BBC coverage of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence has never stood out as a shining example of journalistic impartiality but nevertheless, on August 2nd Mishal Husain – presenter of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme – managed to plumb new depths with the following introduction to an item which can be heard from 44:23 here.
“We hear a lot from Donald Trump about the wall he’d like to build along the US-Mexican border: an idea perhaps inspired by Israel’s security barrier.”
Does Donald Trump have anything to do with this story? Obviously not. Does Husain have any evidence-based information which would back up her speculation? Highly doubtful. That however did not prevent her from promoting tabloid-style false linkage between the two unrelated topics. Husain continued:
“Construction began in 2002 after a series of suicide bombings and it is now 60% complete. In the wake of recent attacks on Israelis, the government has promised to reinforce parts of it and make it harder for Palestinians to cross. Katy Watson reports now on what the strategy has achieved.”
The investigation into the terror attack at Sarona Market in June showed that the terrorists had infiltrated via a breach in the fence near Meitar and the government did indeed immediately allocate a budget for repair of the fence in that area.
While many would consider the human cost of a suicide bombing visually – and morally –more offensive than a structure erected to prevent such sights, Katy Watson’s opening to her report shows that her concept of aesthetics is clearly different. [All emphasis in bold added]
“Israel’s separation barrier is an eyesore that’s become part of the landscape. Mostly fence, it turns into a grey concrete wall around communities, cutting through them like a guillotine, separating Palestinians from their Jewish neighbours. Every so often there’s a checkpoint. It’s here that the thousands of Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel have to pass every day.”
Listeners then heard a male voice say:
“I need this wall to protect the Israeli houses here from sniper shooting from the other side.”
“A colonel in the army, Danny Tirza was in charge of planning the separation barrier during a particularly violent time.”
Without providing listeners with any concrete information about what she euphemistically terms “a particularly violent time” – such as the fact that hundreds of Israelis were murdered and thousands more wounded and maimed in an unprecedented campaign of terrorism beginning in September 2000 – Watson’s report went on to present a selected quote from Col (Res.) Danny Tirza.
Tirza: “The people in Israel they ask the government ‘separate us from them. We don’t want to see them anymore. Don’t let them come to Israel for any reason.”
Watson continued, failing to inform listeners that the “West Bank territory” she is about to mention is in fact subject to final status negotiations or that the boundary she inaccurately allocates to that territory is in fact nothing more than a defunct ceasefire line:
“The route Danny mapped is hugely controversial. 85% of it is on West Bank territory.”
She went on:
“The International Court of Justice says it’s illegal and should be pulled down.”
Watson refrained from informing listeners that the highly politicised ‘advisory opinion’ produced by the ICJ has no legal standing. Providing a very tepid description of the Sarona Market terror attack and failing to clarify that the terrorists passed through a breach in the fence, she went on to provide an inaccurate description of its physical characteristics:
“But in the wake of a shooting in Tel Aviv in early June, the government said it would step up efforts to finish the barrier. We’ve driven about an hour and a half south of Jerusalem…eh…along the West Bank. The fence goes for miles and miles. Most of it is metal barbed wire. There are sensors so if the fence is breached then alarms go off but you can also see areas with big holes that have been patched up and the community here says that this is an area which is breached quite a lot by Palestinians trying to get over the fence illegally.
But in the past few weeks they started putting up a wall. Concrete blocks 8 or 9 meters high are being positioned and razor wire placed on the top to stop the flow of people. Most of them are Palestinians who want to work in Israel but don’t have a permit. Authorities say this is also a common route used by attackers.”
Listeners then heard a woman say:
“I believe that if we want to be good neighbours, we need some fence between us.”
Watson next introduced the speaker, who is actually the head of Bnei Shimon regional council:
“Sigal Moran is the mayor of a nearby town. She’s been campaigning for a wall for years to make her community safer.”
Moran: “Israel and the Palestinians have a long history of conflict. In the base, this conflict is about trust and when you don’t have trust you can’t live together.”
“On the other side of the razor wire is the Palestinian town of Al Burj. There they have a very different perspective. Sirhan al Amayra is a town councillor and says people’s lives are restricted.”
[voiceover]: “Israel’s practicing collective punishment. If somebody for example attacks in Tel Aviv, why should this little village be punished?”
Watson refrained from providing any information which would help her listeners understand the context of counter-terrorism operations to apprehend accomplices of terrorists. She then went on to make herself the focus of the story:
“A group of Israeli soldiers on the other side of the barrier watch us while we speak to Sirhan. We then try to drive to speak to a farmer whose land is near the new wall. The soldiers who were watching us do the other interview have been following us and they’ve just come up the bank from the other side; from Israel into the West Bank through the fence and they’ve stopped us going any further, told us to turn back. Frustrated 80 year-old farmer Yassir says this sort of thing happens often.”
[voiceover]: “When the wall was built things went from better to bad to worse. Now we’re so handcuffed it feels like we are living in a prison.”
Watson made no effort to inform listeners that the anti-terrorist fence neither ‘handcuffs’ nor ‘imprisons’ the residents of the Area B village of Al Burj.
Watson went on:
“I travel north to the Qalandiya checkpoint which connects the West Bank city of Ramallah to Jerusalem. It’s an area where tensions often run high. There I meet Xavier Abu Eid – an advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”
As is to be expected from that PLO official, listeners then got a dose of propaganda which went unchallenged by Watson.
XAE: “What this wall does is not to divide Palestinians from Israelis. It’s actually to divide Palestinians from Palestinians.”
Watson: “And of Israel’s claim that the barrier is about security, Xavier says it’s about protecting Israeli interests, taking land away from Palestinians and control.”
XAE: “Israel cannot ask to have peace at the same time that it occupies and denies the right of a people. There will be people that react. Of course we’re against attacking civilians and that’s a very clear position but you cannot just control a people, deny them rights and from the other side say we’ll continue dominating them, controlling them so we’re safe.”
“Israelis call it a security fence, the Palestinians an apartheid wall. Its architects say it saves lives but there’s a huge amount of resentment among Palestinians that the barrier creates more problems than it solves.”
According to Mishal Husein’s introduction, the purpose of this report was to inform BBC audiences about “what the strategy has achieved”. Notably, the anti-terrorist fence’s prime achievement – the dramatic reduction of the number of Israelis murdered in terror attacks – did not even get a proper mention in this report. BBC audiences did however hear falsehoods such as “illegal”, “an apartheid wall”, “collective punishment” and “taking away land from Palestinians”.
Readers may recall that visiting BBC journalist Katy Watson previously produced some very reasonable reporting on the topic of the Second Lebanon War. Sadly, Watson’s trip to Israel appears to have included a process of journalistic socialisation because this item is nothing more than yet another politicised campaigning report on the topic of the anti-terrorist fence, the likes of which have been produced by many a BBC journalist in the past.