BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

The June 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item about “the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours” which is available here from 26:40 or from 24:35 in the podcast here or here. The transcript below is taken from the podcast version.History Hour 14 6

Presenter Max Pearson introduces the item as follows:

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

In her own introduction, Louise Hidalgo makes no more effort than is apparent in Pearson’s to provide listeners with the all-important context of the reasons behind the war and the events which led to the preceding build-up of tensions.

Hidalgo: “It’s early June 1967 and Israel and its Arab neighbours are embarking on a war that will change the shape of the Middle East. Samia Khoury lived in a Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem with her husband and two small children. Jordan ruled East Jerusalem then and the West Bank and the build-up of tension with Israel had been palpable.”

Of course nobody – including Samia Khoury herself – would have described her neighbourhood as “Palestinian” at the time. Hidalgo fails to inform listeners how Jordan came to ‘rule’ parts of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria and hence they remain unaware of one of the prime factors which contributed to this war of continuance.

Throughout the entire item, Palestinians are portrayed exclusively as powerless victims of circumstances beyond their control – and responsibility. Statements such as those made by the chairman of the PLO in the period preceding the outbreak of hostilities have no place in this politicised version of ‘history’.

Shukairy statements

Hence, listeners hear only accounts such as the following from the programme’s two interviewees.

Samia Khoury: “It really worried me. I felt could this be another Nakba. I mean, I’m going somewhere else and then I can’t come back home.”

Hidalgo adds:

“The memory of what had happened 19 years earlier in 1948 was still raw among Palestinians. Then, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled or been driven out of their homes during the fighting that surrounded the birth of the State of Israel. They thought they’d be able to go back but they couldn’t. Many lived in the refugee camps that sprang up afterwards. Palestinians call that time the Nakba, or catastrophe.”

Once again, the context of the Arab decision to attack the nascent Israeli state and the calls by Arab leaders to evacuate towns and villages is erased from Hidalgo’s account: Palestinians are agency-free victims of circumstance according to her portrayal of events.

Hidalgo also says:

“By the end of those six days the scale of the Arabs’ defeat was clear. Israel now controlled territory four times its size and the Old City of Jerusalem. For the first time, Jews could pray freely at their sacred Western Wall.”

Had Hidalgo added ‘in nineteen years’ after “for the first time”, that sentence would have been accurate. However, she did not.

The item also includes a gratuitous – and of course unsupported – tale of ‘Israeli cruelty’ from someone who was an eight year-old child at the time.

Hidalgo: “Nuri remembers the terrifying walk they made across the wobbling, blackened remains of the [Allenby] bridge up the hill to the Israeli commander.”

Nuri Akram Nuri: “And my mum aid that she’s from the town of Ramallah, she lives there, her husband is there and she’d like to reunite with him. And he refused. […] This guy saw that she was persistent so he put his gun and said you go back now or I’ll shoot you in front of your kids.”

Towards the end of the item, listeners hear promotion of Samia Khoury’s politicized narrative.

Samia Khoury: “We were sure that this is going to be temporary but…ah…the more time passed by we felt so stupid. The everyday small things that you take for granted; this is what the occupation is about. It chokes you. Chokes your thinking, chokes your spirit.”

Of course Hidalgo refrains from asking Khoury whether or not nineteen years of Jordanian occupation also “chokes your spirit” and – in breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality – she also refrains from adequately ‘summarising the standpoint’ of her interviewee.

Hidalgo: “Samia Khoury still lives in Beit Hanina in eastern Jerusalem and is a trustee of the Palestinian university Birzeit which was founded by her aunt in the 20s.”

In fact, Nabiha Nasir founded the Birzeit School for Girls in 1924. Only in 1976 – whilst under Israeli rule – did the establishment officially become a university.

In addition to being a trustee of Birzeit University, Samia Khoury (like several of her fellow trustees and staff at that institution) is also a member of the Advisory Board of PACBI – Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. She is also an activist with Sabeel – a Palestinian Christian campaigning organization which promotes the eradication of the Jewish state by means of the ‘one state solution’ and dabbles in supersessionism and ‘liberation theology’.  Like PACBI, Sabeel is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

In other words, Samia Khoury is not just some random Palestinian grandmother who does voluntary work for a university. She is a veteran activist with a specific political narrative to promote and – according to BBC editorial guidelines – that fact should have been conveyed to listeners to this programme in order to enable them to put her account of ‘history’ into its appropriate context.

Related Articles:

The Six Day War – CAMERA website

Resources:

Max Pearson on Twitter

BBC World Service contact details

How to Complain to the BBC

 

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9 comments on “BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

  1. Has a complaint been made to the BBC about the ‘inaccuracies’ and breaches of its guidelines?

  2. I heard this programme last night on the World Service and given the contents of this article (particularly the ‘true’ identity of that Samia Khoury) am even more astonished that the BBC could get away with it.

    Is it really worth complaining, though?

  3. BBC seems to be dragging out this saga for 67 years. When are they going to acknowledge that an even greater number of Arab Jews became refugees at the same time without UNRWA or plans of revenge or claims for loss of lands from Morocco to Iran ten times the size of Israel. Is BBC saving this as filler for another 67 years of so called journalism???

  4. There is Unwritten Rules of BBC reporting: never question the account of a Palestinian and never question the account of any western Israel-hater.

  5. Pingback: BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis | BBC Watch

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