BBC blames torture of African migrants in Sinai on Egypt-Israel peace treaty

An article entitled “Sinai torture for Eritreans kidnapped by traffickers” by Mike Thomson appeared in both the Africa and Middle East sections of the BBC News website on March 6th 2013. An audio version of the same article was broadcast on the BBC World Service in the programme ‘Assignment’ on March 7th and can be heard here.

Assignment - Sinai

In the written version of the article, Thomson states:

“Hostage victims are often taken to the largely lawless, desert area of north Sinai, where their kidnappers can operate with near impunity.

In 2012, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that a “criminal network” of smugglers and traffickers was “taking profit of the desperate situation of many Eritreans”.

Egyptian security forces do operate in this region but only in limited numbers because of a long-standing peace agreement with neighbouring Israel.” [emphasis added]

In the audio version, at 16:52, Thomson informs listeners:

“What is clear though is that not enough is being done to combat the kidnap trade in Sinai. But I’m told this is at least partly because of a long-standing agreement with neighbouring Israel which limits the size of Egypt’s security forces in the region. And in one incident alone last year, sixteen Egyptian soldiers were shot dead by supposed Islamist militants there.” [emphasis added]

The agreement to which Thomson refers is of course the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, although he does not make that fact clear. Under the terms of that treaty, the Sinai Peninsula was divided into zones with varying degrees of demilitarization. File:Sinai MFO.PNG

In Zone A, Egypt is permitted to hold a mechanized infantry division with a total of 22,000 troops. In Zone B, Egypt is permitted four border security battalions to support the civilian police in the area. In Zone C the Egyptian police and the Multinational Force and Observers operate and MFO camps and outposts are situated in this zone. In Zone D, Israel is allowed to keep four infantry battalions. Thus, as we see, the Egyptian army does have a presence in the majority of the peninsula and the Egyptian police is present in the entire area. The treaty also provides for changes in troop numbers through coordination with both parties.  

It is left unclear in Thomson’s report who the person or persons are who “told” him that Egypt is unable to combat the kidnapping and human trafficking trade due to the restrictions in the peace treaty to which Egypt agreed, but it is clear that Thomson elected to include that misleading information in his reports without checking its accuracy. 

Obviously, with the migrants from Eritrea entering Egypt several hundred miles south of the Sinai from the border with Sudan, the Egyptian authorities have the ability to prevent them from arriving in Sinai at all. An Eritrean migrant I interviewed last year told me how he made the journey:

“He told me that he left Eritrea on foot and crossed into Ethiopia, despite the fact that continuing tensions between the two countries mean that had he been caught by the Eritrean authorities trying to leave, he would have been liable for one to two years of imprisonment. 

From Ethiopia, Ambesagir crossed into Sudan on foot. It was at that point that he abandoned the clothes and belongings he had brought with him, being unable to carry his luggage on the ten-day walk northwards. He and his group of 54 people then travelled by bus to the Nile, where they caught a boat which took them into Egypt. There the journey continued on foot, walking day and night without food or water. One member of the group died along the way. “

Thomson also fails to address the subject of Egypt’s long history of turning a blind eye to the various permutations of the smuggling activities (including weapons destined for Gaza and drugs destined for Israel) of the Sinai Bedouin over the years and the fact that until that August 2012 terror attack in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed, it consistently kept troop levels in Sinai lower than those permitted under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement. He also ignores the fact that when it has considered it to be in its interest to do so, Egypt has deployed troops in Sinai in excess of the agreed numbers without prior consultation as required under the terms of the peace treaty. 

“More than a year ago, Israel agreed to allow Egypt to maintain seven military battalions and six companies in Sinai, including tank units, in addition to the forces permitted by the peace treaty itself. Before the August 5 terrorist attack, Egypt had not stationed the full complement of troops in Sinai that it was permitted. “

In a January 2012 report on the Sinai published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Ehud Ya’ari explained (p 13):

“According to the signed Military Protocol between Egypt and Israel, the army is permitted to keep 22,000 soldiers in the Sinai, limited to Zone A, the westernmost portion of the peninsula. But during most periods, the Egyptian army has stationed only 70–80 percent of that number in the area. The military has never established a separate command headquarters for the Sinai forces. Each of the rotating four brigades remains under direct control of its divisional operations room west of the Suez. At all times, each brigade belongs to a different first-echelon division of either the Third or second Army. And during the revolution, some of these forces were withdrawn to the mainland and have yet to return. Moreover, when Israel consented to allowing Egyptian troops into Zones B and C in central and eastern Sinai, Cairo deployed the limited battalions already stationed in the peninsula instead of bringing in reinforcements from the mainland. Israel also agreed to allow twenty Egyptian tanks into Zones B and C, but Cairo abstained from sending them.

This attitude reflects the military’s limited interest in the Sinai, despite constant domestic criticism of treaty restrictions on Egypt’s ability to exercise sovereignty over the entire peninsula. Since the army was not prepared to oversee the Sinai, it had no incentive to commit even the number of units allowed by the Military Protocol. The army, in short, perceived its role to be purely defensive, occupying itself with routine training for crossing the Suez while keeping as much distance as possible from Bedouin affairs.” […]

“Regarding Bedouin smuggling activity into Israel, the general thrust of Cairo’s policy was—and remains—not to interfere. Even when caught, Bedouin drug smugglers headed for Israel have received much lighter sentences than those carrying drugs into Egypt.

This attitude may help explain Egypt’s relative tolerance of the latest Bedouin business endeavor: guiding massive numbers of illegal African immigrants into Israel.”

Rather than blindly repeating the inaccurate information he was “told” by an either uninformed or interested party, Thomson should have checked the accuracy of that claim before including it in his report. His obvious failure to do so means that his assertion that the failure to deal with the kidnapping and torture of African migrants in Sinai is related to the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty becomes nothing more than a gratuitous and misleading inaccuracy which prevents audiences from understanding the real factors at play.  

16 comments on “BBC blames torture of African migrants in Sinai on Egypt-Israel peace treaty

  1. Some less advanced peoples are not reliable sources for news. If BBC persists in this careless kind of reporting, it will take a long time to reassume the prestigious status it once maintained. So much media today consists of willful misinformation and disinformation emanating from persistently unreliable sources. BBC should be extra wary not to be included among the irresponsible. Thank you.

    • I’d say you were giving the BBC the benefit of a great deal of doubt. The sheer volume of biased anti-Israel propaganda that emanates from the BBC as “news” suggests something more sinister than poor journalistic skill.

      One has to remember that the media in Britain is dominated by so called “progressives” who will rush to defend any despot who defies the West no matter how vile they may be. The BBC’s eulogies for Chavez are a recent example of this.

      The Guardian has found that providing a platform for terrorists and printing racist hate against Israel is good for business. It gives it’s readers what they want – let’s not forget that the Guardian is a British “establishment” newspaper – an establishment whose notoriety for anti-semitism stretches into history. The Guardian lefties are cowards – and Israel is a soft target. With CIF the G reaches a global audience of Jew haters – right across Europe and the caucasus and throughout the Middle East. The BBC enjoys this reach too and you couldn’t put a fag paper between the Guardianistas and the lefties at the BBC.

      • Israelis/Jews won’t bomb the Gaurdian or BBC nor any other anti-Israel/Jewish “news” outlet. Arabs/Muslims do. And have!

    • Richard, are you a member of the “general public”? If so, why bother posting here? Or perhaps you do care more than a jot………….

    • I’m a member of UK general public, and therefore also one of those unfortunates who has to pay, whether I like it or not, for the BBC’s activities, if I wish to be able to watch any television at all. I DO care that the BBC misleads its audiences regarding Israel. For it to happen so pervasively and persistently, it is simply beyond credibility to assume that it’s not deliberate. I also care that increasing evidence has come to attention over the recent years that the BBC, a supposedly public body, appears to operate in a non-transparent and often non-accountable manner. I have also seen for myself that they often exhibit political bias even when reporting on the UK’s internal affairs. I feel the BBC is well overdue for a major shake-up – and I don’t just mean swapping a few key roles around between the Usual Suspects. So, contrary to your opinion on the subject, I do care.

      And as Saba Dennis says, YOU obviously also care a great deal what pro-Israeli bloggers etc. write, on MANY subjects – I’ve also seen for myself over the recent past that you clearly spend a significant, possibly even the larger, part of your days attempting to ‘bother’ such people on various blogs and websites. If you REALLY think what they do is so ineffectual and unimportant, why would you waste your time in this manner? Surely if, as you claim to believe, no-one is interested in what BBCWatch thinks of the BBC, then equally, (or perhaps even more so, since your opinions are only yours,as you bear no authority whatsoever) no-one is any more likely to be interested in what YOU think about BBCWatch – or indeed, about any other subject – and there would be absolutely no purpose in your even looking at such a site, let alone posting on it. Unless of course, you have other reasons to do so.

      I strongly suspect that seeing your name appear on such sites and actually getting the odd response to your little posts, even when they’re negative, provides you with feelings of excitement, importance and empowerment that are lacking from other aspects of your life, and that you persistently offer your particular ‘brand’ of irritation around just to liven-up and validate your existence – and most likely also in an effort to try to gain a little approval from those in the social circles you aspire to. I had a ‘best friend’ when I was in my early teens. Her family had a dog, but they really shouldn’t have been allowed to keep one: Once it grew beyond the cuteness of puppy-hood, they pretty much ignored it completely, unless it made itself busy by destroying their property, to which their response was always immediate, and (once the dog was caught and secured), unpleasant. Nevertheless, the dog was destructive with an astounding frequency, but curiously, nearly always when one or more members of the family were present and therefore would likely soon notice its actions. It became obvious to me that this dog preferred the excitement of the short chase, even with the inevitable negative end result, to no attention at all, and the boredom associated with being ignored. You remind me of this dog.

      I do hope you enjoyed seeing your name on this blog again. You are clearly so VERY VERY clever to have elicited 3 responses to your one tiny little post, even if those responding are all laughing at you. And I’m sure your anti-Israel chums will be so impressed, they’ll just be falling over one another to fete you soon.

  2. In the US, our National Public Radio, which covers the whole US, has always been clearly Leftish and has been using the Guardian as its chief, world news source of late. The US’s PBS public TV is also national and heavily dependent on British materials. Over the years, I have written both suggesting the need for specific, balanced new programming ideas and have been ignored. What with all the ever mounting imaginative Muslim use of media to circulate outrageous lies in well disguised media, one must be extra vigilant.
    In Israel, we must be extra careful when reading such papers as HaAretz and alert to the fact that because columnists with Jewish names may be used, there is no guarantee that they are fair minded and responsible. It has developed that media with certain biases can always easily find a current Israeli source that shares their views across the spectrum of lies and opinions. Thanks for warnings about BBC!

    • The absurd Muslim “news” lies wouldn’t be so readily believed if there wasn’t an already existing anti-Israel/Jewish bias. Remember that Israel’s image pre 1967 was largely positive. Then they were the David vs Goliath. But Jews are supposed to be victims not victors. So now the world despises a strong victorious Israel.

  3. For BBC, Israel is “always” to blame. Of course the other nations on the road to Sinai have no part of this. “NOT”!

  4. I’m very grateful to you Hadar, for all the work you’re putting into this endeavor. Whenever I’ve heard one of the items you’ve dealt with, I’ve shared your feelings and reactions. I feel relieved, somehow, that you’re tackling it with such dedication.

    I listened to this particular report on the BBC World Service in the middle of the night, which I often switch on to soothe my insomnia. (It can work)

    The sentence you emphasised, which virtually blames Israel, jumped out at me as soon as it was uttered.

    To get an inkling of just how misleading that little sentence was you’d need to be already aware of the difficulties concerning policing the Sinai, which have been exacerbated by the political turmoil in Egypt. I came across the subject while I was writing for Biased-BBC, but very few listeners will be au fait with it, and fewer could care less, but they’d still take away a tale involving torture, migrants and traffickers with the same old anti-Israel connotations.

    You took the trouble to explain the background and context in the measured tone that holds the only hope of being listened to.

  5. The Muslim lies are coming so much thicker, faster, and wilder these days that Israel’s current scattershot effort to refute the increasingly deceitful assertions would best be put in the hands of a once a week Jon Stewart type show that all may enjoy including our Arab neighbors. Most of the outrageous material can then be considered in one place at one time and (maybe) the truth established. It may prove a challenge to the creative disinformation skills of the Arab League who may be personified as a cunning, deceitful foil for the Israeli master of ceremonies. We could lampoon much of the deceitful world press, e.g. Guardian, etc. It should be a show that the whole world finds itself talking and laughing about each week.

  6. Pingback: Because What The Egyptians Need Is More Tanks | Israellycool

  7. I’ve posted a link but I included the following personal story:

    I’ll tell you a real story I heard first hand from an IDF reserve. About this time last year his unit fired into Egypt over the heads of Egyptian soldiers to stop African migrants getting shot in the back by Egyptian troops. I don’t think this is ever reported but it’s not a unique event.

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