Political messaging and inaccuracies in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’

On December 2nd another edition of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Terror Through Time’ (presented by Fergal Keane) was broadcast under the title “Death Wish: Battling Suicide Bombers“. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Terror Through Time 2 12 14

“Fergal Keane visits Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to discover how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers. He’s joined by Assaf Moghadan, a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, former Israeli Army commander Nitzan Nuriel and by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University.”

The programme begins with a recording of Bill Clinton speaking at the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, after which Keane informs listeners:

“But within months, a new campaign of terrorism was bringing carnage to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…”

Of course the post-Oslo terror campaign also took place in many additional locations in Israel besides its two largest cities, contrary to the inaccurate impression given by Keane. He goes on to interview Israeli film-maker Noam Sharon, stating “I’m here in the Old City of Jerusalem”. In fact, as Sharon states, the interview took place on Yoel Moshe Salomon street, which is not located in the Old City. After Sharon has described some of the suicide bombings which took place in that district in Jerusalem, Keane goes on to interview Assaf Moghadan and then states:Map Yoel Moshe Salomon

“By the 1990s the balance of power among the Palestinians was shifting. Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as militant elements within Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, were opposed to the peace process. Support for a path of violent opposition to Israel would grow sharply in the wake of a massacre of Palestinians carried out at the Cave of the Patriarchs by a Jewish extremist.”

After a recording of an archive news bulletin, Keane once again inadequately introduces political activist cum academic Rashid Khalidi, failing to provide audiences with the crucial background summary of Khalidi’s “viewpoint” which would enable them to put his contribution into its appropriate context.

Keane: “Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University, New York.”

Khalidi: “Suicide attacks were carried out in the wake of the Hebron Mosque massacre – the Haram al Ibrahimi massacre – by Baruch Goldstein in 1994, when dozens of worshippers were gunned down by this armed settler fanatic.”

But do the facts actually support Khalid’s claim? Suicide attacks had in fact already begun in 1989 with the one on the 405 bus carried out by the PIJ. Two attacks were carried out in 1993 by Hamas and in 1994 five attacks by Hamas took place. The years that followed showed a slight decline in suicide attacks – 1995: 4, 1996: 4, 1997: 3, 1998: 2, 1999: 2. The surge in suicide attacks actually came during the second Intifada which began six and a half years after Goldstein’s terror attack at the Cave of the Patriarchs – 2000: 5, 2001: 40, 2002: 47 attacks. Hence, Khalidi’s linkage is doubtful to say the least. Keane goes on to tell listeners:

“Rashid Khalidi says that Palestinian anger over a peace process that failed to stop the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land helped to create support for violent action against Israeli civilians.”

Of course Keane’s blind adoption and amplification of Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative means that he erases from audience view several vital points, one of which is the fact that the representatives of the Palestinian people willingly signed the Oslo Accords in which no limitation on Israeli (or Palestinian) building was stipulated. He also ignores the fact that construction in existing communities took place in Area C which, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords is to have its status determined in final status negotiations, making Keane’s description of that area as “Palestinian land” inaccurate and misleading.

Khalidi: “Instead of punishing the settlers by doing what a majority of his cabinet apparently wanted to do, which was to remove settlers from Hebron and perhaps even remove the Kiryat Arba settlement where the most fanatic, most extreme armed settlers were concentrated, Rabin did quite the opposite. He began the enforcement of incredibly restrictive conditions on the population of Hebron in the area where the Jewish settlers had set up in the city, such that it became clear to the Palestinians that the peace process was not delivering and to settlement and improvement of the situation for Palestinians: quite the contrary.”

Neither Khalidi nor Keane bother to inform listeners that the status of Hebron and the security arrangements there are the product of the Hebron Protocols – again willingly signed by the Palestinian leadership. Clearly that fact does not fit into Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative which portrays Palestinians exclusively as victims.

Keane then goes on to discuss with Ronen Bergman and Nitzan Nuriel Israel’s methods of coping with the wave of suicide bombings during the second Intifada before informing listeners that:

“The most profound, long-term impact was political. Suicide bombing created fear among the Israeli public and a sense of betrayal. Where were the promises of peace, they asked. And so voters gradually turned away from the likes of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak of Labour and towards the right-wing in the form of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. As suicide bombing reached its peak in 2002, Sharon ordered the army into West Bank towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Operation Defensive Shield was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the war of 1967. The compound of PLO leader Yasser Arafat was besieged and according to the United Nations, 497 Palestinians were killed along with 30 Israeli soldiers. Arafat was accused of supporting suicide bombers from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – a faction of his Fatah movement. Human Rights Watch said that while he didn’t have command responsibility, he bore a heavy political responsibility for the atrocities. More than a hundred people died in bomb attacks in Israel from March to May 2002.”

Notably, at no point in this programme is it clarified that Arafat was not only the leader of the PLO, but also the president of the Palestinian Authority. No mention is made of his instigation of the second Intifada and, as we see above, his role in financing that terror war is downplayed to the level of ambiguous “political responsibility”.

After discussing the role of the anti-terrorist fence in reducing suicide bombings with Assaf Moghadan, Keane once again turns his attentions away from counter-terrorism and towards politics.

“But Israel’s politics changed dramatically. The old existential fear dominated and produced governments for whom security – rather than a long-term pact with the Palestinians – became the primary focus. Along with this came the steady expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land: a deep cause of Palestinian fury. For the Palestinian militants, instead of suicide bombers the new terrorism would see hundreds of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.”

So according to Keane’s version of events, it was “Jewish settlements” which caused “fury” which prompted the continuation of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, with the tactic changing from suicide bombings to rockets.

The one major hole in Keane’s inaccurate theory is of course that the majority of the thousands – not “hundreds”- of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip took place after Israel’s disengagement from that territory in 2005 – including the evacuation of all ‘settlements’ – and hence one can in fact see that Keane’s linkage between the Palestinian terror organisations’ activities and ‘settlements’ is fallacious to say the least.

Missile attacks from GS

Keane proceeds with a very odd question:

“As with the airline hijackings of the 1970s, the suicide bombing campaigns focused attention on the Palestinian cause. But did they improve living conditions or bring a Palestinian state any closer?”

Keane gives the last word to Khalidi.

“Well, I would argue that attacks carried out in particular during the second Intifada which began in 2000 – and those attacks really reached a peak in 2001/2002 with bus bombs and other atrocities all over Israeli cities – had a devastating effect on the Palestinians, not only in terms of public opinion but in terms of hardening Israeli opinion against the Palestinians in terms of unifying Israeli opinion around the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics. So their ultimate impact, besides the havoc that the Israeli army wreaked on the Palestinians as part of the re-occupation of the tiny areas that they had originally evacuated as part of the Oslo Accords, the public opinion impact worldwide of the Palestinians blowing up buses – all of these things together in my view had a devastating impact on the Palestinians primarily. Obviously there was enormous suffering caused by the actual attacks, but strategically I would say the balance is entirely in Israel’s favour and that should be a strategic factor for any Palestinian political leader.”

In other words, BBC audiences are left with the message that suicide bombings are undesirable not because they are morally wrong or abhorrent, but because they do not serve the strategic interests of Palestinian public relations. They are also told that Israeli public opinion is ‘unified’ around “the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics” – a claim not borne out by the results of the 2013 elections or those which went before them. Khalidi also erases the fact that Arafat’s campaign of terror actually coincided with an increase in foreign donor contributions to the Palestinian Authority and that continuing terrorism cannot be said to have had a detrimental effect upon the provision of foreign aid funding.

Ostensibly, Fergal Keane set out to explore in this programme “how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers”. What he actually achieved was – once again – uncritical amplification of political messaging from the Rashid Khalidi show. 

 

Munich Olympics terrorists get BBC rebranding

On September 22nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Israeli Mossad spy Mike Harari dies, aged 87“.

Remarkably, in that report the terrorists responsible for the murders of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games are rebranded “militants”, the terrorist organization to which they belonged is termed merely a “group” and no mention is made of the Black September Organisation’s links to Fatah and the PLO.

Harari art text

No less bizarre is the article’s failure to inform readers that the rescue operation at Entebbe which it mentions was brought about by a hijacking carried out by another Palestinian terrorist organization – the PFLP – and just as interesting is the fact that the title of this report was changed some thirty-five minutes after its publication, with the original headline having read “Mossad agent behind Palestinian assassinations dies”.

The BBC’s ‘rationale’ for avoiding the use of the word terror and its derivatives is that the term “carries value judgements”.  As we have on occasion noted here before, the corporation’s abstention from use of the word in some circumstances and geographic locations (see related articles below) is evidence of a double standard which reveals politically motivated “value judgements” in itself.

Related Articles:

 Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’

No terror please, we’re the British Broadcasting Corporation

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

Where can terrorism be named as such by the BBC?

 

BBC WS ‘Witness’ erases Arafat’s terrorism

On September 15th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ broadcast an episode titled “Rabin and Arafat Shake Hands” pertaining to the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993.Witness Oslo

Presenter Louise Hidalgo set the scene thus:

“This was going to be a truly historic moment. These two bitter adversaries – Yitzhak Rabin the army general turned prime minister and Yasser Arafat the guerilla leader – standing side by side to witness the signing of the first agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘guerilla’ as follows:

“A member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces.”

Fatah and the PLO – both led by Arafat –at no point confined their activities to fighting the Israeli army.

In a paper published in 2010, Dr Boaz Ganor wrote the following in the chapter titled “Guerrilla Warfare vs. Terrorism”:

“Ehud Sprinzak sums up this approach as follows: “Guerrilla war is a small war – subject to the same rules that apply to big wars, and on this it differs from terrorism.” David Rapaport adds: “The traditional distinguishing characteristic of the terrorist was his explicit refusal to accept the conventional moral limits which defined military and guerrilla action.”
As opposed to Laqueur, Paul Wilkinson distinguishes between terrorism and guerrilla warfare by stressing another aspect–harm to civilians:

Guerrillas may fight with small numbers and often inadequate weaponry, but they can and often do fight according to conventions of war, taking and exchanging prisoners and respecting the rights of non-combatants. Terrorists place no limits on means employed and frequently resort to widespread assassination, the waging of ‘general terror’ upon the indigenous civilian population.

The proposed definition, as noted, distinguishes terrorism from guerrilla activity according to the intended target of attack. The definition states that if an attack deliberately targets civilians, then that attack will be considered a terrorist attack, whereas, if it targets military or security personnel then it will be considered a guerrilla attack. It all depends on who the intended victims are. First and foremost, this definition is meant to answer the need for analyzing and classifying specific events as “terrorism” or “guerrilla activities.” “

As is well known, under Arafat’s leadership, the PLO carried out thousands of attacks on civilians over the decades and the organisation was designated a foreign terrorist organization by his White House hosts until the Oslo Accords. In the eleven years between the signing of those agreements and Arafat’s death, the Fatah faction he also led continued to carry out terror attacks which deliberately targeted Israeli civilians.  

But, as Dr Ganor also notes:

“Terrorism and guerrilla warfare often serve as alternative designations of the same phenomenon. The term “terrorism,” however, has a far more negative connotation, seemingly requiring one to take a stand, whereas the term “guerrilla warfare” is perceived as neutral and carries a more positive connotation.”

The BBC’s apparent wish to present “a more positive connotation” by means of use of the term “guerilla leader” does not in this case meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy. 

‘Hardtalk': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

As has been noted here previously, on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.Hardtalk Osama Hamdan

Andrew Roy: “Well we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side. So it’s not a minute by minute thing, no.” […]

Presenter: “When you get people complaining that they feel one side has been given more air-time or more favour than the other, what do you do?”

Andrew Roy: “We answer them by giving them the evidence that we’ve tried to put the other side as often as we can.”

Since the beginning of this year the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk’ has conducted interviews with numerous people in connection with the Palestinian – Israeli conflict or touching on that issue as part of the conversation.

The year kicked off with a repeat of an interview with anti-Israel activist Roger Waters on January 1st.  

The following month the programme hosted the PLO’s Saeb Erekat on February 18th and Israel’s Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett on February 24th.

On April 28th the programme’s guest was Ahmed Kathrada and part of that interview was devoted to the topic of his anti-Israel activism.Hardtalk Yasser Abed Rabbo

June 30th saw an interview with the anti-Zionist campaigner and academic Ilan Pappe.  

The next month saw interviews with former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold on July 8th, Hamas’ spokesman Osama Hamdan on July 10th, Israel’s former deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon on July 24th and Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Masha’al on July 25th.

On August 18th ‘Hardtalk’ interviewed anti-Israel activist Mads Gilbert and on August 28th Israel’s Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz appeared on the programme.

September 1st saw Stephen Sackur interviewing the Secretary General of the PLO’s Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabbo and on the next day, September 2nd, Sackur’s guest was journalist Gideon Levy.

Since the beginning of the year, therefore, regular viewers of ‘Hardtalk’ have seen interviews with four guests presenting a mainstream Israeli point of view – three politicians and a former Ambassador. They have also heard from two members of Hamas and two representatives of the PLO. In addition, they have viewed interviews with three foreign anti-Israel campaigners and two Israelis: one of whom is also an anti-Israel campaigner and neither of whom can be said to represent the mainstream Israeli viewpoint. 

Can ‘Hardtalk’ producers look back at that content and honestly say – as Andrew Roy claims – “we did give fair balance to each side”?

Related Articles:

‘From Our Own Correspondent': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

 

 

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the BBC’s misrepresentation of Israeli building during the period of the recently ended negotiations between Israel and the PLO and the way in which politically motivated reporting steered audiences towards a belief that thousands of new houses and apartments had been constructed in Judea & Samaria and areas of Jerusalem over the ‘green line’ during that time, despite the fact that the actual figures show a different picture.tenders bbc art

The prime cause of the inaccurate impression received by audiences on this issue is the fact that the BBC refrains from reporting on actual building and instead focuses its (and its audiences’) attentions on requests for building tenders, even though it is a known fact that a considerable proportion of those tenders do not result in one breeze-block being laid or foundations being dug either because no bids are offered by contractors or bids which are made are too low.

Unsuccessful tenders are sometimes reissued, which often means that the foreign media – including the BBC – report the same tenders more than once. Such was the case, for example, in early April of this year when reissued tenders for 708 housing units in Gilo were reported by the BBC News website no fewer than three times in nine days.

Neither does the BBC overly trouble itself when it comes to reporting where exactly building tenders are located and whether or not they are in areas which, under any realistic scenario, will remain under Israeli control in the event of a peace agreement. Hence audiences remain oblivious of whether or not the plans cited by the BBC have any actual bearing or significance.

Likewise, audiences are not made aware of the fact that no existing agreements between Israel and the PLO (including the Oslo Accords) forbid or curb construction of housing within Jerusalem or Judea & Samaria.

A report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 5th under the title “Israel issues tenders for new settler homes” is notable for its failure to make many of the above points clear to readers.

The article opens:

“Israel has advanced plans for 1,460 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank after the formation of a Palestinian unity government.

It goes on to state:

“The Israeli housing ministry published tenders late on Wednesday for about 900 housing units in the West Bank and 560 in East Jerusalem. It represents the final government approval before construction can begin.”

However, at no point in the article are readers informed that the vast majority of those tenders are located in areas which, under the terms of previous proposals such as the Olmert Plan and the Clinton Parameters, would – in the event of a peace agreement – remain under Israeli control after land swaps.

Map tenders 1

 

Tenders map 2

The article does of course include a version of the BBC’s standard problematic insert on the topic of ‘settlements’ which not only breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to note differing legal interpretations of ‘international law’ besides that of Israel, but also inaccurately informs readers that all the people living in what the BBC terms ‘settlements’ are Jews.  

“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

This report also includes the amplification of assorted quotations from politically partial sources.

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said it viewed the announcement of new tenders as a “grave violation”.

Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said it viewed the “latest escalation with the utmost seriousness” and would appeal to the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.”

A “grave violation” of what precisely is not clarified to audiences.

“Lior Amichai, of the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said the move showed “the government’s policy is moving us towards one state”.”

No attempt is made to place that unsubstantiated and outlandish claim from a campaigning organisation repeatedly quoted and promoted by the BBC into its appropriate political context.

In contrast to the amplification of context-free political slogans, BBC audiences are not however provided with any proper background information concerning the pressing housing shortage in Israel and its relevance to the topic of this article.

This report also breaches BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by once more misrepresenting Hamas’ terrorist designation.

“Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the US.”

The recent round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO commenced at the end of July 2013 and concluded towards the end of April 2014. As the statistics show, actual construction in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem as a whole – not just the neighbourhoods described as ‘settlements’ by the BBC – was nowhere near the figures cited and promoted by the BBC throughout that period.

Despite the fact that no limitations were placed on construction in the preliminary agreements which came as precursors to those talks (the PLO of course opted for prisoner releases instead), we see that between the end of July 2013 and the end of March 2014, actual construction starts and completes fell in Judea & Samaria.

construction J&S

BBC audiences will of course not be aware of that fact because the reporting they receive on this topic is uniformly designed to promote a misleading political message and hence airbrushes out the real statistics, thereby actively preventing audiences from reaching their own conclusions based on factual information. 

 

 

Why is the BBC’s failure to properly report the Jewish state issue important?

One of many notable features of the BBC’s reporting on the subject of the recent nine-month round of talks between Israel and the PLO was its persistent failure to adequately clarify to BBC audiences the significance of the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.BBC pic

That issue was incorrectly presented to audiences as being a new demand and was framed exclusively in terms of relating to the topic of the ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees: see for example Yolande Knell’s article titled “Row over demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as ‘Jewish state’” from February 2nd and  the March 17th report headlined “Obama tells Palestinian leader to take risks for peace“. The BBC-produced backgrounder on the ‘core issues’ of the talks likewise framed the issue in terms of refugees, failing to inform audiences of the wider significance of the demand.

As has been noted here on several occasions:

“…the issue of Palestinian (and wider Arab) recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is an important one in itself and not only in connection with the subject of refugees. A lasting peace agreement cannot of course be brought about without recognition and acceptance of Israel’s existence in the region as an expression of the national rights of the Jewish people, along with an end to the kind of all too prevalent officially sanctioned incitement which encourages Palestinians (and others in the wider region) to continue to view Israel as “Arab land”.”

A recent article by Dr Jonathan Spyer gives some important background to the question of why the BBC’s failure to properly inform audiences on this issue is so important.

“The failure of the talks was predictable first and foremost because of the irreconcilable positions of the sides.  This is not a matter of small details, as is sometimes maintained.  It isn’t that the Palestinians want 99% of the West Bank while Israel will offer only 98%.

Palestinian nationalism in both its Fatah and Hamas variants rejects the possibility of accepting the permanence of Jewish statehood in any part of the area west of the Jordan River. […]

The Palestinians see themselves as part of the local majority Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslim culture.  From this point of view, the establishment of a non-Muslim sovereignty in Israel was not only an injustice, it was also an anomaly.  Israel, being an anomaly, is therefore bound eventually to be defeated and disappear.  So there is no need to reconcile to it, with all the humiliation therein. […]

This politics, in its various manifestations, exists to reverse the verdict of the war of 1948. It has no other purpose.

Its  credo was perfectly rendered in the words of the Moroccan scholar Abdallah Laroui, as quoted by Fouad Ajami: “On a certain day everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled; in this way will justice be dispensed to the victims, on that day when the presence of God shall again make itself felt.’

The language is elegant. The message is one of politicide and destruction. For as long as this credo remains at the root of Palestinian politics, peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain unachievable. All else is mere detail.”

Read Dr Spyer’s entire article here.

So why does it matter that the BBC has consistently avoided informing audiences of the real significance of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state? Well, according to its constitutional document, the Royal Charter, the BBC is committed to fulfilling six public purposes which are, in fact, the very reason and justification for its existence and its right to public funding.

One of those public purposes goes under the title “Global Outlook” and its operative definition obliges the BBC to provide its funding public with information which will “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” and “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

By failing to inform audiences about the underlying significance of the issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, the BBC is in fact denying them key core information as to why the conflict exists and why it has not been solved to date. It is, in other words, preventing their ability to “build a global understanding of international issues” and actively hindering their ability to “participate in the global debate” and thus neglecting its obligations to – and breaching its contract with – its funding public. 

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

In his continuing efforts to convince BBC audiences that the two-state solution is as dead as a dodo (see ‘chapter one’ of that effort here), the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen produced an audio report broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on April 29th, which is available here. The item was probably broadcast on the ‘Today’ programme, but unfortunately the entry for that day on the webpage is actually the edition previously broadcast on April 22nd.

Sticking faithfully to the line promoted in other BBC coverage of the end of the negotiations (according to which they ceased solely because Israel suspended them) the presenter introduces Bowen’s item:

“This morning was supposed to be the deadline for the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Before they started last year the American Secretary of State John Kerry said they might be the last chance for peace. Well…err….the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who suspended the talks last week, he blames the Palestinians, they blame him, President Obama blames both sides. Talks have been going on – on and off – for more than two decades now and the objective’s been the so-called two-state solution which would produce – it is said – peace by creating an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Now these negotiations have failed time and again. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is in Jerusalem and he wonders if it’s time to face up to the fact that the two-state solution isn’t going to come about.”

Bowen introduces his item by engaging in his usual practice of pretending that history in the Middle East only began in 1967 and erasing from the picture any mention of the fact that prior to the 19-year Jordanian occupation of the city, there was no separate ‘East’ Jerusalem.tunnel City of David

“I’m in East Jerusalem – or rather under it. This tunnel is very narrow, it’s about at the moment knee-deep in cold water and it is pitch black. East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state. But down here, in a water course which is getting on for three thousand years old, that it not a view which is popular because this is an archaeological site that shows evidence that Jewish kings David and Solomon were here. For many of the Israelis who visit here every year and lots of other people too, all this is proof of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem – to all of Jerusalem. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering from the world of 2,700 years ago, but of course this is Jerusalem so it’s about a lot more than archaeology; it’s about politics as well, it’s about religion and it’s about building states: Israel and a future Palestine.”

Bowen then goes on to imply some sort of redundant linkage between the City of David archaeological site and the negotiations, perhaps forgetting that during the past twenty years, Israelis have of course not put their country on hold.

“The City of David site, which is still expanding, has been developed during the years of the peace talks. City of David’s vice-president Doron Spielman says everything they’ve found here means this part of East Jerusalem should never be part of the capital of a Palestinian state.”

The recording then cuts to a short statement by Doron Spielman, after which Bowen returns.

“The site [City of David] is in the midst of a scruffy, overgrown Palestinian village called Silwan which is right on the edge of the Old City. Since the peace process started Israeli settlers have moved into some of the buildings here under armed guard paid for by the Israeli government.”

Again, Bowen’s implied linkage between the peace process and the fact that people have relocated to a neighbourhood of Israel’s capital city is gratuitous. Of course Bowen does not bother to clarify to listeners that Silwan was also previously known as Kfar Shiloach, that its Jewish residents were expelled by British Mandate forces after waves of Arab rioting or that like the rest of the area conquered by Jordan in 1948, its subsequent annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community.

Later, Bowen goes on to say:

“I’m here [in Silwan] with a local man; a Palestinian activist called Jawad Siam and he’s been campaigning against what Israel’s doing here, which he says is illegal. He says it’s creeping colonization of land that should be part of the capital of an independent Palestinian state. And what’s more, he says it’s happening at the expense of Palestinians who are being forced out of their homes.”

Despite the stipulation in the BBC editorial guidelines which states the necessity of the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint” and the BBC ECU’s recommitment last year to”summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”, Bowen does not make any attempt to tell his audiences who his “local man” really is.

He fails to clarify that Jawad Siam is the director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and the Madaa Centre which, inter alia, is funded by the Middle East children’s Alliance; an American organization with links to the ISM.  The Wadi Hilweh Information Centre also collaborates with the Human Rights Defenders Fund.

Bowen also  neglects to point out that the relevance of his interviewee’s opinions – as amplified by Bowen to BBC audiences – regarding the legality of “what Israel’s doing here” should be assessed in light of the fact that Mr Siam is a social worker by training. It would also have been relevant for BBC audiences to have been made aware of the fact that Jawad Siam stood trial in 2010-13 for attacking a man from Silwan he suspected of selling land to Jews and that the case was eventually resolved by plea bargain.SONY DSC

Towards the end of the item, Bowen returns to the City of David archaeological site and presents the historically challenged implication that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15 minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention. The Israeli government says a major reason why the talks failed is that Palestinians won’t acknowledge the Jewish nature of their state.”

Bowen of course misrepresents the issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and – as has been the case in all BBC coverage of that issue to date – fails to clarify to audiences why it is important for the end of all future claims and a permanent and lasting conclusion to the conflict.

He concludes by once more announcing the demise of the two-state solution.

“President Obama blamed both sides for the collapse of the latest negotiations. Maybe it’s time to face the facts: Palestinians and Israelis both want peace, but their ideas of how that looks are so wildly different that the two-state solution will not happen, despite years of talks and violence. If that’s correct, the future is threatening.”

Once again – despite Bowen’s job description – audiences are presented with context-free, historically lacking, subjective material which does little to contribute to their wider comprehension of the subject of why, like its predecessors, this round of negotiations failed to bear fruit.  

BBC News enables Hanan Ashrawi’s defamatory PLO propaganda fest

Within the framework of the BBC’s generous coverage of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal, BBC television news programmes aired an interview with one of the Palestinian officials who has been doing the media rounds  – Hanan Ashrawi. The interview, conducted by Zeinab Badawi, was also posted on the BBC News website on April 24th under the unambiguous title “Hanan Ashrawi: ‘Israel destroying peace talks’“.

The interview was also promoted on Twitter using similar language.

Ashrawi tweet

The synopsis to the interview as it appears on the website states:

“The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the BBC he would never negotiate with a Palestinian authority that included Hamas, which he called a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Hamas is of course recognized as a terrorist organization by numerous countries and its Charter clearly states its intentions with regard to the destruction of Israel. Neither of those issues – as this synopsis leads readers to believe – is exclusively the view of the Israeli prime minister.  

During the interview Ashrawi – with very little interference from Badawi – goes to great pains to try to convince audiences that the new ‘unity government’, the PLO and Hamas are all unconnected subjects.

Ashrawi: “What President Abbas and Fatah and the PLO did was to try to repair the political system, to reinvigorate the democratic system and practices in Palestine, to build an inclusive…err…pluralistic…err…democracy that will represent all the Palestinians in more ways than one and that will be able to deliver. Now that government, as I said, will be a government of independent professionals and of course the PLO will continue to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and anybody who joins it will be committed to the PLO programme to a two state solution and to peaceful settlement of the conflict and will honour all commitments.”

Badawi: “Alright. So basically Hanan Ashrawi…..OK….so you are basically saying that Hamas will not be part of a unity government in the future because if it were, as you know, that would trigger sanctions both from the Israelis and the Americans, on whom you depend for a great deal of aid.”

Unfortunately Badawi refrains from asking the crucial question of what will happen if elections take place as stated in six months’ time and this unelected “government of independent professionals” is replaced by one which includes Hamas. She does not ask exactly what such an unelected interim government will be “able to deliver” to the Palestinian people or what will happen if that “unity government” adopts policies at odds with those of the PLO. Neither does she press Ashrawi on the non-inclusive and non-democratic make-up of the PLO itself, with members of the Palestinian National Council – the PLO’s legislative body – being nominated by the PLO Executive Committee rather than by the ordinary Palestinian people. Likewise Badawi makes no attempt to unravel the obvious complications arising from the fact that Hamas – which won a significant proportion of the votes in the 2006 PLC elections – is not currently a member of the PLO. 

Instead, Badawi allows Ashrawi to distract audiences from the issue of Hamas’ terror designation with a smoke and mirrors tirade of defamation.Ashrawi interview

HA: “Now excuse me. I think the government we’re talking about is not a factional government – a government of representatives of political parties – but it is a government of independence that will deliver the required services; this is it. But too I don’t see why it is any of…emm…Netanyahu’s…Israel’s business or even America’s business to tell who’s acceptable and who’s not in a pluralistic political system. I can tell you I don’t want to talk to Lieberman or we don’t want to talk to Naftali Bennett. These are people who are either racist or settlers or who deny Palestinian rights or who reat us as sub-human species or who want to take all of historical Palestine for greater Israel. These are people who are in the Israeli government coalition and the Israeli government is responsible for an army that is daily killing Palestinians and yet they tell us that if we reconcile and if we repair our system and if we have elections, then that means we don’t want to negotiate. What about [unintelligible] settlements?”

In near-apologetic manner and folding quickly, Badawi replies:

ZB: “OK well I was asking you about the formation of a unity government that would include Hamas. I was just seeking your clarification on that.”

HA: “It’s a government of national accord.”

ZB: “So it may not have a Hamas..”

HA: “It’s a government of national accord.”

ZB: “Alright. I understand.”

HA: “No, there will be no card-carrying member of any faction or any party. That’s the government we have agreed to and everybody knows that. It’s no secret. And we’ve been striving for national unity because it is the responsibility of any leadership to repair this lethal rift that has weakened the Palestinians and of course the EU welcomed it.”

Expressing no interest in which ‘non-card-carrying’ personality is set to head the ‘unity government’ to be set up according to the Shati Reconciliation Agreement, Badawi says:

“Alright. Tell me briefly though….OK….briefly, do you accept though that President Abbas has basically given a hand up to Hamas, which has been looking pretty isolated and relatively weak, particularly since the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt?”

HA: “Definitely Hamas has been weakened, but what President Abbas has done is he has responded to the Palestinian people’s persistent and vocal demands to go back to unity, to try to repair the system itself, to try to bring Hamas to the fold and to have elections – because we need elections badly and without Hamas we cannot have it – and to present Hamas as part of this fabric – the political fabric of the Palestinian system – rather than as an alternative to it.”

Again, Badawi does not use the opportunity to ask what will happen if Hamas once again wins the next election. She concludes by providing Ashrawi with yet another opportunity to promote PA political propaganda.

ZB: “Alright. In a quick word – are the peace talks dead then; in the future they may not be revived?”

HA: “I think Israel has done everything possible to destroy the peace talks, to sabotage the process itself, and I think this time its withdrawal from the talks – even though we still have a few days left till April 29th – is a clear signal that it’s looking for any pretext, any excuse, to undermine them and to bring them to an end while giving it a free hand to continue with its settlement activities, its siege of Gaza and its annexation of Jerusalem, plus reneging on its commitments and its signed agreements – particularly the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

Even the BBC must be aware that when the PA demanded the inclusion of Israeli Arabs among the list of terrorists to be released it knew exactly how that demand would endanger the talks.  Of course when Mahmoud Abbas signed applications to join various UN bodies in defiance of the ‘pre-nup’ agreement which facilitated the current round of negotiations, it was perfectly obvious that their continuation was in jeopardy. Likewise, the PA and the PLO were well aware in advance of the precise reactions that a ‘unity agreement’ with Hamas would bring from Israel and the international community. But Badawi makes no attempt to clarify those points to BBC audiences and instead allows them to go away with only Ashrawi’s unchallenged PLO propaganda.  

Once again the BBC makes a mockery of its commitment to “enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”. 

 

What have BBC TV audiences been told about the Hamas-Fatah deal?

In addition to the two written reports on the subject of the latest Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal produced by the BBC on April 23rd and 24th which were previously discussed here, three filmed reports shown on BBC television news programmes were also made available on the BBC News website.

A report titled “Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal” by Yolande Knell appeared on April 23rd.Hamas Fatah deal filmed 1

Of course the deal has not actually been ‘unveiled': official details of its terms have not so far been publicised in full and so Knell has nothing to report to audiences regarding its actual substance. Nevertheless, she makes no attempt to inform viewers of critical issues such as whether or not the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority laid down the condition that Hamas must agree to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist before signing the deal.

Knell informs viewers that:

“Ordinary Palestinians have long hoped for an end to the damaging split between their political leaders…”

She fails however to clarify what that ‘hope’ means in terms of support for terrorism and the intransigent Hamas stance. Knell tells viewers that “reconciliation deals have been made before”, but that “they weren’t implemented” without explaining why not.

As was the case in the two written articles on the same topic, the fact that Knell refrains from adequately clarifying the full implications of such a deal on negotiations – current or future – between Israel and the PLO means that audiences are unable to put her remark below concerning Israel’s approach to the unity deal into correct perspective.

“But Israel’s reaction is much more negative.”

Knell ends her report by stating:

“But after the failure of their previous efforts to end their split and with pressure from Israel and Western donors that see Hamas as a terrorist group, there’s caution and there’s scepticism.”

In other words, Knell is suggesting to audiences that if the Hamas-Fatah nirvana fails to get off the ground, that will at least be in part attributable to Israel and other Western countries’ classification of Hamas’ use of politically and religiously motivated violence against civilians – which the BBC appears to find debatable.

Another filmed report from April 23rd is titled “Jeremy Bowen on Hamas-Fatah reconciliation” and it is a studio interview with the BBC’s Middle East Editor who arrived in the region specially for the occasion.Hamas Fatah deal filmed 2

“Yeah, I think the timing of this has to be seen in the context of the Americans’ latest attempt to try and make peace between the two sides here, which has been going on for nine months – it was meant to come to fruition – the deadline was in fact this coming Monday. Now that has run into the sand – it’s not going anywhere – and I think what the Palestinians on the Fatah side – that’s roughly speaking the pro-Western side – are saying is that they want to try and build their strength from within; they’re not getting what they want from the Israelis, therefore try to change the balance of power in their favour by getting national unity. Now it has to be said, they’ve tried to mend this rift with Hamas before and it hasn’t worked – it has failed. This may well fail again. The Israelis are saying this is a big crisis; that how can they negotiate with people who are allied with Hamas who are an organization who want the end of the Jewish state. Now I think what all this means in a broader sense is there has now been – what? – more than twenty years of negotiations, often brokered by the Americans or by other outsiders, between the Palestinians and the Israelis and so far none of them have worked. Both sides have not been able or willing to make the necessary…ah…sacrifices and deals. So what has happened in the past is that when a peace initiative hasn’t worked, there’s sometimes been a period of violence after it and of course people are wondering if that is the risk now.”

Seeing as the BBC refrained from reporting on the visit by a senior member of Fatah’s central committee to Tehran at the end of January, it is perhaps not surprising to see that Jeremy Bowen thinks he can get away with describing Fatah as “the pro-Western side”, although why he finds it necessary to do so is a mystery.

Again, Bowen provides no actual information on the terms of the deal – because very few are known – but neither does he use the opportunity to properly explain the issues at hand to audiences.

But what is obviously most egregious about Bowen’s ‘analysis’ is the neutering of Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians and his presentation of “a period of violence” after failed negotiations as though it were something which fell out of the sky along with rain and snow. Of course as we have noted here in the past, the BBC has consistently refrained from informing its audiences that terrorism has already more than doubled since the current round of talks began. Of 916 attacks with firebombs in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem between August 2013 and the end of March 2014, the BBC reported one incident alone and even then avoided all use of the word ‘terror’.  

Clearly Bowen’s approach is inconsistent with the BBC’s obligation to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.Hamas FAtah deal filmed 3

The third filmed report from April 23rd is an interview with that old BBC favourite Mustafa Barghouti titled “Hamas-Fatah deal ‘chance for peace’“. Once again, Barghouti is permitted to use BBC airtime to promote the defamatory myth of ‘apartheid’ entirely unhindered and with no attempt made – at least in the online version of the interview – to explain to audiences what Barghouti actually stands for, as BBC editorial guidelines demand.

“I think we managed to put this deal together because all the parties have realized that the whole Palestinian cause is at high risk because of the imbalance of power between us and Israel. It has become clear that Israel has no intention of achieving peace with Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu prefers settlements to peace, prefers to keep occupation and apartheid system.”

Barghouti then goes on to wax lyrical about how this deal will help Palestinians regain their democracy. With the BBC rarely if ever reporting on issues of freedom of speech, freedom of association or the rights of women, gays and religious minorities in either the PA or Hamas controlled areas, viewers will have little if any ability to judge Barghouti’s words concerning ‘democracy’ for themselves.

As we see, despite the volume of written and filmed coverage the BBC has devoted to the topic of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, its audiences are actually very little the wiser as to what this latest move on the part of the PA means as far as the future of the region is concerned.    

BBC’s selective omissions slant audience view of Israel-PLO talks

On the evening of April 1st an article titled “Premature to write off Middle East peace talks – Kerry” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. Abbas UN bid art

The event which prompted the appearance of that article – and its title – was the live televised signing by PA president Mahmoud Abbas of applications to join assorted UN agencies.

The BBC’s description of that event is as follows:

“Hours earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek further UN recognition unless a prisoner release by Israel went ahead.

At a televised meeting in the West Bank, Mr Abbas signed applications by the “State of Palestine” to join several UN agencies and ratify international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Leading members of his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) voted unanimously in support of the move, which the Israeli and the US governments have argued is deeply mistaken.”

However, at no point in the report does the BBC bother to inform readers that, as part of last July’s overtures to this latest round of negotiations, the Palestinian Authority committed itself to refraining from just such a move for the nine-month duration of the talks which does not expire until April 29th.

That above BBC description of Abbas’ move is followed immediately by the following piece of information, which is totally irrelevant to the story’s subject matter given that no building freeze was agreed upon as a condition of the current negotiations.

“Israel meanwhile reissued tenders for 708 homes in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem, the Israeli pressure group Peace Now said.

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

In what has become standard BBC practice, audiences are herded towards a mistaken belief that Israel is alone in disputing that particular interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – readers are not informed that any other dissenting opinions even exist, let alone of the basis for such disagreement.

The statement that “Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan” in 1967 may be technically accurate, but it is also deliberately misleading because it does not inform readers of the relevant fact that Jordan’s 19-year occupation of parts of Jerusalem was not recognized by the international community.

In keeping with its previous article on the subject of the rickety negotiations published earlier on the same day, the BBC again fails to make any mention in this report of the fact that the Palestinian Authority’s stance concerning the fourth tranche of prisoner releases includes the demand to free prisoners who are Israeli citizens. Hence, yet again, no explanation is provided to BBC audiences regarding the highly problematic aspects of that attempt by the PA to claim to represent citizens of another country and the clear interference in Israeli sovereignty that demand signifies. Neither is any attempt made to explain to readers the potential political fallout for Israel’s coalition government which could be brought about by any release of Arab-Israeli prisoners.

In fact, although it is no doubt aware of the PA demand to release 14 Arab-Israelis, the BBC presents them as “Palestinian prisoners” as can be seen below. [emphasis added]

“Mr Kerry has for weeks been trying to persuade both sides to continue the direct negotiations beyond 29 April, but his efforts have been jeopardised by a disagreement over the release of a fourth group of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Mr Abbas says they must be freed, in keeping with a promise made by Israel before the negotiations resumed in July after a three-year hiatus.

But Israeli officials say they are reluctant to proceed unless the Palestinians commit to extending the talks, and stress that the releases have always been tied to their progress.

The previous three releases were deeply unpopular with the Israeli public because many of the prisoners were convicted of murdering Israelis.”

Towards its end, the report states:

“Earlier on Tuesday, the US Secretary of State held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat amid reports that they were close to finalising an agreement that would extend the talks until 2015.

Sources cited by US and Israeli media said a deal was emerging in which the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners would be freed in return for the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American who was jailed for life in 1987 for spying for Israel.”

The BBC refrains from mentioning that in addition to the above, the proposed terms of the “deal” also included the following points:

“The negotiations would continue into January 2015, during which time the Palestinians would commit themselves not to engage in diplomatic warfare against Israel by going to international organizations for recognition. […]

Israel would release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the continuing negotiation period. These prisoners would be picked by Israel, include many minors and women, and not include those with “blood on their hands.”

Israel would “exercise restraint” in releasing government tenders for new homes in the West Bank, meaning that it would issue no new government tenders for housing in Judea and Samaria. This policy would not include Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.

This policy would also exclude public building projects, such as roads.”

This report is the third to appear on the BBC News website in the past week in connection with the current talks between Israel and the PLO – see here and here.

None of these articles have explained to audiences the significance of the PA’s refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state with regard to ending future claims – and therefore the conflict.

Two of the three articles omit any mention of the Palestinian demand for the release of Israeli Arab prisoners and none of them explain the significance of that demand to audiences.

In this latest report, Israeli offers of concessions are downplayed whilst an irrelevant passage about the re-issuing of building tenders in a Jerusalem neighbourhood is promoted. The fact that this latest PA attempt to join UN agencies breaches agreements reached ahead of the current talks is also disappeared from audience view and no attempt whatsoever is made to place this move within its appropriate context.  

If and when these negotiations do fizzle out, BBC audiences will be ill-placed to understand why that happened due to the BBC’s selective and systematic omission of crucial parts of the story in its reporting.