A filmed report from Bethlehem by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell – titled “Christmas eve celebrations in Bethlehem’s Manger Square” – which was broadcast on BBC television news, also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on December 24th.
Knell starts off well enough, describing the scene to viewers. However the item takes a different turn when studio presenter Nik Gowing says:
“Yolande, I hope you can hear me. What about security and the practicalities of getting to Bethlehem? After all, emm, there is a significant amount of building around where you are at the moment. The reality has changed quite significantly in recent years.”
“That’s correct. In the Bethlehem Governorate there are more than twenty Pal..err…Israeli settlements and now Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. It appears as a high concrete wall around Bethlehem and the people here complain that it has strangled their economy. Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab. For Christmas though, there are three gates that open up, enabling the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city and so this does open up the city and it makes it a joyful occasion in that way as well.”
Let’s take that one claim at a time.
The ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ is an entity arbitrarily created by the Palestinian Authority. The area which the PA claims as the ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ does not however include areas exclusively under the control of the PA – i.e. districts falling into the categories of Area A or B according to the Oslo Accords – but also includes (as do other ‘Governorates’) large parts of Area C, which is currently under Israeli control according to the agreements willingly signed by the Palestinians and the status of which is to be determined under final status negotiations according to the terms of those same Oslo Accords. Hence, according to the narrative adopted and propagated by Yolande Knell, the area of Gush Etzion also falls within the ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ in much the same way as, say, Gibraltar falls within the ‘Algeciras Governorate’.
Of course Knell conveniently neglects to inform viewers that Jewish communities existed on Jewish-owned land in Gush Etzion long before 1948 and that those communities were destroyed, massacred and ethnically cleansed by British financed, equipped and led Jordanian troops.
What about Knell’s claim of “a high concrete wall around Bethlehem”? Audiences will naturally understand “around” to mean – as it does in the English language – encircling, on every side. However the anti-terrorist fence does not encircle Bethlehem – it is located to its north and west as can be seen on the UN-produced map below.
And is the section of the fence near Bethlehem “a high concrete wall” as Knell claims? Well, apart from one small section, no. On the map below, concrete sections of the anti-terrorist fence are marked with yellow and grey stripes whilst parts made of wire fencing appear in purple and the orange section represents road protection from sniper attacks.
Predictably, Knell also inserts the problematic standard BBC ‘impartiality box-ticker’ which we recently discussed on these pages.
“Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab.”
And what of Knell’s claim that special Christmas arrangements “open up the city”? Well there are buses which run from Jerusalem to Bethlehem every day and the crossing is open 24 hours a day, so clearly the city is already open.
As we see, in a report lasting less than one and a half minutes, Yolande Knell has managed to exploit Christmas Eve in Bethlehem in order to mislead, lie and promote her all too transparent political agenda to millions around the world. And as if that is not bad enough, the BBC News website went on to make sure that anyone who missed the televised version will catch it online by featuring the video for a second time in a written report titled “Bethlehem: Christmas crowds gather in town” and stating in the text:
“Despite the erection of Israel’s separation barrier with the West Bank, which appears as a high concrete wall around the town, three gates have been opened for Christmas to allow the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]
Thanks to Knell, BBC News and BBC Online, the BBC Trust’s claim that “BBC News aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” is exposed for the corny pound shop Christmas cracker joke it is.