On October 30th the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was presented by Julian Marshall. The programme included an item (available from 30:00 here) concerning the brief closure of Temple Mount to visitors as part of measures to calm the situation following the attempted murder of Rabbi Yehuda Glick in central Jerusalem the evening before and the subsequent death of the would-be assassin in a shoot-out.
After Marshall’s introduction (which included a description of Yehuda Glick as “an outspoken Jewish activist”), listeners heard brief contributions from Israeli spokesman Mark Regev and Minister Naftali Bennett. Marshall then introduced “the representative in the UK of the Palestinian Authority” – Manuel Hassassian.
During the next four minutes Hassassian was given free rein to promote a series of inaccurate, defamatory and often contradictory claims with no meaningful intervention from Marshall as listeners were misled by his falsehoods time after time. Manuel Hassassian responded to Marshall’s first question concerning the reason for Mahmoud Abbas’ description of the temporary closure of Temple Mount as “a declaration of war” by saying:
“This is not the first time that the Israelis have been desecrating, you know, the holy sites by allowing settlers, you know, to go in, you know, and act as gung-hos, you know, trying to instigate the Palestinians and what have you. The element of religion here which the Israelis are putting into this conflict is going to escalate further and further by not alienating the Palestinians and Christians but by alienating 1.5 billion Muslims. And this is not really helping in coming back to the negotiating table while at the same time the building of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and in the Old City and the confiscation of 35 homes just recently is adding fuel to the fire. And that’s why, you know, when the closure took place, which was unprecedented since 1967, President Abbas thought this is a declaration of war. But we hope that the Israelis, as they claim, that they will open it in the 24 hours – that might reduce a little bit the conflict but…but Israel’s continuous policies of trying to revoke residencies, demolishing houses, shooting indiscriminately, allowing – you know – the settlers to go into the Haram without impunity, I mean this is escalating the situation on the ground at a time when we’re trying basically of course to get the two parties to the negotiating table.”
Marshall failed to point out to listeners that Hassassian’s claim that the closure was “unprecedented since 1967” is inaccurate, that the PA is not currently making any efforts to get negotiations back on track but rather – after its scuppering of talks earlier this year by means of the announcement of a unity government together with Hamas – instigating a series of unilateral moves. Revealingly, he also failed to challenge Hassassian with regard to the reactionary claim that the very presence of non-Muslims on Temple Mount ‘desecrates’ the site and avoided questioning him on the issue of Palestinian violence at the location. Marshall instead continued:
JM: “OK. Now you talk about Israeli provocation but you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’s spokesperson who says there are different elements within the Israeli body politic who would probably like to have greater access for Jews to pray there on the Temple Mount. The Prime Minister has said that he will support the status quo. Now that from the Israeli prime minister…”
MH: “The same prime minister is saying that we can continue to build settlements in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. He is the one who is going to accept the promulgation of a law totally dividing the Al Aqsa Mosque between Jews and Muslims and he is going along with this coalition government that is based on settlements and desecration the holy sites. Israelis are going to the Temple Mount. We don’t control the Al Aqsa Mosque. Israel controls it with its soldiers. They are the ones who tell the worshippers whether to go and pray or not to pray. We don’t control the Al Aqsa Mosque.”
Marshall failed to clarify to listeners that – in contrast to Hassassian’s false claim – there is no evidence to suggest that the Israeli prime minister intends to promulgate a law “dividing” Temple Mount. He refrained from challenging the equally false claim of government-sponsored “desecration” (definition: treat a sacred place or thing with violent disrespect) of holy sites by Israelis. Likewise, Marshall avoided clarifying to listeners that restrictions on access to Temple Mount are related solely to the security situation.
JM: “I thought the Jordanians controlled it?”
MH: “The Jordanians are considered to be under their auspices; their mandatory [unintelligible] but al Waqf – the Islamic al Waqf of the Palestinians – are the ones with all the employees are Palestinians. So I mean we control the situation per se, alright, with the coordination of the Jordanians but the Israelis, you know, are not allowing us to worship or to practice our religion there. Every time they close; they don’t allow people to enter. If they allow them they have to be above 55 years old and even women were not allowed to enter the Al Aqsa Mosque the other day to pray. I mean these are discriminatory policies that only escalates the tension at a time when Israel feels that the international community is recognizing the state of Palestine, that the international community is attacking Israel for its hegemonic policies in the occupied territories and this is the reaction: to derail the entire peace process by creating new facts on the ground and escalating tensions.”
Marshall refrained from clarifying to audiences that there is no factual basis to Hassassian’s claims of “discriminatory policies” or that Israel does not allow Muslims “to worship or to practice our religion” on Temple Mount. He avoided asking his interviewee why the PA refuses to allow members of other faiths to practice their religion at the site and once again failed to challenge Hassassian’s false claims with regard to the non-existent ‘peace process’.
JM: “Do you see this being resolved at all by negotiation or does your position remain that you will not allow Jews to pray there?”
MH: “First of all you have to end the occupation. Once we end occupation and they recognize us as a fully fledged state, everything will be negotiable.”
The background to the Temple Mount story is of course complex but certainly this interview (nor the one which followed it with the Guardian’s Middle East editor) did nothing to promote better understanding of it among listeners and in fact the unchallenged amplification of Hassassian’s falsehoods could only further mislead and confuse audiences.
As we see, the BBC takes inflammatory Palestinian allegations of ‘desecration’ of Temple Mount by the very presence of non-Muslims at the site as an axiom to be blindly promoted to audiences. At the same time it reneges on its obligation to build audience understanding of “international issues” by consistently refraining from fully reporting on the background to the Palestinians’ use of the site for purposes other than worship – as documented in the video below – whilst providing amplification for false claims of religious discrimination tendentiously based on access limitations made necessary by precisely that same deliberately instigated political violence which is obviously not considered ‘desecration’ by either the PA or the BBC.