Weekend long read

At the Weekly Standard, Willy Stern has a long article about Israel, Hizballah and what the next conflict might look like.Weekend Read

“Hezbollah has a nasty collection of more than 130,000 rockets, missiles, and mortars aimed at Israel. This is a bigger arsenal than all NATO countries (except the United States) combined. Why, a reasonable person might wonder, does Hezbollah need an offensive arsenal bigger than that of all Western Europe?”

The same topic naturally came under discussion at the recent Annual Herzliya Conference and the address given by the IDF’s head of military intelligence was covered by the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel.

“Halevy put particular emphasis on the threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Israel prepares to mark 10 years since the Second Lebanon War next month.

Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of more than 100,000 missiles and rockets, along with weapons systems “that they never had before,” Halevy said.

The intelligence chief wouldn’t say the next round of violence with the Iran-backed terror group would result in mass casualties among Israel’s civilian population, but came close.

“In the Yom Kippur War, we had one person killed on the home front from a Syrian missile. The situation in the next conflict will be completely different,” he said.”

Jonathan Spyer offers some sober reflections on the previous round of conflict between Israel and Hizballah.

“From the perspective of a decade later, however, much of the euphoria of Hizballah and the despair on parts of the Israeli side seem exaggerated.  The results of the war from an Israeli perspective in 2016 are mixed.

The border has indeed been quieter since 2006 than at any time since the late 1960s.  This fact in itself says more about Hizballah’s true assessment following the damage suffered in 2006 than any al-Akhbar editorial excitedly proclaiming divine victory.

And of course Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah himself told a Lebanese TV channel shortly after the war that had the movement known of the scale of the IDF response, Hizballah would have never have carried out the kidnappings which sparked the war.

At the same time, Resolution 1701, which was intended to keep the Shia Islamist movement north of the Litani has failed. Hizballah has built an extensive new infrastructure south of the river since 2006, under the noses of UNIFIL and often with the collusion of the Lebanese Armed Forces.  And Hizballah has vastly increased its rocket and missile capacity.”

At Fathom, Professor Richard Landes discusses anti-Zionism and the ‘global progressive Left’.

“At one point, a contributor to our panel on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement called that movement ‘anti-Semitic’. The panelist next to me almost jumped out of his skin. Apparently, he found that statement offensive. He was in the wrong room, among those with whom ‘good people’ do not speak.”

Read the whole article here

What word is missing from BBC report on sentencing of Hamas terrorists?

As has been mentioned here on prior occasions, it is extremely rare to see any follow-up reporting by the BBC after Palestinian terrorists have been arrested and put on trial but just such a report did appear on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 22nd under the headline “Palestinians jailed for life for killing Israeli couple“.Henkin terrorists sentencing art

However, despite this being a story about the sentencing of convicted terrorists belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation who murdered two Israelis in a pre-planned terror attack, the words terror, terrorist or terrorism do not appear even once in this report.

“An Israeli military court has sentenced four Palestinians to life in prison for the murder of an Israeli couple in the occupied West Bank, the military says.

Eitam and Naama Henkin were killed in front of their four young children in a drive-by shooting on 1 October.

The military said the assailants, members of the Islamist movement Hamas, opened fire at the Henkins’ car after an attempt to abduct them failed.”

What does appear in this article is the above link to the BBC’s original report on the attack. There we learn that over nine months since its publication, BBC Online has still not got round to correcting its inaccurate presentation of Eitam Henkin’s name.

Pigua Henkin family names

Sadly, there is of course nothing surprising about the BBC’s censoring of the word terror from this article: the same pattern was seen in its earlier reporting on the same story (see ‘related articles’ below).

However, just a few days earlier the BBC was capable of reporting that “jihadist terror struck Paris in November“.

terror Paris a

Similarly, BBC audiences were recently informed of “counter-terror raids” in Belgium which resulted in three men being charged.

“The charges they face include attempting to commit murder through terrorism and participating in a terrorist group.”

The BBC was also able to tell audiences in its own words that these raids were:

“…the biggest coordinated operation since the terror attacks here in Brussels three months ago.”

And that:

“Thirty-two people were murdered in the terror attacks in March…”

terror Belgium

Once again we see that while the BBC rightly uses the word terror when it reports on that topic in Europe, the same word is censored from its reporting from Israel, even an article about terrorists already convicted in court.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Connolly refrains from using the word terror in report on terror attack

BBC News describes Henkin family attackers as “alleged militants”

 

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount

The BBC Academy’s style guide includes instruction for the corporation’s producers and journalists on the correct terminology to be used when reporting on Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Temple Mount – both words capped. Note that the area in Jerusalem that translates from Hebrew as the Temple Mount should also be described, though not necessarily in the first four pars, as known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (ie lower case ‘al’, followed by a hyphen – and never ‘the al-Haram al-Sharif’, which is tautological). The Arabic translates as the Noble Sanctuary.” [emphasis in the original]

That guideline was generally followed in the past, as can be seen in the examples below.SONY DSC

“Ariel Sharon, then the leader of Israel’s opposition, paid a visit to the site in East Jerusalem known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa mosque – and frustration boiled over into violence.” (29/09/2004)

“The Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif is the most important religious site in Jerusalem.” (circa 2007)

“The Temple Mount compound, in the old city in East Jerusalem, covers an area of 35 acres. […] The same area is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).” (undated – circa 2009)

“The compound where the mosque lies is revered by Muslims and Jews and is a frequent flashpoint for violence. It is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.” (08/05/2013)

“Police said about 20 youths threw stones and fireworks at officers from the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. […] The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) compound, in the Old City in East Jerusalem, covers an area of 35 acres (14 hectares).” (25/02/2014)

“The compound – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.” (30/10/2014)

In late 2014, audiences began to see the employment of different terminology by some BBC journalists, as highlighted below.

SONY DSC

“Well…err….there were clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli police at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound – the place also known to Jews as the Temple Mount – in Jerusalem.”  (05/11/2014)

Earlier, Israeli police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. […] And then all of these issues around restricted access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound…ah…this holy site for Muslims, of course, but also for Jews who call it Temple Mount. (05/11/2014)

“It’s the Al Aqsa Mosque compound for Muslims – the third most sacred place in Islam – this mosque and then this is a site also revered by Jews because it contains…this is where the two Jewish temples were that stood in biblical times and at the moment Jews can’t pray there…ahm…but they can visit.”” (07/11/2014)

Concurrently, the BBC Academy recommended terminology was still seen in some reports from around the same time.

“But Israel also captured Haram al Sharif, or Temple Mount.” (08/11/2014)

“The Jerusalem compound that has been the focus of much of the unrest – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, while the al-Aqsa Mosque within the compound is the third holiest site in Islam.” (18/11/2014)

“Tensions in Jerusalem have recently been heightened by a dispute over a compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism. The compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.” (19/11/2014)

“It is a compound which contains both the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif: the place where the prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven. It’s also the spot on which the ancient temples of the Jews stood: those buildings destroyed by foreign invaders which contained the Holy of Holies and which are the cornerstone of the Jewish faith and identity. To Jews it is the Temple Mount.” (18/11/2014)

“If you’re a Muslim you will know it as al Haram al Sharif. If you’re Jewish you’ll call it Temple Mount. Home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, this holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem is the focus of rising tensions between the two communities…” (28/11/2014)

However, the term ‘al Aqsa Mosque compound’ – or even just ‘al Aqsa Mosque’ – was employed to describe what the BBC previously called Haram al Sharif with increasing frequency from November 2014 onwards. [emphasis added]

“In the last few weeks what we’ve had is this big flare-up in tensions over the Al Aqsa Mosque compound; about access to this important religious site. It’s the third holiest site in Islam. For Jews, who call it Temple Mount, it is the holiest site in their religion.” (18/11/2014)

“But the key to all of this, we think, is this ancient dispute about rights of worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque – which is called Temple Mount by Jews of course. Now that is a site sacred to both faiths – to Muslims and to Jews.” (18/11/2014)

“Palestinian youths have clashed with Israeli police who entered the al-Aqsa mosque complex in East Jerusalem.” (26/07/2015)

 “Palestinian youths have clashed with Israeli police at the Al Aqsa complex in East Jerusalem – one of Islam’s holiest sites.” (26/07/2015)

“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.”

“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.” (13/09/2015)

“Separately, violence has again rocked the al-Aqsa mosque compound.” (16/09/2015)

“And as you said this is really to do with the clashes that have taken place over the Jewish New Year’s holiday at the holy site you can see behind me: the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.” (16/09/2015)

“Clashes have broken out between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem.” (27/09/2015)

“Tensions have been particularly high in recent weeks over the long-running issue of access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem.” (01/10/2015)

“This week it’s the Jewish religious festival of Sukkot; that’s one of the times of year when Jews traditionally make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That means, of course, that they move towards the Western Wall in the old city; that means they’re close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.” (01/10/2015)

“It’s home to the Al Aqsa Mosque; sacred to Muslims and Jews.” (09/10/2015 – the BBC Trust ESC decision relating to that statement can be found here.)

“The last straw has been the widespread belief that Israel is planning to allow Jews more access to the compound of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which Palestinians call the Noble Sanctuary and Israelis call the Temple Mount.”Kotel at night 2

“Jerusalem: city of beauty, sanctity and hate. Its holy places are at the centre of the conflict. Only Muslims can pray in the compound around the golden Dome of the Rock at the Aqsa Mosque.” (15/10/2015)

“The current escalation was partly triggered by Palestinian fury over restricted access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. The site is holy to Muslims and Jews, who call it Temple Mount.”

The Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third holiest place in Islam. Jews call it Temple Mount and it’s also their holiest site.” (23/04/2016)

So how and why did that deviation from the BBC’s recommended terminology come about? As noted above, the change in language first appeared in November 2014. At the beginning of that month – on November 5ththe PLO put out a “media advisory” document (since removed from its website) informing foreign journalists of its “[c]oncern over the use of the inaccurate term “Temple Mount” to refer to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem”. That directive is of course part and parcel of the PLO’s tactic of negation of Jewish history in Jerusalem.

Whilst the BBC does continue to use the terms Temple Mount and Haram al Sharif as can be seen above, it has concurrently broadly embraced the PLO’s preferred terminology and that it not confined to correspondents on the ground alone.

Earlier this month the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee responded to an appeal concerning a complaint about the inaccuracy of the statement “It’s [Jerusalem’s Old City] home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews” with findings which support the earlier response from BBC Complaints:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).”

In addition to promoting its preferred terminology “al Aqsa Mosque compound”, the PLO document from November 5th also states:

“Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, sometimes referred to as the Noble Sanctuary (“Haram al-Sharif” in Arabic), is the compound that contains Al Aqsa building itself, ablution fountains, open spaces for prayer, monuments and the Dome of the Rock building. This entire area enclosed by the walls which spans 144 dunums (almost 36 acres), forms the Mosque.” [emphasis added]

A response from BBC Complaints received by BBC Watch earlier this year suggests that the BBC has internalised that claim:

“In the context of the interview “the area” he was referring to was the expanded prayer plaza which Muslims believe is an inseparable part of al-Aksa Mosque…”

So despite the BBC’s style guide not having undergone any changes, we see that de facto the BBC has adopted both the language – ‘al Aqsa Mosque compound’ – and the political ideology found in the PLO’s November 2014 recommendations. Apparently BBC editorial staff do not grasp how that compromises the corporation’s supposed impartiality. 

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC compliance with PLO media guidance

BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

BBC ‘explains’ its claim that Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site

Disturbing themes in BBC coverage of the wave of terror in Israel

 

Context missing from BBC News’ backgrounder on Strait of Tiran

On June 21st an article was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt court quashes Red Sea islands’ transfer to Saudis“. At the bottom of that article concerning an internal Egyptian debate appears a background insert titled “Why the Red Sea islands matter”.Tiran art backgrounder

There, BBC audiences were correctly informed that:

“Sanafir and Tiran are islands that lie about 4km (2 nautical miles) apart in the Red Sea. Tiran sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access the Red Sea”

However, they were also given the following context-free information:

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

The BBC did not bother to inform readers why that was the case.

“In 1949, Egypt established itself on two small and deserted islands in the straits that had never belonged to it – Tiran and Sanafir. Later, they were leased to it by Saudi Arabia. In January 1950, Egypt assured the United States Government that the occupation of the islands was in no way intended to interfere with shipping in the waters of the gulf. But soon Egypt broke its word, fortified the entrance to the straits and blockaded Israel. Having failed to conquer the southern Negev during the War of Independence or to bring about its cession by Israel through political pressure, Egypt now tried to land-lock Eilat and block Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, which meant cutting Israel’s present and future communications with Asia and East Africa. The closure of the Straits of Tiran was one of the main factors that led to the Sinai campaign of 1956. Israel’s refusal to withdraw its forces from Sharm el Sheikh unless its freedom of passage through the straits were effectively safeguarded led to the stationing there of the UN Emergency Force. The blockade was lifted and Israel could freely develop its trade with countries in Asia and East Africa, import oil from the Persian Gulf, and redeem the southern Negev from its desolation. Israel declared solemnly that any interference with its rights of navigation in the gulf would be regarded as an attack, entitling it to exercise its inherent rights of self-defence. […]

On 23 May 1967, President Nasser re-imposed the naval blockade in the Straits of Tiran in a deliberate attempt to force Israel to forfeit its internationally-acknowledged rights or else go to war. Five days earlier the UN Emergency Force was expelled by Nasser, and the units stationed at Sharm el-Sheikh were evacuated. […] The Israeli army reached Sharm el-Sheikh on 7 June 1967 and lifted the blockade. From 1967, freedom of navigation prevails in the Gulf of Aqaba, benefiting shipping bound for Israel and Jordan.”

Apparently the BBC considered it necessary to ensure that its audiences know that “Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967” – but not why.

 Related Articles:

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

BBC Gaza bureau’s Abu Alouf hides the Hamas tunnel elephant

On June 20th an article by Rushdi Abu Alouf of the BBC’s Gaza bureau appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gazans squeezed by triple taxes as Hamas replaces lost income“.Abu Alouf Gaza taxes

The article relates to a story which broke two months ago when Hamas once again announced a rise in import tax under the ‘National Solidarity Tax law’. Abu Alouf correctly reports that:

“The movement [Hamas] says funds will be used to pay its 40,000 civil servants, who have not received regular full salaries in more than two years.”

However, he does not clarify to readers that salaries for those 40,000 Hamas employees have been an issue ever since the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah ‘unity government’ over two years ago. As the Times of Israel explained at the time:

“The PA has been paying monthly salaries to nearly 70,000 public servants in Gaza despite the fact that the workers had not been allowed to serve in their positions since Hamas took over the Strip by force in 2007.

On its part, Hamas has employed 40,000 of its own civil servants to work in the PA employees’ stead.”

The Palestinian Authority refused to pay Hamas’ 40,000 employees and, as readers may recall, payment of those salaries appeared among the demands laid down by Hamas as conditions for halting the conflict with Israel which it initiated in the summer of 2014.

Abu Alouf’s explanation for why Hamas does not have the funds to pay those ‘civil servants’ focuses on the terror organisation’s alleged reduction in income.

“Iran provided significant financial and military aid to Hamas from early 2006 – amounting to $23m a month, according to Palestinian political analyst Fathi Sabbah.

But Tehran, the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, dramatically reduced its support in early 2012, when Hamas refused to take sides in the Syrian civil war.

The movement also lost about $10m a month, said Mr Sabbah, when Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in 2013. […]

After Mr Morsi was ousted, Hamas lost a second key source of income when Egyptian forces destroyed tunnels it said were used by militants to smuggle weapons into Sinai.

Hamas used to make millions of dollars from taxes it imposed on goods brought through the tunnels.”

On the topic of Hamas’ expenditure, Abu Alouf has just this to say:

“An unknown amount of money is spent by Hamas on weapons and military infrastructure, but this too is under pressure.”

Hamas has of course made no secret of its efforts to rehabilitate its military capabilities since the 2014 ceasefire came into effect.

“There are those who think that the calm is a time of rest,” Haniyeh said. “But this is a continuation of the struggle. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are working and preparing for Palestine. Fighters are digging twice as much as the number of tunnels dug in Vietnam,” he said.

“In east Gaza there are heroes digging tunnels under the ground and in the west there are those testing rockets. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are digging tunnels to defend Gaza and turn it into a launch pad for all of Palestine,” Haniyeh added.”

Hamas’ policy has of course resulted in the misappropriation of thousands of tons of building materials intended for the repair and reconstruction of civilian homes damaged during the 2014 conflict (a topic severely under-reported by the BBC). It has also meant the spending of millions of dollars on tunnel construction rather than on public services for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip. In 2015 Israeli intelligence estimated that:

“Today, due to rising prices, the annual cost [of tunnel building] is estimated to be at least 18-20 million USD — or approximately 50% of the budget of Hamas’s military wing. Indeed, the total annual cost is likely even higher, as IDF intelligence confirms that there are additional expenditures that cannot currently be quantified.”

However, Rushdi Abu Alouf ignores that core issue of Hamas’ financial mismanagement, preferring to focus audience attentions elsewhere.

“It [Hamas] has also faced a crippling blockade by Israel and Egypt and financial sanctions from other countries since it won Palestinian elections in 2006.”

“And Hamas’s financial crisis is unlikely to be solved soon with Israel and Egypt continuing their border closures amid fear of attack by militants from Gaza.”

Any objective portrayal of Hamas’ “financial crisis” could not ignore the fact that the terror organisation’s prioritisation of rearmament and tunnel building plays a key role in the creation of economic and social pressures on ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip. The Gaza representative of the media organisation committed to enhancing “awareness and understanding of international issues” has however managed to completely conceal that decidedly large elephant in the room.

BBC News website recycles previous Golan Heights inaccuracies

Hot on the heels of his audio report from the Golan Heights which was broadcast on June 15th on BBC Radio 4, Andrew Hosken produced a written article on the same subject for the BBC News website’s Middle East page’s ‘Features’ section on June 20th – “Syrian conflict: The view from Golan Heights” –  which suffers from many of the same factual inaccuracies.Hosken Golan written

Hosken’s report opens with a description of his visit to a chocolate factory. Seeing as that factory is located in Kibbutz Ein Zivan, it is reasonable to assume that he would have noticed the nearby border fence and, just beyond that, the town of Quneitra.

When the Six Day War ended with the ceasefire of June 10th 1967, Quneitra was left under Israeli control and remained so until the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Under the terms of the 1974 agreement between Israel and Syria, Israel evacuated territory it had captured during the Yom Kippur war as well as some 60 square kilometers in the Quneitra area, captured in 1967. Following the 1974 agreement, ITN reported that “Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad personally hoisted the Syrian flag over the ruined town of Kuneitra [Quneitra] on Wednesday (June 26) to mark the end of seven years of Israeli occupation”.

Nevertheless, readers of this report by Hosken were again told that the Israeli Golan is 54.5 square miles larger than is actually the case and that the border is “the 1967 ceasefire line” rather than the 1974 line.

“Territory encompassing most of the Golan Heights, approximately 500 square miles, was captured by Israel in the last stages of the so-called Six Day War of 1967.

Israel effectively annexed the land in December 1981 when it officially extended Israeli law and government to the Golan.

The “border” between Israeli-occupied land and Syria is now the 1967 ceasefire line that is enforced by the United Nations.”

The mandate of the UNDOF forces in the area is to “maintain” and “supervise” – rather than ‘enforce’ – the 1974 agreement.

The article portrays Hizballah as “Islamist militants” rather than an international terror organization.

“Assad has been heavily supported by Iran and, in particular, the Islamist militants funded and backed by Tehran, Hezbollah. Hezbollah has vowed to destroy the state of Israel.”

In common with the audio report, the population of the Golan Heights is inaccurately portrayed as being over a third smaller than is the case and the location of the Druze residents of the Golan is described in confusing terms.

“Of the 30,000 or so people in Israel-occupied Golan, fewer than half – about 14,000 – are Jews. The rest are mainly Druze Arabs, who straddle the 1967 ceasefire line.”

Visiting Moshav Yonatan, Hosken tells readers that:

“The village lies in south-eastern Golan just four miles from the ceasefire line. On the other side, so-called Islamic State is believed to be fighting Assad’s Hezbollah-backed forces.”

In fact, Yonatan is located in the central Golan and the ISIS affiliated groups (which have of late been fighting other rebel groups more than Assad and his allies) are positioned further to the south.

Despite the existence of documentation, Hosken once again tells BBC audiences that:

“…Israel believes a small number of Syrian Druze are being used in sporadic attacks against Israelis in the Golan Heights by Hezbollah” [emphasis added]

As noted here previously, the topic of Hizballah and Iranian activity on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights has been under-reported by the BBC in the past and so it is good to see a journalist finally giving some air-time and column space to that issue. It is however a pity that such long overdue reporting is marred by very basic factual inaccuracies.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Airbrushing Hizballah: BBC News report on Nasrallah speech

BBC R4 reveals what ‘really’ threatens to reignite Hamas-Israel conflict

On June 9th – the day after the terror attack at Sarona Market in which four people were murdered and 17 wounded – BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘The World Tonight’ broadcast an item apparently intended to convey to audiences that any future outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas would be down to one prime factor.

As readers may be able to guess, that factor was not terrorism: the word did not appear even once throughout the report. Presenter Shaun Ley set the scene (from 18:13 here):R4 the world tonight 9 6

“Now, Israel’s newly appointed defence minister Avdor [sic] Lieberman has issued an order preventing the return of the bodies of any Palestinians who are killed in attacks there. The gunmen who shot dead four people and injured six [sic] others at a shopping centre in Tel Aviv last night were captured alive but this is a signal by Mr Lieberman – a political hardliner. In addition, permits for 83,000 Palestinians who were planning to come to Israel have been revoked and more troops are to be deployed in the occupied West Bank. Our reporter Andrew Hosken reports now from Jerusalem.”

Ley did not inform listeners that Lieberman’s order constitutes a return to previous policy or that the entry permits for Palestinians were frozen rather than “revoked”.

Hosken began his report with a description of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, going on to say:

“But in recent months Damascus Gate has also been the scene of a string of knife attacks, mainly by young Palestinians of both sexes, on Jewish Israeli policemen and women.”

Over a dozen attacks have taken place at Damascus Gate since October of last year. Contrary to the claims from Hosken, the attacks were not directed exclusively at members of the security forces and many Israeli police and border police officers are not Jewish. At least four civilians were wounded in attacks at that location. Neither were all the attacks at Damascus Gate “knife attacks” as inaccurately claimed: at least five shooting attacks took place, including the one on February 3rd in which Border Police officer Hadar Cohen was murdered.

Hosken continued:

“The attacks here have earned this wave of assault that began last October the not terribly subtle title ‘the Intifada of knives’. But the latest assault involved machine guns and at the heart of Jewish Israel – Tel Aviv – some fifty miles or so west of Jerusalem. The Israeli government, led by the Right-wing Likud party, has promised a severe reaction against any Palestinian entity – individuals, organisations, even families – it considers culpable.”

Listeners then heard some general statements from MK Dr Anat Berko before Hosken went on:

“Raids were conducted today by Israeli security forces in Yatta – a small town which is home to at least two of the attackers. It’s in the Palestinian West Bank area where so many Israeli Jews have created settlements in defiance of a number of United Nations resolutions.”

There were two terrorists involved in the Sarona Market attack and both came from Yatta which is in Area A and under full Palestinian Authority control. There are of course no ‘settlements’ in Areas A or B.

Hosken next went to Kibbutz Alumim in the Western Negev.

“Jeremy Maisel [phonetic] lives on the Alumim kibbutz in south-west Israel just two and a half miles from the Gaza Strip – home to 2 million Palestinians.”

As of July 2015 the population of the Gaza Strip was 1.87 million.

“In the summer of 2014 during the conflict between Israel and Hamas – the Islamist organization that controls Gaza – the Alumim kibbutz came under rocket attack. No fewer than 282 code red alerts were issued to the people here, giving them 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter. Jeremy Maisel remains pessimistic about any prospects of peace with the Palestinians.”

Maisel: “Hamas is a very extremist government there and they don’t hide their goals of destroying Israel, of killing Jews.”

Hosken continued:

“Most of the leaders of Hamas are based in Gaza and as far as the Israeli government is concerned, Hamas – which has often vowed to destroy Israel in the past – remains suspect number one when it comes to the attack in Tel Aviv.”

The Hamas movement in Yatta claimed that the two terrorists belonged to its organization soon after the attack.

Hosken then journeyed to Gaza.

“I’ve just crossed over from Israel into Gaza and the dysfunctionality of the place is clear on entry because after passing through Israeli passport control you have to negotiate two checkpoints on the Palestinians’ side operated by separate and differing organisations that have fought bitterly in the past for control of the Strip. The first is operated by Fatah and the second manned by Hamas.”

The checkpoint is actually Palestinian Authority – rather than “Fatah” – operated. Hosken then gave an inaccurate account of how the Gaza Strip came under Hamas control, completely erasing the terror organisation’s violent June 2007 coup from audience view.

“Hamas has controlled Gaza since winning elections here in 2006. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority which holds sway on the West Bank – home to two of the Tel Aviv attackers.”

Listeners heard entirely unchallenged statements from three interviewees in Gaza, the first being “a prominent Fatah leader” whom Hosken asked about “the so-called Intifada of knives”.

“It is a reaction more than Intifada. It is a reaction from the people. The humiliation they face on the borders and cross points of the Israelis. They are using a very, very bad way in dealing with the Palestinians. They keep them for long time on the cross points, on the entrances and they don’t allow them to go to Jerusalem. They touch the feelings of the people so it is not an organized act. It is just a reactionary act.”

Hosken did not bother to clarify to listeners that Palestinians can in fact travel to Jerusalem with the appropriate paper work or that the security measures at crossings into Israel are the direct result of Palestinian terrorism.

Listeners also heard from a similarly unchallenged porter whom Hosken asked “what he thought about the attack in Tel Aviv”.

“I feel happy because they have taken Jerusalem, they have taken our land and it’s right to defend ourself. The operation is a natural because they took our land and look what they are doing in Gaza: they cut the electricity, they close the border.”

Hosken did not explain to listeners that the electricity cuts in the Gaza Strip have nothing at all to do with Israel and are the result of a dispute between Hamas and the PA. He went on:

“…but could there be another war soon? Even before Tel Aviv there was concern at the appointment as Israeli defence minister of Avigdor Lieberman – a hawk when it comes to the Palestinians and a man who has supported the assassination of Hamas leaders in the past.”

Listeners then heard from an associate professor of politics at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.

“The Palestinian elite in Gaza are a little bit concerned that maybe the bringing of Lieberman as defence minister might mean another war is in the making between Israel and Hamas within the next six months or a year. Lieberman in the past year or so since the Israeli elections have asked Netanyahu to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and have pushed Netanyahu to assassinate the political leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip so it could mean military activity against Hamas and the Palestinians in the Gaza strip in the foreseeable future.”

Hosken then closed with the following trite statement:

“Tonight for many people here, recent attempts by both France and Egypt to broker peace talks have never felt more forlorn.”

Hamas – along with several other Palestinian factions – clearly has no interest in peace talks, as one presumes Hosken himself knows, and has spent the last two years rebuilding its terrorist infrastructure. Nevertheless, listeners to this item were led to believe that the main factor threatening to lead to a renewal of conflict is the recent appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Minister of Defence rather than Palestinian terrorism. Apparently that is what passes for ‘reporting’ at BBC Radio 4. 

 

BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

h/t Dr CL

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s latest publication includes a section which will be of interest to anyone contemplating allocating some of their precious time to making a complaint to the BBC.

On page 75 of that document we learn that the BBC dismissed a complaint concerning an inaccurate statement made by a BBC reporter on the grounds that it wasn’t what she meant to say.

“The complaint concerned the accuracy of a sentence in a news item about an upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking about Jerusalem’s Old City and over general pictures from the Old City showing Muslims and Jews going about their day, the correspondent said:

 “It’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews.””

That report by Orla Guerin from October 9th 2015 can be found here.Guerin filmed 9 10

The statement is obviously inaccurate but the BBC’s response to the complaint was as follows:

“BBC Audience Services raised the complainant’s concern with BBC News:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).” Audience Services said they had nothing further to add and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.”

Apparently BBC Audience Services also did not see the need for a correction to be made. Unhappy with that response, the complainant pursued the issue.

“The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust reiterating the points he had made. He rejected the explanation given by BBC News, asserting that even as amended it was wrong:

“The … response that [the correspondent] intended to say Al Aqsa Compound is unacceptable. Accuracy demands the description/name used should have been that historically used for many hundreds of years which is extensively documented, as Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif).”

He said the description the correspondent used was the one favoured by the PLO and was evidence of bias.”

Readers will no doubt recall that in November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document (since removed from its website) instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. 

The BBC Trust Adviser advised against the complainant’s request for a review on the following grounds:

“The Adviser took the following factors into account:

  • the BBC said that the reporter had used the wrong wording: it was a slip of the tongue and not intentional
  • this was a passing reference to one of the flashpoints in the ongoing conflict
  • the majority of the report concentrated on a number of incidents – which had occurred elsewhere in Jerusalem and the occupied territories – and speculated that “lone wolf” stabbings of Jewish civilians might be the beginning of a third intifada

The Adviser reached her decision for the following reasons:

  • whilst the statement, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred to Jews, was incorrect, the audience would not have taken the statement literally and would have been unlikely to conclude that a mosque was sacred to Jews
  • the main point of the reporter’s reference here was to communicate to the audience that the area was sacred to both Judaism and Islam
  • this was achieved using unambiguous language which stated simply that it was considered sacred to both religions: neither view was favoured over the other, they were both given equal weight
  • the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated very close to, and on the same raised platform as, the Dome of the Rock (under which the ruins of the two Jewish temples are assumed to be buried – although there was ongoing debate about this) [emphasis added]
  • the audience would not have expected nor needed more details on this point in order to reach an informed understanding about the main focus of the programme
  • the audience were not therefore likely to have been misled on a material fact.”

One can only hope that the bolded statement above does not suggest that the BBC subscribes to or accommodates the narrative of ‘Temple denial’ propagated by some PA officials and others.

The complainant then appealed that decision by the Adviser and an ESC panel subsequently rejected his appeal.

“Trustees agreed that if they took this matter on appeal they were not likely to uphold a breach of the Editorial Guidelines given that:

  • the BBC had said it was the wrong wording, i.e. that it was inaccurate
  • an apology was given. The BBC had said “we’re sorry for this error”
  • the matter had been resolved. […]

Trustees decided not to take the appeal, on the basis that it would not be appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective since there was no reasonable prospect of the appeal succeeding.”

Surely the most cost-effective way of dealing this complaint would have been for the BBC to issue a prompt correction nine months ago when the clearly inaccurate statement was made.  Nevertheless, the valuable lesson we learn from this case is that what a BBC journalist later claims to have meant to have said – but didn’t – is grounds for the rejection of a straightforward complaint concerning an obviously inaccurate statement.

Is it really any wonder that members of the public find the BBC complaints system so ‘through the looking glass’ frustrating?

Related Articles:

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

Disturbing themes in BBC coverage of the wave of terror in Israel

The Temple, the Times and the BDS Supporter (CAMERA) 

BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

As regular readers will be aware, it is extremely rare for BBC audiences to be provided with the background information necessary for their understanding of the events which preceded Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.

All the more refreshing, therefore, was Andrew Hosken’s introduction of some context into the opening of his June 15th report for BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ (from 14:07 here), although the rest of his report was dogged by factual inaccuracies.

Reporting from a lookout point in the south Golan Heights, Hosken told listeners that:

“Before 1967 Syrian troops positioned their artillery here and used it to devastating effect to shell Israeli positions down below.”

Kibbutz Ha'on from the Golan Heights

Kibbutz Ha’on from the Golan Heights

Those “positions” were of course the civilian communities lying at the foot of the Golan Heights such as Tel Katzir, Ha’on and Ein Gev, as was noted in the recording from a tourist information point which followed Hosken’s introduction.

“Syria took advantage of its topographical superiority on the Golan Heights and for nineteen years relentlessly attacked the northern Israeli communities below.”

Hosken continued:

“So now tourists come to enjoy the view of the Sea of Galilee. The Israeli army captured most of the Golan Heights – some 500 square miles – from Syria in the last stages of the Six Day War and Israelis have occupied it ever since.”

The actual area of the Israeli Golan Heights is 1,154 square kilometers or 445.5 square miles. Listeners then heard the same tourist information recording again:

“An entire generation of children spent part of their childhood in bomb shelters and as a result was nicknamed ‘the bomb shelter children’.”

Hosken next proceeded to Moshav Yonatan which for some reason he described as being “not far from the shores of the Sea of Galilee” even though it is a 28 km drive away.

“But just four miles away from where we are, across the ceasefire lines of the 1967 Six Day War, there is the so-called Islamic State actually fighting the forces of President Bashar al Assad…”

The ceasefire lines are actually those which came into being in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War. After having asked a local resident the somewhat bizarre question of whether he prefers to have ISIS or Hizballah on his doorstep, Hosken continued:

“Of the thirty thousand or so people in the Israeli occupied Golan, less than half – around 14 thousand – are Jews. The rest are mainly Druze Arabs who straddle the 1967 ceasefire line.”

As of 2014 the population of the Golan Heights was actually 45.7 thousand – 19,900 of whom were Jews and 21,900 Druze. The claim that the Druze “straddle the 1967 ceasefire line” is presumably intended to mean that in addition to Druze residents of the Israeli Golan Heights, there are also Druze communities in Syria. Hoskens went on:

“But Israel believes that a small number of Syrian Druze are being used in sporadic attacks against Israelis in the Golan Heights by Hizballah – the militant Islamist group that is backed and funded by Iran.” [emphasis added]

The involvement of some Syrian Druze in attacks along the border is not a matter of ‘belief’ and it is of course notable that Hosken refrained from using the more accurate term ‘terrorist organisation’ when describing Hizballah.

An unidentified contributor then correctly told listeners that Hizballah’s activity along the Israel-Syria border “has nothing to do with the Syrian civil war – that’s part of Hizballah’s war against Israel” but – despite being serially under-reported by the BBC – that topic was not explored further.

After a contribution from an additional interviewee, Hosken closed his report as follows:

“For many IS remains the most immediate security threat but concern about the growing influence of Iran is now being felt across the region. But possibly with serious consequences for the world, it is being felt most acutely in Israel.”

One can of course reasonably assume that there are people in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere who are feeling “the growing influence of Iran” at least as acutely as Israelis. Apparently though, the BBC believes that their concerns will not have “serious consequences for the world”.

Related Articles:

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Airbrushing Hizballah: BBC News report on Nasrallah speech