BBC’s Jon Donnison on football and politics.

h/t Jason

The BBC’s Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison took to the subject of football on October 7th

Depicting the saga which began with the proposed attendance of Gilad Shalit at the match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Donnison writes: 

“Israeli officials put in a request to Barcelona FC, asking whether Mr Shalit could attend the game at the Camp Nou stadium.

The club said yes.

But when the news hit the media, some Palestinian groups called for Barcelona to withdraw their invitation and threatened a boycott.

Hamas officials in Gaza were quoted as saying Barcelona games would no longer be broadcast on television in the Palestinian coastal territory, without adding how they would go about stopping this from happening in practice.

Barcelona FC realised they had opened something of a can of worms.

Club officials quickly announced that it had also invited three Palestinian representatives to the game, including a Palestinian footballer who spent three years detained in an Israeli jail without ever being formally charged.”

According to the website of Barcelona FC, however, the initiative to invite three Palestinian representatives came from a different source: 

” In the same manner as Mr. Shalit’s request was accepted, the Club has also accepted the Palestinian embassy’s request to extend three invitations to three Palestinian delegates. Musa Amer Odeh, Palestinian Authority ambassador; Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Union, and the Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Al Sarsak will also watch the Clásico at the Camp Nou. “

So in fact, invitee Musa Amer Odeh appears to have invited himself and two carefully selected others to the match.

 Mr. Odeh (who apparently subscribes to some interesting versions of history) appears to be a fairly frequent visitor to the city of Barcelona, having been there only a few weeks previously in order to attend a welcoming event for the latest ship attempting to breach the naval blockade preventing the transport of weapons to the Gaza Strip. 

Donnison continues: 

“Mahmoud Sarsak, who has played for the Palestine national side, was eventually released in July this year after having been on hunger strike – taking only water and vitamins – for three months in protest at his detention.

Israel believes Sarsak is a member of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.”

“Israel believes” is of course merely a variation of the much-used phrase “Israel says” – often employed by journalists who, despite their obligations to present both sides of a story, choose to add weight to one particular ‘narrative’ by presenting the other as subjective. 

In this case, it is not only Israel which “believes” that Mahmoud Sarsak is a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative; the PIJ itself “believes” so too. 

Hence, Sarsak was featured extensively on the Islamic Jihad’s ‘Saraya’ (military wing) website and, at the reception organized by that terror organisation for Sarsak upon his return to the Gaza Strip, Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam  praised him as “one of our noble members”. The picture below shows Sarsak – wearing a PIJ scarf – upon his arrival in Rafah in July 2012. 

Palestinian soccer player Mahmoud Al-Sarsak flashes the victory sign upon his arrival in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 10, 2012. Israel released the member of the Palestinian national soccer team on Tuesday after holding him in jail without trial for three years, during which he staged an intermittent four-month hunger strike in protest, Palestinian officials said. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

In fact, Mahmoud Sarsak himself does not deny that he had connections to the PIJ – as his appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court indicates: 

“Following the last judicial review (on August 18, 2011) by Judge Oded Mudrik of the Tel Aviv District Court to approve the extension of Sarsak’s detention for an additional six months, Sarsak appealed to the Supreme Court. His main claim was that much time had elapsed since he was connected to the PIJM and its activities.”

This is not the first time a BBC journalist has attempted to downplay Mahmoud Sarsak’s connections to a terrorist organization. In June 2012 a BBC World Service sports broadcast featured an interview with Sarsak’s father which was promoted on the ‘World Football’ section of the BBC WS website using the following absurd claim: 

“His father tells us how he believes his son’s imprisonment is an effort by Israel to destroy Palestinian football.”

In contrast to his whitewashing of Sarsak’s PIJ connections, Donnison has no commentary to make on the following quote from Sarsak which he chooses to use in his article: 

” “I refuse to sit in the same place with a killer who came on a military tank,” the former prisoner said, referring to Shalit.”

Donnison then writes:

“The two other Palestinians offered tickets by Barcelona were Jibril Rajoub, a leading Fatah figure and head of the Palestinian Football Federation and also the Fatah dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation’s ambassador to Spain, Musa Amer Odeh.

When contacted by the BBC on Thursday, Mr Rajoub confirmed he and Ambassador Odeh would not be following Mahmoud Sarsak’s example and would be attending the game.”

Here again, Jon Donnison is being coy. Jibril Rajoub is of course far more than “a leading Fatah figure” and his CV includes much more than his position as head of the Palestinian Football Federation. 

Rajoub – no stranger to terrorism and the resulting imprisonment himself – is also head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and as recently as May 2012 used that position to volunteer to lead a campaign to have Israel expelled from the International Olympic community, declaring that sport is “one of the methods of resistance” against Israel. As head of the Palestinian Football Federation, Rajoub has campaigned against Israel’s hosting of the UEFA 2013 Under-21 championship in Israel.

In 2011, Rajoub represented the Palestinian Authority at a reception for Palestinian prisoners (many of them convicted terrorists) released under the terms of the Shalit deal, praising both the kidnappers of Gilad Shalit and the newly-released terrorists themselves. 

If Donnison really wishes to inform his readers about the mixture of politics and football in the Middle East, he should at least play the whole 90 minutes and tell the story in its entirety – including the use of the sport as part of the delegitimisation campaign against Israel.  

12 comments on “BBC’s Jon Donnison on football and politics.

  1. Donnison seems to have an increasing number of articles in BBC broadcasts and of those I have heard, many seem to have an unbalanced viewpoint. He appears to have trouble reporting without adding his personal ‘slant’.

    Donnison is telling only half the story – the half that appears to suit him and his personal beliefs.

    This is surely not objective reporting, but objective reporting is surely what the BBC is supposed to be doing under the terms of its charter.

  2. I wrote umpteen pieces about Donnison on Biased-BBC.

    From the moment he arrived in the region he seemed particularly out of place, and shared the BBC reporters’ inability to assimilate fundamental ideological dissimilarities between the locals and the western liberals he knows at home.

    Many BBC reporters seem to mistake the Arab hospitality and stranger-welcoming tradition for a wider generosity of spirit. Such behaviour in a westerner might indicate magnanimity and humanity, but not necessarily so in the ‘Arab World’.

    Donnison and Knell, for example, invariably interpret the thoughts and deeds of even the most radical Islamists, which they describe as ‘conservative’, as though their thinking was the same as the man on the Clapham omnibus. (Think euphoric reporting from Tahrir Square) This goes alongside a somewhat dissonant sanctimonious sentimentality concerning the-donkey-and-the-olive- tree.

    There are a series of BBC reports (often involving a donkey) by Donnison about the trials and tribulations of the tunneling industry in Gaza, ranging from the difficulty of importing building materials, to the boom in real estate prices fuelled by the new ‘tunneling millionaires’.
    I saw a BBC video – I can’t find it at the moment – of Donnison prancing round the streets of Gaza City to illustrate a huge building boom there, which has evidently flourished belying his original complaint about shortages of building material. He looked so out of place there one could almost worry about his personal safety. Think Alan Johnston.

    Anyway there’s another JD report on the website – ”Israel seeks to contain Gaza’s Salafi-jihadist threat” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19952325

    ”Salafists practice a very conservative and traditional form of Islam.”
    ”In Gaza, as in much of the Middle East, the vast majority are non-violent.”

    • “There are a series of BBC reports (often involving a donkey) by Donnison.”

      Does Donkey Donnison speak much Arabic or Hebrew, do you know?

      • “Does he speak Arabic or Hebrew?”

        I don’t know what languages he speaks, I even think he speaks a strange kind of English – whilst trying to find out I came across this.

        http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3095

        I actually feel a bit sorry for him now – by his own admission he’s relatively inexperienced, and has taken a hammering from ‘both sides’. He’s obviously sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, in accord with the BBC’s default position. It does seem unfair of the BBC to throw him in at the deep end, apparently unprepared.
        Unfair, both to him and to the viewer.

  3. Duvidl suggests Donkey Donnison’s reports from Gaza need a theme song intro, thus:

    Donkey Johnny
    To the tune of “Little Donkey” (Hat tip: Dame Vera Lynn)

    Little donkey, little donkey
    On the Gaza road.
    Got to get back to the Hilton with
    Johnny Donny-key load.
    Donkey Johnny, little donkey
    Knows his words are trite.
    Though he’s heavy, little donkey,
    Tel Aviv’s in sight.

    DS Al Coda

  4. Second verse:

    Johnny’s sweating, little donkey;
    ‘Twixt the ears both donkey-dim.
    He spoke English to Haniyeh,
    Who spoke Arabic to him.
    Got to get back, little donkey.
    Hamas is no fan.
    Through the fence, lest he is kidnapped
    By the Dog Mush clan.

    DS Al Coda

  5. As football fan most disgusting thing in the story is some people called this islamic jihad terrorist “footballer”.

    “Mahmoud Sarsak, who has played for the Palestine national side..”

    Seriously?It’s lie!This guy never played PA nat.team at any level.You know why they called him footballer?Cuz as kid once he was humanitarian programm something like “football for peace”.

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