw fit to broadcast interviews with Palestinian officials from several factions – Ghazi Hamad from Hamas, Mustafa Barghouti from the PNI and Hussam Zomlot from Fatah – all of whom were given free rein to promote falsehoods and propaganda, including claims of “attacks” on the Al Aqsa Mosque by Israelis.

The terror attack was presented across the board as being the result of “rising tensions” between Israelis and Palestinians and those tensions were attributed by the BBC to a variety of factors, with more than one usually proffered in each report and some factors emphasized multiple times in a particular item.

Two of the reports suggested that tensions could be explained by “discrimination” against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the issue of their right to Israeli citizenship was inaccurately represented. In three reports audiences were told that rising tensions were the result of “a cycle of violence” which, according to the BBC, began with the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers in June (not stated by the BBC as having been carried out by a Hamas cell) and the later murder of a Palestinian teenager from Shuafat.Pigua Har Nof filmed backgrounder

On five occasions tensions were attributed to the fact that no peace negotiations are currently underway and six reports cited the Palestinian death toll in the summer conflict between Israel and Hamas as a contributing factor but with no information provided to audiences with regard to Hamas’ instigation of that conflict or its strategies – such as the use of human shields – which contributed to the civilian death toll.

The campaign by some Israelis for equal rights of worship for non-Muslims on Temple Mount was cited on ten occasions as causing “tensions” but the BBC elected not to explore the topic of why that should be the case. On five occasions Temple Mount was described by the BBC as a “disputed site” and viewers of BBC television news were even told by Jeremy Bowen that Palestinians are “enraged” by “fears about the future of Aqsa Mosque”, with no attempt to put those “fears” in their correct and factual context.

But the factor most frequently promoted as a cause of “tensions” which purportedly led to the terror attack was what the BBC termed “settlements” or “settler homes”, with that factor being cited on eleven occasions and the district of Silwan once again being specifically named in two reports.

Clearly most of the factors presented were framed as Israeli actions. The overall impression received by audiences therefore was that the “tensions” which lead to Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis are Palestinian reaction to Israeli action.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC’s framing of this story relates to the issue of Palestinian incitement. That factor was mentioned directly in two reports (John Kerry’s statement to the press and the interview with Mark Regev), but not by BBC correspondents. In two additional reports the BBC quoted the Israeli prime minister on the issue of Palestinian incitement. Incitement coming directly from the president of the Palestinian Authority was downplayed and dismissed by Jeremy Bowen and Tim Franks. In the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ listeners heard Yolande Knell paraphrase a supposed Palestinian claim that “Israel is also inciting the violence”.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, BBC audiences have not been informed at all about incitement and glorification of terrorism on the part of PA and Fatah officials (see recent examples here, here and here) and official Palestinian Authority media and institutions (see recent examples here, here, here, here and here). The sole reference to the issue of incitement to appear on the BBC News website in recent months has been an article by BBC Trending titled “The Palestinians calling for the ‘car uprising’” which appeared on November 13th and related to a social media campaign rather than to incitement from official PA sources.

So, whilst BBC audiences were repeatedly told that the “rising tensions” which supposedly led to the terror attack in Har Nof can be attributed to a variety of factors which are mostly – according to the BBC’s portrayal – attributable to Israeli actions, they remained completely ignorant on the issue of the crucial factor of the atmosphere being engineered by the Palestinian Authority and its main party Fatah – also headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

That glaring and continuing omission in BBC coverage can only be attributed to a politically motivated narrative being allowed to trump the corporation’s public purpose remit. 

 

 

 

Religion, political narrative and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’

On November 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ – which claims to address “the religious and ethical news of the week” – included an item (available from 36:45 here) presented in its synopsis as follows:Sunday 23 11

“In the aftermath of the attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem, some politicians have warned against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict developing into a ‘religious war’. This week’s presenter William Crawley examines the latest wave of violence in the region. We also hear from Cardinal Vincent Nichols who has spent the last week on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.”

William Crawley introduced the item thus:

“On Tuesday two young Palestinian men armed with a gun, knives and meat cleavers went on a killing spree in a Jerusalem synagogue, leaving four rabbis and a police officer dead in their wake. Murder and brutality are tragically commonplace in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities have been committed by both sides. But the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn about Tuesday’s attack, in the judgment of the Israeli Justice Minister, is that this conflict over land rights and political identity is now poised to become a full-blown religious war. We’ll explore that claim in a moment.”

After a conversation with Cardinal Vincent Nichols in which the professed subject matter was not ‘explored’, Crawley (at 40:34) moves on to his next guest.

“The Cambridge University historian Dr Wendy Pullan is the author of ‘The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places’. Wendy – good morning to you.”

Dr Pullan’s title could have more accurately been presented to listeners as “Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Architecture“. Significantly, she is also the “principal investigator” at “Conflict in Cities and the Contested State” (a body funded by the ESRC) which, despite its broad title, focuses its attentions mainly upon two cities: Jerusalem and Belfast. Past readers of the Guardian may be familiar with the Israel-related political opinions of Wendy Pullan’s “Conflict in Cities” colleague Mick Dumper and Dr Pullan is apparently also not averse to co-opting the halo of ‘impartial’ academia in order to promote a political narrative, as can be seen in her signed support for the BDS campaign at her university and, for example, her erroneous claim in an article published at ‘Open Democracy’ in 2013 that Israeli construction in the area known as E1 near Ma’ale Adumim “would cut the West Bank in two”. That inaccurate claim was also repeated in a paper presented by Pullan in Ankara in May 2014 within the framework of the UN’s “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, in which the anti-terrorist fence constructed to curb suicide bombings and thus save Israeli lives was described by Pullan in the following words:

“In recent years the world has been transfixed by the extent and audacity of the separation barrier (wall). While not to diminish the extent of the human misery the wall has caused the Palestinians, it is worth noting that this structure is only part of a much larger system that keeps the occupation in place, resulting from harsh closure policies that have cut off Palestinian Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the West Bank. Effectively, the wall is a very visible ‘tip of the ice-berg’. Although the introduction of an eight-metre high wall that separates mostly Palestinians from Palestinians is a shocking spectacle repeatedly used in the media, we know from Berlin that walls can come down.” [emphasis added]

The conversation which took place in the Radio 4 programme is therefore best taken in the context of Wendy Pullan’s obvious political motivations. They, however, were not revealed to the programme’s listeners – in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality.

Crawley: “Let’s go to this claim of a developing religious war; to what extent to you buy into that analysis?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I don’t buy into it in the way it’s being portrayed by the various political leaders and then picked up by the press. I think that religion has played a role in this conflict for many decades but its role is not particularly new at this point.”

Crawley: How do we separate out a conflict with religious dimensions from a religious war? What’s the definition of that?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think that the many different aspects to this conflict that have a lot to do with national identity and a very prolonged occupation and that these will always figure in the conflict itself. It’s over land, it’s over rights, it’s over identity. Now religion obviously has a role in all of that but I don’t think it’s the only role. Whereas a religious war will normally be fighting only in the name of religion; where all of the other aspects just fall by the wayside.”

Crawley: “So you’re calming down the rhetoric but let’s come to Jerusalem – a city you know very well; you lived there yourself for thirteen years. That city is so key to the peace process at this point. Why is it always such a sticking point?”

Pullan: “Well it’s a sticking point because it’s coveted by many different groups of people. And the…in a lot of ways the occupation comes to a head there. Jerusalem is highly symbolic. I mean when I say this isn’t a religious war, it doesn’t mean that religion is unimportant. It is the centre for three major monotheistic faiths. So it’s the natural place to play out the conflict. On the other hand, it’s coveted as a capital for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Crawley: “And the fact that it has so many sacred sites is significant because sacred sites don’t cease to be sacred for future generations.”

Pullan: “No, the sacred sites…once a sacred site is numinous it usually continues to be numinous and certainly the area that the Jews know as Temple Mount and the Muslims know as Haram al Sharif is an area that’s gone back and forth in different hands and so on. But it’s remained holy, although this has been manifested in different sorts of ways.”

Crawley: “Very briefly, Wendy, what do you think it would take to calm down some of these tensions at the minute?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think it needs political savvy and sensitivity. I mean one of the things that we find over the years in Jerusalem is that political expression for a long time was not tolerated. Religious expression was.”

The conversation ends there, but obviously the take away message for audiences is that there is no need to worry about a religious war in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That clearly erroneous conclusion ignores both history and current events, as Dr Jonathan Spyer noted in a recent article well worth reading in full.SONY DSC

“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion”.”

So why did a religious affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 seek to brush aside the veteran religious component in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Well, clearly one answer to that may be that the promotion of a ‘black and white’ political narrative of the kind advanced by Dr Pullan and her colleagues becomes significantly more complicated if Western audiences are informed of the conflict’s religious dimensions. 

One to watch on BBC Two: ‘Haifa to the Negev’

h/t MC

On Wednesday December 3rd at 21:00 GMT, BBC Two will air an edition of the documentary travel series ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’ – presented by Michael Portillo – titled ‘Haifa to the Negev’.

Portillo prog

Already in the programme’s synopsis audiences are inaccurately informed that the Western Wall is “the holiest of all monuments for Jews” as well as that Portillo will be seen visiting “the Haram ash Sharif”, to which one of course doubts he gained access “in the Muslim quarter” as stated because entry to non-Muslims is via the Mughrabi Gate, located near the Western Wall. 

“Following his 1913 Bradshaw’s guide, Michael ventures beyond Europe to the Holy Land. His journey begins in Haifa in modern-day Israel. Struck by the spectacular shrine of the Baha’i and its beautiful gardens on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Michael learns about the faith and how, at the time of his guide, it spread to Britain.

Michael is shown how to cook a takeaway, middle-eastern style, before heading to Haifa’s original station to find out about its branch line to the famous Hejaz Railway.

In Tel Aviv, Michael marvels at the city’s futuristic skyscrapers and railway lines, threaded along the centre of modern highways. He hears the story of its birth, which was just before his guidebook was published, discovers how its population was swelled by refugees from Europe and learns the roots of the modern-day conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

On his way to Jerusalem, Michael hears how the Jaffa to Jerusalem railway was the first line to be built in the Holy Land. Constructed for pilgrims to journey to the holy places, it encouraged more modern tourists to explore these exotic destinations.

In Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, Michael meets British tourists at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and finds out about a surprising Holy Land tradition, subscribed to by the most illustrious visitors, among them British royalty. In the Jewish quarter, he visits the holiest of all monuments for Jews – the Western Wall. In the Muslim quarter, admission to the Haram ash Sharif, to see the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, hangs in the balance. In 1913, as now, application must be made to the authorities.

Crossing the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank in the company of his Palestinian guide, Michael heads for Bethlehem where he meets the embroiderers of the Arab Women’s Union and finds out about their handiwork.

Heading south, Michael arrives at the lowest point on earth – the Dead Sea, where he takes to the buoyant waters.

On the train south to Beersheba, Michael learns about the work of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund at the turn of the 20th century. In the Negev Desert, he learns about a celebrated British military hero with railways in his sights.”

One can only hope that more attention is paid to accuracy in the programme itself.

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