BBC Online’s cartographic Middle East history

As pointed out in a previous post, the BBC claims that:

“A member of the audience who watches, listens and reads the full range of our output should be coherently and cogently informed about events in Israel and the occupied territories, and should better understand the complex forces that are at work.”

“The full range of output” includes the BBC News section of the somewhat labyrinthine website BBC Online. According to a document prepared by BBC News Editors for the 2006 Thomas Report: 

“Among the requests from both sides in the conflict is that we should more frequently recount its history in our daily journalism. We do not think daily news journalists have the time in their reports to go into such a level of detail, not least as there are two versions of the history. Instead, our strategy is to supplement our news coverage by providing detailed background on BBC News Online. It has the space to carry more information than broadcast news programmes, helping readers to understand the political, historical or economic background to an event. “

Via the ‘Country Profile’ page for Israel in the website’s Mid-East section, one can reach a page entitled “History of Israel: Key Events”. At the bottom of that page one can access another page named “The Changing Map of Israel”. There one reaches a page entitled “Middle East Conflict: History in Maps” which, despite the promising title, carries a total of five maps with additional commentary. 

Map 1: (click to enlarge)


“Palestine was among several former Ottoman territories placed under British control by the League of Nations. The mandate lasted from 1920 to 1948. In 1923, Britain granted limited autonomy to Transjordan, now known as Jordan.”

Map 2: 


“The United Nations General Assembly proposed dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem as an international city. The plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by the Arabs and never implemented.”

Map 3:


“After Britain withdrew and the Jews declared the state of Israel, war broke out with neighbouring Arab nations. Eight months later an armistice line was agreed, establishing the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the control of Jordan and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven out of what became Israel.”

Map 4:


“Israel made huge territorial gains in the Six-Day War. It captured the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the whole Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai was handed back to Egypt in the 1979 peace deal.”

Map 5:


“Since 1993 there have been several handovers of land to differing degrees of Palestinian control. Jewish settlers in Gaza were withdrawn in 2005 but the West Bank is still dotted with settlements and a controversial barrier is being built there.”

This can hardly be described as “detailed background” and it is certainly doubtful that any viewer of this webpage was subsequently able to “better understand the complex forces that are at work” or felt “coherently and cogently informed”.  

The lack of context for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence as a result of the second Intifada, the absence of any background whatsoever to the Six Day War, the supposed sudden ‘out of the blue’ break out of war in 1948 and the absence of context regarding the British Mandate’s original purpose are just some examples of why a reader of this web page is likely to end up with a very distorted view after reading “Middle East Conflict: History in Maps”. 

Sometimes, they say, less is more. In this case, less is most definitely less. 


8 comments on “BBC Online’s cartographic Middle East history

  1. In the map dealing with the 1948 War, the BBC neglects to mention the civil war that was fought between Arabs and Jews within “Palestine”. This civil war, fought by local militias, was the impetus for the Arab armies to join the fight, as it became clear that the Jews were winning. Then, the time-line closes with the fleeing of Arabs, as if it happened as a result of Israeli policy after defeating the Arab armies. It would be far more accurate to point out that these refugees did flee, but as a result of the civil war and the failure of militias, made up of villagers and organized by the village leaders, to defeat the Jews and make refugees or corpses of them.

    • Yes, and it’s also interesting that they show the Golan as part of the Palestinian mandate pre-48 but later it mysteriously becomes part of Syria. While it is impossible to give a full account in the small space allocated, these maps and the commentary provided are definitely misleading.

  2. Hadar Sela, the BBC is very sensitive to public criticism. It is to be hoped that your responsible reporting will affect at least its public expression if not its sympathies.

  3. I sent feedback correcting this error and didn’t receive a reply, and the error is still there:

    Muslims still worship at the golden Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third-holiest site, where Mohammed was said to receive the Koran.

    I don’t know where they get the idea that “Mohammed was said to receive the Koran” at the “Dome of the Rock”. Neither the Lonely Planet site nor the site linked from the BBC page ( says so.

    • I cannot even view the BBC web page in question as it is not accessible from the UK.

      ‘We’re sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee.

      Perhaps the BBC thought no one would notice. Someone should tell them about the Cave of Hira and the Night of Power.

  4. Pingback: BBC website still claims ‘Estelle’ carrying aid | BBC Watch

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