Another dose of context-free Gaza Strip pathos from Yolande Knell

On April 12th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt gives Hamas and Gaza the cold shoulder“. On the Middle East page itself, the link was presented under the title “Hemmed in”, with the sub-heading “Gazans suffering effects of Egypt’s drive against Muslim Brotherhood”.Knell piece on hp

The article is actually a near transcript of an audio report by Knell which was broadcast in the April 12th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent” on BBC Radio 4. The audio version of the report can be heard here from around 12:23 or as a podcast here. Presenter Kate Adie opens her introduction of Knell’s item with a gratuitous context-free statement which, like a recent BBC News article on the same subject, neglects to inform audiences that “economic sanctions” are actually a way of trying to reclaim over $400 million of Palestinian Authority debt to Israel.

“Israel this week said it would bring in new economic sanctions against the Palestinians. The move came amid mounting pessimism over the eventual outcome of the ongoing peace talks between the two sides. And in Gaza it came as the Islamic militant group Hamas was facing its deepest crisis since it took control of the Strip in 2007. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union. And now, as Yolande Knell has been finding out, the interim government in neighbouring Egypt has begun to take a tougher approach as well.”

Had she simply added the two words ‘among others’ after her incomplete list of countries which designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, Adie could have avoided the pitfall of inaccuracy caused by her elimination of Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand from that list.Knell GAza FOOC

Since the departure of Jon Donnison last summer, the BBC has not had a permanent foreign correspondent in the Gaza Strip, but Knell has been among those paying occasional visits and reporting from there. Like most of her previous reports from the past few months (see for example here, here and here),  this one too is an exercise in context-free pathos and promotion of the theme of poor, blameless, downtrodden Gazans.  

The most striking feature of Knell’s report is its framing of Egyptian actions and policy solely as a “crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood” and the failure to make any mention of the connections between the Gaza Strip and terrorist activity in the northern Sinai.

“Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has led to a sharp deterioration in relations with the Islamist group Hamas in neighbouring Gaza, and the people there are paying the price. […]

Relations with Gaza’s Hamas government have dramatically worsened since Egypt’s elected president Mohammed Morsi was ousted last summer following mass protests.

Hamas was closely aligned with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Now Cairo’s new military-backed authorities accuse Hamas of meddling in their affairs. They have banned all its activities.

And ordinary Palestinians feel the consequences.”

Also notable is Knell’s anodyne portrayal of the cross-border smuggling tunnels and her failure to clarify to audiences that Egypt’s actions against those tunnels were not inspired by their use for the smuggling of commercial goods, but because they are also used to move weapons and Jihadist fighters in and out of sovereign Egyptian territory.

“Already hundreds of smuggling tunnels under Egypt’s border have been destroyed by its troops.

They used to act as a lifeline to get around restrictions that Israel tightened seven years ago after Hamas wrested control of the Palestinian territory from Fatah forces loyal to the president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Trade is visibly down at a market in southern Gaza.

“Nobody can bring in goods any more and people are suffering,” says a grizzled stallholder, Waleed, “our economy’s at zero.”

Without the tunnel business, unemployment has risen sharply.

There is a shortage of building materials.

And there is no cheap, subsidised Egyptian fuel. That means longer power cuts.”

Of course Knell does not bother to make any attempt to provide audiences with any relevant background as to why it is essential that there are limitations on the entry of dual-use goods – including some building materials – to the Gaza Strip and she fails to clarify that legitimate construction projects are able to receive the supplies they need.  Neither does she inform audiences of the full background to the Gaza Strip’s electricity crisis.  

“Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell goes on to quote Raji Sourani, whom she describes simply as a “human rights campaigner” without clarifying his link to the PCHR as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines. Using Sourani’s words as a hook, she implies that the recent barrage of missile attacks on Israeli civilians in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip was the inevitable – and hence presumably ‘understandable’ – result of economic frustration.

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

 

“Back in Gaza City, I find the veteran human rights campaigner Raji Sourani looking uncharacteristically miserable.

“Egypt’s added another dimension to this siege that’s suffocated Gaza socially and economically. It’s a collective punishment. We’re reduced to hostages and beggars,” he says.

“And I don’t think anybody should expect Gazans to be good victims. Things will ultimately explode.”

Already there have been explosions. Last month fighters from Islamic Jihad in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at their historic enemy, Israel.”

That is quite a remarkable piece of whitewashing of the motivations of an internationally proscribed terrorist organization (which, in the audio version of the report is revealingly described by Knell simply as “an armed group more extreme than Hamas”) inspired by religious supremacist ideology and funded by Iran. Knell’s downplaying of Hamas’ extremism also includes the failure to mention its recently improved ties with Iran and a distinctly woolly portrayal of the latest Hamas rally in Gaza which the BBC failed to report in English at the time.

“Hamas – which fell out with its other regional patrons Syria and Iran earlier during the Arab uprisings – was left feeling even more squeezed.

A massive rally held soon after in Gaza was meant as a show of force.

Hamas leaders spoke defiantly about Israel and the failing peace talks led by their political rival, President Abbas.

But some also criticised Egypt and what they called its military coup.”

Once again BBC audiences are herded towards focusing their attentions exclusively on the issue of the economic difficulties facing the ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip without any proper context being provided regarding the responsibility of the ruling Hamas regime for those very real hardships. And once again, that policy actively prevents BBC audiences from being able to form an understanding of international issues based on the full range of facts.  

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BBC’s Knell amplifies PA narrative, mainstreams BDS on late-night BBC Radio 5

On March 27th BBC Radio 5 live’s late night show ‘Up All Night’ featured an item with the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell. The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time and the relevant section begins from around 37:15. Up All Night

Presenter Rhod Sharp introduces the item:

“US Secretary of State John Kerry interrupted his trip to Europe on Wednesday to rush to Israel. He wanted to urge the Palestinians and Israelis to extend their peace talks which seem to be faltering maid fears that Israel may scrap plans to free a final batch of Palestinian prisoners. With more on this, I’ve been speaking to Yolande Knell on the West Bank.”

Kerry of course flew to Amman in Jordan – not to Israel.

Yolande Knell opens:

“He broke away from this trip – President Obama’s talks in Europe on the crisis in the Ukraine. I think the fact he’s done this just underscores the seriousness of the threat to the peace talks that he sees. Ahm…the peace talks of course going on between Israel and the Palestinians – a process in which he has invested so much energy already – and so what he did, he broke away…ahm…and came to Amman just yesterday and he is supposed to have had talks last night – after having a meeting with the King of Jordan – with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We were told he was going to have a working dinner with him and he was supposed to speak to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by video conference or by phone as well.

And what US officials say is that his aim is to narrow the gaps in peace talks but really, if you speak to either side, they’ll say there’s been little real progress on the core issues but what’s thrown these talks into crisis right now…ahm…because they’re supposed to go on until the end of April – that was…when the US managed to broker a return to the negotiating table last year. But now we have the scheduled release of the fourth and final batch of more than a hundred Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails scheduled for this weekend. It was part of a deal that Israel struck with the Palestinians to get the peace talks restarted and what the Palestinians agreed was in return they wouldn’t take action against Israel at the UN…ahm… through the UN bodies to which they got access after their status was upgraded. And so…ah…really now Israel is saying it doesn’t want to go ahead with this prisoner release at the moment. There’s been talk of how the Palestinians should…ah…reach a framework agreement. We understand that the Americans are supposed to be putting a framework agreement to both sides before this happens. Ahm…and the Palestinians saying that if the prisoner release doesn’t happen as scheduled then they will perhaps go to the UN, take other means and the talks could very well fall apart.”

Knell makes no effort to inform listeners that the prisoner releases were from the very beginning tied to progress in the talks – which she admits has not been forthcoming. Neither of course does she bother to mention the incitement and glorification of terrorism which was seen during the Palestinian Authority organised celebrations of the three previous tranches or the cash hand-outs awarded to the released terrorists.

Sharp then asks:

RS: “Well but why would Israel not release the prisoners as scheduled?”

YK: “Well, these prisoner releases have been particularly divisive – in fact for both sides. What you’re talking about here is long-term Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of them have been convicted of serious offences like murdering Israelis so Israelis see them as convicted terrorists. On the Palestinian side, these are people who have sacrificed their lives in some way, with the long prison sentences that they’ve been through, for the nationalist cause.”

Knell’s promotion of the notion of terrorists convicted in a court of law as ‘heroes’ is of course not new: such portrayal was a hallmark of her reporting of previous prisoner releases and is part and parcel of the BBC’s policy of presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism – in some parts of the world.

She goes on:

“So already you have something which is a very emotive topic and then we’ve had Israeli families objecting to these releases – they’ve been staging protests – and what we’ve seen with all of the previous batches is that…ahm…those opposed within the Israeli coalition government, these have helped push through settlement announcements…ahm…which have threatened to undermine the peace talks repeatedly each time there has been a prisoner release. Ahm…and then you’ve got different people speaking out – different politicians – the deputy defence minister Danny Danon – a member of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party – threatening to resign if this prisoner release went ahead.”

In other words, audiences are herded towards the view that Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism does not “undermine the peace talks”, whereas Israeli building tenders most certainly do. Notably too, Knell completely neglects to inform listeners of the PA’s demand that in this particular tranche, Israel release convicted terrorists who are not residents of Palestinian controlled areas, but Israeli citizens.

Knell continues:

“Another thing that the Israelis seem to be worried about is they want assurances that Mr Abbas won’t walk away from the peace talks straight after this prisoner release because – as I say – if you speak to the Palestinians they’ll say that there has been no progress on the core issues on Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees, settlements and borders; the things that they want to talk about. They say that Israel has side-tracked the talks talking about the Jordan Valley….ahm….the Palestinians say they won’t give up control of their eastern border of the West Bank and Israel’s saying they want to keep a military presence there for security reasons.”

Beyond the fact that Knell has invented a Palestinian “eastern border” which does not exist, clearly her presentation of discussions on the subject of the Jordan Valley – in other words a discussion about borders – as having “side-tracked” the talks is an obvious and partial promotion of the PA’s narrative.  She goes on:

“And then there’s this other issue which has been so thorny as well, about recognising Israel as a Jewish state – that’s another one of Israel’s demands.”

The Israeli demand is of course for PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – not a Jewish state and as has been the case in all previous BBC coverage of this topic, no attempt whatsoever is made to inform audiences of the reasons for Israel’s demand and its significance as regards an end to future claims and hence its role in bringing about an end to the conflict. Sharp then says:

RS: “Let’s turn to the Arab League. Ah…here’s a thought: the Arab League of course has seemed a bit more modern in recent times but Arab leaders did what they’ve been quite used to doing in the past.”

Knell’s reply includes further promotion of the PA narrative through – inter alia – use of the offensive term “Judaisation of Jerusalem” and the depiction of Arab Israelis as “1948 Palestinians”.

YK: “Well, actually it all relates back to this Jewish state issue and it was one of the few points that the Arab leaders could all agree on after this two-day annual summit that’s just taken place in Kuwait. And the statement they ended with has actually strengthened Mr Abbas’ hand I think in many ways and made Mr Kerry’s job potentially more difficult because they came out with a statement saying that they totally rejected…ahm…. the call to consider Israel a Jewish state and then they also talked about other things like Jewish settlements, the Judaisation of Jerusalem – these kind of things. Ahm…they’d heard from President Abbas at the beginning of the summit when he said that Palestinians reject even discussing this issue of a Jewish state because for them it’s all caught up with the fate of Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes, who fled in 1948 when Israel became a state. Ahm….and also it’s about the rights of Arab Israelis – the 20% of the population of Israel who are these 1948 Palestinians as they’re also known – what of their rights if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state? So it is a very complicated subject and that’s one that the Arab League countries – 22 of them – seem to have united on in terms of backing President Abbas and his stance.”

Knell makes no effort to explain to listeners that Palestinian refugees were not for the most part “forced out of their homes” but in many cases were urged to leave by the five Arab armies which instigated a war Knell does not apparently find it necessary to even mention. She neglects to inform audiences that PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state in no way presents any kind of threat to the rights of Arab Israelis and she fails to make clear the ‘end game’ of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ of refugees.

After Knell speaks about other Arab League related issues, Sharp says:

“Let’s turn away from politics. Well we think we’re turning away from politics to the world of entertainment but it seems that they have got awfully mixed up here. Why are the Rolling Stones in trouble?”

YK: “Well, they’re not in trouble with everybody. Certainly the Israelis are delighted with them at the moment because this week the Rolling Stones were officially booked basically to perform their first ever concert in Israel. It’s gonna be on the 4th of June we’re told in Tel Aviv and later today the tickets are expected to go on sale online and big prices: well over a hundred British pounds up to about 500 British pounds I’m told. Ahm…but yes there have been all sorts of puns in the Israeli press. After months – even years- of speculation, Israelis can finally get some satisfaction it said in the Jerusalem Post. But the people who are outraged are the Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinians because of course there is this call for a cultural boycott of Israel and protest at the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel with the occupation being seen as illegal under international law.”

Besides erroneously presenting the BDS movement as “supporters of the Palestinians” rather than a politically motivated campaign to delegitimise and dismantle Israel, Knell mainstreams the so-called “cultural boycott”, promotes the partisan narrative of “Palestinian land” and fails to inform listeners of the existence of alternative views regarding “international law”, in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

Not for the first time by any means we see Yolande Knell acting as a mouthpiece for unadulterated amplification of the PA narrative in this radio interview. The type of terminology she chooses to use, her presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism and her mainstreaming of BDS are part and parcel of the promotion of that narrative.

Notably too, this interview joins numerous other BBC reports in failing to even try to clarify to BBC audiences the rationale behind the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and why the issue of that Palestinian – and wider Arab – recognition is crucial to the success of any agreement.

With the negotiations having reached such a critical point, it is vital that the BBC adhere to its public purposes and begin clarifying that issue to audiences.  

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BBC’s Knell reports on a Palestinian film, fails to tell audiences all

Last month the BBC asked the question “What makes a film British?”. A filmed report on the topic, which also appeared in the Entertainment & Arts section of the BBC News website, included an explanation from a representative of the British Film Institute:

“There’s a number of ways in which you can qualify as British. The cast is a component, the writer, the director, where it’s shot.”

Two weeks later, on February 28th, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell brought BBC television news audiences a report on Knell Omar filmedthe film ‘Omar’ under the title “Palestinian film battles it out for an Oscar“. The filmed report also appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website, as well as on its Entertainment & Arts page, with Knell telling audiences that:

“The Palestinian contender for the best foreign language film is a love story that becomes a tragedy.”

Also on the Middle East page was a written report by Knell on the same topic, titled “Collaborator film puts Palestinians in Oscars frame“. That report opens:

“The Palestinian film Omar brings the complexities of the conflict with Israel to this year’s Academy Awards.”

So, with this film being clearly presented by the BBC as Palestinian, can audiences assume that – similarly to the criteria which must be met in order for a film to be considered British – the cast, writer, director and location of shooting are Palestinian?

Those who bothered to read right down to the end of Yolande Knell’s long 956-word written report might almost have missed the reference to the fact that the film’s director is actually Israeli.

“Hany Abu Assad, who is from Nazareth in northern Israel, says he has had mixed reviews to his film from Israeli audiences.”

And so are many of the other elements of the film too.

“The film’s screenwriter and director is Israeli. The actor playing the lead role was born in Israel and attended Tel Aviv University before moving to New York. The actress playing the beautiful Nadia is a 16-year-old born in Israel. The actor playing the key role of Omar’s friend Amjad is another 16-year-old born in Israel. Most of the movie was made in Israel (six of the eight weeks of filming).”

Read more about the politics behind this film – promoted and amplified in Knell’s two reports – here

Cultural relativism and double standards in BBC reporting on UK and Middle East terror

A recent report which appeared in the BBC News website’s ‘London’ section provides an opportunity to take a closer look at the markedly different styles of reporting employed by the BBC when dealing with the issues of terrorism and the glorification of terrorism on its own home turf compared to its reporting of the same issues in the Middle East. 

Readers will no doubt recall that the BBC’s coverage of the release of convicted Palestinian terrorists last August included two filmed reports by Yolande Knell – here and here – from the lavish reception laid on by the Palestinian Authority at the time.

In the party-like atmosphere of Knell’s reports, viewers were kept in the dark with regard to the crimes committed by the released convicts, who were described on multiple occasions as “heroes of the Palestinian cause”. Audiences were also encouraged to question the categorization of the released men as terrorists, with that terminology clearly signposted as an “Israeli view”.

As readers are no doubt aware, the subject of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism is not one which receives BBC coverage and so, unsurprisingly, neither Knell nor any other BBC journalists reporting on this event (or the similar later one) had any comment to make with regard to the fact that the PA organized reception focused on the glorification of the men and their terrorist acts.

In contrast, the February 12th report appearing on the BBC website’s ‘London’ page – titled “Woolwich murder: Man pleads guilty to Rigby videos” – is factual in tone and includes ample use of various forms of the word ‘terrorism’, as do the three “related stories” (which, like Knell’s reports, date from August 2013) promoted by the BBC at the side of the report.

The act of terrorism related to the charges against the man who is the focus of this article is clearly described.

“Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, will be sentenced later this month after they were found guilty of murdering Fusilier Rigby.

The British Muslim converts ran the soldier down in a car before hacking him to death with a meat cleaver and knives in a frenzied attack.”

Likewise, the man’s own actions are extensively detailed.

Readers are at no point in this article or the related ones prompted to question definitions of terrorism or to regard them as a “view” held by one party or another.

“Commander Richard Walton, head of the Counter Terrorism Command at the Met Police, said the murder had “shocked the nation”.

“We will target and prosecute anyone who glorifies and encourages terrorism in this way; to do so is an act of terrorism itself,” he said.”

And of course at no point are readers encouraged to entertain the idea that the accused man might be “a hero” of a particular “cause”.

The cultural relativism which lies behind the different styles of reporting of these two stories is all too apparent and it of course leads to the adoption of double standards which clearly compromise the BBC’s reputation as an impartial provider of news.

 

Reader secures correction to inaccurate claim in BBC website report

h/t Funzarian

On February 10th we pointed out here that in an article from the same date titled “Palestinian refugees’ suffering in Syria’s Yarmouk camp” by Yolande Knell and Yousef Shomali it was claimed that: 

“The unofficial camp was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

As was noted at the time:

“Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers.”

BBC Watch reader Funzarian also noticed that historical inaccuracy and contacted the BBC News website’s Middle East desk. The reply received stated:

“As you correctly point out, the war followed the creation of Israel, and we have changed the wording accordingly.”

The relevant passage of the BBC report now reads as follows:

Amended Yarmouk art

Although the correction is obviously welcome and necessary, no footnote informing readers that it has been made is appended to the article and of course audience members who had already read the article before the amendment was made will remain unaware that they were misled with regard to historical facts. This latest example once again underlines the need for a dedicated webpage informing readers of corrections and amendments made to articles appearing on the BBC News website.

BBC’s Knell and Shomali mislead audiences on basic Middle East history

On February 10th a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell and BBC Middle East producer Yousef Shomali titled “Palestinian refugees’ suffering in Syria’s Yarmouk camp” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

Knell Yarmouk article

In that article, readers are told:

“The unofficial camp [Yarmouk] was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers. 

Notably, Knell and Shomali’s version of events has that war appearing from nowhere, with no mention of the fact that it was initiated by Arab states and of course no reference to the League of Nations decision to establish a Jewish homeland in mandate Palestine twenty-six years earlier. The article goes on:

“Over time, it [Yarmouk] grew into a busy residential and commercial district of the Syrian capital where about 150,000 Palestinians lived alongside Syrians.

Although the Syrian authorities did not give citizenship to refugees, they had full access to employment and social services. Many say they had relatively good lives compared to their counterparts in other Arab countries.”

Knell and Shomali make no attempt to inform readers why Syria did not give citizenship to Palestinian refugees. They fail to mention the deliberate tactical stance which prompted the Arab League to adopt resolution 1457 in 1959 according to which:

“Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries”

That politically motivated refusal to absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants as full members of society continued in Syria – as it did in other Arab countries with the exception of Jordan.

“The 1965 Casablanca Protocol, which Syria ratified, stipulates that Arab countries should guarantee Palestinian refugees rights to employment, residency, and freedom of movement, whilst maintaining their Palestinian identity and not granting them citizenship. This is echoed in the Syrian legislation (Citizenship Law no. 276, 1969), which stipulates that the granting of Syrian citizenship to a person of Arab origin normally depends on habitual residence in Syria and demonstration of financial support or livelihood, but that Palestinians, in spite of fulfilling this condition, are not granted citizenship in order to ‘preserve their original nationality’.”

Until 1968, Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Syria were not allowed to own property.

“After 1968, this law was changed so that Palestinians were allowed to own one house per person, but they are still not allowed to own farm land.”

While this article is about current events in the Yarmouk camp rather than Middle East history in general, that is no excuse for misleading BBC audiences with regard to the circumstances of the creation of Israel.

Equally, there is no justification for the whitewashing of the fact that Arab countries elected to go to war in 1948 with the aim of wiping out the new Jewish state, or for concealment of the fact that the decision to go to war resulted in the creation of a refugee population which has for the last 65 years deliberately been kept in limbo by those same attacking states for tactical reasons which are identical to those which prompted the war which created the refugees in the first place.

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell dons her campaigning hat yet again

Two recent items which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page exemplify the extent to which the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell has shifted from journalism to ‘journavism’- the amplification of political campaigning under the guise of reporting.

On February 7th a filmed report by Knell titled “Palestinian push to reclaim lost village of Ein Hijleh” appeared on the Middle East page as well as being aired on BBC television news programmes.

Knell filmed EIn Hijleh

Knell informs BBC audiences:

“This is Ein Hijleh in the Jordan Valley. Palestinian activists moved here a week ago, returning to land that Palestinian villagers had to leave during and after the 1967 Middle East war when Israel captured the West Bank.”

Let’s take a closer look at Knell’s claim of “returning to land” in Ein Hijleh – also spelt Ein Hajla. According to a paper produced by the Palestinian NGO ARIJ in 2012:

“Deir Hajla is one of the oldest monasteries in both Palestine and the world. It contains mosaic floors dating back to the Medieval Ages, which were later renovated. In the north-east side of the monastery there is located ‘Ein Hajla (Hajla Spring) which, according to popular legend, the Canaanite village of Beit Hajla (meaning the house of hopscotch) was built upon. However, in the Roman era, it was called Hajla (the translation of which refers to the partridge bird) (Al Dabbagh, 1991) which is presently frequent in the region.”

Here’s a clue to the origin of that “Roman era” name:

“The Monastery, known in Arabic as Deir Hajla, seems to preserve the Hebrew name Bet Hoglah, which is mentioned in the biblical description of the lands of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua18:19).”

So we have a Canaanite village “according to popular legend”, an ancient Hebrew place-name (meaning a bird which is a member of the pheasant family) adopted by the Romans and a very old monastery founded by a monk from Lycia in Asia Minor.

The ARIJ report does not include any mention of a village at the location or villagers displaced from it, but it does note the illegal construction of structures at the site: map ein hijleh

“On 3rd January 2012, Israeli authorities presented a number of Palestinian farmers and residents in Deir Hajla and Az Zoor demolition orders to pull down and remove Barracks and rooms that were considered as a shelter for farmers and warehouses for agricultural equipments. The order was issued under the pretext of unlicensed construction.”

Knell continues:

“We’ve seen confrontations going on between the Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers. This is an area that still comes under Israel’s full military and administrative control and there are Jewish settlements quite nearby. But the demonstrators say that they’re determined to stay on this land to show their opposition to Israel’s continuing occupation of what is a vast, fertile stretch of land along the border with Jordan and you can see that they’re starting to farm the land and they’re also making repairs to some of the buildings.”

As anyone familiar with the area knows full well, with the exception of Jericho the Jordan Rift Valley was anything but “a vast, fertile stretch of land” until Israel brought water to the district after 1967. Whilst the recent squatters at Ein Hijleh did indeed do a bit of symbolic planting of palm trees, Knell’s romanticised claim that “they’re starting to farm the land” clearly relies on the fact that the majority of her viewers will be unaware of the fact that the soil in the area has a very high salt content indeed and – as early pioneers at nearby Beit Arava (later destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948) discovered  – has to undergo special treatment before anything can be grown in it.  

Knell goes on:

“Now this action is taking place at a time when the issue of the Jordan Valley is coming up in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s a very sensitive subject; the Palestinians say they want control of this valley, which makes up about a quarter of the West Bank, if they’re to have a viable future state. They also want control of their eastern border, although they do say that they’d be prepared to accept international troops there from NATO after an Israeli withdrawal. The Israelis say that with all of this turmoil that’s going on across the Middle East, they can’t afford to give up on such a strategically important location and they’re determined to stay here for the sake of their own security.”

Knell clearly tries to create an impression of linkage between the official Palestinian stance on the issue of the Jordan Rift Valley and the motives behind the agitprop of the squatters at Ein Hijleh. But is that actually the case? From a statement put out by the organisers – the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee – we learn that:

“Campaign organizers and participants declared:

We, the daughters and sons of Palestine, announce today the revival of Ein Hijleh village as part of Melh Al-Ard campaign in the Jordan Valley. The action aims at refusing the political status quo, especially given futile negotiations destroying the rights of our people for liberation and claim to their land.”

In other words, these squatters are opposed to the current talks. In fact, as they later clarify, they are also opposed to a two-state solution, support BDS and are tragically historically challenged. 

“Accordingly we have decided to revive an old Palestinian Canaanite village in the Jordan Valley next to so called “Route 90” linking the Dead Sea to Bisan.” [emphasis added]

“From the village of Ein Hijleh, we the participants announce that we hold tight to our right to all occupied Palestinian lands. We refuse Kerry’s Plan that will establish a disfigured Palestinian state and recognizes the Israeli entity as a Jewish State. Such a state will turn Palestinians living inside lands occupied in 1948 into residents and visitors that can be deported at anytime. We affirm the unity of our people and their struggle wherever they are for our inalienable rights.”

“Based on our support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) we call upon our friends and international solidarity groups to stand with the demands of the Palestinian people and boycott all Israeli companies including Israeli factories and companies that work in the Jordan Valley and profit from Palestinian natural resources.”

Later on February 7th, after the squatters were evicted, Knell produced a written report on the same subject titled “Israel removes Palestinians’ Jordan Valley protest camp” in which she also promoted the dubious notion that:

“The Palestinian village was abandoned after Israel captured the land from Jordan in the 1967 war.”

Whilst she does not identify her as such (in contravention of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality), Knell promotes and amplifies the views of a spokesperson for the Popular Committees; self-defined “Palestinian/Bulgarian” Diana al Zeer.

” “We’re here to demand a Palestinian existence on Palestinian land. We’ve seen political negotiations have led nowhere,” one organiser, Diana al-Zeer told the BBC before the site was cleared.

“There are Israeli plans to annex the Jordan Valley, one of the most fertile areas of land for Palestinians. Palestinian houses here are being demolished, Palestinians are being thrown off their land and we’re here to say ‘no’ to all of this.” “

No such “Israeli plans to annex the Jordan Valley” exist, of course. That idea has been proposed, but it has not passed the necessary legislative stages and is in no way an official Israeli “plan” at this stage. Knell, however, makes absolutely no effort to clarify that point to her readers. TWitter tamimi birthday

Neither does she bother to provide her readers with any proper background information on subject of the political ideologies and actions of the people engaged in the agitprop to which she chooses to give amplification and promotion. Ms al Zeer’s Israel-erasing Twitter wallpaper, the ‘right of return’ flags and placards, the blocking of Route 90, the participation of activists from the International Solidarity Movement and serial agitators from other locations such as Nabi Saleh all go unmentioned, as do visits to the site by Atallah Hanna among others.

In fact, Knell leaves BBC audiences totally in the dark with regard to the fact that this group of squatters represents those who are opposed to the existence of Israel as the Jewish state and reject any attempt to reach a two-state solution through negotiation. Rather, she misleadingly presents them as romantic would-be farmers and their agitprop as having something to do with the current talks between Israel and the PLO. Of course the words “illegal settlement” do not cross her lips or keyboard at any point, despite the fact that the future of Area C, in which Ein Hijleh is located, is subject to final status negotiations under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people.Knell written Ein Hijleh

The rest of Knell’s written report is dedicated to the promotion of unverified statements from assorted politically motivated organisations and NGOs including B’Tselem, the IRC, Oxfam, Christian Aid and UN OCHA and her adoption of politicised language is shown by her use of the term “the Palestinian Bedouin community in the Jordan Valley”.

Yolande Knell’s campaigning reports are sadly nothing new. Beyond the fact that BBC guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are regularly breached in her politicised articles and footage, her uncritical amplification and romanticisation of political campaigns with no proper disclosure to audiences of their real aims means that she has become nothing more than a PR mouthpiece for anti-Israel activists and that her ‘journavism’ fails to meet the public purposes of building “a global understanding of international issues” and enabling members of the audience “to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” as defined in the BBC’s Charter.

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BBC’s Knell promotes already debunked claims in ‘Jewish state’ article

On February 2nd an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the somewhat bizarre heading “How Jewish is Israel?”.

Knell how Jewish is Israel

The link leads to a piece titled “Row over demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as ‘Jewish state’” in which – at long last – Knell steps a little way out of the frame of the BBC’s hitherto rigid definitions of “core issues” in the Israel/PLO talks and its long touted “obstacles to peace” by addressing the important subject of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Or does she?

If readers can get past Knell’s romanticized descriptions of Jaffa fishermen and her uncritical repetition of unfounded hearsay according to which “there will be a transfer of the Arab population, we will be sent into exile”, they will find that she actually does little to explain to readers why the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by the Palestinians is important. Knell How Jewish is Israel art

Knell’s sole reference to the subject of ending future claims comes in the form of a quote from a recent speech given by Israel’s prime minister.

“Mr Netanyahu presented recognition of a Jewish state as an elementary component of true peace.[…]

He suggested that recognition would “end the conflict” as it would mean cancelling the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and further territorial claims.”

However, she fails to expand on the subject and to explain to audiences exactly what that statement means and its significance as regards securing an agreement which would bring a conclusion to the conflict by ending claims of Israel as ‘Arab’ or ‘Palestinian’ land.

Most notably, throughout the entire article Knell frames the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as a relatively new one, implying both in her own words and in her choice of quotations that it has been presented by the current Israeli government. 

“However there is a clear division when they are pressed for an opinion on the Israeli prime minister’s demand for recognition of the country as a “Jewish” state.”

“Palestinian officials say that the demand for recognition has increasingly been made in recent years and months as an Israeli ploy to make a peace deal harder to reach.”

“Speaking to foreign journalists in Ramallah recently, former negotiator Nabil Shaath complained that the issue was preoccupying Mr Kerry even though it was not included in past talks or any signed documents or agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.”

On that issue, however, Nabil Shaath is mistaken, as shown in an interesting article by Yair Rosenberg from January 21st.

“A new report in Haaretz by Amira Hass–in which she speaks with former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, who says Netanyahu invented the controversial demand out of whole cloth in 2010–would seem to bolster this claim. The only problem is, it doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny.” […]

“Hass recounts Shaath’s claim uncritically, leaving readers with the impression that it accords with the historical record. But it does not. In fact, according to the Palestine Papers –a massive trove of leaked documents published by Al Jazeera, which record a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–the demand was broached by none other than Tzipi Livni…in 2007.” [….]

“Now, Shaath was not in the room for this 2007 negotiating session, so it’s possible he never heard about this incident. (Or the fact that “references must be made to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” was one of Israel’s official reservations appended to the 2003 Bush Road Map.) But the Palestine Papers are in the public domain, and available to any reporters seeking to fact-check whether Netanyahu was the first to ask that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, just as Israel will recognize Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people.”

Clearly either Yolande Knell’s fact checking is in the same league as that of Ha’aretz’s Amira Hass or – with over a third of the word-count of her article devoted to presentation of claims by Mahmoud Abbas and Nabil Shaath and no substantial analysis offered to readers on the relationship between recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the end of future claims – she deliberately sought to leave readers with a warped impression that, coincidentally or not, dovetails with the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing campaign (which apparently includes a 28-page briefing for journalists) seeking to frame this issue as an attempt by the current Israeli government to scupper talks.

Either way, the repetition of claims by Shaath which were shown to be inaccurate nearly two weeks before Knell’s article was published means that this ‘analysis’ clearly does not meet the professed BBC standards of accuracy and impartiality.

This issue is one which it is important for BBC audiences to understand if they are to be able to reach informed opinions on the subject of the current talks between Israel and the PLO and on the broader issue of the peace process in general. It is therefore disappointing to see that Knell’s short excursion beyond the usual BBC framing of those subjects has been largely squandered on the repetition and amplification of already debunked politically motivated claims. 

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BBC’s Yolande Knell erases Jewish history in campaigning article

On January 29th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell – over-dramatically titled “West Bank villages’ fate rests on key Israeli court ruling” – appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis” section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Knell Battir

Knell’s article relates to two Supreme Court hearings on the subject of the route of the anti-terrorist fence – described in her opening sentences as “the controversial barrier” – which were due to be heard on January 29th. One of the locations under review is near the village of Battir and the other is in the Cremisan Valley.

Readers may remember that Knell has written about the Cremisan Valley before and that she has also promoted the campaign (indirectly funded by the UK government) to re-route the anti-terrorist fence on Twitter. In this article Knell informs readers:

“Nearby in Beit Jala, the planned route of the barrier – expected to be an 8m (25 foot) high concrete wall – will cut off Palestinians’ access to another green area and popular beauty spot in the Bethlehem district, the Cremisan valley.”

Throughout her two hundred and nine-word presentation of the point of view of those campaigning against the construction of the fence in the Cremisan Valley, Knell avoids any mention of the long history of terrorism in the area. That includes the takeover of Beit Jala by Palestinian terrorists during the second Intifada and the ensuing gunfire and mortar fire at the nearby Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, as well as the murders in 1984 of students Revital Seri and Ron Levi by Issa Abed Rabbo (who coincidentally was recently featured in a television programme  on the Ma’an network which is funded by a variety of European governments, including the UK).

Knell does inform readers that:

“Many in Beit Jala believe the primary aim of this section of barrier is to link the nearby Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, both built on land that originally belonged to their town.”

She then inserts the standard misleading BBC mantra which conceals from audiences the fact that there are many contrasting legal opinions on the subject:

“Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Were she really interested in informing audiences rather than in the promotion of a one-sided narrative, Knell would have also presented the counter-claim that much of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo is built on land purchased by Jews before the establishment of the State of Israel and she might even have asked around in Beit Jala about the sale to Israelis of some of the town’s land in that area (upon which other parts of Gilo were built) by its former mayor Jabra Khamis. 

In comparison with the 209 words dedicated to the Palestinian view, Knell allots eighty-three words to the presentation of a statement from the Israeli Ministry of Defence, but no column space at all to the views of Israelis living nearby.

The second location – Battir – has also been the subject of past BBC reports when Wyre Davies visited the village in 2012. In this part of the article, Knell outdoes herself as far as misinforming readers by omission is concerned.

Knell Battir c

Canaanite, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic: all that is well and good, but Knell makes no attempt to inform her readers of the rather significant historical facts which her interviewee has ‘overlooked’.

Whilst Knell quotes Badr as stating that the irrigation system in Battir is “2,500 years old”, the photo caption just to the side describes it as dating “from Roman times”. With the Romans having conquered Judea in 63 BCE, that leaves over four centuries unaccounted for and the answer to that anomaly is to be found in the fact that the name Battir is derived from the name of the much earlier Jewish community on that site – Betar –which fell to the Romans in the Second Jewish revolt of 135 CE.

In other words, Knell has adopted the politically motivated practice of avoiding any mention of the ancient Jewish presence in the region – which has of course been amply recorded by archaeologists

“Tel Betar (Khirbet el-Yahud) is situated southwest of Jerusalem near the Arab village of Bittir, its northern side flanking the Rephaim Valley.” […]

“Khirbet el-Yahud is unanimously identified with Betar, the last stronghold of the Second Revolt against the Romans, where its leader, Bar Kochba, found his death in 135 CE. The ancient name was preserved in the name of the Arab village Bittir, and the Arab name of the site – Khirbet el-Yahud, that is “The ruin of the Jews”, keeps the memory of the Second Revolt. The identification is supported by the results of the surveys and the excavations.”

Two hundred and twelve words of Knell’s 806 word report are assigned to presenting the point of view of the villagers of Battir and sympathetic organisations. Eighty one words are given over to presenting the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s point of view and yet again, the views of ordinary Israelis living in the area do not make it into Knell’s report. 

Conforming to what has been BBC policy for over a decade, Knell predictably informs audiences that:

“Israel says the barrier is essential for security but Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

In doing so she breaches BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to provide readers with factual information regarding the fence’s proven efficacy and thereby denying them the possibility of placing her “Israel says” statement in its proper context. She fails to distinguish “opinion from fact”, as required by the editorial guidelines, by juxtaposing a proven Israeli view (based on statistical evidence of the reduction in terror attacks since the fence’s construction) with an unproven Palestinian claim (of a “land grab” which has not taken place) as though they were of equal weight. Another reference to the anti-terrorist fence comes later on in the report when she states:

“Construction of the barrier began in 2002 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, following a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel. It is now approximately 440km (273 miles) long.”

Still, readers are not provided with any factual information regarding the fence’s success in curbing terror attacks.

Seven paragraphs into her report, Knell comes up with the following claim with regard to the 1949 Armistice Line:

“Much of the international community identifies the boundary, also known as the Green Line, as the de facto border of Israel.”

Despite Knell’s transparent attempt to invoke the “international community” as some sort of authority, the 1949 Armistice Line was clearly defined in writing – at Arab insistence – as not being a border of any kind and hence Knell is in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by failing to point that fact out to readers.

“Article II

With a specific view to the implementation of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948, the following principles and purposes are affirmed:

1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognised;

2. It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.

Article VI

9. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Additionally, she fails to make clear to readers that the status of Area C – as defined under the terms of the Oslo Accords to which the Palestinian leadership agreed – is to be the subject of final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO rather than an issue to be determined in some sort of popularity poll among the so-called “international community”.

It is the task of the BBC to provide audiences with factual information and context so that they can reach informed opinions. For any report on the subject of the anti-terrorist fence to be accurate and impartial, it must balance the presentation of the inconveniences and problems caused to the nearby Palestinian population with honest reporting on the very real issue of the counter-terrorism measures necessary to protect the lives of Israel’s civilian population, of which the fence is one. 

Yolande Knell’s misleading distortions of the status of the 1949 Armistice Line and her omission of factual information regarding the anti-terrorist fence actively hinder audience understanding of the subject matter of this report. Likewise, her adoption of the well-known tactic of erasing Jewish history to advance a specific narrative indicates that rather than aspiring to inform, Knell in fact seeks to herd audiences towards a particular view of this issue. This is not the report of an objective journalist: it is part of a campaign to which Knell long since self-conscripted.

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Adding more second Intifada falsehoods to the BBC’s ‘permanently accessible archive’

On January 12th we noted here that just hours after the death of Ariel Sharon, the BBC News website continued to promote the myth that his September 28th 2000 visit to Temple Mount was the cause of the second Intifada. After that article was written, three additional items appeared on the website promoting the same falsehood.

In an item titled “In quotes: Ariel Sharon” a note was added to one of several Sharon quotes selected by BBC staff for that feature.

Sharon in quotes article

Also appearing on the website on January 12th was a filmed report dedicated to a telephone interview with Mustafa Barghouti in which – with his inaccuracies unchallenged by the BBC – he claimed:

“The worst memory is that he [Sharon] practically undermined and destroyed the peace process – the Oslo process – when he visited the Al Aqsa mosque and launched a campaign against the implementation of the peace process…”

In an article dated January 13th Yolande Knell wrote:

“…his [Sharon's] controversial visit in 2000 to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. The walkabout on the contested site infuriated Palestinians, who launched the second intifada (or uprising).”

To sum up, we see that on January 1st the BBC News website had produced a new profile of Sharon which included the second intifada myth and that in the subsequent ten days no fewer than fourteen links to that profile were promoted in five separate articles. In addition, over the following three days, the same myth appeared in the BBC News website’s obituary, in an “In Pictures” feature, in an article by Kevin Connolly and in another by Yolande Knell, in the above-mentioned “In Quotes” feature, in a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen and in the interview with Barghouti.

In other words, BBC audiences were provided with versions of the same inaccurate and misleading information on at least eight separate occasions on the website alone. With Bowen’s report also having appeared on BBC television news programmes and the interview with Barghouti having been broadcast on BBC radio stations, clearly the extent of the promotion of this falsehood is considerably wider.

But why? Why should the BBC have adopted hook, line and sinker a narrative which has been shown to be incorrect on countless occasions – ironically primarily by Palestinian leaders and personalities? And why does an organization which claims to aspire to be the “standard-setter for international journalism” and is supposedly committed to rigorous standards of accuracy continue to widely and deliberately promote a clear falsehood?

We can of course only guess the answers to those questions, but certainly the embalming of this simplistic myth is the easy option for journalists. The alternative would involve detailing for audiences the long list of terror attacks against Israeli citizens which took place between the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and the start of the second Intifada seven years later and in which some 269 Israelis were killed and many hundreds more injured. Significantly, that turbulent period – which remains etched in the memories of Israelis – does not even appear on the BBC News website’s timeline of Israeli history,which jumps straight from the Oslo Accords of Timeline1993 to the second Intifada of 2000 as though nothing of importance happened in between. 

Likewise, any honest appraisal of the factors which brought about the second Intifada would have to include Yasser Arafat’s failure to rein in the terror activities of rejectionist factions and to prepare the Palestinian leadership and people for peace with their neighbours during those seven years, as well as a frank account of his performance at Camp David in July 2000.

“Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him [Arafat] in Paris upon his return…. Camp David had failed, and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.” Suha Arafat speaking to Dubai TV, December 2012.

All that, however, is completely erased from the BBC’s narrative, according to which hitherto peace-loving Palestinians were simply unable to resist being provoked into starting a campaign of violence and terror when the leader of an opposition party in Israel paid a thirty-four minute visit to the most important Jewish holy site during normal visitor opening hours which was pre-coordinated days beforehand with the PA security forces.

Whilst the promotion of that simplistic narrative might save a lot of writing hours, it does nothing for the BBC’s reputation as an organisation committed to accuracy. Neither does it indicate that BBC journalists regard the Palestinian people and their leadership as having any sort of agency or responsibility and such an obvious display of the bigotry of low expectations may well be seen as compromising the BBC’s impartiality.

Unlike most BBC radio or television broadcasts, material published on its website remains in the public domain for many years to come. That website already includes significant amounts of inaccurate and misleading information on the subject of the second Intifada. Now, over a decade on, instead of rectifying that situation the BBC is adding yet more of the same to what it describes as its “permanently accessible archive“.  

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