BBC gets one of its facts on “Palestine” right

A guest post by Geary

BBC Radio 4 hosts an – often excellent – programme entitled “Analysis”. This week’s episode (July 1st, 2013) “Syria and the New Lines in the Sand” is on why, given five minutes of freedom, so much of the Arab world seems unable to refrain from tearing itself to pieces. Could it be the centuries of bitter sectarian enmities? Or the lack of any legacy of workable institutions after 500 years of Ottoman rule? Of course not; silly me.

This being the BBC, the answer, of course, is that it’s not their fault, it’s ours – or our grandfathers’ anyway. The evil Sykes-Picot (“villains” for the BBC) Agreement. The poshest man alive, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, oddly forgiven for having been Ambassador to Israel, is wheeled on to give gravitas to the argument that ‘It’s All Our Fault’. 

If only in 1920 the British (and a bit the French) had put all the Sunnis in one big country, all the Shias in another and all the Kurds in yet another, then they’d all be getting along like a house on fire (maybe that’s the wrong metaphor, but still). On the other hand these entities might forever be at each other’s throats, but this possibility was not mentioned.

Alternatively, the British should have planned some sort of Balkanisation of the region into a thousand independent enclaves, each a homeland for some minority. Oddly, the one part of this plan which came to fruition – the creation of Israel and the subsequent expulsion by the Arab states of their Jews to populate it – does not seem to enjoy universal popularity amongst the Arab neighbours or, for that matter, at the BBC. 

But imagine my shock when I heard – amid this feast of West-bashing and pandering to Arab grudges – the mention, en passant, of the non-existence of any “Palestine” prior to the 1920s. So unlike the Beeb to let this one slip. At roughly 6 minutes 20 seconds into the programme, the presenter and historian are perusing a pre-World War I map of the Middle East:

Presenter: What was this area called at that time?

Historian: Well, it wasn’t called any of the names we know it as today. It wasn’t Syria and it wasn’t Palestine, particularly. These were Western names, and Roman names sometimes, we used to refer to this part of the world, but at that time it was all just part of the Ottoman Empire. [emphasis added]

Crickey, BBC, you let the cat out of the bag there. The inconvenient historical fact that there was no country called Palestine and had not been since the Roman times, when it was inhabited by, unless the Bible, Gibbon and Mel Gibson are all telling lies, the Jews. No “historic Palestine” and so no “historic Palestinian people” then. Just a mixture of folk all living under the sway of the Ottomans. Indeed it was the British who created the Palestinians after WWI. In fact they very generously created two lots of Palestinians for good measure: Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. But before that “Palestine” had no legal tender, it was simply a name and an entity dreamt up by British diplomats who’d had a far too classical education. 

So is there hope yet for BBC historical truth-telling on Israel-Palestine, after this slip? I fear not. Later in the programme we get dark mutterings that “if the Kurds were the great losers out of Sykes-Picot” (not sure that was entirely ‘Our Fault’ – neither the Arabs nor the Turks were willing to envisage a Kurdish state) “the big winners were the early Zionists”. Sigh. So Sykes-Picot, and all the mess it created, was nudge, nudge, just another Zionist plot.

Of course no-one can pretend that Sykes-Picot was not a self-interested deal, aiming to ensure Western political interests and safeguard access to Middle Eastern oil (but what’s so bad about that? Access to trade benefits both sides – ask the Egyptians at the moment). And equally of course it denied much of the Arab Middle East self-determination for a generation. But it was also an honest attempt to create viable nation-states out of the defunct, historically retarded Ottoman Empire. And if Arab self-determination is leading to the horrors of the self-Balkanisation of the region we are witnessing now, maybe those two old Anglo-French “villains” were not so stupid or villainous after all.

11 comments on “BBC gets one of its facts on “Palestine” right

  1. I listened to the programme. It didn’t mention Israel until almost the end, when it was presented as a potential loser in any new agreement (you could almost hear the wishful thinking in the presenter’s voice). And it didn’t mention at all, not even once, that maybe the reason the Arabs are always at each other’s throats isn’t because of some ‘line in the sand’ but actually because fighting each other is part of the culture. We’re talking about folk here who have a history of murdering their own daughters for dating the wrong family, let alone a different tribe or religion. It also didn’t mention the fact that without the West buying its oil, the Arab world be even less developed than it is today (if that’s possible). No, as usual it’s all the UK and France’s fault. Maybe if the Ottoman Empire hadn’t backed the wrong horse…

  2. What a load of hooey. It starts with putting the word “Palestine ” in quotation marks to try to negate any sense of history for the Arab people. This site is meant to be having a go at the BBC for being biased yet the article is just pure pro Israeli propaganda.

    You are not even trying.

    • Please note who puts “Palestinian people” in quotes:

      “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”

      (PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein, March 31, 1977, interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw.)

  3. Great article from Geary, thanks – had me chuckling with the understated humour.

    It’s entertaining when the bigots of the anti-Israel crew slip up and reveal facts they almost always keep hidden. I look forward to them slipping up again and revealing that hundreds of thousands of alleged Palestinian Arabs in those pre-Israel days actually came from surrounding Arab countries, attracted by the economic opportunities offered by the Palestinian Jews as they developed the land.

    There’s an anti-Israel propagandist on the Guardian, Rachel Shabi, who also slipped up seriously while trying to blame the Israelis for the alleged killing of Mohammed al Dura:

    Back then, a short film of Muhammad and his father, both caught in a shootout [my emphasis] trying helplessly to shelter against a barrage of gunfire…

    The standard propaganda line has always been that he was killed by the Israelis and here’s Shabi talking about crossfire.

    She should hang her head in shame at that blunder.

  4. Rosco Burns:

    Well, if Israel’s Arab neighbours can talk of Israel, which stands way above them in terms of human rights, human endeavour, freedom of religion and respect for minorities, as the Zionist Entity then they can hardly complain if they see “Palestine,” which was never a country, in quotes.

  5. Two things annoy me about critics of Britain during this era. Those criticising Israel’s creation never give Britain credit for creating many Arab states eg Kuwait, Jordan etc and never ever criticism the partition of India and creation of Pakistan along religious grounds. It’s as if one rule applies to Muslims and one to Jews.

  6. Pingback: Arab Logic: “Censorship does not restrict freedoms” — Winds Of Jihad By SheikYerMami

  7. I shall be submitting to you the hospital charges incurred from the heart attack suffered from the shock induced by this story. The BBC getting an Israel/Palestine story right! I feel another attack coming on.

  8. The whole Israel/Palestinian conflict is irrelevant. Palestinian, Muslims anti Semites do there best to put the Palestinian darlings at the top of the news. The world, UN UNWRA, EU, US, Israel, Arab countries all flooded them with money. Why should they want peace? Darfur refugees got over the years about 1% what the darling Palestinian got in 60 years plus. Yes, every history book not written by the BBC or Guardian show that there was an Egyptian Holy Land and a Syrian Holy Land the line separating them passes is north of Jerusalem. We are sitting on the volcano of Syria, Egypt and almost every Arab Muslim country. Israel, West Bank and Gaza are at peace. Strong economy that filters into West Bank. Leave the Palestinians alone, they are doing better than most Arab states.

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