As was documented here earlier this month, in late December 2016 the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” which opened as follows:
“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.
Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”
We observed at the time that the backgrounder “includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years”.
Six days after its initial publication on December 29th 2016, amendments were made to the article (on January 4th 2017) including a change of description for one of the political NGOs quoted in the report from “the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now” to “the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now”.
Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 23rd 2017 were offered that backgrounder as part of the ‘related reading’ appended to the main story of the day.
However, the backgrounder now has a new date stamp and has undergone further amendments since its initial publication.
In the first section – titled “What are settlements?” – a link to the Peace Now website has been added and that joins the existing link to the B’tselem website that appeared in the original article.
In the second section, which is titled “Why are settlements so contentious?”, an inaccurate and misleading paragraph has been added.
There are not “hundreds” of checkpoints and roadblocks in Judea & Samaria and many of those which do exist are in fact crossings located along Israel’s border with Palestinian controlled areas. So where did the BBC get that misleading information? While no source is provided, one possibility is a webpage titled “Restriction of movement” which was posted on the B’Tselem website on January 1st 2017 and in which an unsourced reference to “hundreds of physical obstacles […] in the form of concrete blocks, piles or dirt, or trenches” is found.
In the latest version of this backgrounder, an entirely new chapter has been added after the second section under the title “What difference will Donald Trump make?”.
The next section is titled “What makes Jerusalem a special case?” and there a problematic and partial map produced by B’Tselem and UNOCHA (which first appeared in BBC content in October 2015) has been added. That map tells BBC audiences that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem – a place where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years – is an “illegal settlement” and that Temple Mount is located in a “Palestinian urban area”.
In the last section of the backgrounder – titled “Are settlements illegal under international law?” – another amendment has been made.
When this article – which is supposedly intended to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information on the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem – first appeared we noted that:
“While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.”
Rather than leaving be or making changes which would enhance that nuance and provide more of the context usually denied to BBC audiences, the backgrounder has instead been unnecessarily amended to promote more even more partisan information produced by the campaigning political NGOs Peace Now and B’Tselem as well as the latter’s partner UNOCHA.