Another BBC News correction misses its point

One of the suggestions made in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS BBC Charter Review consultation is for the BBC News website to set up a dedicated corrections page where visitors would be able to find details of corrections or amendments made to articles they have already read.

“The BBC News website currently has no dedicated corrections page of the kind seen in reputable newspapers. Hence, when corrections are made to online articles users remain unaware of the fact that information they previously read was inaccurate. Relatedly, the use of footnotes informing the public that a correction has been made to an article is erratic and amendments are sometimes made without notification. A dedicated corrections page would make corrections more visible and accessible, increase the likelihood that people will receive the corrected information and contribute to the BBC’s transparency as well as reducing the likelihood of waste of public funding on unnecessary complaints.”

We recently came across yet another example of just such a case in an article which originally appeared on September 2nd 2015 under the headline “Arafat poisoning inquiry dropped by French prosecutors“.

At the time we noted on these pages that the article did not inform readers that the Russian investigation had ruled out poisoning.

Over two weeks after its initial publication, the article was amended and a footnote was added.  

footnote Arafat art

It is of course highly unlikely that those who read the original article would have returned to it more than two weeks later and seen that amendment and footnote. One must therefore ask once more why an organization supposedly committed to rigorous standards of accuracy does not implement the simple measure of posting such corrections on a dedicated webpage in order to ensure that audiences receive the information. After all; that is surely the point of making corrections. 

BBC’s Connolly misrepresents the Six Day War for political messaging

An article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page – as well as in its ‘Magazine’ section – on September 27th under the title “The friendship that grew out of war“.Connolly Ruth Dayan

At its core, this article is promotion for a recently published book by an author with a rather obvious political agenda – one review of which can be found here. The written article and complimentary filmed and audio reports were the product of yet another BBC pilgrimage to the abode of Suha Arafat (shared apparently with her mother, who is one of the subjects of the book) in Malta.

Whilst Connolly’s report purportedly relates to the friendship between Yasser Arafat’s mother-in-law, Raymonda Tawil, and Moshe Dayan’s ex-wife, Ruth, that subject matter is used as a hook for a generous dose of political messaging. At the beginning of the article Connolly writes:

“You may be familiar with the history of the 1967 Middle East War – a short, sharp conflict in which, Israel captured land from Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a series of lightning operations.”

At the beginning of the audio version of his report broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on September 26th Connolly erases Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai and peace agreement with Jordan from history, saying:

“You will know the narrative of the Middle East war of 1967 – of how Israel captured territory from Egypt and Syria and Jordan: a history of occupation and division which remains unsolved.”

Arafat portrait Connolly art

Image used to illustrate Connolly’s article

BBC audiences of course are anything but familiar with the history of the Six Day War because material produced by the corporation on that topic repeatedly conceals the fact that the Gaza Strip, Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem which were occupied by Egypt and Jordan for nineteen years prior to that conflict were included in the territory assigned to a Jewish homeland by the League of Nations and consistently downplays the threats of annihilation of Israel issued by Nasser and others in the run-up to the 1967 war.

“Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united….I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.” (Hafez al Assad, May 1967)

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight,” (Gamal Abdel Nasser, May 27th 1967)

“We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel…Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel….The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.” (Gamal Abdel Nasser, May 28th 1967)

Examples of that editorial policy have been documented on these pages on several prior occasions:

BBC’s ‘History of Syria’ erases ancient Jewish community, distorts Six Day War

BBC online description of Six Day War: not accurate, not impartial, barely informative

BBC: Nasser ‘asked’ UN peacekeepers to leave Sinai in 1967

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

BBC R4 promotes unchallenged anti-Israel propaganda and warped histories of Jerusalem

BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Arafat portrait jan int

Screenshot from BBC Hardtalk interview with Suha Arafat, January 2015

A by-product of that problematic editorial policy is the frequency of complaints made concerning misrepresentation of the Six Day War. With Connolly’s reporting on that topic already having been found wanting by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee and the ESC having upheld an appeal concerning a complaint about some very similar phrasing to that used by Connolly in this article, one might have expected him to choose his words more carefully.

“The [Editorial Standards] Committee decided that the events of the Six-Day War were so important in the history and politics of the Middle East, and remain so today, that, despite the brevity of the reference, more context was required and the need to use clear and precise language was particularly acute in relation to content dealing with conflict in the Middle East, as the Committee has also stated in previous findings. The Committee appreciated that this was one line in an otherwise informative and nuanced programme, but concluded that, particularly given the evidence that Jordan launched attacks on Israel before Israel’s forces were engaged, it was not duly accurate to describe the events on 5 June 1967 in the way this programme did. The Committee decided the programme breached the Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy. “

But no: after the above opening lines, Connolly – failing to mention either the pre-1967 Syrian attacks from the Golan Heights which plagued adjoining Israeli communities, the peace agreement with Jordan, the Oslo Accords which gave the Palestinian Authority control over the vast majority of its population, the second Intifada or Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip – goes on:

“The territorial issues with the Egyptians were resolved in the Camp David Accords at the end of the 1970s. But in other respects the Middle East continues to live with the consequences of the fighting that ended 48 years ago.

The war of 1973 represented a failed attempt by the combined armies of Syria and Egypt to reverse the outcome. So Israel remains in control of the Golan Heights with its apple orchards and rolling pastures. And the West Bank of the River Jordan, with its huge Palestinian population and its growing number of Jewish settlers, is still under Israeli military occupation.”

A similar lack of context and relevant background information is seen later on:

“There was the grim drumbeat of history to emphasise the difficulty of it all – the war of 1973, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the start of the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising in 1987.”

“Dayan, Weizman and Arafat are long dead and a lasting agreement seems almost as remote today as it did on the day when Israel’s tanks rumbled into Nablus back in 1967.”

But of course all this context-free portrayal of Israeli action and repeated erasing of any Palestinian or Arab actions is backdrop for Connolly’s core political take-away messaging.

“I brought footage from the BBC archives to show Raymonda – news reports from the late 1970s in which she appeared as a voice of the Palestinians of the West Bank warning that Jewish settlers would have to leave before there could be a chance of peace.

She watched the images of her younger self in thoughtful silence then said: “My God, the answers I’m giving are the same answers now. It hasn’t changed.””

Just as BBC audiences remain deprived of the information which would allow them to be truly “familiar with the history of the 1967 Middle East War”, they are also lacking the full range of information which would enable them to understand why “a chance of peace” remains elusive today. And as long as articles such as this one continue to promote politically motivated messaging by means of selective erasure of crucial parts of the story which hinder the BBC narrative, that will remain the case.

Related Articles:

The Six-Day War  (CAMERA)


BBC Radio 4 – contact details

BBC News website – contact details

How to Complain to the BBC


Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

On September 2nd an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Arafat poisoning inquiry dropped by French prosecutors” and a similar report appeared on the BBC Arabic website.

Although this report is about the closure of an inquiry opened three years ago in August 2012 after Suha Arafat filed a civil suit at a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre claiming that her husband had been murdered, the caption to the main photograph illustrating the English language article continues to infer foul play.Arafat art 3 9 15  

“Swiss tests found abnormal levels of polonium on Yasser Arafat’s body”

That theme is also promoted in the body of the report:

“Arafat died in Paris in 2004, aged 75. His wife says he was poisoned, possibly by highly radioactive polonium.

The claims were seemingly backed up by tests carried out in Switzerland.”

Later on readers are informed that:

“Three teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators were allowed to take samples from Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah.

But, earlier this year, one French prosecutor said the polonium samples were of an environmental nature.”

Readers are not told that the Russian investigation also ruled out poisoning.

As we know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that its content must achieve both “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time“. The BBC’s coverage of this story over the past three years presents an opportunity to examine its adherence to those editorial standards.

The story began in July 2012 when an Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ claimed that Swiss experts had found “significant” traces of Polonium 210 on some of Arafat’s personal effects provided by his widow.

In August 2012 Suha Arafat filed her suit in Paris and BBC coverage at the time informed audiences that:

“…many Palestinians continue to believe that Israel poisoned him. Israel has denied any involvement.”

In November 2012 Arafat’s remains were exhumed. The BBC’s Jon Donnison had already prepared the scene with two reports on Arafat’s ‘legacy’ – here and here – and a filmed item in which he promoted the notion that Arafat was “killed at the hands of Israel”. Additional filmed and written coverage by Richard Galpin also promoted the PA’s conspiracy theory of Israeli involvement in Arafat’s death. The exhumation itself prompted no fewer than five reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, three of which again promoted conspiracy theories about Israel.

A year later, in November 2013, the appearance of a Swiss report with findings described as “moderately” supporting the poisoning theory prompted the BBC news website to produce no fewer than thirteen different reports, nine of which amplified conspiracy theories concerning Israel’s involvement in Arafat’s 6 to 8 11

In December 2013 a leaked French report stating that Arafat was not poisoned was covered in two reports on the BBC News website, both of which included repetition of Palestinian conspiracy theories which accuse Israel of being responsible for Arafat’s death.

Later on in December 2013, the Russian team also announced that its findings ruled out foul play and that news was covered in one report on the BBC News website, which again promoted Palestinian conspiracy theories concerning Israel. By this time the website had promoted four times more reports promoting the Swiss report which “moderately supported” the poisoning theory than it had devoted to the French and Russian findings which determined that Arafat died of natural causes.

In January 2015 the BBC’s flagship interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ produced a special programme to “mark the anniversary” of Arafat’s death in which Suha Arafat was provided with a platform to further promote the notion that Arafat was murdered.

In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.

In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.

In August 2015 the BBC found it appropriate to rebroadcast its January 2015 ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Suha Arafat despite the fact that it was obvious that the case was heading towards closure.

In this latest article concerning the French authorities’ decision to close the case from September 2015, the Swiss results are once again promoted as noted above.

So has the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” covered this story with “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time”? Well, for a start, the fact that the BBC’s backgrounder on the topic has not been updated since December 2013 does not enhance the impression of commitment to accuracy.

The repeated – if not obsessive – amplification of a baseless conspiracy theory even after two teams of experts had ruled that Arafat died of natural causes certainly cannot be said to contribute to the impression of accuracy in BBC reporting and licence fee payers may well be asking themselves how the BBC can possibly justify the use of resources, air time and column space to repeatedly propagate fact-free myth-cum-folklore and why it has spent three years lending an air of plausibility to this particular conspiracy theory.

As for impartiality, the volume of coverage of the Swiss results which “moderately” supported the poisoning theory has clearly been much greater than the BBC’s reporting on the results produced by the other two teams and their continued amplification even in this latest report suggests that “impartiality over time” was not a priority in coverage of this story.

Related Articles:

Why we need to talk about the BBC’s promotion of Middle East conspiracy theories

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ keeps Arafat conspiracy theory going

The BBC’s flagship interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ is broadcast on both BBC World News and the BBC News channel. On August 27th, both those channels showed a repeat of a previous edition of the programme originally aired in January 2015 (and previously discussed here) in which Zeinab Badawi travelled to Malta to interview Suha Arafat.  

As readers may recall, Badawi made no effort at the time to correct the inaccurate impressions given to audiences by Suha Arafat via statements such as:

“When there’s a rocket on Israel we have 1,000 people who are killed in the same day.”

“Gaza…the most crowded city in the world…”

“…more than 1,000 people who are still in the coma…” [after the conflict last summer]

“….nothing happen [with the peace process] because Israel continue to do settlements, Israel continue to build the wall….”

Obviously the corporation supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality did not identify any problem in repeating the broadcast of such inaccuracies.Hardtalk Arafat repeat

The synopsis of the repeat states:

“Earlier this year Zeinab Badawi went to Malta to meet Suha Arafat – the widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Ten years after his death, Mrs Arafat gave a rare broadcast interview about their marriage, why she believes her husband was assassinated and why she has chosen to live in Malta and not amongst the Palestinian people who so revered him.” [emphasis added]

Two months after the original interview took place, French experts ruled out the possibility of foul play in Arafat’s death.

“French experts have ruled out that the 2004 death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was the result of poisoning, a prosecutor told AFP Monday

The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death, which sparked immediate and enduring conspiracy rumors. […]

The French experts “maintain that the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature,” Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis said.”

Last month – as the BBC itself reported – the French authorities closed the case.

“A French prosecutor has said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A murder inquiry was ordered by a court in Nanterre in August 2012 after his widow Suha alleged he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

On Tuesday, the local prosecutor concluded the case should be dismissed.”

It would therefore be extremely interesting to gain some insight into the editorial considerations which led to this programme being repeated and BBC audiences being yet again exposed to amplification of a conspiracy theory which has already been shown to be a figment of Ms Arafat’s imagination.

Related Articles:

BBC News yet again amplifies Arafat conspiracy theories

‘Special edition’ of BBC’s Hardtalk to commemorate a terrorist

BBC News yet again amplifies Arafat conspiracy theories

On July 21st the BBC News website’s Middle East page included a report titled “Yasser Arafat: French prosecutor seeks end to murder inquiry“. The article’s opening lines reasonably sum up the story as follows:Arafat art

“A French prosecutor has said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A murder inquiry was ordered by a court in Nanterre in August 2012 after his widow Suha alleged he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

On Tuesday, the local prosecutor concluded the case should be dismissed.”

Later on readers are told that:

“His [Arafat’s] widow objected to a post-mortem examination at the time, but agreed to allow French, Russian and Swiss experts to take samples from his remains after traces of polonium-210 were found on his personal effects in July 2012 as part of an investigation by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network.[…]

…the French experts had concluded that the polonium-210 and lead-210 isotopes found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples of his remains were of “an environmental nature”. […]

The French findings echoed those of the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency, which said in December 2013 that Arafat “died not from the effects of radiation but of natural causes”.

However, Swiss scientists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne said the previous month that the results of their investigation indicated “third-party involvement” in Arafat’s death and offered “moderate backing for the theory of poisoning”.”

Notably, the BBC News website refrained from reporting on the results of the French investigation at the time of their official publication although it did cover an earlier leak in two reports. Its coverage of the Russian results amounted to one article. However, coverage of the Swiss results saw BBC News website users bombarded with no fewer than thirteen reports on the topic in the space of 48 hours.

A recurrent feature appearing in most of those reports, as well as in additional BBC content, was the amplification of conspiracy theories surrounding the then 75 year-old Arafat’s death. Remarkably, even in this latest story about a French prosecutor having concluded that there is no point in pursuing the inquiry any further, the BBC promotes that same conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.

The main photograph chosen to illustrate the article is captioned:

“Many Palestinians accuse Israel of involvement in Arafat’s death – something it denies”.

In paragraph five readers are told that:

“Many Palestinians nonetheless continue to accuse Israel of involvement in his death – something it has strenuously denied.”

And just in case by the time they had read the whole article that conspiracy theory had perhaps slipped their mind, the report’s final lines tell readers that:

“Despite the Russian and French findings, a Palestinian investigative committee declared that it was certain that Arafat was “killed and that Israel killed him”.”

Just a day before this article was published the British prime minister gave a landmark speech on extremism in which he repeatedly noted the connection between conspiracy theories and radicalization and extremism.  

There are few, if any, publicly funded bodies as influential and far-reaching as the BBC. Its content reaches nearly every British household and hundreds of millions more around the world. The information it produces is used by policy-shapers, decision-makers, academics and educators and passed on to the next generation because it is considered to come from a respectable, reliable source.

So when the BBC repeatedly and knowingly amplifies baseless conspiracy theories, they are legitimized and mainstreamed into public consciousness and – to borrow a phrase from Mr Cameron – the BBC too becomes part of the problem which British society is so urgently trying to address.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Arafat overdose

BBC goes into Arafat overdose mode – again

BBC Arafat binge continues to promote conspiracy theories

Comparing BBC coverage of Arafat ‘poisoned’ vs ‘not poisoned’ stories

Four times less BBC Online coverage of Arafat ‘not poisoned’ stories

Why we need to talk about the BBC’s promotion of Middle East conspiracy theories








No BBC coverage of French findings regarding Arafat’s death

On January 19th the BBC devoted multi-platform coverage to an interview with Yasser Arafat’s widow to mark the tenth anniversary of his death.Hardtalk Suha Arafat

By means of that interview Suha Arafat was once again given a BBC platform from which to promote unproven theories regarding the cause of her husband’s death: a topic which the corporation has also covered extensively in the past.

A recent announcement by the French authorities has to date received no coverage on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

“French experts have ruled out that the 2004 death of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was the result of poisoning, a prosecutor told AFP Monday

The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death, which sparked immediate and enduring conspiracy rumors. […]

The French experts “maintain that the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature,” Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis said.”

Readers may recall that similar findings by a Russian team in 2013 received far less BBC coverage than those supporting the claim that Arafat had been poisoned. 

‘Special edition’ of BBC’s Hardtalk to commemorate a terrorist

At some point in the not too distant past, the producers of the flagship BBC interview programme Hardtalk obviously decided that the tenth anniversary of the death of a notorious terrorist responsible for the killing of thousands of people and the maiming of many thousands more warranted commemoration.

Hence, on January 19th they broadcast what was described as a “special edition” of the programme in order to “mark the anniversary” of the death of Yasser Arafat – according to Hardtalk host Zeinab Badawi who was sent specially to Malta to interview Suha Arafat.

That programme can be viewed in the UK on BBC iPlayer here or as a Youtube video here. An audio version was also produced for the BBC World Service and clips from the interview were promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the Hardtalk webpage.Hardtalk Suha Arafat

Despite the fact that Hardtalk bills itself as conducting “[i]n-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered”, Zeinab Badawi allows Suha Arafat to avoid providing any real answers to questions on the topic of Arafat’s notorious embezzlement of donor funding and to dismiss the topic as “character assassination against my husband”.

Badawi does however provide Suha Arafat with an ample platform from which to once again advance her unproven theories regarding the cause of her husband’s death. She also fails to correct the inaccurate impressions given to audiences by Suha Arafat via statements such as:

“When there’s a rocket on Israel we have 1,000 people who are killed in the same day.”

“Gaza…the most crowded city in the world…”

“…more than 1,000 people who are still in the coma…” [after the conflict last summer]

“….nothing happen [with the peace process] because Israel continue to do settlements, Israel continue to build the wall….”

Badawi herself fails to distinguish between civilian casualties and terrorists when she says that “two thousand people died in Gaza in July and August last year” and her description of Mahmoud Abbas’ signing of the Rome Statute in order to join the ICC as “some progress being made on the diplomatic scene” is of course both creative and revealing.

Far from having even a whiff of “in-depth” or “hard-hitting” about it, this puff piece interview not only does nothing to provide audiences with a realistic view of the man who is the only reason for this woman being interviewed (the word terrorism, for example, is not mentioned once), but audiences are treated to hefty doses of clichés such as “iconic leader”, “great leader”, Arafat’s “legacy” and “hero of the Palestinian cause” from both interviewer and interviewee.

That, together with the fact that this programme was made for the reasons stated by the BBC itself, says it all. 

Where’s the BBC follow up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On January 18th the Jerusalem Post revealed that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 


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.