On January 18th the BBC News website published an article on its Middle East page under the headline “Israeli policeman and Bedouin killed during clashes over demolitions“.
The overwhelming majority of that article’s 614 words are devoted to conflicting accounts of the tragic events in Umm al Hiran earlier that day. Seeing as even now – four days later – the post-mortem examination has not been completed and the ballistics report has yet to be published, the value of some of the subjective and speculative accounts the BBC found it appropriate to publish can at best be said to be doubtful as far as helping readers understand what actually happened is concerned.
Facts were however readily available concerning another part of the story: its context. Strangely, the BBC devoted just 12.2% (75 words) of the article’s word count to informing its audiences of the background to the incidents.
The BBC’s claim that the people concerned were moved to Umm al Hiran in the 1950s is inaccurate – they were moved to the nearby Yatir area and some of them later took over land in Umm al Hiran. The claim that “they have now been told to move to new housing elsewhere” does not give BBC audiences a proper perspective of what the squatters have actually been offered. Neither is the BBC’s claim that the new town of Hiran is “mainly Jewish” supported by the facts.
One journalist who has studied the case of Umm al Hiran extensively is Ben Dror Yemini.
“The members of the al-Qiyan tribe are right. They were indeed transferred to the Yatir Forest area in the 1950s. They settled there with permission. Precisely because they have certain rights which have been recognized by the authorities and by the courts, they were offered to move – for free – to the regulated community of Hura. Not only did they receive free land, a quarter of an acre for each household, and not only was the infrastructure supplied by the government, but each family received an additional payment, at least NIS 100,000 to build its own home. Moreover, every man married to more than one woman received land units according to the number of his wives – even though polygamy is illegal. And in order not to discriminate against the young ones, all those over the age of 24 received an independent home as well.
Before you say that this is an insufficient settlement, it should be noted that most tribe members considered it a fair and sufficient proposal. They moved to the village of Hura. Very few decided to stay. And out of the very few, a small minority left the Yatir area and spread to the Hiran area. Aerial shots document exactly what went on there starting in the 1960s: The illegal construction continued even after it was decided in 2002 to build the community of Hiran, not just for Jews as the slanderers claim. […]
The arguments I am making here do not belong to a certain side. They are based on a Supreme Court ruling, which determined in these words that “most of the tribe members moved to Hura – a Bedouin community, which is regulated and connected to infrastructures – and the remaining ones are required to evacuate their homes, and are being offered to move to Hura… They are not being expelled and not being abandoned. The suggested evacuation involves different proposals for a move, construction, compensation and a housing option, whether in the town of Hura or in the community of Hiran which is about to be built… The planned community does not prevent the tribe members from living there… Anyone wishing to live in Hiran is entitled to do so, subject to the law and under the fixed conditions.””
Another Israeli journalist who has done extensive work on this topic is Kalman Liebskind. (translation: BBC Watch)
“For very many years the State has been trying to move members of the Abu al-Qiyan family from the area in which they settled and on which they illegally built tens of structures and sheds. In order to persuade them to move to Hura – an organized community with services they do not have in their present location – the State was ready to make generous offers of land and money. Most members of the tribe chose to accept the offers. Some of them, after additional financial encouragement from the state, demolished their illegal buildings themselves.
Among those who chose to stay and refused to move even after all the legal proceedings dismissed their claims, the State defined 58 as being ‘entitled’ to compensation if they agreed to move. Who are those ‘entitled’? Families with children, married couples, one-parent families and single people over the age of 24. What was each of the ‘entitled’ to get? A developed plot of one dunam in a neighbourhood in Hura which was prepared especially to absorb the family members, together with financial compensation for each illegally constructed structure that would be demolished.
But the story did not end there. ‘Where will our children live when they grow up?’ asked members of the tribe. ‘We want plots for them too’. The State also agreed to that. And so, for example, parents of four children aged 3, 5, 7 and 9 got a commitment of financial compensation – a one dunam plot for the parents and four more plots which would be put aside for the children which, when the time came, they could purchase for the symbolic price of a few tens of thousands of shekels. Just a moment, you ask, what happens if the Bedouin has two wives and each one of them has four small children? Well then each woman will get her own plot – and for the eight small children plots would also be put aside.
Last Thursday, when the State’s representatives asked to sign the agreement, the Bedouin announced that they had a few more demands; that what they had got until now was not enough; that in addition to all that they also want a million shekels compensation for each family for the illegal structures that they had built and also 400,000 shekels for each family for the emotional damage caused to them and also plots for business and for greenhouses and also tender-exempt plots in the industrial zone of Hura.
Against all that background, another small problem was born. It turned out that in the tribe there are ten Palestinian women who were brought by the al-Qiyan tribe to live here as second wives. Not only are they not Israeli citizens, but their presence is not legal. The State’s representatives explained to the Bedouin that with all the goodwill in the world, the State cannot give a gift of land to Palestinians from Hebron or Ramallah – Palestinian Authority citizens – that nobody knows how they got here.
In light of the new and inflated list of demands, the negotiators understood that the Bedouin were not interested in closing a deal. This was a list of demands from parties trying to end the negotiations. Nevertheless, the State’s representatives decided to see what more could be done in order to leave an opening for a quiet evacuation. A round of telephone calls between the members of the Israel Land Authority committee produced another better offer. Take ten more plots and we’ll close the deal. Nobody explained, of course, that this is an elegant way to give plots to the Palestinian women without saying so outright but each one understood what he was supposed to understand.
Yesterday evening [January 17th], after the last meeting, it was clear to the State’s representatives that there was nothing more to discuss and no-one to talk to and the evacuation went ahead.”
The vast majority of that highly relevant background is markedly absent from the BBC’s minimalist portrayal of the context of this story. To those familiar with the BBC’s partial portrayal of stories concerning Bedouin land claims over the years (see ‘related articles’ below) that will probably not come as much of a surprise. But nevertheless, the corporation cannot possibly claim that it met its remit of providing accurate and impartial information in order to enhance “audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” with those 75 words.