The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘A Point of View’ is broadcast on Friday evenings GMT, with a repeat on Sunday mornings. Last week – December 20th – the programme featured writer William Dalrymple on the subject of “Islamo-Christian Heritage”.
“In the week when Prince Charles has drawn attention to violence against Christians in the Middle East, William Dalrymple says it’s time to remember the “old and often forgotten co-habitation of Islam and Christianity”.”
The programme is also available as a podcast.
In addition, a written version of the item was featured in the ‘magazine’ section of the BBC News website, as well as on its Middle East page.
In all of those various versions of Dalrymple’s ‘point of view’, the following claim is made.
“On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim neighbours.”
All the Palestinian Christians in the Gaza Strip (0.7% of the total population) of course live under the rule of the Hamas regime. Well over 90% of the rest of the Palestinians live in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Christians make up some 8% of the total Palestinian population outside the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority controls traditionally Christian towns such as Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
Persecution of Christians in both the Gaza Strip and in PA-controlled areas does not go undocumented, although it is consistently under-reported by the Western mainstream media, apart from some rare exceptions. Prominent journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has reported extensively on the subject – see for example here, here and here – and in 2009 he wrote:
“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.
Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.
In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.
Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.
Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.
While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.
In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, for example, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.”
Hence, William Dalrymple’s claim of Christians emigrating due to “their increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim neighbours” conceals the fact that conditions under the supposedly secular Palestinian Authority are little better.
As for Dalrymple’s claim of those same Christians being pressured by the Israeli government, the simple fact that the vast majority do not live under Israeli rule is enough to demonstrate the absurdity of that assertion, but of course many members of the BBC audiences listening to or reading Dalrymple’s piece will not be aware of its geo-political background. Neither will they be aware of Israel’s annual efforts to facilitate Christmas celebrations for the Palestinian Christians from the Gaza Strip and the PA controlled areas.
However, Dalrymple’s baseless smear does not come out of the blue. Although the BBC describes him merely as “a writer and historian”, Dalrymple is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a patron of Sabeel who has a long history of anti-Israel activism under his belt, including propaganda diatribes at the Guardian and participation in the BDS-supporting ‘PalFest’.
In other words, the BBC has yet again contravened its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which clearly state:
“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.” [emphasis added]
Needless to say, the BBC has also clearly breached its own editorial guidelines on accuracy by failing to edit out a gratuitous smear produced by a known anti-Israel activist to whom, for some reason, it elects to give multiple platforms. The timing of the appearance of Dalrymple’s piece is of course also significant, with the Christmas season being prime time as far as the activities of anti-Israel lobbying groups are concerned and hence it is highly unfortunate for the BBC’s reputation that it jumps on the same opportunistic bandwagon as assorted ‘charities’ and NGOs, of which Sabeel and the PSC are just two of many.