BBC promotes selective narrative on PA economy

On March 25th the BBC published an article on the Middle East page of its website entitled “Israel to resume transfer of PA tax revenue“. 

PA tax revenue

The word “resume” is defined as meaning “to begin or take up again after interruption” and so its use in this BBC headline would naturally suggest to reasonable readers that there had been a break in the monthly transfers of tax revenues collected by Israel to the Palestinian Authority. The question is therefore; is that choice of wording an accurate representation of the situation?

At the beginning of December 2012, the former Israeli Minister of Finance announced that he would not transfer to the PA the sum of 460 million shekels due in tax and customs revenues which Israel collects on behalf of the PA under the terms of the 1994 Paris Protocol – the chapter of the Oslo Accords dealing with financial affairs. Although members of the press – both domestic and foreign – were quick to label that announcement as being ‘punishment’ for the PA’s breach of the Oslo Accords in the form of its bid for UN observer status, that factor was not mentioned by Minister Steinitz. At the time, the Palestinian Authority was in arrears to the tune of some 800 million shekels to various Israeli bodies, including the Israeli Electric Corporation, to which it owed the vast majority of that sum for electricity already consumed in PA-controlled areas and the Gaza Strip. 

In January 2013 Israel transferred the sum of $100 million from the December 2012 revenues to the PA – as the BBC itself notes in the above report. In February 2013 the revenues for January and February were transferred to the PA.

Hence, any ‘break’ in revenue transfers would be more accurately described as a delay at most, including the sum intended to be used to pay off part of the PA’s considerable debt to the Israeli Electric Corporation. 

What the BBC neglects to tell its audiences in this article is that the American pressure applied upon Israel to come up with a ‘goodwill gesture’ in the form of the transfer of  revenue arrears to the PA includes that sum set aside last December, meaning that the Palestinian debt to the IEC currently stands at 730 million shekels. Negotiations with the PA to come to an arrangement on payment of the arrears have failed to yield results and the IEC now apparently considers that it has little hope of recovering that debt.  Reportedly, the IEC now seeks to make up that serious shortfall in income by requesting permission from the electricity ombudsman for an increase of some 3% on the tariffs paid by Israeli consumers. 

But of course the story of the possibility of Israelis paying for their neighbours’ electricity is not one we are likely to see reported by the BBC. 

Another notable feature of this report is the picture selected by the BBC to illustrate it – together with its caption. 

Protest against the Paris Protocol and the Oslo Agreement in Nablus (16 December 2012)

The caption reads: “Palestinians have been protesting over the economic relationship with Israel”. However, the same photograph was used by the UAE’s ‘The National’ on December 18th 2012, where it was captioned as follows: [emphasis added]

“Palestinians demonstrate against the Paris Protocol and the Oslo Agreement, both key accords which govern economic ties between Palestinians and Israelis, and ask for the boycott of Israeli products in Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Sunday. Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP”

That, of course, reflects the fact that the subject of economic arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the PA’s economic situation as a whole, is not infrequently used for both domestic and foreign political purposes.  

Interestingly, the BBC appears to be keen to promote the long employed PA narrative of its proverbial impending economic collapse being exclusively due to Israeli actions, despite the lack of fact-based evidence for such claims and the existence of other factors such as recurrent donor shortfalls.

Concurrently, the BBC meticulously avoids informing its audiences of instances of the Palestinian Authority’s dubious financial management – for example its practice of spending over 6% of its budget on paying salaries to imprisoned terrorists and the families of suicide bombers or the recent universal electricity bill amnesty.  

Telling half a story is not compliant with the BBC’s obligations to accuracy and impartiality. 

BBC stays mum on new PA restrictions on foreign journalists

Almost a week after their announcement, there has so far been no report published by the BBC regarding the new restrictions on foreign journalists introduced by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalist’s Syndicate.

Khaled Abu Toameh explains:

“Foreign journalists who ignore the latest restriction face arrest by Palestinian Authority security forces, said Jihad Qawassmeh, member of the Palestinian Journalist’s’ Syndicate.

He warned that any Palestinian journalist who helps international media representatives enter the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories without permission would face punitive measures.” […]

“The Palestinian Authority, which has often displayed a large degree of intolerance toward journalists who refuse to serve as a mouthpiece for its leaders, wants to work only with sympathetic reporters.

The timing of the ban is no coincidence. It came in the aftermath of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ramallah and Bethlehem, where Palestinian protesters set fire to and trampled on his pictures. The protests seriously embarrassed the Palestinian Authority, especially because they underscored the large gap between its leaders and the street.”

As anyone who has read Stephanie Gutmann’sThe Other War” (a riveting account of the reality behind the foreign media’s reporting of the Second Intifada) will be aware, information coming out of the PA-controlled territories via foreign correspondents already passes through a series of ‘sieves’ including fixers and local editors before it reaches the general public. This new dictate by the PA will clearly exacerbate the filtering of the news which reaches audiences worldwide. 

Khaled Abu Toameh adds:

“Particularly disturbing is that representatives of the international media have not protested against the Palestinian Authority’s threat to restrict the journalists’ work and even arrest them. One can only imagine the response of the international media had the Israeli authorities issued a similar ban or threat.

It also remains to be seen whether human rights organizations and groups that claim to defend freedom of press will react.

Once the ban goes into effect, officials of the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information will find themselves serving as censors and editors of all news items concerning the Palestinians. Unless, of course, foreign journalists raise their voices and insist on their right to write their own stories from Ramallah.”

So far at least, the BBC appears to be avoiding informing its audiences of these new measures which will affect both the accuracy and impartiality of its reporting. Similarly, the Foreign Press Association – chaired by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Paul Danahar – has yet to release a statement on the subject.

BBC turns political activists into “aid workers”

A report entitled “Libyans held for ‘sex attack’ on Britons in Benghazi“, dated March 29th 2013, appears on the Africa and Middle East pages of the BBC News website. In that report the women attacked are repeatedly described by the BBC as “aid workers”. 

“Two Libyans have been arrested over claims they sexually assaulted three British aid workers earlier this week.

The workers were apparently abducted at a checkpoint near the city of Benghazi and held for hours before being freed on Wednesday.” […]

“The group of aid workers were taken to the Turkish consulate in Benghazi after their release. British officials said they had now returned to the UK.”

Benghazi attack

The Aid Worker Security Database defines aid workers as follows: [emphasis added]

” “Aid workers” are defined as the employees and associated personnel of not for profit aid agencies (both national and international staff) that provide material and technical assistance in humanitarian relief contexts. These include various locally contracted staff (e.g., transportation, security, etc.). This includes both relief and multi-mandated (relief and development) organizations: NGOs, the International Movement of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, donor agencies and the UN agencies belonging to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and WHO) plus IOM and UNRWA. The aid worker definition does not include UN peacekeeping personnel, human rights workers, election monitors or purely political, religious, or advocacy organizations.”

The ill-fated eleven vehicle convoy – named “Mavi Marmara” – in which the women concerned were taking part departed from London on February 25th this year, driving through France and Spain to reach Morocco and then continuing through North Africa with the aim of reaching the Gaza Strip. 

Some of the convoy’s organisers and participants have previously taken part in similar ventures and one of them – Sakir Yildirim (also spelt Yildirm) from Bristol – was aboard the IHH ship the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 when it tried to breach the maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip and some of its Turkish passengers attacked Israeli soldiers boarding the ship. According to a BBC report from the time, Yildirim is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. 

Sakir and Cliff in Turkey

Sakir Yildirim(L) & Cliff Hanley of Bristol PSC in Turkey, before boarding the Mavi Marmara in 2010

As can be clearly discerned from pictures published by the convoy’s supporters before and after its departure from the UK, the inefficient – and apparently badly organized – overland transport of “children’s educational equipment and toys, IT equipment, and medical equipment” (according to the organisers) is obviously secondary to the convoy’s political aims. 

Apparently the BBC is unable – or unwilling – to differentiate between genuine aid workers and political activists supporting a campaign to promote those involved in terrorist activity against Israeli civilians as ‘political prisoners’. 

The misappropriation of terms such as “humanitarian organization”, “human rights” or “aid worker” is an unfortunately common practice in the circles of anti-Israel campaigners seeking to co-opt the publicly acceptable image afforded by such terms to their political campaigns. It is regrettable that the BBC compromises its own reputation and breaches editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality by engaging in the same practice.

The assault of female members of the convoy in Libya is horrific enough as it is: there is no need for the BBC to embellish the story by erroneously depicting the women and the group with which they were travelling as “aid workers”. 

BBC continues to be ‘impartial’ on terror

With the recent sentencing of Hizballah operative Hossam Taleb Yaacoub by a court in Cyprus, the BBC has finally broken its long silence on the subject of that trial.

A short report appeared on the Europe and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on March 28th, stating that Yaacoub had been sentenced to three years imprisonment, although other media outlets report a four year sentence being handed down. 

Hizb op Cyprus

The BBC report – true to form – continues to euphemistically describe Hizballah as “the Lebanese militant Shia movement”. Laconic as it is, the article also manages to include some remarkable contortions and distortions – presumably inserted in the name of “impartiality”. 

Israel says Hezbollah has been behind a string of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world.” [emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to recognize Hizballah’s long-standing connections to terrorism, but the BBC seems to be trying to imply otherwise, as well as appearing to wrongly suggest that Hizballah activity is confined to attacks on “Israeli and Jewish targets”.

The next sentence of the report – together with another towards its end – is a fine example of an instance in which the BBC employs its obligation to impartiality in order to promote the absurd. [emphasis added]

Hezbollah, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by a number of governments, has denied the accusations.”

“Yaccoub was arrested days before a bomb exploded on a bus carrying Israeli tourists at an airport in Bulgaria, killing six people. Israel and Bulgaria accused Hezbollah of carrying out the attack. Hezbollah said it was not involved.”

In other words, the BBC juxtaposes the results of investigations into Hizballah’s terrorist and criminal activities, carried out by various countries and international bodies, with predictable denials from the terrorist organization itself – as though they were of equal weight.

The BBC’s contrived show of ‘impartiality’ with regard to this terrorist organization are a sinister product of its warped interpretations of the term “value judgements” – interpretations which are ultimately detrimental to BBC audiences’ understanding of the issues. 

BBC corrects webpage of ‘Gaza Surf Club’ report

Readers may remember that last November the BBC broadcast what it categorised as a documentary about the Gaza Surf Club on BBC Radio 4.  

The BBC webpage promoting the programme includes a very extensive synopsis – or mini article – the second paragraph of which originally read as follows:

The people of Gaza are hemmed in by checkpoints and walls, fences and watchtowers and few are able to leave the territory or to import and export goods. But one thing Gaza does have in its favour is the sea. Long sandy beaches stretch right down the territory’s west coast and on summer weekends it seems that most of Gaza’s one-and-a half million residents are enjoying themselves on the beach. And that’s where you’ll find members of the Gaza Surf Club, a group of young Palestinians who defy both the Israeli blockade and a sea that’s often polluted with raw sewage to ride the waves off the coast of this troubled territory.” [emphasis added]

The parts of that paragraph appearing above in bold were the subject of a complaint to the BBC made by Mr Stephen Franklin.  The BBC eventually accepted the points made by Mr Franklin and conceded that:

“…the statement “few Gazans are able to leave the territory or to import and export goods” doesn’t accurately reflect the current situation”.

That paragraph has since been amended and now reads:

“But one thing Gaza does have in its favour is the sea. Long sandy beaches stretch right down the territory’s west coast and on summer weekends it seems that most of Gaza’s one-and-a half million residents are enjoying themselves on the beach. And that’s where you’ll find members of the Gaza Surf Club, a group of young Palestinians who ride the waves off the coast of this troubled territory.”

gaza surf club after correction

BBC’s ‘History of Syria’ erases ancient Jewish community, distorts Six Day War

On March 11th 2013, an hour-long documentary entitled “A History of Syria with Dan Snow” was broadcast on BBC Two. An accompanying article under the heading “Syria’s priceless heritage under attack” appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on March 10th. 

Readers familiar with the history themselves will no doubt have noticed that in Dan Snow’s extensive portrayal of the rich tapestry of ethnic groups making up Syria  throughout its history, one particularly ancient community was conspicuous by its absence. No mention whatsoever was made of the centuries-old Jewish community of Syria, either in the television programme or in Snow’s written article which featured the city of Haleb (Aleppo)  – home to Jews for millennia and formerly one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – very prominently. 

Towards the end of the film (at 57:32 in the version above), Snow informs viewers that: 

“Between eruptions of violence, there is actually a long-standing tradition of tolerance and opposition to extremism in Syria.”

That portrayal of course airbrushes out the persecution of Jews in Syria completely, as well as their subsequent flight from the country. 

Another no less amazing bout of airbrushing – especially coming from someone with a background in modern history – appears at 34:23 in the above video when Dan Snow tells his audience:

“In 1967 [Hafez al] Assad was Minister of Defence when Israel launched a series of strikes against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Israelis humiliated Arab forces and took control of part of Syria; the Golan Heights.”

Snow of course fails to inform his audiences that the Golan Heights can only be considered to have been “part of Syria” for a maximum of 45 years before 1967, but it is his one-liner on the subject of the Six Day War which in particular stands out as a blatant breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy. 

Children in an air-raid shelter at Kibbutz Gadot during an attack by Syrian shell fire, April 1967

Viewers are given no inkling of the events leading up to that war; indeed they might reasonably conclude from Snow’s account that Israelis simply woke up one morning and decided to attack three of the surrounding countries. Snow avoids any mention of the Arab League project to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River (the source of Israel’s main water supply at the time) and the relentless Syrian attacks upon Israeli communities below the Golan Heights during the years preceding the Six Day War.

He completely ignores the build-up to the war, including Egypt’s massing of troops in the Sinai and its expulsion of the UN forces from that area, after which Nasser informed the Arab world by radio that:

“As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”

A Syrian tank in its fortified position at “Tawfik”, Golan Heights, dominating Kibbutz Tel Katzir and the Jordan Valley.

Likewise Snow fails to mention the massing of Syrian troops in the Golan Heights on May 18th 1967 and the bellicose statement made by Hafez al Assad two days later: 

“Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united….I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”

The closure of the Straits of Tiran on May 22nd 1967 – a clear casus belli, as noted by President Lyndon Johnson at the time – is also ignored by Snow, as are the subsequent almost daily statements put out by Nasser.

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight,” (May 27th 1967)

“We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel…Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel….The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.” (May 28th 1967)

Kibbutz Daphna (foreground) and Kibbutz Dan as seen from the “Tel Azaziat” fortifications, Golan Heights.

“The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations.” (May 30th, 1967 – following the signing of the defence pact with Jordan.) 

While Israel did indeed launch pre-emptive strikes on the Egyptian air-force on June 5th 1967, that was of course far from either the beginning or the end of the Six Day War as Snow so erroneously implies. 

This is far from the first time that the BBC has broadcast or published politically motivated historically revisionist versions of events surrounding the Six Day War. This blog post from CMEW regarding a complaint already made to the BBC about Snow’s above statement suggests, however, that the BBC chooses to remain bunkered in its ahistorical view of those events. 

It is high time for the BBC to ensure adherence to its own Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality with regard to this subject and to cease the advancement of political narratives under the guise of “history”. It is the BBC’s self-declared role to contribute to audiences’ knowledge of the world – not to seek to manipulate viewers’ political opinions regarding the Middle East or any other region.




BBC’s Davies crafts a narrative by omission

Among the reams of BBC coverage of the recent visit by Barack Obama to Israel was this article written by Wyre Davies of the BBC Jerusalem Bureau on March 20th 2013. 

Davies article 20 3

Readers will no doubt notice Davies’ decidedly bizarre assertions concerning Israeli democracy:

“A visit by the “leader of the free world” is always a big occasion, nowhere more so than Israel which increasingly sees itself as an isolated beacon of democracy in a troubled region.

That view is, of course, frequently challenged overseas and within Israel itself, but rarely in the United States.”

But it is the next part of Davies’ report which provides an excellent example of how a specific narrative can be crafted through omission.

“Three years ago, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly lectured President Obama about the realities of Middle Eastern politics, in his own office.

The president’s aides looked on ashen-faced and Mr Obama listened impassively as the Israeli leader tore into his assertion that a future Palestinian state should be based on the pre-1967 ceasefire lines.”

Davies is in fact referring back almost two years – to May 20th 2011 – the first day of a five-day visit by Israel’s prime minister to the United States. But what he neglects to mention is that on the previous day, as Netanyahu was about to embark on the journey to Washington, Obama delivered a speech of his own in which he stated that a future Palestinian state should be based on what he termed “the 1967 lines” – or as they are more accurately described; the 1949 Armistice agreement lines. 

“The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. “

For Israelis – only too aware of the indefensible nature of those armistice lines and the fact that just eighteen years after they were drawn, Israel yet again faced the threat of annihilation from its neighbours – Obama’s declaration was seen as an American adoption of the Palestinian viewpoint, a hindrance to negotiations and back-tracking on the commitments made by Obama’s predecessor in 2004. 

“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

Hence, the day after what some saw a public ambush, Netanyahu stated during his visit to the White House:

“I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities.  The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide.  It was half the width of the Washington Beltway.  And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.

So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.  I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.”

Wyre Davies, however, neglects to inform his readers of the context to Netanyahu’s words, instead reducing them to the superficial category of a spontaneous ‘lecture’ “in his own office”. Of course for readers to take something from Davies’ jaundiced account beyond the impression of Israeli rudeness (and worse) which he so deftly weaves, that context is vital. The failure to provide it can only be viewed as an attempt to shape a specific political narrative. 

Yet another major BBC accuracy fail in reporting 2010 flotilla

The BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy state:

“The BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead its audiences.  We should not distort known facts, present invented material as fact or otherwise undermine our audiences’ trust in our content.”

Consider this filmed report from March 24th by Lucas de Jong which appeared on BBC television news programmes as well as on the BBC News website.

de Jong report

At 00:39 de Jong states:

“Obama is credited with connecting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his Turkish counterpart. Mr Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for this 2010 commando raid that killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound flotilla.”

However, as previously noted here, PM Netanyahu’s apology did not relate to the fact that a “commando raid” took place – as de Jong claims – but to “any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury” and it was made not “to Turkey”, but specifically to the Turkish people.

De Jong’s complete failure to inject any context whatsoever into this section of his report, together with his selective omission of crucial facts, means that viewers unfamiliar with the actual sequence of events are left unaware of the severe violence perpetrated against the Israeli soldiers by the well-prepared mob of religiously inspired Turkish nationals and of the fact that the soldiers acted in self-defence.

Neither are viewers made aware of the fact that the purpose of the “Gaza-bound flotilla” was to breach a legal maritime blockade initiated in order to curb the flow of weapons to the terrorist group Hamas, with which organisers of the flotilla – including the owners of the ship upon which the incident took place, the IHH – are affiliated.

This additional example of inaccurate and context-free reporting on the subject of the Mavi Marmara incident indicates yet again that the BBC is more interested in manipulating audiences’ recollections of that event through distortion of the facts than in accurate and impartial reporting in accordance with its obligations. 


Selective BBC reporting on cross-border incidents in the Golan

As previously noted here not long ago, the BBC’s selective reporting on the subject of the growing number of cross-border incidents along the Israeli-Syrian frontier in the Golan Heights is not as erratic as it may at first seem. 

Shelling and shooting into Israel, such as the incident at Alonei HaBashan in late February or the one at Ramat Magshimim in early March, received no attention from the BBC. On March 23rd shots were fired at an Israeli patrol along the border in the late evening. That incident was also not initially reported by the BBC. 

On Sunday, March 24th, another incident occurred near Tel Fares, and this time the IDF responded. That response prompted the appearance of a short report  on the BBC News website in which it was seen fit to remind readers twice that “Israel seized the Golan Heights during the 1967 war” and “Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the 1967 war”.

Golan sunday

The fact that the BBC apparently elects to report only on incidents to which Israel responds means that BBC audiences are receiving a partial picture of the situation along that border and – as has similarly been the case with the BBC’s selective reporting of incidents along the border with the Gaza Strip – that crucial context is eliminated from audience understanding.