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 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:
“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.”
“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.
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.
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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