Missile from Gaza not news for the BBC but Israeli response gets headlines

On the morning of December 19th a missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol region of the Western Negev in the third such incident since the ceasefire in late August which brought the fifty-day summer conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terrorist organisations to a close. Like those previous incidents of missile fire, this one too was not reported by the BBC at the time.

During the night between December 19th and 20th, the Israeli air-force launched a retaliatory strike against a Hamas military installation near Khan Yunis. That event was considered news by the BBC.

With no mention of the obviously crucial context of the preceding missile attack some hours earlier, the BBC World Twitter account informed its 8.22 million followers:

KY strike bbc world tweet 1

Jerusalem bureau correspondent Quentin Sommerville did inform his 24 thousand followers that the Israeli action came in response to missile fire, whilst taking the opportunity to revive the well-trodden BBC theme of “home-made rockets”. There is no evidence to suggest that Sommerville was at the scene of the impact and hence his ‘diagnosis’ of the missile’s nature is apparently based on guess-work. Equally questionable is Sommerville’s geography: there is no city called Eshkol: that name refers to a regional council. Nevertheless, that inaccurate information was retweeted by the BBC World Twitter account.

KY strike Sommerville tweet 1

KY strike Sommerville tweet 2

More context-free ‘last-first’ reporting was seen on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of December 20th where visitors were informed that “Israel launches an air strike on an alleged Hamas site in Gaza, in the first such action since the declaration of a truce in August”, but with no mention in the headline or sub-heading of the missile attack several hours beforehand.

KY strike on HP

That headline leads to an article titled “Israel launches Gaza air strike on ‘Hamas target’” which fails to clarify to BBC audiences that this latest missile attack was the third since the end of August.

Readers will note that one of the recommended articles presented on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with that article is headed “Gaza: Life amid the rubble” which was discussed here. Whilst the BBC has put much effort in recent months into the production of numerous ‘reporter in the rubble’ items showcasing the topic of damage to houses and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip (see some additional examples here, here and here), it has refrained from carrying out any reporting whatsoever on the subject of Hamas’ reconstruction of its military infrastructure, including cross-border tunnels and missile capabilities.

Once again licence fee-payers relying on the BBC to meet its half of the bargain by providing them with reporting which will enhance their understanding of international issues are being sold short. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the corporation’s continuing policies of ‘last-first’ reporting and framing by omission. 

BBC News presentation of EU court’s Hamas terror designation decision

December 17th saw the appearance of a report on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list“. Readers who proceeded past that somewhat misleading headline discovered only in later versions of the report, however, that in fact the story is not quite so straightforward.EU Hamas art

“In December 2001, the Council of the European Union – representing the governments of member states – adopted a “common position” and a regulation to combat terrorism.

It established a list of designated entities and people whose funds would be frozen. Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, was named on the initial list, and its political wing was added two years later.

Hamas contested the decision and on Wednesday the EU’s General Court found it had been “based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet”.

The court said it was therefore annulling Hamas’ designation but would temporarily keep existing measures against the group “in order to ensure the effectiveness of any possible future freezing of funds”.

This would be maintained for three months, or, if an appeal is brought before the European Court of Justice, until it was closed, it added.

“The court stresses that those annulments, on fundamental procedural grounds, do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group within the meaning of the common position.”

[…] European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the EU continued to “consider Hamas a terrorist organisation” and would consider its response to the ruling.” [emphasis added]

Remarkably, the BBC report does not relate to the key question of why the EU has not come up with its own independent evidence regarding Hamas’ terror activities either in the eleven years since the designation was first brought into effect or in the four years since Hamas’ lawyers first launched the appeal against its designation.

Notably too, the article presents a partial picture of the obviously relevant issue of Hamas’ terror designation worldwide.

“Israel, the United States and several other nations have designated Hamas a terrorist organisation due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence.”

What the BBC’s article does do, however, is amplify Hamas’ subsequent spin of the ECJ decision.

“Hamas deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said the decision was “a correction of a historical mistake”.

“Hamas is a resistance movement and it has a natural right according to all international laws and standards to resist the occupation,” he told the Reuters news agency.”

Moreover, despite informing readers that “[u]nder its charter, the movement is committed to Israel’s destruction”, the BBC article additionally promotes the inaccurate and misleading notion of Hamas as a “resistance movement” in both its text and photo caption, whilst concurrently whitewashing its violent 2007 coup in the Gaza Strip.EU Hamas art 2

“Hamas, which was founded in 1987, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and reinforced its power in Gaza the following year after ousting its Fatah rivals.

Its supporters see it as a legitimate resistance movement against Israel, with whom it has fought for years.”

Photo caption: “Hamas is designated a terrorist group by many nations, but to its supporters it is a resistance movement”.

No effort is made to adequately clarify to BBC audiences that, as far as Hamas and its supporters are concerned, its efforts to destroy a UN member state count as “legitimate resistance” or that Hamas’ definition of “the occupation” includes the whole of Israel – as expressed just days ago by Mahmoud al Zahar at one of several recent rallies celebrating the 27th anniversary of Hamas’ founding.

“Anyone who thinks that we will recognize the existence of the [Zionist] entity or the 1967 borders is deluded… Palestine stretches from the Egyptian border in the south to Lebanon in the north, and from Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean sea in the west, and we will never recognize anything less than this.” He added: “If part of our land is liberated, we will establish our state in that part without relinquishing even an inch of the rest. Just as we liberated Gaza and established a genuine administration in it, [with] an army and security apparatuses that defend us, rather than the Israeli enemy [unlike those of the PA], we will do the same in the West Bank, as a prelude to attaining all of Palestine.”

Significantly, there was no BBC coverage of those rallies whatsoever. 

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Confusing and conflicting messaging on Jabhat al Nusra in BBC reports

On December 9th an article by State Department correspondent Kim Ghattas appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Syria war: Southern rebels see US as key to success“. Despite its title, the report is illustrated using a photograph taken in Damascus in February 2013 rather than in southern Syria.Ghattas art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Rebels in southern Syria are working to convince Washington to provide more decisive support as they continue to make small but steady gains against government forces.

While most of the world’s attention and the Syrian government’s forces have been focused on Kobane and Aleppo in northern Syria, moderate rebels south of Damascus have successfully taken territory and held it over the last three months, in the Deraa province, along the Jordanian border and along the Golan Heights.” [emphasis added]

Audiences will of course be likely to conclude that those “moderate rebels” differ essentially from the Jihadists profiled two days later in the BBC’s special feature on “Jihadist attacks”. One of the groups named in that feature is Jabhat al Nusra which, according to the BBC’s data, was responsible for 36% of the Jihadist attacks in Syria during the month of November.

Jabhat al Nusra attacks

Much later on in Ghattas’ long article, however, readers discover that one in ten of the rebels operating in southern Syria she previously described as “moderate” actually belong to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra.

“Abu Majd el-Zoubi, a spokesman for the Southern Front, acknowledged that the Nusra Front operated in the region but insisted they were only 10% of the fighting force and that the rebels were all “100% Syrians”.”

That information in turn conflicts with a previous statement (still uncorrected) made by the BBC in its profile of Jabhat al Nusra (not updated since its publication in April 2013), according to which the Free Syrian Army does not cooperate with the Jihadist group.

“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.””

The take-away message for BBC audiences in Ghattas’ report is that the ability of the rebels in southern Syria to challenge the Assad regime is being hampered by a lack of American support.

“The growing coalition of 58 US-backed rebel groups south of Damascus known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is inching closer to the capital but with restricted military supplies and only half-hearted political support from the White House, they admit their progress will be limited.

“For three years most factions in the opposition have been asking Washington ‘what can you do for us?'” said one activist speaking by phone from the Middle East.

“We want to make Washington want to help us because of what we achieve on the ground,” added the activist, who is close to the rebel groups.”

Notably, Ghattas backs up her message by linking to an article produced by Charles Lister of the Doha branch of the Qatari-funded Brookings Institute.

“There are growing warnings that the US is on the verge of losing the last remnants of influence it has on the ground in Syria.

Reluctant backing has led to a lack of trust by the moderate rebels, and the newly announced Pentagon programme to train and equip new rebel recruits only starts in the spring of 2015.

So the southern front is even more crucial for any short-term Western strategy in Syria, especially if it still envisages putting the squeeze on the government in Damascus.”

However, Ghattas fails to inform BBC audiences that as well as funding the think-tank which produced that article, Qatar has also funded some of the extremist groups promoted by Lister as ‘invaluable actors’ in the battle against the Assad regime; Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

Jabhat al Nusra is currently designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the US. Ghattas’ simplistic (though revealing) admonishment of American policy towards “moderate rebels” in southern Syria fails to mention the very relevant fact that those forces include a designated terrorist organization defined by the BBC itself as a Jihadist group.  

BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

On December 12th the BBC News website published an article titled “Audit ‘clears Islamic Relief’ of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price; the chief correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In addition to appearing on the website’s UK page, the article was also posted on the Middle East page where it remained for three consecutive days.Islamic Relief art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Britain’s biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.”

In the next paragraph readers learn that the audit was commissioned by the organization itself.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.”

Further along readers also learn that the public is not being informed which company carried out the audit, although it is obviously a very efficient one because it managed to carry out the work “in a few days”.

“It [Islamic Relief] says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows “absolutely no evidence” of any link to terrorism.” […]

“The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit – but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.

Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the “sensitivities in the region” it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.”

Although the BBC report does not relate to the topic of the publication of the report, we learn from Reuters that it too will be kept from the public view.

“Islamic Relief has not named the ‘leading global audit firm’ which carried out the investigation or published the audit because of what it calls “sensitivities in the region” and the need to ensure people’s safety.”

Via the charity itself we also discover that “a number of major stakeholders” have been given access to the audit, one of which we can conclude from the BBC’s report is the DEC

“The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it “has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

It added: “We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” “

Matthew Price refrains from informing readers that the chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohammed Ashmawey, also sits on the DEC board of trustees.

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

“Israel has not responded so far.” […]

“Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.”

Reuters journalists apparently put a little more effort into getting an official Israeli response:  

“A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Friday that Israel stood by its designation of Islamic Relief as an “unlawful association” and repeated a previous statement that the charity funnelled millions of dollars a year to Hamas.”

So, to recap the story so far: a charity banned in Israel because of Hamas ties commissions and pays for an audit by an unidentified company which produces a report not made accessible to anyone other than a selected few chosen by the charity itself and, on the basis of the charity’s own interpretation of the unpublished findings, the BBC rushes to inform its audiences (on the same day that the charity puts out its press release) that the organization is above-board, implying that Israel’s reasoning for banning the charity is invalid.  

Clearly the BBC is remarkably unperturbed by the blatant lack of transparency displayed by Islamic Relief Worldwide. It also apparently lacks any journalistic curiosity with regard to the methodology used in this audit such as, for example, the critical questions of how the auditors chose to define “links to terrorism” and “funding terrorism”. As John Ware explained in an article from August of this year, the answers to those questions are far from obvious, but very important: an issue which clearly Matthew Price did not find cause for concern.

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How the BBC cherry-picked its Jihadist terrorists

In recent days quite a few people have let us know via e-mail or social media that they were surprised to find that a BBC special feature on “Jihadist attacks” during the month of November did not include Israelis murdered during that month by terrorists linked to organisations such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.countries Jihadists

After all, in a fourteen day period during that month, nine Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists and a tenth victim injured in the November 5th attack died of his wounds a month later. Despite that fact, Israel does not appear on the list of countries in which, according to the study carried out by the BBC and the ICSR, Jihadist attacks took place. Notably too, the word terrorism does not appear in the BBC’s main feature on the topic – “Jihadism: Tracking a month of deadly attacks“, December 11th – although it is evident in the complimentary article by Professor Peter Neumann, “Jihadist violence: The devastating cost“.

The reason for the absence of any data concerning Israel in that study is to be found in a document detailing the study’s methodology. There, the interpretation of the term Jihadism used in the study is explained as follows:

definition Jihadism

Neither Hamas nor the PIJ are of course Salafists or Wahhabists and they do not belong to the Deobandi or Ahl e Hadith traditions. Hence, those two Palestinian terrorist organisations are not included in the BBC’s study despite the fact that Israel is cited as a ‘motive’ and even though some of their aims and ideologies dovetail neatly with those of groups which are defined as Jihadists and they have certainly proved their “readiness to kill” to achieve their religiously motivated aims.

It is, of course, much easier to promote (even by omission) the notion of a fundamental difference between Hamas and Salafist Jihadists such as Ansar Beit al Maqdis which does appear in this study if one ignores the relationship between them (as the BBC has largely done) and if one presents (as the BBC consistently does, according to its own politically motivated narrative) the Hamas raison d’être exclusively as politically inspired ‘resistance’ to ‘occupation’ whilst ignoring the religious elements underpinning it as demonstrated, for example, in article 11 of the Hamas charter.

“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?

This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.”

It is probably pretty safe to assume, therefore, that we will not be seeing the outcome of acts by Palestinian terrorist organisations classified as “Jihadist violence” by the BBC anytime soon and hence its audiences will continue to lack crucial information on the issue of terrorism against Israelis. 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Bowen’s olive harvest feature fails to offer BBC audiences anything new

As readers are aware, the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen’s audio report titled ‘Olive Wars’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 7th. The programme is available here from 01:25.Bowen olives audio

In order to appreciate the rationale behind Bowen’s report it is useful to look first at his closing remarks.

“Now, in its own way, what’s happening in this valley is a microcosm of the entire conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. One fundamental aspect of it – not the only one, but a vital thing to understand – is the fact that there is one piece of land and historically there have been two peoples who want it. The whole point of the peace process – now collapsed, of course – was to find a way to divide it between them. Travelling around the harvest I’ve seen that what they have instead is no kind of acceptable status quo. Ask Bassem and Naja Rashid; the couple whose olive trees were cut down by settlers. Or in Israel, the olive producer Yaniv Zaban; looking on uncomfortably as he sees Palestinian farmers’ trees being destroyed. Jewish settlers like Avraham Herzlich in Tapuach seem fairly content under the current Israeli government: the force is with them. But the way things are there isn’t just a risk of more bloodshed: it’s certain. That’s not good for any Palestinian or Israeli and – at a time when the whole world can feel the impact of the tumult in the Middle East – that’s not good for the rest of us either.”

The take-away message for BBC audiences is therefore that the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is all about land, that it can be solved by the division of that land and that as long as it remains unsolved, it will affect “the rest of us” negatively because the Middle East’s mess is spreading beyond the region.

Leaving aside Bowen’s obviously specious linkage between events such as the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS and other Islamist Jihadists and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and his transparent attempt to inflate the latter’s regional and global significance – the obvious question is why did Bowen seek to convey his take-away message through the medium of the olive harvest? The answer to that is found in the opportunities it presents for framing the story in a manner which advances an already well-worn political narrative.

One very dominant theme in Bowen’s report can be summed up as old versus new, ‘authentic’ versus modern, ‘traditional’ and ‘artisan’ versus industrial. In his opening sentence he informs listeners that “the olive harvest is all about tradition”. Two and a half minutes into the item he goes to visit “the oldest olive tree in these parts”, located near “ancient terraces” and there he – and of course BBC audiences – are told that the supposedly four thousand year-old tree:SONY DSC

“…stands as a symbol to the Palestinian people – the history and civilization.”

The report’s opening message is clear: like their olive trees, the Palestinians have been there since time immemorial, with no history worth mentioning having existed beforehand – or indeed since.

Bowen next visits the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane where he links the local olive trees to Christian tradition and the New Testament. At no point are listeners told what the original Hebrew name for Gethsemane – Gat Shmanim – means or that olive oil production was integral to ancient Jewish culture. Bowen tells listeners:

“…and from up here on the Mount of Olives you get the classic view of old Jerusalem but you can see the modern parts of the city  as well, including the settlements for Jews that Israel has built on the territory it captured during the 1967 war. That’s forbidden by international law and it’s taken big chunks out of the land that the Palestinians want for an independent state.”

Bowen’s partisan representation of “international law” of course breaches BBC editorial guidelines by not informing listeners of the existence of alternative legal opinions on the issue and his claim that the Jerusalem neighbourhoods he chooses to brand “settlements” were built “for Jews” is inaccurate: residents of other faiths (or none) and ethnicities also live in those districts.  

Later on listeners are told by Bowen that:

“Palestinian farmers get a quarter of their incomes from olives but it’s about more than money. The trees are the most powerful symbol of Palestinian attachment to the land.”

Bowen also visits an olive farm at Moshav Sde Uziahu in the Be’er Tuvia district where he compares farming methods.SONY DSC

“I’ve crossed from the West Bank to Israel and it’s a very different approach here in the olive harvest. The farm here’s called The Olive People; they have seven thousand trees. Flat land – not mountainous like the West Bank – and they’re using a machine to harvest the olives: an extraordinary sight. The machine grabs the trunk of the tree, gives it a good shaking. Some of the workers hit the branches as well to get the olives off. It is a very, very big contrast to the old, artisanal methods they use in Palestinian areas.”

Bowen’s travels also take him to another unnamed area:

“I’ve come from Israel into the occupied West Bank to a beautiful area of hills. But this is a controversial place because up over to my right are a number of Jewish settlements – quite radical, ideological ones – and here on the adjoining hill there is a timeless area of terracing and olive trees and Palestinians farming them.”

An additional theme promoted by Bowen is the contrast between the physical Palestinian attachment to the land symbolized by their “ancient” and “timeless” connection to the olive trees and Israeli claims to the land – which are framed exclusively by Bowen in terms of intangible religious belief.

“I’m at the home of Bassem Rashid and his wife Naja and they’re harvesting their olives here. […] Now, this couple have other trees up near the settlement of Tapuach where there are Jews that believe that this land should belong to them. And they are not able to get to those trees and worse still, they heard only a couple of days ago that those trees up there – some they say are a hundred years old – have been cut down by the settlers.”

Note how later on in his closing words (see above) Bowen transforms something the Rashid’s have heard – but has obviously not been independently verified by the BBC – into fact. Significantly, Bowen refrains from making any direct reference to instances in which Palestinians have caused damage to Israeli agriculture. Quoting the highly partisan UN OCHA, he unquestioningly informs listeners:

“According to the UN office for humanitarian affairs, attacks by Jewish settlers in the last five years on Palestinians and their property have destroyed around fifty thousand fruit trees – mainly olives. […] The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, breeds violence. Jewish settlers and Palestinians attack each other. Some Jewish settlers moved to the occupied territories to get cheap housing but extremists in ideological settlements believe the land is theirs alone and the trees are a legitimate target.”

Interestingly, Bowen later on uses the term “settlers” in a different context.

“The first Jewish settlers – the early Zionists – were mainly secular. Their conflict with the Palestinians was first of all about possession of land. But religion is more prominent now on both sides. Some Jewish settlers, like Avraham, believe that God gave the land to them and Islamists on the other side are a big part of Palestinian nationalism. If you think you’re doing God’s will, there isn’t much room for negotiation.”

Of course the pre-state conflicts between Jews and Arabs were by no means limited to disputes about land, as the fact that the riots of 1929 were directed particularly at the ancient Jewish communities in Hebron, Jerusalem and Tsfat indicates. Bowen downplays the long-standing influence of religion on the conflict and elects not to explain to listeners the concept – in particular relevant to Islamists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – according to which ‘Muslim lands’ cannot be given up or negotiated away.

But what is most noticeable about Bowen’s framing of the issue is that it completely erases from audience view the very relevant subject of the Mandate for Palestine and the fact that the area designated for the creation of the Jewish National Home included Judea and Samaria – later conquered (with more than a little help from their British friends) and belligerently occupied by Jordan for the nineteen years between 1948 and 1967. Of course any reference to that key point would have undermined Bowen’s use of the term “Palestinian land”, which features in another of the themes he promotes in this item: the anti-terrorist fence.

Apparently describing the terror attack of October 22nd, Bowen tells listeners:

“Tension’s always high around here and in this part of Jerusalem there’s just been an attack on some Israelis so the police, the military are out in force. You can see guns, there are sirens, there’s confusion. Palestinians argue that if there wasn’t an occupation there wouldn’t be attacks.”

He refrains from informing audiences that, inter alia, the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip long since disproved that claim and continues:

“The Israeli government disagrees and insists it must protect its people by building walls and fences: the so-called West bank separation barrier. But that doesn’t follow the boundary Israel had before it captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. It cuts through Palestinian land and separates some Palestinian olive farmers from their trees.”

Along with his misrepresentation of the 1949 Armistice Line as a “boundary” (the Armistice Agreement specifically states that it is no such thing), Bowen refrains from informing listeners of the fact that the “Palestinian land” he describes was previously occupied by Jordan, administered by Britain and prior to that, controlled by the Ottoman Empire for five hundred years. He also avoids mentioning the campaign of terrorism during the second Intifada which brought about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence as a result of public pressure on the Israeli government and, significantly, he fails to clarify that the terror initiated by Arafat came after Israel had handed over control of Areas A and B to the Palestinian Authority, indicating once again that the evacuation of land by Israel does not prevent terror attacks. Later on Bowen even egregiously and entirely unnecessarily promotes the defamatory and inaccurate term “apartheid wall”:

“I’m right up against what the Israelis call their security fence. Palestinians call it an apartheid or segregation wall and the problem for the people of Anin – the farmers here – is that yes; they do get access during the harvest and the gate is only open even then for limited periods during the day, but for the rest of the year when they want to maintain the land, look after the trees, they can’t get at it. It’s a once a year visit that they do to harvest the olives themselves.”

Bowen later meets the owner of the Canaan olive press, Palestinian-American Nasser Abu Farha, although Mr Abu Farha’s American citizenship apparently did not fit in with his promoted themes. Neither apparently did the tanks used to store the olive oil at Canaan Fair Trade (see related articles below) – in contrast to similar ones seen at Moshav Sde Uziahu which Bowen took the trouble to describe as “modern stainless steel vessels”. Bowen alleges:SONY DSC

“Now, not far from here there are Jewish settlements which are known for mounting raids on the trees, cutting them down, burning them, sometimes stealing the finished oil. From your point of view, what does that say to you about the situation here?”

Abu Farha: “I wouldn’t blame it all on the settlers. I think the settlers are more encouraged in the areas where the government have fenced these areas as security buffer zones for their settlements. Somehow this fencing and barring the farmers from regularly tending their farms becomes a perception to the settlers that maybe this farmer shouldn’t be there in the first place. I would put more blame on the system.”

Notably, the issue of Palestinian responsibility for bringing about the construction of the anti-terrorist fence does not arise because in this entire report Palestinians are portrayed as weak, passive and without any agency whatsoever.

 Bowen’s report is very obviously tailored for his British Radio 4 audience. “Authentic”, “traditional” Palestinian farmers engaged in Fair Trade production of olive oil from ancient trees pushes a lot of sympathetic buttons. So too does the notion that these farmers have to grapple with violent, religiously motivated extremist settlers and an “apartheid wall” to get to “Palestinian land”.

In his introduction to this item Bowen states:SONY DSC

“The olive harvest is about politics. Everything is politicized here and it’s the politics of the struggle for land between two peoples who want it. And in that struggle, the olive tree has become a very potent symbol and the olive harvest has at times become a very serious flashpoint.”

Of course much of the annual politicization of the olive harvest is attributable in no small part to the mutually beneficial collaboration between Western media outlets and local political actors, with this report being no exception. Whilst Bowen made it clear right from the beginning that BBC audiences were not going to learn anything about the non-political aspects of the olive harvest, his report is nothing more than a tediously predictable collection of well-worn clichés which do not contribute anything new to deeper audience understanding of the real political issues behind his subject matter and merely retread the routes taken by Bowen and his colleagues on countless previous occasions.

BBC audiences have already been told hundreds of times about ‘illegal settlements’ and their supposedly belligerent residents. The ‘evils’ of what the BBC mistakenly calls the ‘separation barrier’ have been done to death and audiences are already more than used to the BBC’s inflation of the Palestinian Israeli conflict into the major issue in the Middle East. In fact, apart from the licence fee payer-funded opportunity for Jeremy Bowen to purchase some cheap olive oil and the chance for yet more transparent promotion of the BBC’s chosen political narrative, there appears to have been no journalistic point to this exercise whatsoever.   

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BBC serves up political propaganda with olives

BBC’s Knell revamps ‘reporter in the rubble’ for promotion of a political agenda

It’s a story BBC audiences have heard many times before but on December 8th two more reports produced by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell continued the now well established tradition of context-free descriptions of damage to structures resulting from the summer conflict in the Gaza Strip as a means of amplification of the campaign by Hamas and its sympathisers to lift restrictions on dual-use goods into the territory, to which the corporation – and Knell in particular – self-conscripted back in July.

Listeners to BBC World Service radio heard an item titled “Slow reconstruction of Gaza” which was also promoted as a podcast on Twitter. The synopsis to that podcast reads as follows:Knell reconstruction audio 8 12

“At least 100,000 Palestinians lost their homes in this summer’s conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, according to the UN. The BBC’s Yolande Knell has found that very little reconstruction has taken place in this Palestinian territory. Israel tightly monitors the import of building materials and equipment into Gaza, arguing that militants could use them to rebuild tunnels and carry out attacks.”

As has been noted here previously, the BBC has shown no interest whatsoever in investigating how Hamas managed (despite supposed supervision by international bodies and aid agencies) to comandeer thousands of tons of construction materials in order to build the dozens of cross-border attack tunnels which led to the ground operation in this summer’s conflict. Instead, what has already been shown to be reality continues to be represented by the BBC as theoretical Israeli claims.

English teacher's house

click to enlarge

Knell opens her audio report with a visit to Shuja’iya – the neighbourhood also featured in her big report last September. Once again, she refrains from informing listeners of the scale of Hamas operations in that neighbourhood which caused parts of it to become military targets, or specifically that the street highlighted in her report is near the location of missile launching sites used by the terrorists during the summer war.

“Three months on from the ceasefire that ended this summer’s fighting in Gaza, I’ve come back to Nazaz Street in one of the worst affected neighbourhoods – Shuja’iya. It’s much colder than last time I was here and some areas are flooded because there’s been really wet, wintry weather in the past week. But otherwise, surprisingly little has changed: there is still rubble everywhere.

[Man’s voice] See – this is the kitchen. Our cups…destroyed here.

Knell: I’ve met up once again with Abdul Kareem Abu Ahmed. An English teacher, he shows me around the ruins of his large home and rose garden.

AKAA: We were hoping that they will immediately rebuild our houses. But after three months we feel now very frustrated.

Knell: Have you had any progress with the United Nations coming to look at the house?

AKAA: Yes, they came here. They visit us, they took photos. They promised us they will give us money to pay for renting flat but nothing happened. They didn’t give us concrete. They didn’t give us equipments to rebuild, so we still as we were.”

The same Brontë-loving, rose-growing English teacher has of course already appeared in a succession of BBC reports – see examples here, here and here. Regular listeners to BBC World Service radio were no doubt confused by the next segment of Knell’s report seeing as just days earlier they had been told that there are no building materials (or electricity or water) in the Gaza Strip.

“Knell: But here at the Burj al Jamil [phonetic] building firm we’ve finally found some signs of progress. There’s a big crowd of men around the office door. They’re getting their ID cards checked against names on a computerized system. Then they get given a coupon which they hand over here at the warehouse. There’s a forklift truck loading up cement into the back of a horse and cart. Now, there are security cameras all around this warehouse so that monitors can keep an eye on what’s happening to these bags of cement. This company had to get special clearance to import the building materials into Gaza.

[Man’s voice] If the system stays like this it will take at least ten years to rebuild Gaza.

Knell: And yet the manager, Sami Abu Obeid, is disheartened. He tells me he could easily distribute much more cement.

Manager: Instead of 160 tons a day coming in, make it six or seven thousand tons. Also send in more gravel and iron. I will guarantee that everyone gets the right amount. Give me the names and I’ll take responsibility.”

Again, Knell makes no effort to inform listeners how the previous system of supervision failed to prevent cement, gravel and iron from reaching Hamas. She continues, describing the half year-old Palestinian unity government as “new” and failing to clarify to BBC audiences that Robert Serry’s decidedly cryptic message actually means that – as has been obvious for some time – that ‘unity government’ is not capable of solving the problems facing the population of Gaza Strip.

“The UN special coordinator Robert Serry was just in Cairo for more talks on Gaza. He secured the current arrangements to work around Israel’s blockade – tracking goods to make sure they don’t fall into militants’ hands. The new Palestinian unity government is supposed to oversee reconstruction. But Mr Serry admits there have been a lot of hold-ups.

Serry: I understand the frustrations in Gaza: that it has taken time and that it is still not really working at the required scale. To be successful, we need a government of national consensus to be empowered there. They don’t even control the crossings yet. We still have a very fragile ceasefire and then that’s why I’m worried because I also know that the consequences of failure can be that a next conflict is around the corner. Nobody wants that.

Knell: So for now, people in Gaza face an uncertain future and a long wait to rebuild their homes. For many of those I’ve been revisiting here, life is simply miserable. I’ve come into the Habeeb family house in Shuja’iya. There’s lots of water on the stairs as I go up. There’s still the whole exterior wall that’s missing from the last conflict – it was blown away – and you have more than 20 members of the family living here in just two rooms.

When it rains it’s a disaster. It’s like we have waterfalls coming through the roof and all the children are soaked, says Um al Ez [phonetic]. We just use blankets to keep warm. What else can we do?

And as her grandchildren play football in the next room, their warm breath misting up the cold air, there’s no easy answer.”

Of course had the Palestinian unity government fulfilled its existing obligation to disarm terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip when it first came into being, Knell might be telling a very different story now. 

Knell’s second report from December 8th was a filmed item promoted on BBC television news as well as on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza struggling to rebuild after conflict“. The synopsis to the report includes the following statement, once again failing to clarify that the use of construction materials imported into the Gaza Strip for the purposes of terrorism is not theoretical.Knell reconstruction filmed 8 12

“Very little reconstruction has taken place in Gaza since the conflict there which killed over 2,100 Palestinians and destroyed more than 100,000 homes.

Donors have pledged more than $5bn but Israel strictly regulates the import of building materials and equipment into the Palestinian territory.

They say that militants could use the equipment to carry out attacks.”

In that report audiences once again heard from the BBC’s favourite English teacher and from the manager of the building supplies warehouse. They were also informed by Knell that:

“A deal brokered by the UN works around Israel’s blockade of Gaza.”

“Israel wants guarantees militants won’t take these goods to rebuild tunnels they can use for cross-border attacks.”

She goes on to introduce an interview with UNRWA’s director of operations in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “The huge sale of destruction means it’s taking longer than expected to assess the damage. UN officials also blame Palestinian politics for delays in reconstruction and say ultimately Israel needs to lift its tight border restrictions. Their efforts can only achieve so much.

Robert Turner: The mechanism is a significant step. It’s important to ensure that the families that were affected by the conflict can rebuild their homes. It’s not a replacement for the lifting of the blockade. If there’s going to be peace and security, if there’s going to be stable Gaza, then the blockade needs to be lifted.”

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have heard ostensibly ‘neutral’ UNRWA officials promoting the Hamas demand to lift border restrictions designed to prevent it from rearming and acquiring dual-use goods for the purposes of terrorism: a step which Turner apparently bizarrely believes would bring “peace and security”. In October of this year, listeners to the BBC World Service heard Turner’s colleague – the former BBC correspondent with a direct line to the BBC’s Middle East editor, Chris Gunness – say of the UN’s supervision of building materials:

“But let’s be clear: this mechanism is not a substitute for lifting the blockade.”

Neither is there anything new about the fact that UNRWA’s political campaigning dovetails with the agenda of the internationally recognised terrorist organization which took control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup and the BBC’s collaboration in amplifying it. Yolande Knell was to be found doing exactly that long before the last conflict.

“But a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees Chris Gunness says that ultimately, the precarious situation in Gaza is created by seven years of tight border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt.”

And:

“Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness said […] “While Unrwa understands the frustration of the population, heightened by the tightened blockade on the Gaza Strip, and respects the right to peaceful demonstrations, Unrwa must ensure the safety and security of its staff.” ” [emphasis added]

Of course were the BBC to actually get around to providing an accurate and impartial representation of when and why those border restrictions had to be imposed in the first place, audiences would be able to judge UNRWA’s political campaigning – and the BBC-supplied free PR – for what it really is. Instead, the BBC continues to uncritically quote UNRWA, obviously with no journalistic curiosity as to why the ‘human rights’ organisation’s agenda is indistinguishable from that of an Islamist terror group. 

BBC continues to under-report non-fatal terror attacks in Israel

On the afternoon of December 3rd a terror attack took place at a supermarket in Mishor Adumim.

“The 16-year old Palestinian walked passed the security guard who stood by the sliding-glass door entrance checking customers around 4:15 p.m. and used a knife to attack two men standing near the front aisles of the store, moderately wounding them.”

The BBC News website did not report on that incident.BBC News logo

Two days before that, another stabbing attack took place at Gush Etzion Junction.

“An Israeli civilian was lightly injured after being stabbed with a knife by a Palestinian woman near the Gush Etzion junction.

Security forces at the military post opened fire at the attacker, shooting and injuring her. The attacker has been taken to the Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem for medical treatment.”

That incident was also not reported by the BBC.

On December 4th a suspect was indicted in connection with an attack which occurred in Taibe on November 9th.

“The suspect, Muhammed Haj Yihyeh, is accused of being part of a group of rioters who stopped a Jewish motorist on the night of November 9 as he was driving his car northbound on Route 444 from Kochav Yair. The motorist, who tried to do a U-turn in order to avoid burning tires in the road, was approached by rioters, who addressed him in Arabic, police said. Since he could not understand them, the crowd began shouting “Jew! Jew!” hurling rocks at him and his vehicle.

Police said that the rocks thrown by the rioters shattered the car’s front and back windshield and that Haj Yihyeh took a package of fireworks and lit them, before throwing them inside the car while the motorist was still in the vehicle.”

Neither the original attack nor the indictment were reported by the BBC. Also on December 4th, a knife attack was averted at the Qalandiya checkpoint.

On November 20th the Israeli security services announced that the suspect arrested after three soldiers were run over on Route 60 on November 5th had admitted that the incident was a terror attack. The BBC briefly reported that incident at the time, but audiences have not been since informed that it was indeed a terror attack.

Over the past few weeks the BBC has devoted considerable coverage to several fatal terror attacks (whilst consistently failing to name them as such) which have taken place in Israel. However, non-fatal attacks such as the ones above and numerous others have not been reported. In order to meet its remit of enhancing audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues, the BBC must obviously tell the entire story and not just its most headline-grabbing parts. Whilst the number of fatal terror attacks has sadly risen in the past few weeks, they continue to be fewer than non-fatal ones which, despite being no less important, remain absent from the BBC’s framing of the story.

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BBC continues to ignore non-fatal terror attacks

 

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.