As documented here previously (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website’s portrayal of the report published by the Quartet on July 1st was far from satisfactory and failed to provide audiences with a balanced picture of its content. In this post we will take a look at how the same report was presented to listeners to BBC World Service radio in the July 1st edition of ‘Newshour’ – from 30:08 here.
To recap – the report cited three main factors as “undermining hopes for peace”:
- “Continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence are greatly exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution;
- The continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution; and
- The illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.”
In its discussion of the first factor on that list, the report was remarkable for its forthright condemnation of incitement and glorification of terror by official Palestinian bodies including Mahmoud Abbas’ party Fatah and the PA itself. Those topics have long been neglected by the BBC and were once again sidelined in the two articles which appeared on the BBC News website.
Sadly, listeners who heard Owen Bennett Jones’ introduction to the ‘Newshour’ item did not learn of the Quartet’s condemnation of incitement from official Palestinian bodies because he referred generally to “the Palestinians”. Listeners did however hear the erroneous claim that Israel is “building settlements” rather than building in existing communities.
OBJ: “A long-awaited report by Middle East peace mediators says Israel should stop building settlements and the Palestinians should stop inciting violence. The so-called Quartet – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – says current trends imperil a two state solution. Publication of these recommendations came amid further attacks in the occupied West Bank where Israel has closed off the city of Hebron. Our correspondent Yolande Knell is in Jerusalem. First of all; what’s happening in Hebron?”
A few hours before this programme went on air a fatal terror attack had taken place on Route 60. The closure on Hebron was implemented as security forces searched for the terrorists but uninformed listeners would have had difficulty understanding that connection from Yolande Knell’s reply to Bennett Jones’ clear question.
YK: “We now have hundreds of Israeli troops going to Hebron, roadblocks set up around the city. This follows a lot of concerns from the Israeli military about the number of attacks that have been perpetrated from this city. It’s always a flash point for violence but they say about eighty attacks out of 250 attacks or attempted attacks since October have been in the Hebron area.”
According to the Times of Israel, the IDF spokesman actually said that “seventy-nine terrorists have originated from Hebron” and remarkably, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that Hebron is a notorious traditional Hamas stronghold. She continued:
“And now it’s searching for a gunman who earlier shot some 20 rounds at an Israeli car on the main road – Route 60 – just close to Hebron. This led to a crash that killed one Israeli man – a father of ten – and left his wife and two of his children in hospital. The Israeli military says it also wants to prevent copy-cat attacks and stop a rise in violence which is often seen in the final days of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.”
Knell did not clarify for her listeners why the close of Ramadan might bring about “a rise in violence” or inform them that during that month alone six Israelis had been murdered in terror attacks by the time she produced this report.
Prioritising the name used by Palestinians to describe the most ancient Jewish shrine, she went on to describe an attempted attack which had taken place the same morning and in which a woman tried to stab a Border Police officer as follows: [emphasis added]
“Earlier there was a Palestinian woman in her twenties who was killed in the old city of Hebron. Soldiers shot her close to a disputed holy site; the Ibrahimi mosque – also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. She’s said to have been carrying a knife and importantly, she came from the same village as a teenager who killed a 13 year-old American-Israeli girl in her home in a settlement just outside Hebron one day ago. And even after all the attacks there’ve been recently, this very brazen attack where she was stabbed to death in her own bedroom has really caused a lot of shock and horror.”
Owen Bennett Jones then asked Knell another clear question which she failed to answer.
OBJ: “So just to give us a general picture of what’s going on in the West Bank over the last few months, say, how frequent are the attacks there against Israelis?”
YK: “Well certainly there has been a concentration of the attacks within the West Bank. This is where you have Israeli settlers – and there are more than 560 thousand of them in total in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and they’re living in close proximity to Palestinians. Often you have Palestinians of course also working inside settlements and the settlements themselves are seen as an obstacle to peace; this is something that has been reiterated by a long-awaited report from the Quartet of Middle East mediators – the US, EU, UN and Russia – that has just been published. But I have to say; over the past few months – really since the beginning of this year – it had seemed the number of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis had begun to subside. But then things have really picked up in the last few days, during the month of Ramadan.”
Obviously Knell was either unable or unwilling to answer the question of “how frequent are the attacks […] against Israelis” in Judea & Samaria and given that the BBC consistently under-reports the topic of Palestinian terror, that is hardly surprising. While Knell is correct in her claim that the number of attacks had been decreasing up until June, the fact is that according to Israel Security Agency figures, between October 2015 and June 2016 inclusive, 1,471 terror attacks took place in Judea & Samaria: an average of 163.4 attacks per month or 5.4 attacks per day. One would of course expect a BBC correspondent permanently based in the area to be able to report that information to audiences.
Bennett Jones continued, once again promoting the inaccurate notion that Israel is building ‘settlements’ rather than constructing housing in existing communities.
OBJ: “Well now this Quartet report you mentioned is taking – if I could put it like this – the usual line: stop building settlements to the Israelis, stop inciting violence, stop using violence to the Palestinians. Is either side listening?”
“Well there was so much expectation ahead of the publication of what’s turned out to be an eight-page report. There’s not much here that’s surprising: no talk really of international pressure that could be brought to bear. Already the Palestinians have come out saying this report doesn’t meet their expectations. They say that it tries to equalise the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier. And we’ve just had a statement too from the Israel prime minister’s office that talks about how Israel cannot negotiate peace with itself and it rejects any attempt it says to draw moral equivalence between construction in the settlements and terrorism. So it seems to have been roundly dismissed and when authors talked about their hopes that they could help support further peace talks – well that doesn’t seem to have really helped much at the moment.”
The item ends there and as we see, once again BBC audiences have had their attentions focused on ‘settlements’ – described by Knell as an “obstacle to peace” – but have learned nothing about the much neglected subjects of incitement from official Palestinian sources as highlighted in the Quartet report and nothing about its condemnation of Hamas terror, tunnel building and arms smuggling.
This is the BBC’s third attempt to ostensibly inform its audiences what was in the Quartet report and it is the third time that it has refrained from doing so comprehensively, accurately and impartially. Obviously the way in which BBC audiences view the failure to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict will be influenced by these reports, with the fact that the BBC has airbrushed Hamas and Palestinian Authority related factors from the picture sabotaging audiences’ chances of properly understanding of the issue.