On the morning of April 1st the following headline was promoted on assorted BBC Twitter accounts. It was apparently not an April Fools’ Day joke.
Visitors to the BBC News website found both written and filmed versions of Jeremy Bowen’s embarrassingly unchallenging interview with Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al: “Hamas leader Meshaal warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after elections” and “Hamas leader accuses Israel of killing peace process“. In the synopsis to the filmed version, audiences are told that:
“Khaled Meshaal was speaking to the BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where he lives in exile.” [emphasis added]
As has been noted here before, the accurate terminology is ‘self-imposed exile’.
Bowen’s self-conscripted role as a vessel for the propagation of Hamas’ public relations campaign should of course be viewed within the context of his earlier orchestration of coverage of the recent election in Israel which focused on persuading BBC audiences that the Israeli electorate’s choice – and that alone – had killed off the peace process. Thus, in response to a question from Bowen which viewers of the filmed report do not hear, Masha’al replies:
“Even in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans, Netanyahu is the most extreme leader and the one who likes to shed blood the most. That’s why we’re expecting difficult times with him. And it’s the responsibility of the international community to put a stop to his stubbornness and Israeli extremism. We’re not looking for any escalation but we will defend ourselves.” [emphasis added]
Notably, the BBC did not edit out that highlighted statement.
Any serious journalist would of course have followed through on that latter sentence with questions on topics such as Hamas’ frequent missile testing and tunnel reconstruction since the end of last summer’s conflict, Masha’al’s slated visit to Tehran, his colleague Mahmoud al Zahar’s recent call for support from Hizballah and Iran and Hamas’ ongoing attempts to establish its terror infrastructure in PA controlled areas. Bowen predictably did not confront his interviewee with such tricky subjects, but moved on to a ‘question’ which provided the opportunity for Masha’al to mislead BBC audiences with regard to Hamas’ aims.
Bowen: “Do you think a two state solution is still possible between yourselves and the Israelis?
Masha’al: “Israel with its extremist leadership has killed the peace process, the two state solution and every opportunity for a political solution for the Palestinian cause. And if the West and the United States want to do something new, then they have to change the approach that they followed for years. The new approach should be pressuring Israel and not the Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not the ones who are responsible.”
Similarly, in the written version we find the BBC unquestioningly promoting this Hamas spin:
“Although Hamas has opposed years of on-off peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Mr Meshaal said he and the group had agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state.”
Of course the BBC has been pushing this theme for some time now, despite the fact that Masha’al made his position clear in a BBC interview in February 2013:
Stephen Sackur: “But I just want to nail down what your current position is on the question of a two state solution to provide a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Saudi newspaper Al Sharq reported just the other day that you are now prepared to accept a two state solution. You have told this, according to the newspaper, to King Abdullah and you’ve asked King Abdullah to…of Jordan…to relay this message to President Obama. Is that true?”
Masha’al: “This is not true.”
Further, in January 2014:
“Hamas said it never gave Abbas or anyone else a mandate to agree to the two-state solution.
The Islamist group said that in 2006, all Palestinian factions agreed to the establishment of Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel “without recognizing the Zionist entity or its legitimacy on the land of Palestine.”
It added that “resistance in all shapes, first and foremost armed struggle, will remain the only effective way to achieve the goals of the Palestinian people and liberate their land.””
Bowen refrains from making any effort to deconstruct Masha’al’s Western-focused PR spin and goes on to provide him with the opportunity for more:
Bowen: “Now in some of the…ahh…statements put out by Mr Netanyahu and others in Israel they have associated the activities of Hamas with the activities of Jihadist groups like the group that calls itself Islamic State and also like Al Qaeda. They tend to put you all into the same category. What do you think of that? Do you think that’s a fair comment?”
Masha’al: “There is no Daesh [ISIS], no IS or Al Qaeda in Palestine. There are some lone wolves but they are isolated. We don’t allow such thoughts in Palestine. The Palestinian people are in a movement for national liberation. It is a just cause and it is certainly not terrorism – quite the opposite. The Palestinians have been the victims of Israeli terrorism for decades. I condemn any side that is practicing extremism and killing based on identity or affiliation.” [emphasis added]
Bowen makes no effort to question Masha’al on the topic of Hamas collaboration with Jihadist elements in the Sinai Peninsula and of course he refrains from asking him how that highlighted sentence fits in with statements in the Hamas charter and the propaganda disseminated in Hamas-run mosques and Hamas-run media.
Hamas cleric: “Our belief about fighting you [Jews] is that we will exterminate you, until the last one, and we will not leave of you even one. For you are the usurpers of the land, foreigners, mercenaries of the present and of all times. Look at history, brothers: Wherever there were Jews, they spread corruption… (Quran): “They spread corruption in the land, and Allah does not like corrupters.” Their belief is destructive. Their belief fulfills the prophecy. Our belief is in obtaining our rights on our land, implementing Shari’ah (Islamic law) under Allah’s sky.” [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), July 25, 2014]
Bowen’s subsequent questions enable Masha’al to expand on his whitewashing of Hamas ideology for Western audiences.
Bowen: Is there a sense in which…ahh….the activities of Muslim Brotherhood allies like yourselves in Hamas are being overshadowed by the growth of Jihadist groups – Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the like?”
Masha’al: “We are an active resistance with a just cause battling the occupier. We have a moderate ideology and an open mind. Others practice violence in the name of Jihad, which we condemn. And this is not Islam. [emphasis added]
Bowen: “There are plenty people in America, Britain, Israel, other places who would laugh when they heard you say that Hamas is a moderate organization. That’s not how they’d describe you.”
Masha’al: “The ones who are laughing at our logic today, they should laugh at Mandela and what the Vietnamese people have done and what De Gaulle did when he led the liberation war against the Nazi occupation in the Second World War. They should laugh at George Washington and the American Revolution. The people of the world have been liberated from occupiers and the Palestinian people are doing the same and so is Hamas.”
Bowen of course avoids asking Masha’al why Hamas continues to carry out terror attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel a decade after the last Israeli soldier left the Gaza Strip.
“But to its supporters Hamas is seen as a legitimate resistance movement.
In an interview with BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in Qatar, Mr Meshaal said attacks on Israel would continue “as long as there is occupation, aggression, war and killing”.
But he stressed that Hamas was “careful to respect international humanitarian law and to target only military targets”.” [emphasis added]
“The Palestinians, he [Masha’al] asserted, had shown that they were “flexible, serious and keen to achieve a just and rightful peace”.
“But Israel killed the peace process,” he added, blaming Mr Netanyahu’s outgoing government, along with “extremist forces” in Israel, for the collapse of the US-brokered direct negotiations last year.”
No effort is made to point out to readers that Hamas was not party to those negotiations and expressed opposition to them or that their collapse was the result of the PA’s decision to form a ‘unity government’ with Hamas.
A glimpse into the rationale behind these two alarmingly opaque puff pieces from Jeremy Bowen can be found in the insert of his ‘analysis’ in the written report:
“He [Masha’al] seemed to be calibrating his comments on the conflict with Israel to catch the prevailing mood of anger towards Mr Netanyahu in the White House, after his sharp turn to the ultra-nationalist Israeli Right in the last days of the election campaign.
Mr Meshaal called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.”
And of course Jeremy ‘I see no human shields’ Bowen just happened to be in Doha at this particular juncture in order to play matchmaker and enable the joining of those dots.
These two reports not only fail to meet the BBC’s commitment to “build a global understanding of international issues”, they actively sabotage that public purpose. They do, however, provide further indication why the corporation’s Middle East reporting consistently falls short of its professed standards of accuracy and impartiality and why it will continue to do so for as long as the helm of its Middle East reporting is steered by a man who long since self-conscripted to a particular political cause.