BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 2

In the second part of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ (which can be listened to here), presenter Magdi Abdelhadi travelled to Tunisia to meet members of its tiny Jewish community. 

To his credit, Abdelhadi did a much better job in this second episode than in the first. Not only did he not shy away from presenting the various threats posed  by Islamist extremists  to the continued existence of Tunisia’s remaining Jewish community, but he vigorously challenged Rachid al Ghannouchi – leader of the En-Nahda party which heads the coalition in Tunisia’s current government – on his ‘double speak’ regarding attacks on Jews and his party’s relationship with the Salafists carrying them out. 

Al Ghannouchi has often been portrayed by some members of the Western media (and even by some Western governments) as a ‘moderate’, despite – among other things – his party’s feting of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh last January and his own long extremist history

Magdi Abdelhadi, however, seems to have got Ghannouchi’s number. Perhaps he could help out with some sorely-needed editing on the BBC’s ‘Country Profile’ page for Tunisia, where interim president Moncef Marzouki is presented as a “counterweight” to the Islamist En-Nahda party – despite his having earlier this year sponsored a conference co-organised by the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’  – and where a profile of the En-Nahda party includes the claim that Ghannouchi  is “widely viewed as a moderate, reform-minded Islamist”. 

BBC website still claims ‘Estelle’ carrying aid

On Saturday, October 20th 2012, the Israeli Navy prevented the latest attempt by anti-Israel activists – including Dror Feiler – to break the naval blockade on Gaza aboard a Finnish-flagged boat. 

Upon the boat’s arrival in Ashdod port around 9 pm Israeli time (7 pm GMT/ 8 pm BST) on October 20th,it was quickly established – and widely reported – that it was carrying no humanitarian aid whatsoever. 

However, the BBC’s report on the incident – even after having been updated almost six hours later at 00:58 GMT on October 21st – still states that: 

“The Estelle, which activists say is carrying cement, basketballs, musical instruments, and 30 doves, is the latest vessel to try and break the Gaza blockade.”

One trusts that a correction will be speedily made.

The BBC report also presents a form of severely ‘dumbed-down’ commentary on the subject of the naval blockade itself.

“Palestinians say Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip amounts to collective punishment to residents of the densely populated strip of land along the Mediterranean coast.

Israel says the blockade aims to stop the supply of arms or other items for military use, and to put pressure on the Hamas administration.”

In fairness, if the reader bothers to click on one of the links below the headline of the article on the ‘Estelle’, he or she will arrive at an old article from June 2012 in which a link does exist to the UN-commissioned Palmer Report of September 2011 which confirmed the legality and legitimacy of Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. 

However, in the current article itself no reference is made to the Palmer Report and in the ‘More on This Story’ section below the article, the only reference to the blockade comes under ‘Guides’ in the form of an article which pre-dates the UN report by over a year. 

The fact that over a year ago the UN established the legality and legitimacy of the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip should surely be an integral part of a story concerning a boat trying to break it. At the very least, an easily visible link to the Palmer report with a short explanation should be provided below the article – especially if the article’s editor wishes to adhere to the BBC Editors’ claim that: 

“… 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.”

UPDATE: We recently came across the following Tweet by IDF Spokesperson Avital Liebovitch regarding the contents on board the Estelle.

We’ll update this story as more information becomes available.

BBC Radio 4: adding fuel to the BDS fire

The October 17th 2012 edition of the “Today” programme on BBC Radio 4 ran an item by Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly on the subject of the proposed upgrading of the town of Ariel’s 30 year-old college to university status. 

The programme is available for listening here (for a limited period of time), with the item concerned starting around 1:17: 00.

The programme’s presenter John Humphrys introduces the item with the words:

“The Israeli settlement of Ariel was built inside what the rest of the world regards as the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

Kevin Connolly commences his report by saying:

“In the Israeli settlement of Ariel, built twenty kilometres or so inside what the rest of the world calls occupied Palestinian territory…”

Later – referring to the building of Ariel – Connolly talks of the “accusation that it’s all been done on land stolen from the Palestinians”. 

So, less than two minutes into the report, listeners have been informed that Ariel is located in a place called “the West Bank”, which is “occupied” and which is actually “Palestinian”, according to the “rest of the world”. 

The term “West Bank” had, of course, never been heard of before the Jordanian invasion, occupation and subsequent – unrecognised – annexation of that area. Even the Arab League refused to recognise Jordan’s territorial claims to the region west of the Jordan River which was – and remains – part of the territory allocated to the establishment of the Jewish National Home by the League of Nations. 

Connolly fails to inform his listeners that the 1949 Armistice Agreement signed between Israel and Jordan specifically states – at the insistence of the Arab States which did not recognise the consequences of the war – that the ceasefire line (the ‘green line’) should not be construed in any way as a political or territorial border. 

“Article II 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.”

Needless to say, during the 19 years of Jordanian rule over the captured territory, no Palestinian state was established there. 

In what is presumably supposed to be a nod to requirements of impartiality, Connolly informs listeners that one of his interviewees – Professor Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University –

“…defends Israel’s right to build on land that others call the occupied West Bank, but that he – like the settlers – prefers to call Judea and Samaria”. [emphasis added]

In other words, Connolly is now suggesting that not only does “the rest of the world” call it the “West Bank”, but that within Israel too, only “settlers” use the term Judea and Samaria.

Of Connolly’s three interviewees in the item, two (Ariel’s mayor, Ron Nachman and Professor Aumann) are in favour of the upgrading of Ariel College – which was established in 1982 – to university status. The third interviewee, Professor Alon Harel, is opposed to the move, with Connolly describing him as saying that:

“Reinforcing the settlers’ grip on the land they hold is a top priority for Israel’s current political leaders”. 

Harel himself then says:

“There is a feeling that there is nothing important but the settlements; there is nothing which is of value in Israel but the settlements. […] The success of the settlements is the only project that politicians in Israel – the leading politicians – the government – cares about.”

Many Israelis might be of the opinion that Harel’s words are – to say the least – over the top. 

Interestingly, both John Humphrys and Kevin Connolly choose to introduce into the item the subject of the fringe movement promoting the calls for an academic boycott of Israel, but neither of them take the trouble to inform their listeners just how unrepresentative of mainstream opinion that movement actually is. 

Humphrys’ introduction to the item includes the claim that the establishment of a university in an existing college in Ariel:

“…will enrage critics of Israel’s settlement policies and perhaps add new fuel to calls for an academic boycott of Israel”

Connolly winds up his report by suggesting that a university in Ariel would “energise”

“… those critics around the world already calling for an academic boycott of Israel in protest at its settlement policies.”

Significantly, Connolly and Humphrys both elect not to clarify the fact that the BDS movement – of which the calls for an academic boycott are part – is about much more than “protest” at “settlements” and that its underlying aim is the dissolution of the Jewish State and the implementation of the right of return to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees. 

The vast majority of Israelis – in accordance with prevailing international opinion – accept that the only viable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is that of two states for two peoples and that territorial compromise and exchange on both sides will be a necessary part of that, as proposed in numerous plans – including the one put forward by Israeli PM Olmert in 2008

Under such proposals, the main blocks of Israeli towns and villages in Judea and Samaria – including Ariel – would remain under Israeli control, with land elsewhere given in exchange. 

It is a pity that the BBC does not appear to find it necessary to inform its audience that those ‘absolutists’ (including members of the BDS movement) refusing to engage with pragmatic solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict in fact represent minority opinion rather than “the rest of the world”. It is even more regrettable that, through selective reporting, the BBC appears to have no qualms about stoking fires to advance the destructive BDS cause. 

Is Abdel Bari Atwan still welcome at the BBC?

Any regular BBC viewer or listener cannot have failed to have come across Abdel Bari Atwan. The Gaza-born editor of the London-based Arabic language newspaper ‘Al Quds Al Arabi’ – established by Palestinian ex-pats in 1989 – is a frequent guest on programmes such as Newsnight and Dateline London, as well as on the BBC World Service and Radio 4.

Some of Atwan’s many egregious comments and statements have made headlines in the past, but nothing was apparently too controversial for the BBC. Has he now gone a step too far, or will the BBC once more yawn and carry on sending the taxis? 

Read more about the latest outburst from Abdel Bari Atwan (also a Guardian contributor) over at our sister blog CiF Watch.

 

BBC makeover: from Terrorist to Celeb

The BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau evidently decided that it would be appropriate to do a special feature on the anniversary of the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1027 convicted Palestinian terrorists

Thus, on the BBC website we see side by side tabs under the heading “Shalit-prisoners exchange: One year on” leading to an article on Shalit (by Yolande Knell) and an interview with a convicted PFLP terrorist by the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, Jon Donnison. 

Even before reading Donnison’s interview, the very layout says “equivalence”. 

Donnison’s superficial touchy-feely whitewash concentrates on ‘humanising’ a man convicted – according to his own unrepentant admittance – of terrorist activities. 

“An Israeli court gave him two life sentences after he was convicted of “intentionally causing death” and working for an “illegal and unrecognised organisation”.

I ask Al Far if all this is true.

“Yes,” he says quickly. “I planned and co-ordinated attacks against Israeli targets.”

I ask him if he regrets what he did. This time there is more of a pause.

“No,” he eventually says.”

Donnison, however, refrains from asking any difficult questions which might humanise those “Israeli targets”: they have no names, ages, family – and certainly, unlike Al Far, no freedom. They are not even spoken of as human beings.

Donnison’s next paragraph lays bare the underlying aim of his article: that same moral equivalence between a terrorist and a conscript in a regular army, which the webpage layout already hinted at. 

“Al Far says he saw himself as a soldier in a war, no different from Gilad Shalit – captured by Hamas militants in 2006 – or any other soldier in the Israeli army. Most Palestinians would agree with him.”

Scrupulously avoiding informing his readers of the fact that Al Far’s organization is a proscribed terrorist group responsible for numerous aircraft hijackings, bombings and the deaths of many civilians, Donnison also refrains from detailing the PFLP’s ideology which rejects the two-state solution, the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees. By doing so, Donnison can present Al Far’s basic excuse of “the occupation made me do it” for his involvement in terrorism as though that were a justification and gloss over the rather bizarre statement (unchallenged by Donnison) which actually blames Israelis for terrorism against themselves:

“…but if the Israelis pressured me to carry a gun again then I would.”

Donnison refers – albeit briefly – to the subject of the PA’s financing of former (and current) convicted prisoners:   

“Al Far says, as a former prisoner, he is treated with respect. He tells me the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank pays him a monthly salary to support him. He does not want to say how much, calling it only a “normal amount”. “

However, he fails to expand on the financial details (those released in the Shalit deal were allocated $5 million in PA-donated ‘release grants’ alone), the controversy surrounding the PA’s use of funds donated by the international community to pay monthly stipends to current and former convicted terrorists or the obvious connection between the PA’s preferential treatment of convicted terrorists and the encouragement of future acts of terrorism. 

A good investigative journalist could have done important work informing his or her readers on the real stories behind the prisoner exchange. Donnison and his editors chose not to step up to the mark. 

Celebrations marking the first anniversary of the prisoner exchange deal, Gaza, 18.10.2012

Next, Donnison turns to quoting the politicised NGO Addameer  – which refers to the Israeli army as “Israeli Occupying Forces” and supports BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel. 

“Israel always said it feared many militants would return to violence.”  […….]

“But figures from the Palestinian prisoners rights organisation Addameer show only eight of the more than 500 detainees who were released to the West Bank or East Jerusalem are currently back in Israeli jails.”

Contrary to Addameer’s claims, the Israeli defence establishment reports a somewhat less rosy picture: 

“The [exchange]deal’s first round saw the release of 477 security prisoners, 209 of whom were deported to the Gaza Strip. According to the data, which was released by Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday, many of the Gaza deportees have joined Hamas’ leadership, while others are actively developing weapons and firing rockets on Israel. Furthermore, some are recruiting new terror cells in the West Bank, including one Hebron cell that planted a bomb in Jerusalem and planned to kidnap an IDF soldier.”

“The prisoners who were deported to the West Bank have not abstained from hostile activity, either; over the past year Israel has arrested 40 Palestinians in the territories on suspicion of rioting, throwing Molotov cocktails, transferring funds for terrorist acts and other violations. Twenty-four of them – including two women – are still under arrest. One has been tried and incarcerated.”

Donnison continues to insult his readers’ intelligence with an utterly ridiculous quote – this time from a PA official:

“A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry for Detainees, Amr Nasser, told the BBC such a low level of re-arrests reflected that some of those released as part of the deal should never have been in jail for so long in the first place and were never really a threat.”

More seriously, he winds up by going down the very suspect route of blowing wind into the sails of the ‘narrative’ adopted in some Palestinian circles, according to which terrorists are to be regarded as political prisoners.

“Addameer say there are around 4,600 Palestinian “political prisoners” currently held in Israeli jails. Israel has convicted many of them of acts of violence and terrorism.”

As we are aware, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines have plenty to say on the subject of undesirable “value judgements” resulting from the use of the word ‘terrorist’, which – it is claimed – may be perceived as compromising the BBC’s impartiality.

 “The value judgements frequently implicit in the use of the words “terrorist” or “terrorist group” can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality.”

“We must be careful not to give the impression that we have come to some kind of implicit – and unwarranted – value judgement. “

So my questions to the BBC are these:

Does the BBC really believe that trying to create an impression of moral equivalence between a self-confessed convicted terrorist and a kidnapped conscript from a regular army does not represent a value judgement?

Can the BBC look its audience straight in the eye and say that the publication of a romanticised puff-piece interview with a convicted terrorist (which studiously avoids presenting full background information or asking any difficult questions and uses quotations containing unverified information from politically motivated bodies working for the same aims as the convicted terrorist himself) should not “raise doubts” regarding its impartiality? 

To endorse, or not to endorse, that is BowenBBC’s question

Readers will remember that a few days ago we noted that the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen had updated his Twitter profile to include the notification that “Retweets aren’t endorsements”, after BBC Watch had published an article about his retweet of a Tweet by Joseph Dana.

Well, now Bowen’s profile has been updated again, and the caveat removed. 

So does that mean that we are now to understand that retweets are endorsements? 

Related posts: Jeremy Bowen retweeting Joseph Dana

 Jeremy Bowen: before and after

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

On October 14th 2012 an interview with the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen appeared in The Observer. In the course of the interview, Bowen brought up the subject of the incident in May 2000 in which his driver in Lebanon, Abed Takkoush, was killed whilst Bowen was covering the withdrawal of the IDF from South Lebanon. 

“…in Lebanon [while covering the Israeli Defence Forces’ withdrawal from the country], my driver, Abed, was killed by Israeli fire. I’d been talking to my literary agent on the phone. I got out of the car. My driver was on the phone to his son. I walked away with my cameraman. There was a huge explosion. I looked round. The car was on fire. My driver was killed. The next day, two colleagues were killed in Sierra Leone. I had all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance. I had counselling. It did help. I think I’m OK.”

Later in the interview, Bowen stated [emphasis added]:

“I’m haunted by the fact that when Abed was killed, I didn’t run back to the car. The Israelis would have killed me too if I had. But I still feel I let him down.”

The certainty with which that statement is made is significant. Bowen does not choose to say “I might have been killed”: he is sure about it – and he is sure about who would have done it. 

One may well consider this understandable in light of the very real trauma a person must experience having gone through such an event, and it is surely a terrible belief to have to live with. 

But given Bowen’s position as Middle East Editor – the gatekeeper of Middle East reporting – and his involvement in setting the curriculum for the Middle East module at the BBC’s College of Journalism, one must also wonder if Bowen’s belief still influences his outlook on the Middle East twelve years on.

One may also ask oneself how that belief is viewed by his colleagues. Do they too subscribe to Bowen’s convictions? Apparently some at least do. 

In an essay written as a chapter for a book about journalists who died in Iraq published by the International News Safety Institute, veteran BBC presenter Nik Gowing wrote the following: 

“There is a growing fear in our business that some governments – especially the most militarily sophisticated like the US and Israel – are sanctioning the active targeting of journalists in war zones in order to shut down what we are there to do – to bear witness and report what they are doing.

The fear is that an apparent culture of impunity by at least two nations is already actively encouraging others to believe they can get away with targeting and eliminating journalists, or at least turn a convenient blind eye to the issue. More than ever, we are inconvenient eyes and ears who monitor and report what some in power and command would much prefer we did not.”

That, of course, is a very serious accusation indeed, and not one which should be thrown about irresponsibly without concrete proof – which Gowing does not appear to be able to provide as his essay relies purely upon assumptions and conjecture.  

It is also an accusation which those familiar with the IDF from the inside will find nothing less than incredible. 

Gowing’s essay even goes on to suggest that Israel targets “peace activists” as well as journalists. 

“Such warnings and criticisms have led to no reversal in Israel’s apparent policy of indifference not just to media operations, but also to the activities of humanitarian workers and peace activists in sensitive military areas. Indeed, the apparent culture of impunity that began before the start of Intifada 2 has deepened, judging by the escalating number of attacks in 2002/3. This includes a steadily intensifying rate of deaths by shooting with no subsequent detailed investigations, or at least anything made public.

In November 2002, an Israeli army sniper shot dead the UN worker Ian Hook inside a UN compound in Jenin. Months later there was no IDF explanation of what Hook’s colleagues called “cold blooded murder” . There remain similar grave questions in at least three other cases. Firstly after the peace activist Rachel Corrie sustained fatal injuries when she was knocked to the ground and crushed by a military bulldozer in Gaza.Two weeks later a US colleague Brian Avery was shot and seriously injured. Then there were the massive brain injuries sustained by the young photographer and peace activist Tom Hurndall after he was shot in the head during a protest in Gaza.”

Worryingly, Gowing’s unsubstantiated claims have been passed on to new generations of journalists studying in British universities, either as reading material or in lectures such as this one at the LSE in 2004 in which he stated: 

“But the trouble is that a lot of the military – particularly the American and the Israeli military – do not want us there. And they make it very uncomfortable for us to work.  And I think that this – and I am giving you headlines here – is leading to security forces in some instances feeling it is legitimate to target us with deadly force and with impunity.” 

If the bizarre beliefs expressed by Jeremy Bowen and Nik Gowing are at all representative of the prevailing school of thought within the corridors of the BBC, then it is surely necessary to ask ourselves to what degree any BBC journalist can adhere to true impartiality on the subject of Israel if he believes, or has been led to believe by industry icons such as Bowen and Gowing, that the country is out to kill him and his colleagues. 

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)

Text:

“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: 

Text: 

“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:

Text:

“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:

Text:

“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:

Text:

“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. 

BBC’s Jon Donnison on Salafists and Hamas

On October 15th an article written by the BBC’s Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison and entitled “Israel seeks to contain Gaza’s Salafi-jihadist threat” appeared on the BBC News website’s Mid-East section. 

The article discusses the recent killing of Hisham Saedni (also spelt Saidani) – aka Abu Walid al Maqdisi – of al Tawhid wal Jihad, together with Ashraf Sabah of the organisation Ansar al Sunnah, by the IDF

Donnison does a reasonable job of explaining the Salafist component of the numerous militias active in the Gaza Strip, although he could have given more detail regarding the various different factions and their connections to and collaboration with other groups such as the Iranian-backed Popular Resistance Committees and Hamas itself. 

Gaza militants at press conference - AP - April 3, 2011

A press conference in Gaza, with representatives of various terrorist organisations including Hamas, April 2011

However, the article is let down by the fact that although Donnison is probably correct when he writes that “privately those in power in Gaza and Egypt are unlikely to loose much sleep over his [Saedni’s] demise either”, he also creates the impression that Hamas is to be regarded as something of a moderating influence by including the following paragraph.

“It is widely believed that Hamas has no interest in escalating tensions with Israel right now, preferring to consolidate its power and try to profit from its strong ties with the new Islamist leadership in Egypt.”

Donnison does not inform us by whom “it is widely believed”, but the facts certainly call that belief into question. Even when Hamas has not been officially engaged in terror attacks or the firing of rockets itself, it has turned a blind eye to such activities by other groups and largely made no attempt to prevent them. As de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, it has also done nothing to prevent the flow of arms to various factions within the territory. 

In June 2012, some 80 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip over a four-day period, with Hamas taking responsibility for the attacks. 

As recently as ten days ago, on October 7th, Israeli forces targeted two other Salafist terrorists – Tala’at Jarbi and Abdullah Maqawi.  On that occasion, Hamas again had no qualms whatsoever about “escalating tensions” and publicly claimed responsibility for joint operations with the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad which included the firing of some 55 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilian communities. 

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they targeted the rural district as a response to an Israeli air strike on Sunday night, which struck and seriously injured two members of an al- Qaida-inspired terror cell as they rode on a motorcycle.”

In fact, collaboration between Hamas and its traditional, though smaller, rival the PIJ seems to be blooming at the moment, with some sources reporting the establishment of a “joint operations room” and joint committees, and with shared statements being issued by Hamas’s ‘Izz al Din al Qassam’ and the PIJ’s ‘Al Quds Brigades’. Hamas and the PIJ even released a film clip together (note the logos on the screen) depicting their operations.

As noted recently by The Israel Project:

 “Recent analysis had suggested that Hamas was distancing itself from Shiite-aligned Gaza factions and aligning with the Sunni countries fighting a proxy war in Syria against Iran. That analysis was never completely sound: Hamas leaders including Mahmoud al-Zahar gathered in Iran in September to coordinate moves against Israel with other groups, while leaders such as Khaled Mashal, who opposed Iranian involvement in Syria have been marginalized. Regardless of whether the analysis was misguided or Hamas has recalibrated, the result is the same. “

Hamas leaders have also been seen recently attending a series of PIJ events and public rallies in the Gaza Strip. 

Rather than viewing Hamas crack-downs on Salafist groups operating in the Gaza Strip as part of a policy to avoid “escalating tensions” – which is clearly a problematic assumption in light of Hamas’s recent upgrading of its relations with the PIJ and its self-publicised participation in attacks on Israeli civilians – it is useful to examine them in the context of internal politics within the Gaza Strip. 

In September of this year, Abu Abdullah of the Mujahedeen Shura Council told AFP:

 “What hurts us is that people who call themselves Muslims in the internal security forces are pointing the dagger at the chest of the mujahedeen and won’t stop their campaign against them.” 

Following the killing of Abu Walid al Maqdasi (Hisham Saedni), the Salafist group known as Masada al Mujahideen issued a statement blaming Hamas for his death. 

“In the statement, Masada al Mujahideen said that Hamas was responsible for the death of al Maqdisi and that Hamas “has become the loyal agent and a quicker executor than its predecessors of the orders of the occupation.” The group threatened to make Hamas pay “dearly for these foolish, heinous crimes, but at the time we find suitable, whether it’s sooner or later, and we will do it.” “

In the addendum to his recent book “Getting to Know Hamas“, Israeli author and journalist Shlomi Eldar wrote the following:

“But the Hamas movement has not yet come to appreciate that the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and other rebellious organisations, which hold profuse amounts of weapons and rockets, act in exactly the same way in which Hamas succeeded in embarrassing, entangling and vanquishing – by means of its military arm – Yasser Arafat and his successor Abu Mazen; driving a wedge between them and the Israelis and demolishing the Oslo Accords, the existence of which they saw as a political death sentence for their movement.

Arafat did not act against members of Hamas with real determination, and was rightly accused of playing a double game, and Abu Mazen too did nothing when a honey trap was set for him which brought about the dismissal of his movement and his government from the Gaza Strip. Both Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen were always fearful of the things which would be said about them on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank if they fought against those who presented themselves as Jihadist fighters. Arafat ended his life in the Muqata, in squalor, as a paper General living on past memories; Abu Mazen and the heads of the Palestinian Security Services repented their failures, after they were driven from Gaza in disgrace. “

Eldar goes on to ask whether Hamas will be able to learn from the lessons of its own methods in order to hold on to power and whether it will engage in the necessary disarming of rival factions. His final conclusion is that perhaps that is one step too far for Hamas.

The latest collaboration between Hamas and such a prominent past rival as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, coupled with the recent renewal of overtures in the direction of Hizballah and Iran, as well as the selective crack-downs on Salafists, may well represent an attempt to take an alternative approach to the dilemma raised by Eldar.

Rather than wanting to avoid “escalating tensions”, as Jon Donnison claims, Hamas’s aim is to remain the master of decisions as to when and how tensions will escalate, according to its own agenda and interests. Those interests are not always directly connected to Israel and “tensions” may sometimes serve Hamas’s internal – as well as external – agenda. The fact that the Salafists which Hamas once welcomed as partners in the ‘resistance’ now pose a challenge to its hold on power does not turn Hamas into olive branch-waving peaceniks.  

The strange ability of some Westerners to easily identify Al Qaeda-related groups as terrorists, whilst at the same time being reluctant to see organisations of differing stripes  (such as Hamas and Hizballah) in the same light will continue to compromise coverage and analysis of the Middle East. 

BBC quiz show QI amends website following BBC Watch post

We are delighted to be able to report that, following our post yesterday regarding the QI website’s omission of any reference to the significance of Jerusalem to Judaism in an item about the city, the website has now been updated.  

The second paragraph of the amended version now reads: 

“Today, as well as being the spiritual centre of Judaism, it is the third holiest city in Islam. In Arabic, Jerusalem is most commonly known as al-Quds meaning ‘The Holy.’ Jerusalem is also of great importance to Jesus’s followers where more than a dozen Christian communities live side by side in (not always complete) harmony.”

Well done QI team!