In addition to the written report discussed in a previous post, the rioting on Temple Mount on September 13th was also the subject of a radio report (available here from 26:35) broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on that day.
Presenter James Menendez introduced the item as follows:
“Now there have been clashes today in Jerusalem between Palestinian youths and the Israeli police. The violence broke out at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City – the scene of many confrontations in the past between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims. And that’s because this large complex is home to sites revered by both religions. [recorded sound] Well that’s the sound of stun grenades fired by the Israeli police as they moved into the compound, confronted – they say – by Palestinians who’d barricaded themselves inside, throwing stones and fire crackers. Well Nawal Assad is BBC Arabic’s correspondent in Jerusalem; so what exactly happened?”
Listeners then heard the following inaccurate and partisan account from Nawal Assad: [all emphasis in bold added]
“The clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers in what Palestinian Muslims call Al Aqsa Mosque, which is their holiest place in the city and what Jews believe it to be the Temple Mount. Police clashed with these worshippers after the morning prayers because the police says that a group of Palestinian youths barricaded in the mosque against the orders of the Israeli police and the Israeli Ministry of Defence few days ago and the worshippers started throwing stones at the police and they responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the mosque.”
As we see, in addition to downgrading history and archaeology to a matter of Jewish belief, Assad misrepresented the rioters as “worshippers” and avoided any mention of their premeditated plan to disrupt visits to the site on Rosh Hashana eve whilst at the same time concealing their amassing of pipe bombs and additional materials intended to be used as weapons in the mosque. She also failed to inform audiences fully regarding the recent banning of two groups of paid Islamist agitators (consistently unacknowledged by the BBC) at the site. Assad then continued with promotion of flagrant falsehoods.
“Palestinians say that more than 600 visitors entered the mosque following the morning prayers. Many of them are Jews led by the Israeli agriculture minister Uri Ariel who has been calling recently many Jews to visit that area and pray in the Muslim site because they believe that the Temple Mount lies beneath that mosque. So many Jews heeded these calls and participated in this visit this morning.”
With Assad having told listeners just moments earlier that “clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers” listeners would have been highly likely to take her subsequent claim that “visitors entered the mosque following the morning prayers” to mean that those visits sparked the violence. Her claim that “600 visitors entered the mosque” is clearly inaccurate: non-Muslim visitors to Temple Mount do not go into Al Aqsa Mosque.
Assad failed to tell listeners that the Jews visiting the site on that particular day were beginning celebration of a major holiday, instead leading them to believe that the visitors were ‘heeding calls’ from an Israeli minister. She clearly does not know the difference between the site of the ancient Temple and Temple Mount and her claim that Jews believe that the Temple is located underneath Al Aqsa Mosque are inaccurate and misleading. Whilst Uri Ariel (who did happen to visit Temple Mount on that particular day) has advocated for equal prayer rights for members of all religions on Temple Mount, Assad’s portrayal of Temple Mount as an exclusively “Muslim site” and her failure to clarify that it is the holiest site in Judaism prevented listeners from understanding the issue correctly.
Menendez then asked:
“What is the situation when it comes to access at the moment? Perhaps you could just describe the site and when it is that each group can go – or can anyone go whenever they like?”
The geographically challenged Nawal Assad said:
“There is more than 140 dunams which is a massive area of land.”
Of course the entire Old City of Jerusalem is built on an area of less than one square kilometre and in fact Temple Mount measures 488 meters along its west side, 470 meters along its east side, 315 meters along its north side and 280 meters along its south side: hardly “a massive area of land”. Nawal Assad then gave unqualified amplification to a narrative which is as historically inaccurate as it is politically motivated:
“Palestinian Muslims consider all that compound to be the Al Aqsa Mosque.”
“There are about twelve gates. All the twelve gates are manned by guards – Israeli guards and also guards paid actually by the Jordanian government who has the control of the Muslim sites in Jerusalem. Israel has the right to allow or not allow whoever they want to enter into that compound to do prayers. In recent years there has been [sic] rules about dividing the times between Muslims when they can go to pray [and] visitors – as tourists. Since 2013 there has been more visit of Jews who have been seen – and I have seen it myself – who enter from the entrance near the Wailing Wall into the vicinity of the compound and they do like symbolic prayers there. This has been aggravating the situation in the compound itself because Muslim worshippers are against it.”
Neither Assad nor Menendez bothered to inform listeners that non-Muslims are in fact forbidden from praying at the site which is just as significant to them as it is to Muslims and Assad went on to make yet another inaccurate claim.
“The Israeli government seems like it’s going towards a situation where there would be shared times of prayers in that area which Muslims consider it to be their third holiest mosque.”
Menedez then asked a question which clearly misled listeners by implying that the latest round of violence on Temple Mount is connected to the issue of equal prayer rights:
“And are Muslims in Jerusalem firmly against that or is there any appetite for some sort of system to avoid these clashes happening?”
Assad went on to amplify a dangerous and entirely baseless conspiracy theory:
“Muslims in Jerusalem are petrified that Israel plans to rebuild the Temple Mount which means that they will have to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. Not just Muslims actually, I must say, because there has been [sic] calls from the Muslim-Christian Palestinian Council this morning condemning these visits.”
The item closed as follows:
Menendez: “What’s the situation now? Have things calmed down?”
Assad: “No. Tension is still mounting in that area. About 300 people were marching just about noon here in Jerusalem and they were again dispersed.”
As we see, in addition to failing to provide listeners with anything even approaching the real factual background to this story, Nawal Assad used this item to promote the kind of inaccuracies and conspiracy theories which can have extremely dangerous consequences. Given that this item was broadcast around the entire world, it is all the more egregious for a BBC reporter to be adding the corporation’s stamp of reliability to such inflammatory rumours.
Either Nawal Assad is incompetent or she is exploiting this topic for the amplification of content which can only be described as incitement. Whichever the case, the BBC World Service needs to urgently clarify to its listeners around the world that there is no truth in her claims of impending changes in the status quo on Temple Mount by the Israeli government and no basis for the conspiracy theory concerning the destruction of Al Aqsa Mosque which she so irresponsibly promotes.
The BBC might also care to note that its reputation as an impartial broadcaster is not enhanced by its Arabic branch’s Jerusalem correspondent’s use of a profile picture including a keffiyah.
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