Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

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BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue. 

 

Where’s the BBC follow up?

On December 17th 2014 the BBC News website produced no fewer than six versions of an article titled “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list”.BBC News logo 2

On January 19th 2015 the Council of the European Union announced that it had decided to appeal that court decision.

“The Council of the European Union has decided to appeal today the Judgment of the General Court (in Case T-400/10 – Hamas v. Council) of 17 December 2014. 

The Judgment of the General Court of the European Union annulled measures taken by the Council of the European Union against Hamas, namely the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and the freezing of Hamas’ funds. This ruling was clearly based on procedural grounds and did not imply any assessment by the Court of the merits of designating the Hamas as a terrorist organization. 

The Council has now decided to challenge some of the findings of the Court regarding the procedural grounds to list terrorist organizations under EU autonomous measures to combat terrorism, as set out in Common Position 2001/931. As a result of the appeal, the effects of the Judgment are suspended until a final judgment is rendered by the Court of Justice.”

There has been no follow-up reporting on that decision by the Council on the BBC News website’s Middle East page to date.

Whilst BBC News website’s reporting of the PA’s bid to join the ICC has been extensive – including a Q&A feature on the topic – two recent developments have also not received any BBC coverage.ICC Q&A

On January 18th the Jerusalem Post revealed that:

“The Palestinians want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Fatah official announced on Sunday.

Jamal Muheissen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, claimed that Israel was responsible for the death of Arafat, who died in November 2004.

“This file will be presented to the International Criminal Court,” Muheissen told the Palestinian Shms News Agency. “We want to bring the Israeli occupation to trial for every crime it committed against our people.” “

On the same day the Times of Israel reported that the PA is prepared to drop its ‘war crimes’ suit against Israel if construction in ‘settlements’ is frozen.

“A senior Palestinian official said Sunday that the first subject to be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Palestinian Authority’s legal campaign against Israel would be settlement construction

The official told The Times of Israel that land seizures in occupied territory constituted a clear violation of international law. Still, he noted that the appeal to the ICC would be withdrawn if Israel were to freeze settlement construction, and added that the Palestinian Authority had conveyed to Israel an official message to that effect, through Jordan and Egypt.”

In its above-mentioned Q&A from January 14th, the BBC noted that:

 “Some legal commentators suggest that it [the court] would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

The two reports above clearly demonstrate that PA’s bid to join the ICC is first and foremost a political tactic aimed at pressurizing Israel and avoiding the negotiations to which it is already committed. BBC audiences, however, remain in the dark with regard to the PA’s cynical and frivolous exploitation of the ICC.

BBC News shoehorns apartheid trope into supposed news story

Among the reports promoted to visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 18th were two items relating to a rent-a-mob incident in Ramallah in which shoes and eggs were thrown at the visiting Canadian foreign minister. As well as a filmed report titled “Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters“, a written report appeared under the headline “Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird“.Baird Ramallah art

Seeing as the minister was fortunately not harmed in the incident – as is already pointed out in the second paragraph of the BBC article – and taking into account that the BBC does not usually go out of its way to report on Palestinians behaving badly, one might be curious as to the editorial considerations behind the running of this story – particularly as the subject of Canadian aid to the Palestinians ($66 million in 2014 alone) is not mentioned in the report.

In the first seven paragraphs of the article the BBC manages to squeeze in information on the incident itself, on Canada’s relations with Israel and on Mr Baird’s comments after the meeting with his PA counterpart. From paragraphs eight to eleven inclusive, the report’s focus shifts to the amplification of a defamatory politically motivated trope from that old BBC favourite Saeb Erekat.

“Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who did not meet Mr Baird, issued a statement expressing his anger at Canada’s backing for Israel.

“We regret the Canadian government’s decision to stand on the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies,” he said.

Harsh critics of Israel level the charge of apartheid – the system of state-sanctioned racial discrimination once practised by South Africa – against the Jewish state over its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli-Arab minority. Israel says the accusation is baseless and a part of efforts to demonise it.

He criticised Mr Baird for meeting Israeli officials in occupied east Jerusalem in 2013.”

Erekat’s “statement” was actually an opinion piece published in the Globe & Mail on January 16th. Remarkably, out of the nine hundred and forty-four words comprising that screed, the BBC elected to focus audience attentions on the ‘apartheid’ trope and to unreservedly adopt Erekat’s language by use of the phrase “occupied east Jerusalem”. Notably too, the BBC’s token nod to editorial impartiality comes in the form of its well-worn ‘Israel says’ formula.

So to sum up, the anonymous writer of this BBC report decided to use a quarter of the paragraphs in a story supposedly about Palestinians throwing eggs at the Canadian FM for amplification of a defamatory trope against Israel by a well-known Palestinian demagogue who was not even party to the meeting with the visiting Canadian official. Having amplified and embroidered the trope, he or she failed to clarify to BBC audiences that it is completely baseless and false but played one of its infamous token ‘Israel says’ get-out-of-impartiality-jail-free cards.

Apparently the BBC believes that it can pass off self-conscription to Saeb Erekat’s PR team as ‘standard-setting’ journalism to its funding public.

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The part of the ICC preliminary investigation story the BBC decided not to tell

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 16th under the title “Israel-Palestinian ‘war crimes’ probed by the ICC” has two commendable features.ICC probe art

First is the fact that the article avoids falling into the sensationalist trap seen in a previous BBC report from May 2013 in which a routine ICC preliminary examination was misleadingly over-dramatised. In this latest report it is made adequately clear to audiences that the process is a routine step required in the case of any referral.

“The Hague-based ICC said on Friday it had “opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine”.

It is an automatic step taken by the court upon a referral.” 

And later on in the report:

“In a statement, the ICC says: “A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.” “

Secondly, whilst previously published material on this topic failed to point out to BBC the significance of the ‘start date’ selected by the Palestinian Authority (as recently noted in this post) this article does clarify that point.

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the court to investigate Israeli “crimes… committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014″.

This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict. The period includes the kidnapping and murder by Jewish extremists of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdair on 2 July, one of the events which fuelled an escalation of violence which led to the outbreak of the summer conflict.

The Palestinians’ starting point begins a day after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, who were subsequently murdered, by Hamas militants in the West Bank on 12 June. Mohammed Abu Khdair’s killers said they murdered the teenager in revenge for the murders of the three Israelis.”

On the less bright side however, this latest report continues the practice of promoting out of date information on the subject of the civilian/combatant casualty ratio in the Gaza Strip during July and August 2014 which may well be inaccurate and has not been independently verified by the BBC.  

The most notable point about this article, however, is that it totally avoids the most newsworthy aspect of the story it purports to present.

In this report readers are informed that:

“The Palestinians will formally join the ICC on 1 April – 90 days after they submitted documents requesting membership.”

The BBC’s previously published Q&A article on the topic of the Palestinian bid also told readers that:

“The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on 1 April.”

Some readers may therefore be asking themselves whether or not the fact that the ICC chief prosecutor has already announced a preliminary examination even before the Palestinians formally join the ICC means that she has determined that they are in fact eligible to join that body in accordance with the requirement for its members to be states.

The answer to that question is not provided in the BBC’s report but it does appear in the press release announcing the preliminary examination which was put out by the ICC on January 16th. Whilst the BBC article provides a link to that press release, it does not point out to readers that it includes an explanation of how Fatou Bensouda arrived at the conclusion that she could begin the process of examination.

“On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 67/19 granting Palestine “non-member observer State” status in the UN with a majority of 138 votes in favour, 9 votes against and 41 abstentions. The Office examined the legal implications of this development for its own purposes and concluded, on the basis of its previous extensive analysis of and consultations on the issues, that, while the change in status did not retroactively validate the previously invalid 2009 declaration lodged without the necessary standing, Palestine would be able to accept the jurisdiction of the Court from 29 November 2012 onward, pursuant to articles 12 and 125 of the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute is open to accession by “all States,” with the UNSG acting as depositary of instruments of accession.”

The significance of that decision is explained by Professor Eugene Kontorovich in an article well worth reading in full.

“The decision to open the inquiry involved the prosecutor determining that the Palestinian Authority is in fact a “state,” a necessary precondition to jurisdiction under the Rome Statute, the Court’s constitutive treaty.

The ICC has never accepted jurisdiction over what is clearly at most a “marginal” state – one that is not a U.N. member, that has not ever claimed to govern any territory, and whose recognition by other states is limited (for example, the U.S., Canada and most Western European states do not recognize the existence of a Palestinian state). This is clearly dramatically different from anything the Court has done before.

But the prosecutor did not actually determine the Palestine qualifies as a “state” under the well-established legal definitions of the term. Rather, she said that the U.N. General Assembly’s vote in 2012 to call Palestine a “non-member state” is dispositive of the question. In short, she substituted the determination of the General Assembly for her own. The GA is not a judicial body, but  a political one. Its determinations are political, not legal. (It also has no power under the U.N. Charter, to create or recognize states.)”

In its January 14th Q&A article, the BBC asked “What are the possible implications for the ICC?” and responded to its own question by noting that:

“Some legal commentators suggest that it would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

Given that observation, one would have thought that the BBC would have bothered to inform audiences of the important fact that the opening of this preliminary investigation is based on a decision made in 2012 by a controversial political organisation rather than by a judicial body.

On the BBC News ICC Q&A

On January 14th an article was published in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Will ICC membership help or hinder the Palestinians’ cause?“.  The writer of the piece is not identified but from its layout we can determine that it is intended to provide a guide to the topic in Q&A format.ICC Q&A

The article includes several points worthy of note.

1. Under the sub-heading “Why do the Palestinians want to join the ICC?” readers are informed that:

“Palestinian leaders say they are pursuing a new strategy to put pressure on Israel after decades of armed struggle and on-and-off peace talks failed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They describe it as “internationalising” the issue.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, and other international agreements after the UN Security Council rejected a Palestinian-drafted resolution demanding “a full and phased withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces” within three years. President Abbas hopes bold actions will improve his standing with a deeply frustrated Palestinian public.”

As has been the case in all BBC reporting on the issue of the ICC membership bid (and the UN Security Council bid which went before it), no effort is made to inform audiences that such moves breach existing agreements signed by the Palestinians and witnessed and guaranteed by members of the international community.

2. Under the sub-heading “When will they become ICC members and what does it mean?” the article states:

“The Palestinians have asked it to exercise jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza from 13 June 2014. This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.”

That, of course, is correct but notably the BBC refrains from pointing out to audiences that – as is also the case with the UN HRC’s Schabas commission – the ‘start date’ selected by the PA deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hebron-based Hamas cell on June 12th 2014.

3. In the section titled “What legal action do the Palestinians want to take against Israel?” readers are informed that:

“The Palestinians believe some Israeli military actions in Gaza last July and August amounted to war crimes. During the 50-day conflict, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed – most of them civilians, according to the UN – and tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were destroyed or badly damaged. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.”

As we see, despite the existence of research carried out since the end of the hostilities which indicates that the statement “most of them civilians” may well be inaccurate, the BBC continues to promote out of date figures which it has not gone to the trouble of independently verifying during the last four and a half months.

4. In the same section audiences are told that:

“Action is also planned by the Palestinians against the expansion of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. Article 8 of the Rome Statute says the unlawful deportation, transfer or confinement of protected persons – those living in territory which is under military occupation – constitute a war crime.”

Whilst it is correct to say that Palestinian actions concerning settlements would be based on Article 8 of the Rome Statute, the applicable clause would not be the one paraphrased in this paragraph – 8.2.(a).vii – but clause 8.2.(b). viii:

“The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.”

5. Also in this section, readers are provided with further reading by means of a link to a BBC report from December 9th which amplified claims made in a report by Amnesty International without informing BBC audiences of the NGO’s political agenda or its involvement in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

6. Under the sub-heading “Is there are risk for Palestinians?” [sic] readers are told:

“Yes. While the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, officially supports joining the ICC, its leaders could face charges of ordering indiscriminate attacks against civilians when the ICC prosecutor considers the recent Gaza conflict. Militants from Hamas and other groups fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and cities. Israel, for its part, carried out hundreds of air strikes in Gaza and launched a ground offensive.”

Readers are not informed, however, that one of those “other groups” which indeed fired thousands of missiles at Israeli civilian targets was Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and hence Mahmoud Abbas could be personally open to complaints, both in his capacity as head of the Fatah movement as well as head of the Palestinian Authority with its unity government to which (at least at the time of writing) Hamas is party.

 

 

BBC Sport promotes context-free political statements

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 12th found an article by BBC Sport.

football story on HP

The article (“Palestine lose 4-0 to Japan in first Asian Cup match“) did not however confine itself to the topic of football.

“Defender Tamer Salah said that their participation is as much about politics as it is about sport.

“Our people they just want to send a message for all over the world; we are human beings. It is our right to play football and we are not terrorists,” he told the BBC.”

The writer of this report however refrained from providing BBC audiences with the context that his decision to highlight that political statement (obviously irrelevant to the topic of the story itself) makes necessary. In fact, several former players for the Palestinian national squad have in the not too distant past been shown to have links to some of the numerous Palestinian organisations classified as terrorist groups – see here, here and here.

Linking to the BBC’s Palestinian territories profile, the original version of the report went on to tell readers:

“Efforts to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the River Jordan and Gaza on the Mediterranean coast have been frustrated by the continuing conflict with Israel.

The context of terrorism – including of course that of the second intifada – as a factor which has played a major part in ‘frustrating’ the establishment of a Palestinian state and has perpetuated the conflict was missing from that statement, perhaps explaining its later disappearance and replacement with the one below, which includes a dead link.

“More than 20 years of on-and-off peace talks with Israel have failed to secure an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

If only BBC Sports writers would stick to sport.

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BBC continues to mislead audiences on issue of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

Much of the BBC’s reporting on the issue of the recent Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court has framed those moves as being a legitimate alternative to direct talks and has promoted the notion that negotiations between the parties are a means of solving the conflict demanded and imposed by Israel.Marcus art

On January 7th an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Obama’s five key Middle East battlegrounds in 2015“. In that article Marcus also used the above theme:

“An early test of Mr Obama’s thinking may be how he responds to the Palestinians’ determination to pursue their quest for statehood by seeking membership of a variety of international organisations.

This runs against the basic Israeli and US position that the only way to peace is through direct talks between the parties themselves.”

Of course the principle according to which the conflict must be solved by means of negotiations is by no means merely an “Israeli and US position”: it is a principle to which the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people signed up over twenty-one years ago when Yasser Arafat sent his September 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin in which he stated:

“The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.” [emphasis added]

Arafat 1993 letter

That same principle of direct negotiations underpins both the Oslo I and Oslo II agreements – also signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people and, no less importantly, witnessed and guaranteed by Jordan, the US, Egypt, Russia, Norway and the EU and endorsed by the UN.

Hence, when the BBC fails to inform audiences that the principle of conflict resolution by means of direct negotiations alone is not just an Israeli or American caprice but actually the mainstay of the existing agreements to which the Palestinians are party and the international community guarantors, it deliberately hinders audience understanding of the significance of the PA’s breach of those existing agreements by means of unilateral moves designed to bypass negotiations.

If the BBC is to fulfil its obligations to its funding public, it must begin to present this topic accurately and impartially. 

 

BBC World Service or Palestinian Authority radio station?

On December 31st the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Lyse Doucet – included an item (available here from 14:00) concerning the signing of the Rome Statute by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.Newshour 31 12 Doucet

Unfortunately for BBC audiences hoping to augment their understanding of that issue with accurate and impartial information, Lyse Doucet’s idea of ‘standard setting journalism’ proved to be nothing more than the provision of a platform for unhindered and unchallenged PA propaganda from Mohammed Shtayyeh. Doucet introduced the segment thus:

LD: “Let’s get more details now on our top story. In the last few hours the Palestinians have formally applied to join the International Criminal Court which could pave the way for the pursuit of alleged war crimes charges against Israel. The move has been strongly criticized by the Israelis as well as the United States which called the move deeply troubling. I’ve been speaking to Mohammed Shtayyeh; he’s a former Palestinian negotiator when there were negotiations with Israel. He’s a senior member of the Palestinian leadership. I asked him whether this marked a policy shift for the Palestinians.”

Mohammed Shtayyeh: “This is actually a paradigm shift. This is to show that the Palestinians are not victims of one option which is either negotiations or negotiations as the Israelis tried to put it for us. This is a strategic shift in which we are leaving the bi-lateral negotiations that has not been really the answer for ending the Israeli occupation that has occurred on the Palestinian territory in 1967. And we are seeking an international multi-lateral peaceful form which is the United Nations. Unfortunately, the United States has vote against us with the member states of the Security Council and therefore we are taking a different direction which is from the political track to a legal track. Signing the Rome Statute is enabling us to really take the Israeli leaders into international criminal courts because they have been committing really serious crimes against our people whether it is in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. And also we will be going to the ICJ – International Court of Justice – to really make a ruling vis-à-vis the Palestinian territories because the Israeli leadership is claiming that these territories are disputed territories rather than occupied territories. So therefore we are seeking every single option – peaceful option, I should say – that is enabling us to really put an end to this Israeli occupation and to the sufferings of our people.”

Doucet made no effort to inform listeners that Israel did not occupy “Palestinian territory” in 1967 or to clarify that the area concerned was in fact under Jordanian occupation (unopposed by the Palestinians) from 1948 until 1967.

Crucially, she also made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that the route of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by means of negotiations is not an Israeli invention as stated by Shtayyeh, but actually the product of existing contractual agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians and witnessed by members of the international community. Hence, listeners remained unaware of the significance of the current unilateral Palestinian moves in breach of that contract. Instead, Doucet continues:

LD: “What the United States has said, what Israel has said is that this is going to just escalate the tensions and what the Palestinians need is to negotiate for the achievement of their state with Israel and not with the United Nations.”

MS: “Well this is a totally unaccepted claim because we have been negotiating for twenty years or more. We have given the negotiations every single possibility and unfortunately the United States has not really made Netanyahu thirsty enough to bring him to the river to drink. And therefore Netanyahu has come to the negotiating table saturated with champagne rather than thirsty for peace so the United States has not really been able to oblige Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory which was fully and totally eroding the geographical base for a future Palestinian state.”

LD: “But…”

That word is the entire sum of Doucet’s challenge to Shtayyeh’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of years of avoidance of serious negotiation by the PA. As former US negotiator Dennis Ross recently pointed out:

“Since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Bill Clinton’s parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts last year. In each case, a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either “no” or no response.”

Doucet also refrains from reminding listeners of the US initiated ten month-long building freeze of 2009/10 and that the Palestinians refrained from coming to the negotiating table for 90% of that period. Shtayyeh is then allowed to promote more falsehoods concerning the last round of negotiations during which three tranches of releases of convicted terrorists took place, with the fourth and final tranche postponed due to lack of progress in the negotiations and later cancelled because of unilateral Palestinian moves.

MS: “And Israel did not allow the release of the Palestinian prisoners which has been agreed upon and mediated by Secretary Kerry, so from our side we have given negotiations every possibility. Let me remind you of one little thing which is since the Madrid peace talks 1991 until today, the number of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories have grown up from 120,000 to 651,000 Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories living in 185 Jewish settlements. So those who want really us to go back to negotiations, we are ready to do so if they are able to ask Israel to totally freeze the construction of settlements both in the Palestinian territories – i.e. West Bank and Jerusalem.”

LD: “What the United States has said to you is why not wait until after the Israeli elections, which are only a few months away, before you make this kind of move.”

MS: “Fine. Let’s assume that we are waiting. The question for the United States that we are putting: what is going to happen after the elections? After the election they will tell us that there will be… you know, you have to wait…there will be a formation of the government, you know, this coalition is very fragile, wait and see, Netanyahu is in a bad situation. And then maybe United States in election mode because it is the third year of the term of the president. So we have been waiting. We are victims of this game of, you know, wait between elections of mid-term in Washington, presidential elections in Washington and then Israeli elections and so on. The problem is with waiting that is Israel waiting? Not implementing construction of settlements? Are the Israelis waiting for anything to happen? They are not. The problem is that they are creating fait accomplis [sic] on the ground every day. So why is it that we should wait? What are we going to wait for?”

This of course would have been an appropriate moment for Lyse Doucet to enquire about the long overdue Palestinian elections which were supposed to take place in January 2015 according to the terms of last year’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal but she declined to do so and closed the ‘interview’ instead.

Doucet’s failure to present any sort of serious challenge to the distortions and falsehoods promoted in Shtayyeh’s diatribe means that listeners did not actually get “more details on our top story”. In fact, the sole achievement of this item was to expose listeners worldwide to five minutes of uninterrupted PA propaganda which, rather than contributing anything towards meeting the BBC’s remit of informing audiences about international affairs, actively hindered their understanding of this particular issue and the wider topic of the Middle East peace process in general.

The PA’s own official media could not have done better.

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BBC framing continues to erase Fatah and PA glorification of terrorism

BBC reporting on the terror attack at the synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem in November 2014 included numerous references to a statement issued by the PA’s president Mahmoud Abbas condemning the attack.

For example:

Jerusalem synagogue: Palestinians kill Israeli worshippers BBC News website, 18/11/14

“Earlier, the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying: “The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.””

Synagogue attack: Netanyahu vow in ‘battle for Jerusalem’  BBC News website, 18/11/14

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also issued a condemnation of “the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and [of] the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it”.”

Newshour  BBC World Service radio, 18/11/14

Razia Iqbal: “The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attack and also called for an end to what he called Israeli provocations.”

Newshour  BBC World Service radio 18/11/14

Tim Franks: “The President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen – Mahmoud Abbas – has condemned the killing and yet the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu equates the actions of Hamas and Mr Abbas. He says that they are both responsible for incitement. That’s not true, is it?”

Anger in Jerusalem after deadly synagogue attack  BBC television news, 19/11/14

Quentin Sommerville: “Mahmoud Abbas condemned the violence.”

Abbas:  “We strongly condemn this kind of incidents. We categorically reject attacks against civilians. At the same time I would like to say that while we denounce these acts, we also condemn attacks against Al Aqsa Compound and other holy places.”

However, no BBC coverage whatsoever was given to the conflicting messaging in the form of glorification of the terrorist attack which came at the same time from Abbas’ own Fatah party, from Fatah MPs and from Abbas’ advisor.

The BBC has also refrained from reporting the fact that both Abbas’ party Fatah and the PA’s official news agency have more recently glorified the two terrorists who carried out the attack as ‘martyrs’ with Fatah claiming that it took place “at an occupation synagogue in occupied Jerusalem”.Fatah FB

The way in which journalists choose to frame a story obviously influences the way in which it is perceived and understood by their audiences and the BBC’s selective representation of the president of the Palestinian Authority disconnects him from the organization he heads, including his own political party. Mahmoud Abbas does not of course operate in a vacuum: now long since unable to claim that his hold on power derives from any elected mandate, his position and title depend upon support from those around him. The fact that the Palestinian people are consistently exposed to incitement and glorification of terrorism from official sources such as Fatah and the PA which are headed by Mahmoud Abbas is very relevant context in a story to which the BBC devotes a considerable amount of column space and air time. That context, however, is studiously withheld from BBC audiences by means of journalistic framing.

Were officials from a British political party to engage in repeated incitement and glorification of violent acts against a specific group of people, the BBC would be highly unlikely to adopt a policy of refraining from reporting on the topic and it certainly would not give that party’s leader a free pass by negating his or her responsibility for the actions of party officials. When it comes to the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, however, the BBC has glaringly different standards which actively prevent its audiences from being able to reach informed opinions on one of the BBC’s most promoted stories.  

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