“Israel approves new settlement homes” was the sensational headline which greeted visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 11th 2013. The message was further hammered home in the sub-heading: [emphasis added]
“The Israeli government approves the construction of nearly 1,200 new homes in occupied Palestinian areas, days ahead of fresh peace talks.”
What is it with the BBC and numbers of houses lately? First it declared 878 to be “around 1,000” and now, instead of writing the (shorter) accurate number 1,187, we have “nearly 1,200”. That is 135 non-existent houses invented in three days by an organization which counts every breeze-block.
But the real question about this article – which underwent several changes and goes under the loaded title of “Israel backs new Jewish settlement homes” despite the fact that non-Jews, including Israeli Arabs, also live in Jerusalem neighbourhoods such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Gilo – is why it should be considered news.
The BBC tries very hard (once again) to herd its audiences into perceiving the announcement of the intention to publish tenders for houses and apartments – which, as it admits towards the end of the article, will not be ready for habitation for at least another couple of years – as a deliberately placed spoke in the wheels of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians due to resume later this week. But of course no construction freeze was agreed as a precondition to those talks and so there is absolutely no reason why, until something concrete has been agreed, building should not proceed as usual. In fact, the Palestinian negotiating team apparently specifically rejected a building freeze as a ‘confidence building measure’.
“Two weeks ago Netanyahu told the cabinet that the Palestinians had rejected his offer of a limited construction freeze in the settlements outside the large blocs instead of a prisoner release.”
Take a look at the language employed by the BBC in this article and its now standard use of template slogans on the subject of “settlements”. [all emphasis added]
“The Israeli government has approved the construction of nearly 1,200 new homes in Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian areas.
Construction Minister Uri Ariel said they would be built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to meet the needs of Israeli citizens.”
There’s the BBC touting the notion of “Palestinian areas” yet again, despite the lack of factual basis for that claim.
“It comes three days before peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are due to resume in Jerusalem.”
Obviously the insertion of that sentence is designed to herd audiences into thinking that the announcement should jeopardise those talks, especially when followed as it is by the standard – misleading – BBC narrative concerning the previous round of talks which readers have seen so many times before.
“The issue of settlement-building halted the last direct talks.
These collapsed in September 2010.”
At the end of the article the BBC seeks to fix that impression in the minds of audiences by tossing in another standard – and equally misleading – BBC slogan and by quoting (once again) the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi.
“Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the Israeli announcement.
“We believe that Israel is deliberately sending a message to the US, to the rest of the world that regardless of any attempt at launching negotiations, ‘we are going to press ahead with stealing more land, building more settlements and destroying the two-state-solution‘,” she told the BBC.
“This is an extremely dangerous policy, and if left unchecked it certainly would lead to greater conflict and the destruction of all chances of peace.” ” [emphasis added]
The article selectively quotes Housing Minister Uri Ariel:
“Mr Ariel said in a statement: “No country in the world takes orders from other countries [about] where it can build and where it can’t.
“We will continue to market housing and build in the entire country… This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy.” “
Uri Ariel’s full statement, as reported by Channel 2, was as follows:
“The Government of Israel is working to lower the cost of living in all areas of the State of Israel. No country in the world accepts dictates from other countries [with regard to] where it is permitted to build and where not. We will continue to market housing and to build in all regions of the country, in the Negev, in the Galilee and in the centre so as to answer the needs of all residents of the State of Israel. That is the right thing at this time, from a Zionist point of view and from an economic point of view.”
Whilst the BBC article does eventually tell its readers in which towns and neighbourhoods these tenders are relevant, it is highly doubtful that most readers will be familiar enough with the geography to appreciate the significance of those locations.
“Mr Ariel said 793 apartments would be built in east Jerusalem and 394 in several large West Bank settlements.
Plots are to be offered in Har Homa and Gilo, on East Jerusalem’s southern outskirts, and in Pisgat Zeev, on the city’s northern edge.
Tenders will also be invited for homes in Ariel, in the northern West Bank, in Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, and in Efrata and Beitar Ilit, around Bethlehem.”
The actual numbers are 400 units in Gilo, 210 in Har Homa and 183 in Pisgat Ze’ev.
In addition, 117 units are planned in Ariel, 149 in Efrat, 92 in Ma’ale Adumim and 36 in Beitar Ilit.
Of course the BBC ‘conveniently’ forgets to inform readers that all of those towns are located in large blocs which – under any realistic scenario – would remain under Israeli control in the event of a peace deal being reached. To inform audiences of that fact would of course reduce the article’s dramatic effect considerably.
But apparently the drama already created by that article was not considered sufficient by someone at the BBC News website. By the evening of August 11th it had been replaced with a different one and headlines on both the BBC News website’s main page and on its Middle East page informed readers that “New West Bank settlement homes anger Palestinians“.
Whilst very similar to its predecessor in that it includes the same standard misleading template slogans, this newer article is augmented with ominous quotes from two more Palestinian officials in addition to those from Hanan Ashrawi already included in the previous piece.
In the body of both articles and in the side-box of ‘analysis’ by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly appearing in them, BBC audiences are fed the following idea:
“In order to get the Palestinians to agree to the talks, Israel approved the release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners. The first group is due to be freed on 13 August.
The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says that announcing the settlement construction at the same time may be intended as a sop to right-wing supporters of the government who oppose those prisoner releases.” [emphasis added]
Get it? The only explanation that the BBC can think of for people being opposed to the early release of terrorist murderers of Israeli citizens including pensioners, women and children is that they are of a “right-wing” political persuasion.
That same notion was promoted on BBC television news in a filmed report by Kevin Connolly – also titled “New Israeli settlement homes anger Palestinians” and also featuring Saeb Erekat.
Significantly, at no point in any of these reports does the BBC bother to inform its audiences that the announcement of tenders for these new apartments in no way contradicts the agreements so far reached with regard to the renewal of talks. Instead, it both parrots and amplifies to the point of near hysteria the tactical narrative promoted by PA officials and in doing so, creates a smoke-screen which conceals from BBC audiences issues far more detrimental to the success of the upcoming talks than tenders for houses which will not see the light of day for many months to come.