The May 20th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Business Matters’ devoted roughly half its content (from 26:39 here) to the topic of “Doing Business In The West Bank” and, in addition to the interview with a World Bank representative discussed in a previous post, listeners heard presenter Roger Hearing introduce that segment of the show with the following words.
“The West Bank has become the name for the land on the west bank of the River Jordan that was in Jordanian hands until it was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.”
In typical BBC style, Hearing’s history begins in 1967 and thus erases from audience view both the name (Judea & Samaria) and the legal status of that territory before the fledgling Israeli state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states in 1948. Jordan’s belligerent nineteen-year occupation – unrecognized by all but two countries – is likewise airbrushed by Hearing through use of the euphemistic phrase “in Jordanian hands”. He also conceals the fact that the term “West Bank” was deliberately employed by the Jordanian occupiers in order to promote the notion that the territory had some sort of legitimate link to Jordan. Hearing continues:
“It includes four and a half million Palestinians. It also contains a growing number of Israelis who’ve established settlements regarded as illegal under international law.”
As ever, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality are breached as Hearing fails to inform listeners even of the existence of legal opinions which differ from the one exclusively quoted and promoted by the BBC.
He goes on:
“A modern map of the West Bank is a mind-boggling jigsaw of areas under the control of Israel or of the Palestinian Authority as well as settlements and roads linking settlements that Palestinians cannot use, plus an Israeli security wall that sometimes cuts off farmers from their land.”
The context of how that “jigsaw” came about is erased from Hearing’s account with no mention of the fact that the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people agreed to that arrangement when they signed the Oslo Accords two decades ago.
Not only does Hearing fail to clarify that the “areas under the control of Israel” (Area C) are not separate from the “settlements” as his words imply (all Israeli towns and villages are located in Area C and Israel has security control only in Area B) but his claim that Palestinians cannot use “roads linking settlements” is inaccurate and misleading. The vast majority of roads in the region are open to use by all motorists: even the political NGO B’Tselem acknowledges that in the region to which Hearing relates, as of March 2015, vehicles with PA number plates were excluded from travel on just three sections of road totaling less than 15 kms. Hearing of course neglects to point out that Israelis cannot use the roads in Area A – the parts of the region under Palestinian Authority control to which Israelis are forbidden entry.
Hearing fails to comply even with his own organisation’s style guide when he describes an “Israeli security wall” which is in fact 97% fence: the approved BBC term is in fact “barrier”. He also fails to note that the fence includes agricultural gates specifically designed to enable farmers to reach their land.
“Every planned segment of the fence has been first examined and approved by legal advisors prior to its construction. As a matter of policy, wherever possible, the fence is built on state-owned, rather than private lands, in an effort to minimize land seizures. Additionally, great efforts are made to avoid separating landowners from their lands; in circumstances where such separation is unavoidable, agricultural gates allowing for farmers to cross into their land have been built. Moreover, in cases where the fence causes residents economic harm, those affected are entitled to compensation. In addition, residents can petition Israel’s High Court of Justice with objections to the route of the fence. As of May 2008, approximately 140 petitions have been submitted against the route of the fence to the High Court of Justice. In several cases, the court decided that particular sections of the fence cause disproportionate harm to Palestinian residents and ordered the fence to be rerouted.”
Refraining from supplying his listeners with any independent portrayal of the context of the frequent attacks against Israeli civilians travelling on roadways in Judea & Samaria during the second Intifada and the suicide bombings originating from that area which plagued Israeli towns and cities during those years, Hearing also fails to provide the all-important context of the current security threats which mean that measures such as the anti-terrorist fence and checkpoints – whilst significantly reduced in recent years – are still necessary. Instead he adopts the standard “Israel says” formula in his nod to BBC requirements of ‘impartiality’.
“Israel says their checkpoints and restrictions on movement and imports are vital to security. And it’s true: inside Israel attacks are very low in number these days. But there’s an economic price to pay for Palestinians…”
Just as Hearing’s introduction to the part of this series relating to the Gaza Strip provided a revealing glimpse into the ‘BBC World View’, this monologue also shows how the adoption of a specific political narrative dictates the type and quality of information provided to audiences and compromises the BBC’s adherence to its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.