BBC frames anti-Israel delegitimisation campaign as a sports story

An article about the FIFA presidential election which appeared in the Sport section of the BBC News website on May 4th ended with the following paragraphs:

“The Palestinian Football Association is seeking the suspension of Israel from world football.

A proposal to that effect has been included on the agenda for Fifa’s annual congress in Zurich and would need a 75% majority to succeed.

Palestine has complained that Israel has continued to hamper its football activities through restrictions on the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel cites security concerns for restrictions it imposes but says it has eased travel for Palestinian athletes between the territories.”

On May 20th another report on that topic appeared in the website’s Sport section under the title “Fifa: Israel football faces possible suspension vote” and in addition that article was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 20th and 21st.FIFA art

Neither of the reports provides BBC audiences with the all-important context of past and present cases of Palestinian football players with connections to terrorist organisations.

“There are numerous examples of Palestinian soccer players who have been publicly acknowledged by terrorist groups to have been members of their organizations. Jabalia Youth Sports Club player Ayman Ahmad al-Kurd was a member of the Qassam Brigades (which acknowledged his martyrdom on their website) and was wearing combat gear when he died during Operation Cast Lead. PIJ admitted—to Reuters, no less—that Wajih Mushtahi, a member of the Palestinian Olympic team who also died in Cast Lead, was a fighter in their organization. Shadi Sbakhi, who played for al-Nuseirat and once earned a spot on the national team, was not just an operative in the Qassam Brigades, but a commander.

The most egregious case, though, was that of 23-year-old Omar Abu Rwayyis (also spelled Rois or Ruis), a native of the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, who in addition to being the goalkeeper of the Palestinian Olympic team was also an employee of the Red Crescent, the local version of the Red Cross. Abu Rwayyis was arrested in April 2012, along with 12 other Amari residents, for participating in a Hamas plot to attack IDF soldiers. Abu Rwayyis, along with other Red Crescent employees, helped transport Kalashnikovs that were used to fire on IDF vehicles.”

Likewise, at no point are readers of these two articles informed of the fact that this latest politically motivated assault on Israel’s legitimacy is led by the same man who in recent years has also tried to get Israel expelled from the International Olympic community, threatened legal action against sponsors of the Jerusalem Marathon and pressured UEFA to disallow Israel’s hosting of a tournament. Moreover, the second article amplifies the following disingenuous statement from Jibril Rajoub:

“This is nothing to do with politics, this is a sport issue.”

Readers are not told of Jibril Rajoub’s own terrorist past or of the numerous on record statements clarifying his use of sport for political ends.

“He also voiced strong opposition to any form of normalization with Israel, particularly in the field of sports.
The term “normalization” does not exist in the Palestinian sports dictionary, Rajoub stressed during a seminar in Ramallah.
He added that sports in the Palestinian territories was “one of the methods of resistance” against Israel. […]
“The youth sector in Palestine is the basic fuel for the liberation project,” Rajoub said. He also emphasized the youth’s role in maintaining a “permanent state of confrontation” with Israel.”

And:

“The year 2014 is the year of decision; we either go to a state or to a confrontation,” Rajoub said. “The confrontation would be on three fronts: launching and escalating resistance; boycotting and isolating Israel; and halting all forms of normalization [with Israel] on the political, academic, trade and economic levels.” […]

 “The option of armed resistance is also on the table,” he added. […]

“We are entitled to knock on all doors and seek all channels to recruit regional action in favor of our cause,” he said. “Our goal is to create elements of pressure on the international community.”

In addition to framing this story as sports related rather than the political issue it in fact is, the BBC fails to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for them to understand this transparent attempt to cynically exploit an organization supposedly committed to eliminating racism and discrimination from football for the purpose of delegitimisation.

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BBC WS’s ‘Newshour’ exploits Pope’s canonizations for promotion of propaganda

BBC coverage of the Pope’s recent canonization of four nineteenth century nuns has focused exclusively on the two who were born in places which were at the time part of the Ottoman Empire: Jerusalem in the Mutassariflik of Jerusalem and Ibillin in the Acco (Acre) Sanjak. The Ottomans of course did not recognize ‘Palestine’ as a separate entity but divided the Levant into provinces, governorates and districts.

On May 17th the BBC devoted two written articles and two items in radio broadcasts to the story.

Vatican boost for Christians in Holy Land” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website

Pope Francis canonises two Palestinian nuns” – BBC News website

‘Newshour’ – “Palestinian nuns become saints” – Julian Marshall, BBC World Service radio (from 00:32)

Sunday‘ – Edward Stourton with Fr David Neuhaus, BBC Radio 4 (from 00:57)

All those items include an element of politicization of the topic by means of promotion of two women who would have been extremely unlikely to self-define as Palestinians as “Palestinian nuns”.

An idea of the aims of such politicization of what is, after all, an event of religious significance can be gleaned from an article published by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

“Rifaat Kassis, a prominent political community activist and coordinator of Kairos, a local Christian group, says the canonization is significant on many levels, notwithstanding the recognition that Palestinians under Ottoman rule were part of a diverse, productive society, contrary to the mainstream sidelining of Palestinians from the region’s history.

“This puts Palestine on the map, among not only the catholic world, but the whole world, and I think this will also help people to understand Palestine and the occupation,” he told Ma’an.” [emphasis added]Newshour nuns

Not content with the geographical politicization of the topic, the ‘Newshour’ item went even further and a report supposedly about the canonization of two nuns quickly became a platform for the promotion of political propaganda when presenter Julian Marshall brought into the conversation Oliver McTernan of the Hamas-supporting ‘Forward Thinking’ and a Palestinian Christian from Beit Sahour named only as Ghassan Bannoura who appears to have worked variously for Oxfam GB, and the IMEMC media arm of the ISM-linked Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People.

McTernan: “I think to the broader Palestinian public it’s the rebuilding of Gaza, the unity of Palestine: terribly important.”

Bannoura: “Well of course living under occupation, the war-torn Gaza strip needs rebuilding of course – that is very important and we should, you know, be focusing on rebuilding Gaza, ending the occupation in the West Bank, stopping the settlements that eating our resources in the West Bank, make it impossible to build any kind of future state in the Holy Land.”

Bannoura: “We can’t get to Jerusalem not because of the Palestinian Authority – our own government and our own police. We can’t get to Jerusalem because of the Israeli occupation and the wall that surrounds the city.”

Clearly the editorial consideration behind the running of this item was not only to inform listeners worldwide of the life and times of the Catholic Church’s new saints. 

BBC News misleads on ‘Arab world’ saints, hides significance of Vatican-PA treaty

On May 13th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a report titled “Vatican to recognise Palestinian state in treaty“. The main image selected to illustrate that article dates from May 2014 when the Pope visited the Middle East and chose to pray beside a section of the anti-terrorist fence covered in graffiti which included a spurious comparison between Bethlehem and the Warsaw Ghetto.Vatican treaty art

The closing paragraphs of the report state:

“This weekend President Abbas will have talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and on Sunday he will be attend [sic] a canonisation ceremony during which two Palestinian nuns who lived in the 19th Century – when Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire – will be declared saints.

They will be the first new saints from the Arab world to be named since the early days of Christianity.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA have pointed out, that latter statement is not accurate. In 1977 a Lebanese Maronite Christian was canonized and at least two other saints of Lebanese origin alone have been canonized since then.

As was also the case with many other media outlets, the BBC’s report focuses audience attentions on the political aspects of the story.

“The Vatican is to formally recognise Palestinian statehood in a treaty that will be signed shortly, officials say. […]

The Vatican’s announcement comes amid growing momentum to recognise Palestinian statehood. Over the last year the European Parliament as well as the UK, Republic of Ireland, Spain and France have all passed non-binding motions in favour.

Sweden has gone further, officially recognising Palestine as a state.”

Readers also came across the following opaque generalised statements:

“The Vatican is eager that property and civil rights of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian state is protected, correspondents say.

According to the New York Times, it has strong religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites.

The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that Pope Francis is making every effort to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East at a time when when [sic] hundreds of thousands of Arab Christians are fleeing Islamic violence. […]

The agreement on Wednesday will define Catholic Church activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Holy See said on Wednesday.”

A clue to the context behind those vague statements and insight into a no less significant aspect of the treaty between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority is provided by the Catholic News Service:

“Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states and head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations, said the Vatican wanted the agreement to “promote the life and activity of the Catholic Church and its recognition on a juridical level.” […]
The chapter on “freedom of religion and conscience,” he said, is “very elaborate and detailed.”
Other chapters deal with “various aspects of the life and activity of the church in the Palestinian territories: its freedom of action, its personnel and jurisdiction, its personal status, houses of worship, social and charitable activity (and) means of social communication. Finally, a chapter is dedicated to financial and property questions.

Asked if the agreement could be a model for agreements with other Muslim-majority countries, Msgr. Camilleri said every bilateral treaty deals with the specific situation of the countries involved.
“In this case, because it deals with the presence of the church in the land where Christianity was born, the agreement has a unique value and significance,” he said.
At the same time, though, he said the agreement’s recognition of the church and of religious freedom “could be followed by other countries, including those with a Muslim majority, and demonstrate that such recognition is not incompatible with the fact that the majority of the country’s population belongs to another religion.””

La Stampa’s Vatican Insider adds:

“But the debate over the recognition of the State of Palestine must not overshadow other passages in the agreement which promise to be of significance. They have not been made public yet but they were summarised by the Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Antoine Camilleri, who is head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations.

Having announced that the preamble will express the Holy See’s hope for a two-State solution (entailing the Palestinian side’s full recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel), the prelate explained that the agreement contains a “very elaborate and detailed” chapter on the “freedom of religion and conscience”. The legal agreement then sets out a number of fundamental elements regarding religious freedom and the freedom of conscience for all those living and working in the Palestinian Territories. Guarantees, such as respect for places of worship, the freedom of action of the Church, the protection of its social and charitable activities and the right to promote means of communication, are put down in black and white.”

Given that the BBC’s interest in the topic of Middle East Christians has increased of late due to prevailing events on the ground, one might have thought that news of a treaty aimed at protecting their religious freedom in one part of the region would have prompted the self-styled ‘standard-setter for international journalism‘ to break away from the media pack and provide its audiences with informative coverage of the background story of why the rights of Christians need to be protected in an agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority. 

 

Update on the BBC’s ‘angel of peace’ story

As was reported here recently, the BBC News website published an article on May 16th in which it was claimed that the Pope had described the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas as “an angel of peace”. The same claim also appeared in an additional article published on the website the following day, together with a link to the first report.Angel art

In fact – as was noted in our report and communicated to the BBC – several Italian language media outlets reported the story somewhat differently and the apparently inaccurate translation seemed to have originated with news agencies.

“So it would appear that there is a distinct possibility that rather than describing Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’, the Pope in fact urged or wished him to become one by taking steps to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That, of course, would leave readers with a markedly different impression than the version of the story promoted by the BBC.”

Two days after the publication of the original report – May 18th – the BBC News website produced an additional article titled “Vatican clarifies Abbas ‘angel of peace’ comments“. Despite the fact that the BBC had been one of many media outlets to promote the dubious claim, in a distinctly detached tone the report informs readers that:Vatican art

“Journalists from leading news agencies reported that the Pope called Mr Abbas “an angel of peace” when giving him a bronze medallion representing one.

But an Italian newspaper says he merely expressed hope that the president might one day become an angel of peace.

The Vatican’s spokesman said he did not hear the exact words, but that they had been meant as an “encouragement”.”

The section of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy which deals with the subject of ‘managing online content’ states that:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.”

Given that and the appearance of this latest article, one would of course expect to see clarifications appended to the two previous reports in which the inaccurate claim was promoted. At the time of writing, no such clarification appears in either article.

BBC WS radio’s partisan portrayal of ‘The Church of the Nativity siege’

As readers may be aware, a production by the ‘Freedom Theatre of Palestine’ is currently on tour in the UK.

“The theater company, based in the West Bank town of Jenin, structured the play around the April 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The company, whose mission is “generating cultural resistance,” is bringing the play to the United Kingdom in May and is set to perform in a number of locales with large Jewish communities. According to the theater’s website, “The Siege” is supported by the EU, the British Council and the Roddick Foundation.

It will open in Manchester at Salford’s Lowry Theatre on May 13 and 14, and will then tour Britain, with performances at London’s Battersea Arts Centre and major stages in Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow, as well as some smaller venues.”

Not surprisingly, the play has received rave reviews from the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) which at the time had members acting as voluntary human shields for the wanted terrorists inside the church. The ISM also provides some insight into the aims behind both the production itself and its British tour.

“At the Freedom Theatre, Cultural Resistance is their way of defying the occupation. Ahmed Jamil Tobassi, one of the actors from the show, explained that among many other things, theatre creates a context that can support other forms of resistance. It revives stories, gives people a way of expressing themselves and ultimately frees the mind. The idea of cultural resistance is to work alongside other forms of resistance, not against. Yet “if you cannot start by deconstructing the occupation within yourself, how are you going to be able to free the country from the bigger, external occupation?” argues Jonatan Stanczak, managing director of the Theatre.

During the months of May and June, this play will be touring the United Kingdom, a country the theatre group has not yet been too. It is also as a message for the British to take responsibility for their prominent role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the ongoing occupation.”

Coincidentally, or not, the BBC World Service chose to revisit the story of the 2002 events at the Church of the Nativity in two recent radio programmes.Siege Witness

The May 12th edition of ‘Witness‘, presented by Louise Hidalgo, was devoted to accounts from a Franciscan priest and an American photographer who were both present at the time. Among the many notable features of the programme (not least the chosen illustrative image) is the lack of essential context in Hidalgo’s inserts of ‘background’.

“Today we go back to May 2002 and one of the most dramatic sieges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For 38 days a group of Palestinian gunmen and civilians and nuns and monks have been holed up inside one of Christianity’s most holy sites – the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – surrounded by the Israeli army.” […]

“The stand-off had begun in early April when Israeli tanks had entered Bethlehem as part of a series of raids across the West Bank. As the Israeli army moved into the town, local civilians and Palestinian militants fled into Manger Square. When troops opened fire there, many of them ran into the church to seek sanctuary.”

What Hidalgo describes as “a series of raids” was in fact Operation Defensive Shield. She makes no mention of the fact that by the time that operation began, the second Intifada had been underway for a year and a half and around 300 Israelis had already been murdered in terror attacks. Neither does Hidalgo clarify that the catalyst for the operation was the terror attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya on Pesach Eve, in which thirty civilians were murdered and 140 injured. As far as BBC audiences are concerned, the Israeli army simply woke up one morning and decided to carry out “raids”.

Contrary to the impression given by Hidalgo’s account, the Israeli army was not the only side to open fire before the wanted terrorists broke into the Church of the Nativity by shooting off the door lock. As the Guardian reported at the time:

“Witnesses described desperate close quarter fighting in the old part of Bethlehem, a warren of narrow alleys and stone streets behind Manger Square, as Israeli forces went from house to house and entered religious buildings searching for Palestinian fighters.

Outgunned, the Palestinians fought desperately to keep Israeli troops out of Manger Square itself. Palestinian gunmen have frequently used the area around the Church of the Nativity as a refuge, with the expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near it.”

Neither does Hidalgo inform listeners of the existence of accounts which suggest that the terrorists’ use of the holy site was pre-planned and tactically motivated.

“As confirmed by a senior Tanzim commander, Abdullah Abu-Hadid, “The idea was to enter the church in order to create international pressure on Israel….We knew beforehand that there was two years’ worth of food for 50 monks. Oil, beans, rice, olives. Good bathrooms and the largest wells in old Bethlehem. You didn’t need electricity because there were candles. In the yard they planted vegetables. Everything was there.””

And:

“The conspiracy was to make a siege and put all the fighters inside the church so Israel would make the siege. People from the Palestinian Authority collaborated with this conspiracy,” said Eiman Abu Eita, Fatah’s representative in the Bethlehem satellite town of Beit Sahour who at the time of the siege was Beit Sahour’s al-Aqsa Brigades chief.”

Remarkably, at no point throughout this whole programme are listeners told that the people described variously as “gunmen”, “militants” or merely “men” were in fact wanted terrorists. That coy approach to an essential part of the story is reinforced in the account given by photographer Carolyn Cole.

“I do remember when the men were saying goodbye to the leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade who was going into exile in Cyprus – Ibrahim Abayat – and I had taken a portrait of him earlier in the week. I didn’t really know his background. I had no idea why he was the most wanted man in the church but there was a group of them who left the church first and so all the other men were gathering around them. They made a line and everyone was hugging as those men left.”

Despite having had thirteen years to find out about Abayat’s “background”, Cole and her host Hidalgo refrain from telling BBC audiences the facts.

“Abayat was born in 1973, and is a resident of the city of Bethlehem. He is head of the Fatah Tanzim terrorist organization in the city.

After the death of Atef Abayat, Ibrahim took over as the Bethlehem commander of the Tanzim. In this capacity, he was involved in dispatching and executing dozens of shooting and bombing attacks, which resulted in the death and injury of scores of Israelis. Abayat also orchestrated and participated in the shooting and mortar attacks on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and on the Bethlehem bypass roads.

Aside from the shooting and mortar attacks, Ibrahim Abayat was also involved in the following murderous terrorist attacks:

20 September 2001 – A shooting attack on an Israeli vehicle near the community of Tekoa, in which Sarit Amrani was killed.

16 July 2001 – The detonation of an explosive charge on the Beit Safafa -Talpiot bridge, Jerusalem.

15 January 2002 – The abduction and murder of Avi Boaz, a US citizen residing in Israel. Boaz was stopped at a Palestinian roadblock near Beit Sahour. There he was abducted by Abayat’s operatives, who took him to Bethlehem, and upon Abayat’s instructions, shot him to death.

18 February 2002 – The detonation of a car bomb at the Zaim checkpoint, resulting in the death of an Israeli policeman.

25 February 2002 – A shooting attack at an Israeli vehicle close to the Tekoa junction. Avraham Fisch and Aharon Gorov of Nokdim were killed in the attack, and Tamar Lipschitz, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was wounded in the attack.

2 March 2002 – A shooting attack at a vehicle on the ‘Tunnel Route’ south of Jerusalem. Devorah Friedman was killed in the attack.

June 14, 2002 – Involvement in the planning and execution of the terrorist murder of Israeli intelligence officer, Yehuda Edri.

In addition, incriminating evidence has been found linking him to an attempt to detonate an explosive charge, in the Jerusalem suburb of Tzur Haddassah, on 31 January 2002. The explosive charge was discovered and neutralized by Israeli police sappers.”

According to some accounts from the time, Abayat also murdered Palestinians.

“Residents also said that Mr. Ja’ara and another top leader, Ibrahim Abayat, took nine Muslims whom they suspected of collaborating with Israel into an apartment near Manger Square and fatally shot them.
The executions took place shortly before the April 2 gunbattle between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters that sent more than 200 Palestinians fleeing into the church, where they remained for 39 days.
Abayat, in a phone interview from inside the church while the siege was under way, said he was personally responsible for the killings.
He said there was no need for a trial because “it was a well-known fact that these people were linked to Israel.””

No less euphemistic is the programme’s presentation of the terrorist supporting ISM with which Cole entered the church and which she was apparently covering at the time.

Hidalgo: “Then one day, photographer Carolyn Cole had the kind of break that journalists can only dream of. It was late afternoon, she was standing at the barricade when she spotted a group of foreign protesters sneaking around the side of the church.” […]

“The protesters had coordinated by mobile phone with some of the Palestinians inside.”

Interestingly, Hidalgo makes no attempt to clarify what those so-called “foreign protesters” were actually doing in a war zone but the ISM’s press release from the time does supply some of the missing background.

“BETHLEHEM (May 2, 2002) – Ten members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) entered the besieged Church of Nativity at about 5:45 pm, walking past Israeli occupation soldiers. A further thirteen persons, working as decoys were arrested by the Israeli soldiers. All those inside are determined to remain until the Israelis lift their siege on the city of Bethlehem.

The ISM conceived of an intricate plan to move past Israeli soldiers outside the Church in several separate but coordinated groups carrying placards denouncing the ongoing Israeli occupation. In a move orchestrated with contacts within, two ISM teams were able to reach the Church and enter its main door before Israeli soldiers could respond. Every member carried with them food and other critical supplies badly needed by the Palestinians holed up inside. The Israeli army has denied the Palestinians, besieged since April 1, 2002, sufficient amounts of food.

This constitutes the latest in a series of success by the ISM to defy the Israeli occupation and to demonstrate to the world that the international community takes a firm stance against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. In light of the failure for the international community, namely the United States and the United Nations to act to help protect the Palestinian people and secure their universal rights, the ISM has had to operate on its own. Prior to this, the ISM has twice circumvented Israeli occupation forces to place activists inside of President Arafat’s compound in Ramallah.”

Hidalgo’s context-free, romanticized presentation of events was broadcast yet again to BBC World Service listeners in the May 16th edition of ‘The History Hour’ and also promoted as a podcast. There it was introduced by presenter Max Pearson as follows:Siege History Hour

“But we begin in that hotbed of historical drama; the Middle East. Ever since the creation of Israel after the Second World War – carved out of land previously inhabited by the Palestinians – there’s been tension between Jews and Arabs. This tension is frequently expressed in violence; sometimes in war. And the holy shrines of three great religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – have not escaped unscathed. So it was in May 2002 when one of the most dramatic sieges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfolded in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]

Pearson makes no attempt to explain to listeners what “have not escaped unscathed” meant in this particular case.

“The 39 day standoff in Bethlehem ended yesterday when 13 of the militiamen camped in the church were flown to Cyprus on their way to exile in Europe. Another 26 militiamen were released into the Gaza Strip, where they fired assault rifles in the air to acknowledge cheers from crowds lining the streets. Seventy-three Palestinian policemen and civilians were set free.

Israeli bomb experts swept the church at the request of the priests and found 40 explosive devices, several booby-trapped and hidden in corners and behind cupboards, the army said. The sappers neutralised 25 devices and an American bomb squad with sniffer dogs disarmed the rest, according to a military source.

In their joy over having control over the shrine again, Greek and Franciscan priests conducted a service, and bells rang for several minutes.

When Israeli troops later withdrew from Bethlehem, hundreds of residents who had been trapped in their houses by curfew during much of the standoff entered the church. Many lit candles near the birth grotto.

”This is the place where Jesus was born. I can’t believe this is the house of God, just look at it,” 18-year-old Sandy Shaheen, a Bethlehem Christian, said crying.

The shrine reeked of urine and dirty dishes, blankets, cigarette butts and a mass of other garbage lay about. But the building was largely unscathed by the standoff.”

Despite the lack of important background information and context and regardless of the absence of any input on this story from the Israeli side, the BBC chose to present this clearly partisan anecdotal version of events as ‘history’. That would be bad enough at any time, but in a month in which BBC audiences in the UK will likely be hearing a lot about the Jenin Freedom Theatre’s agitprop, it is all the more striking that the organisation tasked with building “a global understanding of international issues” has elected to put politics before the provision of accurate and impartial information.

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BBC lost in news agency translation of Pope’s words to Mahmoud Abbas?

On May 16th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Pope Francis calls Palestinians’ Abbas ‘angel of peace’“. The same messaging is repeated in the article’s opening paragraph:Angel art

“Pope Francis has met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican, calling him “an angel of peace”.

The Pope made the remark as he presented the Palestinian leader with a medallion.”

Later on in the report readers are told that:

“The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that after 20 minutes of private talks, Pope Francis gave Mr Abbas the medallion depicting an angel of peace adding: “It is appropriate because you are an angel of peace.””

But is that in fact an accurate portrayal of events?

The Italian daily La Stampa’s ‘Vatican Insider’ website reports the story somewhat differently, running with the headline “Pope embraces Abu Mazen and bids him to be an angel of peace” in its English language version of the story. The article adds:

“As is tradition with heads of State or of government, Francis presented a gift to the Palestinian leader, commenting: “May the angel of peace destroy the evil spirit of war. I thought of you: may you be an angel of peace.””

(For comparison, the Italian language version of the same story is here.)

The Zenit agency reported the story in Spanish using the headline “Francisco recibe al presidente palestino y le exhorta: ‘Sea usted un ángel de paz’” – “Francisco receives Palestinian President and urges : ‘ Be you an angel of peace ‘”.

So it would appear that there is a distinct possibility that rather than describing Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘angel of peace’, the Pope in fact urged or wished him to become one by taking steps to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That, of course, would leave readers with a markedly different impression than the version of the story promoted by the BBC.

The source of this possible misunderstanding of the Pope’s words appears to be various news agency reports. As we have seen before, it is not unheard of for the BBC to fail to fact check information provided by news agencies before reproducing their content. Clearly this story too needs urgent review in order to ensure its compliance with BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

 

 

PA honours for murderers ignored by the BBC

As regular readers will be aware, the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism is one which remains – along with incitement and the funding of convicted terrorists – consistently unreported by the BBC.No news

It therefore came as no surprise to see that the BBC’s regional correspondents avoided the following story altogether.

On May 9th the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported that:

“Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs [and PA Parliament Member] Issa Karake…  [visited the] families of prisoners sentenced to life, together with a delegation of the commission.[…] Karake awarded plaques of honor to the prisoners’ families.”

The three prisoners whose families were officially honoured are serving sentences for their part in the October 2000 lynching of two Israeli reservists – Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami – in Ramallah.

As has been noted here in the past, a number of inaccurate BBC reports on that incident are still available on the BBC News website.

Whilst the BBC on the one hand devotes considerable amounts of airtime and column space to the topic of the ‘peace process’, on the other hand it systematically avoids informing its audiences about such examples of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism, despite their being a crucial part of the story it claims to tell.

 

NYT reports on a topic consistently off the BBC radar

As we have noted here on numerous previous occasions (most recently just last month), when reporting on the topic of Palestinian Authority tax transfers, the BBC has persistently failed to adequately inform its audiences of the related issue of the scale of the PA’s outstanding debts to Israeli companies and bodies.pylons

The largest of those debts is to the Israel Electric Corporation but – despite having staff in both Jerusalem and Ramallah – the BBC has avoided reporting that story, as indeed it does many other Palestinian issues.

On May 5th the New York Times published an article titled “Palestinians’ Unpaid Electric Bills in the West Bank Thicken Tension With Israel” which includes information that has not been made available to those getting their news from the BBC.

“Collectively, the 22,000 residents of the Tulkarm camp in the northern West Bank have amassed $15.2 million in unpaid electric bills over at least 10 years, part of a yawning Palestinian power debt of $430 million that is at the core of the latest breakdown in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. […]

Ms. Zeidan and her neighbors face neither fines nor service cutoffs, creating the widespread impression that there are no consequences for ignoring the bills. Israel briefly cut power to two Palestinian districts in February, but a large-scale blackout in Palestinian communities would most likely set off a diplomatic crisis. […]

Residents of the camp are too poor to pay, Mr. Sallameh said, and they see electricity as the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, which the refugees widely despise. “Let those dirt bags pay for us” is a common refrain, he said. […]

Elsewhere in the West Bank, the Israel Electric Corporation sells power to Palestinian municipalities and distribution companies, but, Mr. Milhem said, Israel holds the Palestinian Authority broadly responsible for payment. The World Bank found that some municipalities collected customers’ payments but used them to offset general expenses rather than passing them on to the Israelis.”

The article also notes the internal Palestinian frictions which exacerbate the problem of the PA’s massive debt.

“The World Bank estimated in November that Palestinians had failed to pay for 58 percent of the power they used in 2013, up from 37 percent in 2010.

About 40 percent of the power debt is from Gaza, where Hamas, the militant Islamist Palestinian political faction, has ruled since 2007. The World Bank says that Hamas collects payments from Gaza’s 1.8 million residents but refuses to hand the money over to the Palestinian Authority because of its rivalry with Mr. Abbas and his Fatah party.”

The issue clearly has broader implications too.

““The current system doesn’t make sense, especially if we want to build a functioning Palestinian state,” said Steen Lau Jorgensen of the World Bank, which has extensively studied the issue of electricity in the region.”

Whilst the BBC does cover the topic of PA tax revenues whenever it comes up, this essential aspect of the background to the story remains under-reported by the media organization which claims to be “better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story”.

Related Articles:

BBC again avoids informing audiences about PA debt to Israel

BBC promotes selective narrative on PA economy

BBC advances Palestinian narrative on ‘E1′

BBC fails to report PA’s cancellation of electric bills

 

 

No BBC reporting on last week’s fatal terror attack in Jerusalem

Israel’s Remembrance Day (Yom HaZikaron) commemorates not only those who fell defending the State of Israel, but also the civilian victims of war and terrorism. The most recent of those is twenty-five year-old Shalom Yochai Sherki who was killed when a Palestinian driver from Anata rammed his vehicle into a bus stop at French Hill in Jerusalem on April 15th.BBC News logo 2

“A Palestinian driver deliberately rammed his car into a Jerusalem bus stop this week and killed an Israeli man in a “horrible attack,” Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino said Saturday.[…]

He ruled out initial suggestions that it had been an accident.

Shalom Yohai Sherki, 25, and Shira Klein, 20, were seriously injured in the attack on the bus stop in East Jerusalem.

Sherki, the son of prominent rabbi Ouri Sherki who is well known in the city’s francophone community, died of his injuries on Thursday morning and was buried later that day.

The driver, Khaled Koutineh, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was also injured and arrested by the police.”

The second victim is still undergoing treatment in hospital and the perpetrator has since admitted that the attack was deliberate.

That terror attack joins the numerous others which were also not reported by the BBC.

Also on April 15th, the Israeli security forces announced the arrests of twenty-nine Hamas activists.

“Security forces arrested 29 suspected Hamas members in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight Tuesday, including some who have been imprisoned in Israel in the past.

Among those detained were senior members of the Palestinian terror group, the army said.

The operation, carried out by the Shin Bet security service, the IDF, and the Israel Police, came amid concern that the activists were preparing to carry out attacks against Israeli targets.

The suspects were to be questioned by the Shin Bet.

The army noted an increase in Hamas activity in the West Bank and said members of the group have been acting on the instructions and funding of its leaders abroad.”

The subject of the Hamas terror cells in Palestinian Authority administered areas which are controlled and funded by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and abroad – and threaten not only Israeli civilians but also the PA itself – is one which the BBC has largely managed to avoid in past months.  

Clearly BBC audiences’ understanding of events in both Israel and the PA controlled areas is not enhanced by the absence of any serious reporting on this topic.

A way but no will: BBC coverage of Palestinian affairs in Q1 2015

We have often noted on these pages that the BBC’s coverage of Palestinian affairs is for the most part focused on subjects with some sort of connection to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that the corporation shows considerably less interest in reporting on internal Palestinian topics such as domestic politics, human rights or social issues. Even reports which ostensibly do deal with purely Palestinian stories are frequently used as a hook for political messaging.

Throughout the first quarter of 2015 twenty-nine reports relating to the Palestinian Authority, PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip appeared on the BBC News website, along with an additional three previously discussed reports relating to specific incidents of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian attackers. 

Four of those reports related to the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the ICC:ICC probe art

Palestinians sign up to join International Criminal Court (discussed here)

Palestinians submit ICC membership bid documents

Will ICC membership help or hinder the Palestinians’ cause?  (originally published on January 14th – discussed here)

Israel-Palestinian ‘war crimes’ probed by the ICC (discussed here)

Three reports were about PA tax revenue transfers suspended – and later reinstated – by Israel:

Israel freezes Palestine tax funds over ICC bid

US opposes Israeli tax freeze on Palestinians

Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority (discussed here)

One report related to the PLO’s recommendation to halt security cooperation with Israel:

PLO votes to end historic Israeli security agreement (discussed here)

One report concerned Palestinian views of the Israeli election:

Israel election: The view from Ramallah  – Yolande Knell  (discussed here)Knell filmed 17 3

One report marked the ten-year anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat:

Arafat’s widow on husband’s legacy  (discussed here)

Two reports related to water issues connected to the city of Rawabi:

Rawabi: A new Palestinian city in the West Bank and The new Palestinian city that lacks only one thing – Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Three reports concerned terrorism:

Palestinian jailed for murder of Israeli teenagers (discussed here)

The lost sons (discussed here)

Palestinian groups face $218m Israel attacks fine in US (discussed here)

Three reports related to damage to buildings in the Gaza Strip resulting from last summer’s conflict and the slow pace of reconstruction:

Gaza resident: ‘Everyone has forgotten us’ – Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Caught in a wasteland: Gaza six months after the ceasefire  – Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Banksy artwork appears on the streets and walls of Gaza – Rushdi Abualouf (discussed here)

Two reports concerned Palestinian Islamic Jihad rearmament:

Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rearmed and replenished ranks and Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war – Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

One article was about an Amnesty International report on the subject of Hamas war crimes:

Amnesty: Hamas rocket attacks amounted to war crimes

Examples of reports ostensibly covering Palestinian stories but used as a hook for political messaging include a feature by Yolande Knell on Christmas in Bethlehem, an article by Yolande Knell on Palestinian democracy, a sports article and a report about a protest in Ramallah.Knell Democracy Day art

The town with three Christmas Days – Yolande Knell (discussed here)

How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish – Yolande Knell (discussed here)

Palestine lose 4-0 to Japan in first Asian Cup match (discussed here)

Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters and Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird (discussed here)

Just three of the reports appearing on the BBC News website during the first quarter of 2015 can be said to give audiences some sort of glimpse into Palestinian social issues.  In “Saving Gaza’s only grand piano” Tim Whewell briefly touches on the issue of attitudes towards music:

“but with […] a steady growth of conservatism in local society, such performances became a thing of the past. After the Islamist militant movement, Hamas, took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, live music events became even rarer.”

And:

“The music school has existed for seven years, discreetly hidden away inside the Gaza headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent. It operates only in the evenings but provides a rare space for music in a society where some reject it as haram – forbidden by God.”

The BBC Monitoring report titled “Palestinian paper apologises over ‘Muhammad cartoon'” includes a brief description of what it deems to be the prevalent social attitude on that topic and the Palestinian Authority’s reaction.

Whilst Rushdi Abualouf informs readers of his article titled “Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?” that “despite the high prevalence of people with disabilities in the territory, disabled children are still shrouded in social stigma” he refrains from informing readers about the relevant topic of congenital disabilities – instead focusing their attentions on ‘the conflict’ as a cause of disability.

“The tiny territory has been blighted by successive conflicts between Palestinian militants and Israel, which have had serious physical and psychological impacts on the population.

It’s estimated that between 126,000 and 270,000 members of the population in Gaza are disabled, according to a 2012 report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and the 50-day conflict last summer has left many more with a long-term or permanent impairment.”

Palestinian paper apologises over ‘Muhammad cartoon’

Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?  – Rushdi Abualouf

Saving Gaza’s only grand piano – Tim Whewell

However, visitors to the BBC News website during the first quarter of 2015 learned nothing substantial about the ongoing animosity between ‘unity government’ partners Hamas and Fatah which continues to deter international donors from contributing to reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. They were also not informed of the resignation of the unity government’s deputy prime minister or of allegations of human rights abuses by Hamas and a PA crackdown on social media users and journalists. The topic of Hamas’ rearming and reorganization was only briefly mentioned in a couple of BBC reports with no serious attempt made to explore that obviously important issue.  And of course the topic of the long overdue elections for both the Palestinian legislative body and president remain a no-go area for BBC journalists – along with subjects such as women’s rights, gay rights and the rights of religious minorities.

As the BBC’s World Editor acknowledged last year, the fact that it has permanent offices in Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem – as well as an entire Arabic-speaking division – means that the BBC is better placed than most if not all Western media organisations to provide its audiences with quality in-depth journalism which goes beyond the usual flat-pack reports on the subject of ‘the conflict’. So whilst there is already a way, what appears to be lacking is a will – and the question the corporation’s funding public must be asking is why.