BBC’s Connolly presents anti-Israel political activist as ‘community leader’

Kevin Connolly’s recent excursion to the Golan Heights was also reported in the form of a radio report which was broadcast on two separate BBC platforms on November 13th as part of the BBC News ‘Syria Days’ project.

In the morning the item appeared on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme (from 00:45:40 here) and later on a slightly expanded version was broadcast in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:47:00 here).

Both introductions to the item – from Sarah Montague and James Menendez respectively – ran along the following lines:

“Our correspondent Kevin Connolly has been to the Golan Heights where a line of separation divides Syria from Israeli-occupied territory and he’s been to see what the future looks like from there.”

In fact, Connolly’s item provides very little in the way of factual information – not least because at this stage of affairs, nobody can really proffer more than an educated guess about what future regional developments may bring. His report opens with the sounds of a theatre performance in Arabic and Connolly telling listeners:

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

“We are in the small, dark theatre in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The play – a one-man show – deals with the agonies of the past: the story of Palestinian refugees.”

There is of course no link whatsoever between the Golan Heights and “the story of Palestinian refugees” but what Connolly saw was probably part of a recent festival promoted by an organization which has relevance to an interview conducted later in his report.

The report’s first interviewee is Tal Pelter from Ein Zivan, described by Connolly as someone who “makes wine in an Israeli settlement on the Golan and is still making plans for the long-term future here.”

Connolly then goes on to promote the usual trite, homogeneous portrayal of Druze residents of the Golan Heights seen so often in the Western media:

“Most of the Druze of the Israeli-occupied Golan continue to regard themselves as Syrians. They follow the television news from Damascus and await the reunification of a country from which they were cut off by the wars of 1967 and 1973. But they know that the staggering destruction of Syria’s civil war is changing everything in the Middle East. Tayseer Maray – a community leader in Majdal Shams – senses that a historic process is now underway in which countries like Syria and Iraq created at the end of the First World War are disappearing, to be replaced by a single Arab State.”

Connolly’s introduction of his interviewee does not inform audiences that Tayseer Maray is in fact a long-time political activist who heads an organization called ‘Golan for Development’ (organizer of the above theatre festival) which is linked to OPGAI: a forum of anti-Israel campaigning organisations mainly from the Palestinian sector, including Badil and the AIC.

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

Listeners hear Maray say:

“This country or this new country that will emerge, it’s clear. I mean now we can see that the border between Syria and Iraq does not exist and also I think that Lebanon sooner or later will be part of what’s going on and Jordan is not in very stable situation. I see that we will have really very big Arab country that will exist in this area.”

Connolly: “Is this the end of the age of the nation-state in the Middle East?”

Maray: “I think that it will be the end of the nation-state in the normal meaning.”

Unfortunately, Connolly did not ask his interviewee what sort of “very big Arab country” he predicts – Sunni or Shia – or whether or not his latest predictions differ in any way from those he was making in 2010 (long before the Syrian civil war began) when he personally told this writer that an Iranian-led caliphate was just around the corner.

Connolly’s third interviewee is Efraim Halevi who raises the possibility of a different scenario than the one proposed by Tayseer Maray: one of the disintegration of Syria and Lebanon into ethnic, religious and political ‘statelets’.

What BBC audiences will have been able to take away from Connolly’s report is unclear, but one thing is certain: they would have been better equipped to judge the context and relevance of Maray’s predictions for the Middle East had they been informed – in line with BBC guidelines on impartiality – of his political activities and associations. 

 

BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast’s massive Middle East mangle

Mishal Husain’s deferential and decidedly uninformative ‘interview’ with Hizballah’s Muhammad Fneish on November 13th was apparently the inspiration for an item on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Breakfast programme on the same day.5 live breakfast

Presenter Rachel Burden’s introduction to the item (available here for a limited period of time from 02:39:40) began as follows:

“Now, the Lebanese militant group Hizballah has told the BBC that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers. In an interview with the BBC one of its leaders blamed IS for killing more Muslims than its longtime enemy Israel.”

Of course the implication that until ISIS came along Israel held some sort of record for killing Muslims is grossly inaccurate and misleading, but Burden made no attempt to clarify that fact to listeners – or to inform them of Hizballah’s terrorist designation – before introducing her interviewee; former British Ambassador to Libya, Sir Richard Dalton.

After a conversation about developments in Libya, Burden said:

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, what the Lebanese militant group Hizballah have told the BBC: that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers – it’s on the same side of a conflict as American forces for once. Is this just an extreme example of our enemy’s enemy being our friend and if it is, does it herald any possible rapprochement with the group and maybe a way of hope for the Israel-Palestine process – peace process?”

Why the topic of negotiations between Israel and the PLO was introduced into an item supposedly broadcast within the framework of a BBC special feature on Syria is unclear, but given that this was the second time in a matter of minutes that Burden had informed audiences that Hizballah had told the BBC that it now has “a common purpose” with Western powers, let’s take a closer look at the relevant segment of that interview.

Mishal Husein: “And do you therefore see those Western states as your allies then rather than your enemies, given the fact that you have a common fight at the moment?”

Fneish: “Sometimes common interests do cross, but not necessarily for the same goals. These Jihadi groups would not have thrived and expanded if it wasn’t for some policies by Western states like the United States, Britain and France and also the involvement of some regional states. […] For us, if there’s a convergence at the moment, it is the result of those states changing their positions and not because of common political goals.”

Clearly Burden’s interpretation of the Hizballah representative’s words does not accurately reflect what was said. Richard Dalton replied to her question as follows:

“I wouldn’t go as far as that, no. These are local conflicts with local dynamics. One of the reasons for example that Iran has got such a strong link with Hizballah in Lebanon is that it wishes to provide deterrents against attacks on Iran’s own territory. So this is not a simple matter of being able to count on a particular alliance for one purpose and then seeing that alliance extended for another. The fact is that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is currently getting worse, with a negotiated solution further off than ever – largely because of policies adopted in Israel. And the fact is unless Western policy changes towards Israel and towards the Palestine-Israel conflict as a whole, we’re not going to see progress on that issue just because of a temporary coincidence of interest in confronting Islamic State.” [emphasis added]

Rachel Burden made no attempt whatsoever to clarify or challenge Dalton’s pejorative and inaccurate allegations or to point out to listeners that the last round of negotiations failed because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a unity government with a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction whilst knowing full well that act would bring an end to talks.

In other words, listeners to a peak-time breakfast show were misled by inaccurate representation of the words of a senior figure in a terrorist organization not defined as such, with that misrepresentation used as hook for an equally inaccurate representation of the reasons for failure of negotiations between Israel and the PLO – all in an item supposedly forming part of the BBC’s coverage of events in Syria.

So much for the BBC’s claim to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

 

 

BBC amplification of Hizballah propaganda

On November 13th the head of the BBC’s Middle East bureau proudly announced a scoop on Twitter.

Hizb int Colebourn tweet

Mishal Husain’s interview with Muhammad Fneish of Hizballah – conducted as part of the BBC’s recent Syria feature – was promoted on a variety of BBC platforms. An abridged version appeared in the November 13th edition of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:10:10 here) with Husain describing the organization her interviewee represents as follows:Hizb int on website

“…founded to resist Israel, regarded by the United States as a terrorist organization, blamed for the killing of US marines and the kidnapping of Western hostages in Beirut in the 1980s…”

Following the interview, listeners heard ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen, who likewise played down Hizballah’s terrorist designation:

“…seen by the likes of Britain and America as a terrorist organization…”

Listeners were told by Bowen that Hizballah is one of the “friends of Iran” with no proper information provided on the topic of Iran’s role in the organisation’s founding, the material support it provides or the agenda it dictates.

Hizballah is of course designated as a terrorist organization in its entirety by Bahrain, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and the US and in part by Australia, the EU, New Zealand and the UK.

The interview was also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Hezbollah minister blames foreign ‘intervention’ for Syrian suffering” with no mention made of the fact that Husain’s interviewee is a member of a terrorist organization in that version’s synopsis and the Iranian connection erased altogether.

A video of most of the interview was also uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. Like the website version, its synopsis informs audiences that Husain’s interview marks the “first time the Hezbollah leadership has spoken to the international media since the Syrian crisis began in 2011″.

So, did the corporation which claims to be “the standard-setter for international journalism” use this rare opportunity to challenge the Lebanese minster with regard to his party’s primary allegiance to Iran and its role in exacerbating  the Sunni-Shia conflict both inside Lebanon and further afield? Was any attempt made to raise the issue of the terrorist-militia-within-a-state maintained by Fneish’s organization in contradiction of multiple UN resolutions? Did Husain question the Hizballah representative with regard to its terrorist and criminal activities both at home and abroad? Was he asked why his organisation provides support for a regime which has killed more than 200,000 of its own people? And did she ask him why Hizballah even continues to exist given that Israel withdrew from Lebanon almost a decade and a half ago?

Well; no. Instead BBC audiences were treated to undiluted, unchallenged Hizballah propaganda comparing Israel to ISIS, promoting the notion that Western support for parties opposing the Assad regime is designed to “protect Israel” and claiming that the organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is part and parcel of its so-called “resistance” against Israel.

Husain: “I wonder which you think is the bigger enemy today; the Islamic State or the enemy that Hizballah was founded to fight, which was Israel?”

Fneish: “We don’t really differentiate between the two really because the whole problem as we see it revolves around ending the resistance. When Israel, backed by the US, failed in 2006 to end the resistance, the focus on Syria was to stop it supporting the resistance. Therefore this whole battle aims to protect Israel. The role of the jihadists is to benefit from the political developments in the region and to work on their project which is a threat to the region and to all those who oppose their views. Syria is a key component in the balance of the regional conflict and was threatened by those groups due to Western policies. And those groups threaten Lebanon and the resistance movement in it. It means that this continues to be a battle against Israel but the rules and the locations of the engagement have changed.”

Given the docile and unchallenging nature of Mishal Husain’s interview with Fneish and her reverent approach to that senior representative of an international terrorist organisation, one can hardly find it surprising that Hizballah decided that speaking to the BBC fit its agenda. 

Inaccurate BBC representation of Golan Heights ‘relics’

BBC News’ recent big multi-platform feature on Syria (more on that later) included a filmed report from the Golan Heights by Kevin Connolly which, in addition to being aired on BBC television news, also appeared on the BBC News website on November 13th under the title “Could Syria be a catalyst for change in the Middle East?“.

In the report, Connolly correctly told viewers that:

“The landscape is littered with relics of the fighting in 1967 and in 1973 when Syria tried and failed to win back the land it lost.”

However, the footage used to illustrate that statement by Connolly included the following images, neither of which have anything to do with either the Six Day War or the Yom Kippur War or indeed with the modern states of Israel or Syria.

Connolly Goaln filmed 2

Connolly Golan filmed 3

The first image shows a pillbox constructed by the British in 1941 near Ein Tawfik in the south Golan Heights, close to the 1923 border between British-administered Mandate Palestine and French-administered Mandate Syria. The second image shows a nearby tank barrier also constructed during the Second World War with the intention of preventing French and/or German tanks entering Mandate Palestine via the Golan Heights.

Had the BBC’s cameraman swung a little to the right, he would have seen a statue and a plaque commemorating the fact that Eli Cohen passed through that tank barrier on his way to El Hama in 1962 – five years before the Six Day War.

Photo: Dr Avishai Teicher

Photo: Dr Avishai Teicher

Later on in the report, Connolly told audiences:Connolly Golan filmed

“Land on the Syrian side of the UN-controlled checkpoint [Kuneitra] is in the hands these days not of the Syrian army but of an Islamist rebel group.”

In fact there is more than one rebel group currently holding positions in that area. Connolly also stated that:

“Israel has been fortifying its fences and responding with force whenever shells or missiles hit land under its control.”

In actual fact, whilst Israel has indeed responded with retaliatory fire on occasion, it has by no means done so in all of the dozens of cases of cross-border fire – deliberate or accidental – which have taken place in the past months and so Connolly’s assertion that Israel responds “whenever” such fire takes place is inaccurate.

Inaccuracies in BBC’s Jabhat al Nusra profile

The BBC News website’s profile of Jabhat al Nusra (aka al Nusra Front) recently appeared as one of the related articles suggested to readers on its Middle East page.

Profile al Nusra on HP

 

Titled “Profile: Syria’s al-Nusra Front“, the article is dated April 10th 2013 and has apparently not been updated in the past eighteen months.

Included in the profile is the following paragraph: [emphasis added]

“The Front’s leading figure, Abu Mohammed al-Jawani, assured Syrians that the “good behaviour” they had experienced from al-Nusra on the ground would continue unchanged.”

Accepted spellings of the nom de guerre of the Nusra Front leader include al-Julani, al-Joulani, al-Jolani, al-Jawlani and al-Golani, with the name being a reference to the Golan Heights. Later on in the profile a side box appears in which – confusingly for readers – the name is presented differently and without the above spelling error.

Profile al Nusra sidebox

The profile informs BBC audiences that:

“Al-Nusra’s connection to al-Qaeda has led the Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition to distance itself from the movement.

“We don’t support the ideology of al-Nusra,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

“There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra.”

Mr Meqdad did, however, acknowledge that that [sic] there had been co-operation between FSA brigades and the Front on “certain operations”.”

Reports on recent fighting in south-western Syria, however, present a somewhat different picture than the one promoted in this BBC profile.Profile al Nusra

“The Free Syrian Army has recently allied with Islamist rebels fighting in al Harah, a town in the southern Syrian province of Deraa. Elements from the Free Syrian Army coordinated their efforts with the Islamist Syrian Revolutionaries Front, the Islamic Front, and the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, to take the al Harah Hill and the surrounding town.

The Free Syrian Army utilized several BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles during the fighting, which the United States supplied to “vetted groups” in April. […]

The Long War Journal has previously noted that Western-backed groups continue to operate with the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and the wider Islamic Front coalition. Last month, the moderate Syrian Revolutionaries Front coordinated efforts with Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham to take several villages in Quneitra province. In August, elements from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Free Syrian Army worked with Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham to take the Quneitra border crossing with the Israeli-held Golan Heights.”

Obviously the BBC’s profile of al Nusra Front is in need of both updating and correction.

 

 

 

BBC still promoting the myth of a demilitarized zone that doesn’t exist

October 1st saw the appearance of a report titled “Syria peacekeeping ‘impossible’ – Philippines leader” on the BBC News website’s Asia and Middle East pages. The article relates to statements made by the President of the Philippines at a welcoming ceremony for his country’s soldiers formerly stationed with UNDOF in the Golan Heights.UNDOF Phil Pres art

“President Aquino on Wednesday raised the possibility the Philippines would no longer deploy Filipino troops in UN peacekeeping operations during ceremonies in Malacañang where he led a hero’s welcome for soldiers pulled out from the Golan Heights where they had battled Syrian rebels late last August. [...]

The President criticized the United Nations for rejecting requests to provide additional firearms for Filipino peacekeepers, who faced what he called “mission impossible” in the Golan Heights. [...]

“When the situation changed, when rebels began to show up in this area of disengagement, [the United Nations] should have addressed the situation and said there was a new mission,” he said.”

Since late August the BBC News website has produced numerous articles on the topic of the UNDOF mission – see here, here, here, here and here . This latest report brings the total number of articles on the subject published in the five weeks between August 28th and October 1st 2014 to nine.

Most of those reports include standard statements along the lines of this one from the latest article:

“Israel seized most of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in south-western Syria, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which the UN Disengagement Observer Force was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

As this latest report and a quotation in the BBC’s September 1st article both illustrate, countries contributing personnel to UNDOF are well aware of the fact that the situation on the ground has changed significantly in the past couple of years and the terms of 1974 armistice agreement cited by the BBC are no longer being upheld.

” “I’ve made it very clear that I’m not going to continue to commit Irish troops to this mission unless there’s a very fundamental review of how it’s going to operate. Clearly this is no longer a demilitarized zone,” Irish Defence Minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio.”

Recent reports from the UN Secretary General and the Security Council both reflect the changes brought about by the fact that the UN’s presence failed to keep the DMZ demilitarized.

UN SC UNDOF

The widely reported infiltration of a Syrian military aircraft into Israeli territory on September 23rd was only covered by the BBC News website in the form of a brief announcement on a live page being run that day on the subject of US airstrikes against ISIS. 

Syrian aircraft infiltration 23 9

BBC audiences continue to remain in the dark with regard to the significant changes and developments in that particular part of the Middle East due to the fact that the corporation continues to use long redundant template descriptions of the region in its articles and its area profile, hence impeding audience understanding of current and future events. 

Not just about journalism: BBC editorial guidelines and the wider public interest

As is of course to be expected, the horrific murder of one British charity worker by ISIS last weekend and the accompanying threat to behead another has been extensively covered by the UK media.Nye Jul 14 a

According to the Times:

“The security services are investigating whether kidnappers who abducted two Britons on aid missions to Syria were acting on insider tip-offs.

As part of efforts to build up a picture of the network around the British kidnap gang that has been executing westerners, MI5 and MI6 are trying to establish whether they had help in identifying victims. […]

It is thought unlikely that the gang, which could have as many as 20 western hostages, were able to conduct so many kidnappings without the help of informers on both sides of the border.”

The Daily Telegraph informs us that:

“Alan Henning was kidnapped within half an hour of entering Syria after he unwittingly became involved with a charity with links to alleged extremists, it has emerged.

Mr Henning, 47, now threatened with beheading by jihadists, ignored pleas from friends, colleagues and local guides not to cross the Syrian border, telling them he was determined to make sure the supplies he was carrying were delivered safely to the right people.

Mr Henning was driving an ambulance on behalf of Rochdale Aid 4 Syria, which raised money on behalf of Al-Fatiha Global, a registered charity currently under investigation by the Charity Commission after one of its leaders was photographed with his arms around two hooded fighters carrying machine guns. […]

There is no suggestion Mr Henning, a father of two from Eccles, Greater Manchester, knew of the apparent links between the charities and extremism. Al-Fatiha Global was only placed under investigation in March – three months after Mr Henning was kidnapped – after Adeel Ali, the son of one of its trustees, was pictured with gunmen on the front of The Sun newspaper.”

Among the BBC’s recent coverage of the issue is a filmed interview with Catrin Nye of the BBC Asian Network which was aired on BBC television news programmes on September 14th and also appears in a written report currently featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.  Nye met Alan Henning whilst she was making several reports for numerous BBC platforms on the topic of British aid convoys to Syria. Henning’s later participation in one of those convoys led to his kidnapping in Syria in late December 2013.Nye Jul 14 b

As was noted here at the time, Catrin Nye’s numerous reports – aired in November and early December 2013 – refrained from addressing the topic of the extremist links of some of the charities and individual activists involved in organizing those convoys. Catrin Nye produced additional reports on the same subject in July 2014 which once again failed to adequately inform audiences of the convoys’ organisers links to extremists, even though one of the charities involved in previous trips was already under investigation by the Charity Commission when the report was being made. Nye’s latest interview likewise fails to inform viewers on the same issue.

Notable too is the fact that Orla Guerin produced a report from Gaza on August 13th which was based on the claims of an ISM activist with additional links to the same UK charity currently under investigation.

It is all too clear that BBC promotion of the activities of NGOs and charities without the required disclosure of their ideologies, political agendas and any extremist links not only breaches the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, but also goes against the wider interests of the British public in general. 

Victim of Golan Heights terror attack unnamed in BBC News report

On the afternoon of June 22nd the BBC News website published a report on its Middle East page under the rather clumsy title “Israeli teen ‘killed by Syria firing’ in Golan Heights“.Golan incident main

The report states:

“A 15-year-old boy has been killed in the occupied Golan Heights by firing from Syria, Israel says.

Officials say he was with his father in a truck which took a “direct hit”.

The father and another contract worker are reported to have been injured. They were was [sic] carrying out maintenance work on the border fence,

It is unclear whether Syrian rebels or government forces were behind the incident, but Israel responded with tank shelling into Syria.

The exchange took place in the Tel Hazeka area, near the Quneitra crossing, the Israeli defence ministry said.”

Although details of the event were released for publication around half an hour after this BBC report was published, it has so far not been updated to include the victim’s name or correct age. In fact, Mohammed Karakra was thirteen years old; not 15 as initially reported and he had accompanied his father to work on the first day of his summer holidays from school. Mohammed’s father – from the village of ‘Arrabe in the Galilee – is part of a team of contractors working on the border fence in the Golan Heights on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.  He was seriously injured and is currently hospitalized in Haifa. Two other workers were also injured in the cross-border terror attack which took place at around 11 a.m. near Tel Hezeka, in the vicinity of the community of Alonei HaBashan.

Mohammed Karakra photo credit: alarab.net

Mohammed Karakra
photo credit: alarab.net

The BBC report continues:

“It is the first time an Israeli has been killed by firing from Syria in the Golan Heights since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

Israeli military spokesman, Lt Col Peter Lerner, told AP news agency the firing from Syria was “clearly intentional” but it was unclear whether it was the result of mortar fire, a roadside bomb or shelling.”

The Israeli media reports that it is now believed that an anti-tank missile was fired at Mohammed’s father’s vehicle. Whilst the vicinity on the other side of the border where the incident took place is currently controlled by anti-regime forces, it is not yet known which of numerous organisations operating in the area – which include Hizballah – is responsible for the attack.

The BBC article then goes on to present readers with its standard insert to any report relating to the Golan Heights.

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, was seized by Israel from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor a 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.”

Of course the BBC has done little to keep audiences informed of changes to UNDOF’s operations in recent months or of the full scale of cross-border incidents in the area. 

BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ moves Syria; editor ‘too tired’ to notice

Here is a map which appeared on TV screens throughout the UK during the June 12th edition of BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘.

Newsnight map

Now of course the BBC regularly tells its funding public how committed it is to rigorous standards of accuracy, but apparently those standards become somewhat more flaccid when the editor is feeling a tad dozy on the job.

Katz tweet

On the bright side; Ian Katz is the editor of a TV show – not a neurosurgeon or a pilot.