Wishing all our readers celebrating Purim a very happy holiday.
Wishing all our readers celebrating Purim a very happy holiday.
In part one of this post we looked at a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with a representative of the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ that was aired on the BBC World News TV channel on February 15th (available in the UK here) as well as on BBC World Service radio on February 16th.
From the start of the programme presenter Stephen Sackur refrained from sticking to asking questions, instead indulging his own political pronunciations. However, BBC audiences next heard the following mini-monologue from Sackur. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
Sackur: “Yeah and I want to come back to the politics of this in some detail but just to stick for now with testimony, because ‘Breaking the Silence’ is all about gathering together the voices of soldiers – former soldiers – who are no longer prepared to be silent about what they have seen. I just want you to be very clear with me about some of the other behaviours because you’ve talked about the day-to-day dull routines of the occupation but the other behaviours like for example testimony about looting, stealing, Israeli soldiers stealing from inside Palestinian homes. Other testimony about deliberate acts of violence, striking youths, striking people in their own homes, beating them. Also firing rubber bullets, transgressing the limits that are supposed to be imposed on the firing of those bullets and undoing the packaging so they do more damage. All of these aren’t just about the occupation. They suggest to me an army that has within it significant numbers of soldiers who want to do bad things.”
Gvaryahu: “I mean you could choose to look at it like that. I think it’s more complex.”
Sackur: “But isn’t it important to be honest that there are Israeli soldiers, if this testimony is true – many say it’s not – but if it’s true there are people in the IDF doing very bad things.”
Those four words – “many say it’s not” – were Sackur’s only allusion throughout the whole programme to the fact that many of the frequently anonymous testimonies published by ‘Breaking the Silence’, including Gvaryahu’s own, have been disputed by fellow soldiers and disproven by investigative journalists. Sackur also failed to inform audiences that the IDF Military Attorney General examines all allegations of improper conduct by soldiers and conducts a criminal investigation where necessary – but that ‘Breaking the Silence’ refuses to cooperate with such investigations.
Similarly, Sackur’s sole vague allusion to Palestinian terrorism throughout the whole programme came in the following question:
Sackur: “Can you afford the luxury of this delicate conscience of yours when there is – whatever you say – there is a struggle; a struggle which involves violence on both sides between Israel and the Palestinians?”
When – in response to a question from Sackur about “threats” – Gvaryahu cited “an individual who was caught with about 20 gallons of gasoline trying to burn down our offices”, Sackur did not clarify to BBC audiences that the individual concerned was not in fact “caught trying to burn down” the ‘Breaking the Silence’ office but was indicted for intent to commit arson.
Despite providing a platform for Gvaryahu’s claim of a “smear campaign led from the highest echelons of the Israeli government” against his organisation, significantly, at no point in this interview did Sackur bother to ask Gvaryahu about the highly relevant topic of the considerable amounts of foreign funding accepted by ‘Breaking the Silence’ or the agenda behind that funding.
There is of course nothing remotely novel about the BBC providing a friendly platform for the amplification of politically motivated messaging from ‘Breaking the Silence’ – it has been doing so at least since 2009. It is however interesting to see once again that despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that “minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus”, the corporation’s generous promotion of this political NGO – that was accurately classified in this interview by Stephen Sackur as “a fringe” and “an extreme” which influences “only a very tiny minority” – continues.
No less remarkable was Stephen Sackur’s own departure from editorial guidelines stating that “our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters” in his lengthy promotion of the notion of “soldiers who want to do bad things” and his repeated amateur diagnosis of Israel’s moral health.
In the past we have documented several cases in which the BBC has amplified the messaging of what it labels an “Israeli activist group” or a “human rights” group but failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the agenda and ideology that lies behind the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.
Last July, during a ‘Hardtalk‘ interview with Israel’s former minister of defence, BBC presenter Stephen Sackur used allegations made by that political NGO to advance the notion of moral failures in Israeli society.
“I’m trying to dig to something deeper about the morals, the values, the cohesion of an Israeli society that has always prided itself on having the very best of humane values. And I’m putting it to you, if you listen to Israeli soldiers who have served the occupation like Yehuda Shaul of ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a group that is now opposed to the occupation of former IDF soldiers – he says this is the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people; that is, the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation.”
Sackur returned to that theme in another ‘Hardtalk’ interview which was aired on the BBC World News TV channel on February 15th (available in the UK here) as well as on BBC World Service radio on February 16th. The programme was also made available as a podcast.
“The Israeli Defence Force sees itself as an institution that binds the nation together. Most young Israelis serve in its ranks after leaving school. It claims to combine defence of the state with a sense of moral purpose. Avner Gvaryahu served in the IDF but he sees an institution in denial – corroded and corrupted by the military occupation of Palestinian communities over a fifty year span. Avner Gvaryahu and like-minded soldiers turned dissidents say they are breaking the silence. Are they patriots or traitors?”
In his introduction, Stephen Sackur told audiences that Israelis ‘enroll’ for military service rather than being conscripted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
Sackur: “My guest today is a young man whose experiences as a soldier changed his life in ways that have severely tested his ties to family, community and nation. Avner Gvaryahu was brought up in a suburb of Tel Aviv; an ordinary Israeli in an Orthodox household who, like pretty much all young Israelis, enrolled for military service after leaving school. He served as a sergeant in a unit of paratroopers deployed in the northern West Bank. He was part of Israel’s five decade-long military occupation. What he did and saw on active duty deeply disturbed him. After leaving the army Gvaryahu shared his feelings about the occupation and its corrosive impact on the Israeli army with other former soldiers. They formed a group – ‘Breaking the Silence’ – which gave voice to the troubled consciences of soldiers who recounted stories of harassment, intimidation and violence. It was time, they said, for Israel to confront the corrosive reality of the occupation and end it. The Israeli government reacted with fury. The dissident soldiers have been called traitors, puppets of anti-Israel interests, even aiders and abeters of terrorism. Avner Gvaryahu broke his silence but has it made any difference?”
Sackur’s framing of the story is of course patently obvious in that introduction – and it continued with more promotion of Sackur’s basic – but unquestioned – premise of Israeli wrongdoing.
Sackur: “I think it’s fair to say the IDF is probably the most sacrosanct institution in all of Israel. Was it hard for you to cross a line, to break the taboo and speak out against what the IDF is doing?”
Sackur: “Are you saying that the very act of going into the house of an innocent Palestinian family to you was, and is, totally unacceptable and corrosive and doing serious damage to the sort of moral values of Israel’s army and indeed the nation-state? Or are you saying that that’s just the tip of an iceberg of behavior, much of which is worse than that?
After Gvaryahu had cited “the flying checkpoint or entering houses for searching or checkpoints or making our presence felt” as additional examples of what he described as “instilling fear into the Palestinian population”, Sackur moved from asking questions to making pronunciations.
Sackur: “It’s the imposition of a basic power dynamic, the message being we are in control, we’re in charge of you and your lives and we, in essence, can do what we want.”
While mirroring Gvaryahu’s messaging – with which he clearly sympathises – Sackur made no effort to introduce audiences to the history and context of ‘the occupation’. Neither did he bother to remind them – or his guest – of the pertinent fact that when Israel withdrew all its forces and civilians from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Palestinian terrorism did not come to an end.
Sackur: “… what you’re outlining as your critique of what is happening in Israel and that the IDF, as the agent of occupation, is doing, is essentially political. I mean you’re saying, if I understand you correctly, that the very act and policy of occupation is corroding Israel’s values and must end. But the truth is time after time the Israeli public votes in elections for parties which sustain and believe in that occupation.”
Gvaryahu: “That’s true but when you look at this democracy, it’s basically a democracy that is controlling and ruling millions of people that don’t have a right or a say in that democracy. So between the river and the sea we have about 13 million people where half of them do not go and elect anyone. So a big part of our mission – and that’s where we spend as ‘Breaking the Silence’ the vast majority of our energy and our time – is speaking to our fellow citizens all across Israel.”
Sackur made no effort to challenge that latter claim from Gvaryahu by asking him why his organisation has been conducting foreign speaking tours since shortly after its founding or why 40% of its activities in Israel are with non-Israelis.
Sackur also did not bother to point out to BBC audiences that Gvaryahu’s claim that Palestinians “do not go and elect anyone” is misleading because the vast majority of them have lived under Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule for over two decades and have the right to vote in PA elections which have nothing to do with Israel at all. He did, however, go on to promote at length his own ideas about Israeli soldiers – as we shall see in part two of this post.
Back in November 2017 the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ presented a highly partisan and inaccurate account of a story involving Israel and the Greek Orthodox Church which listeners were erroneously led to believe is about ‘religious freedom’.
On February 25th 2018 the BBC News website published an article relating to the same story under the headline “Jerusalem: Christianity’s ‘holiest site’ closed in protest” which opened with amplification of a baseless claim that is part of a PR campaign launched by church leaders last November.
“Christian leaders in Jerusalem have taken the rare step of shutting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in protest against a new Israeli tax policy and a proposed property law.
Church leaders have described the legislation as an attack on Christians in the Holy Land.” [emphasis added]
Additional PR messaging – complete with a poorly veiled Nazi analogy – was amplified later on in the report.
“In a joint statement, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Church leaders said the church would be closed until further notice.
The protest was launched because Church officials object to a bill the Israeli government is considering, which they fear would let the state claim church-owned land.
Branding the bill “abhorrent”, the leaders said it “reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during a dark period in Europe”.”
As was explained here last November, the proposed bill is intended to safeguard the rights of residents living in properties constructed on land that was formerly owned by the church but which the church has sold to a third party.
“The main initiative to advance legislation to protect residents is being driven by lawmaker Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). Just before the start of the Knesset’s summer recess, she signed 40 MKs onto a private members’ bill to allow the state to confiscate land that has been sold. The confiscation would take effect from January 1, 2018, and the private investors would be compensated.”
Ms Azaria’s bill would mean that:
“…deals to sell the land would have to be approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice committee, that buyers would have to be Israeli citizens or Israeli-owned companies, that lease extensions would be dealt with by a national body, the cost of extensions would not be passed onto residents, and in cases where a national institution was not involved in a church land transaction, the state would use the tools at its disposal to protect the residents against losing their homes.”
In other words, although the claim that the bill “would let the state claim church-owned land” is false, the BBC chose to amplify it anyway. Moreover, later on in the report we see that the BBC understands full well that the allegation is baseless.
“Supporters of the bill say it is meant to protect Israelis living on former Church land sold to private developers from the risk these companies will not extend their leases. […]
The legislator promoting the bill, Rachel Azaria, told the BBC: “I understand that the Church is under pressure, but their lands will remain theirs, no-one has any interest to touch them ever.
“My bill deals with what happens when the right over the lands are sold to a third party.””
The BBC’s report goes on to mention another component of the dispute: a disagreement over what would in the UK be classified as the requirement to pay council tax on church-owned property that is not registered as a place of public religious worship.
“They [Church leaders] are also angry about attempts to tax Church property which authorities in Jerusalem view as commercial.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said the city is owed 650m shekels ($186m; £133m) in uncollected taxes on Church assets.
He said all churches were exempt from the tax changes, and that only Church-owned “hotels, halls and businesses” would be affected.”
The Times of Israel explains:
“…local churches are also protesting being charged millions of shekels in back taxes they say are illegitimate.
That dispute revolves around whether tax exemptions for the churches extend to properties, such as schools and residences, that are not used directly for worship. […]
On Sunday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat defended efforts to force the churches to pay millions in back taxes to the city. He said that it wasn’t fair that businesses on church property have traditionally been exempt from paying taxes.
“Why should the Mamila Hotel pay taxes and the Notre Dame Hotel, which is just opposite it, be exempt?” he posted on Twitter.”
Obviously the BBC News website’s amplification of church leaders’ PR hyperbole such as claims of an “attack on Christians in the Holy Land” in this ‘he said-she said’ account of the dispute does not contribute to audience understanding of the real – and rather more mundane – background to this story.
On February 22nd an article by the BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Syria conflict: Will powers end up in direct war?“.
Although the article is tagged ‘Syrian civil war’ – a conflict in which Israel is not involved – readers find the following statement:
“To the south, Israel has sat out most of the conflict, loath to be drawn in – to the disastrous extent that it was during the 16 years of the civil war in Syria’s neighbour, Lebanon. It has mostly limited itself to targeted attacks on alleged Iranian bases and suspected Hezbollah arms supplies.” [emphasis added]
Apparently the BBC’s Arab affairs editor would have his readers believe that Israel carries out strikes on the strength of allegations and suspicion. Notably, Usher’s claim of Israeli involvement in the Lebanese civil war omits all mention of the frequent attacks against Israel launched by the PLO from Lebanese territory – attacks which sparked Operation Litani in 1978 (three years after the civil war began) and Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982.
Later on Usher tells readers that as the Syrian civil war progressed:
“Israel saw battle-hardened Hezbollah and Iranian fighters move closer and closer to its border – prompting a more active, though still cautious, engagement in the conflict.”
That claim once again inaccurately suggests that Israel has been ‘engaged’ in the Syrian civil war.
He goes on:
“But the increasing international commitment on its various battlefields runs the risk of shifting it from a war between proxies to one directly between the powers pulling the strings. And that is a highly dangerous development.
Recent events have shown that the limited comfort that those involved will always pull back from the brink of deeper confrontation, may not be entirely reliable.
An Israeli fighter jet was shot down over Israel by a Syrian missile, following the interception of an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace as part of a ratcheting up of tensions in the hitherto quieter south of Syria.”
Usher closes his article with the claim that:
“If nothing else, all this may only prolong the Syria war. But it raises fears of all-out confrontation between the outside players – all of whose interests remain as fundamentally opposed as they have been at any time in the conflict.”
Once again, Usher is implying that Israel is a ‘player’ in that war.
This is far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the erroneous notion that Israel is involved in the Syrian civil war: it has been doing so since 2013. The corporation’s journalists appear to be incapable of understanding that Israeli strikes on Iranian weapons bound for Hizballah or Israeli responses to cross-border fire from Syria do not make Israel a ‘player’ in the Syrian civil war but are in fact related to the Iranian and Hizballah aggression against Israel that long predates that conflict.
As we see, even the BBC’s Arab affairs editor is unable to grasp that there is more than one set of events going on at the same time and to distinguish between the separate topics of the war in Syria and actions that are exclusively linked to the protection of Israel’s citizens. Notably too, Sebastian Usher’s analysis did not include any mention of the humanitarian and medical aid supplied to Syrians by Israel.
As has been documented here (see ‘related articles’ below), one notable feature of the BBC’s coverage of the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th was the corporation’s unnecessary qualification of the event.
“The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.
It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.” [emphasis added] BBC News website
“Israel’s military, the IDF, released this footage from one of their helicopters. They say it shows an Iranian drone flying over Israeli territory.” [emphasis added] BBC News website
“…the Israelis have a very different narrative of the events of the past 24-36 hours and for them the original provocation was the flying of this drone over their territory.” [emphasis added] BBC World Service radio
At the same time, BBC reports also amplified Iranian disinformation.
“Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.” BBC News website
“Iran denied it had sent a drone into Israel and defended the Syrians’ right to self-defence.” BBC News website
On February 22nd the BBC News website published an article titled “Fear of war looms over Syria neighbours, Iran says” on its Middle East page. The article is based on a filmed interview by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet with Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi and a transcript was also promoted on the website.
In the article BBC audiences were told that:
“The deputy foreign minister refused to confirm that Iran had sent a drone into Israeli airspace from Syria earlier this month. He said the drone belonged to the Syrian army.”
As can be seen in the transcript, Doucet’s challenge to that blatant disinformation was remarkably weak.
“DOUCET: But they’re [the Israelis] angry about the drone which they say you sent into Israeli airspace. What was its purpose?
ARAGHCHI: The drone also belongs to the Syrian army.
DOUCET: But it was Iran that sent it over into Israel.
ARAGHCHI: Well I cannot confirm that. The Syrian army has lots of capabilities. But the fact is that the Israeli army is also sending drones up on a daily, or hourly basis all around Syria and in other neighbouring countries. So they shouldn’t be angry when they are faced with something that they are doing against others on a daily basis.
DOUCET: Was the drone to test Israeli resolve, was that why it was sent in? What was its purpose?
ARAGHCHI : Well I think you should ask the Syrian army men why they, you know, why they did that. But the fact is they were able to shut down a jet, Israeli jet fighter who actually entered into their airspace. So this is, this is a very important development and I think the Israelis should reconsider their, you know, their military policies.”
Lyse Doucet also provided Abbas Araghchi with a platform for amplification of disinformation concerning Iran’s activities in Syria – portrayed in the article thus:
“Mr Araghchi told the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet that Iran was there to fight terrorism, and dismissed warnings about Iran’s intentions as “propaganda”.
“Just imagine if we were not there. Now you would have Daesh [the Islamic State group] in Damascus, and maybe in Beirut and other places,” the minister said. […]
Mr Araghchi said Iran was in Syria to fight “terrorist elements” at the invitation of the Syrian government, and its alliance with Syria and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah aimed to “combat the hegemonic policies” of Israel.”
As can be seen in the transcript, Doucet made little effort to challenge that Orwellian disinformation either and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that Iran’s proxy Hizballah initiated the 2006 war.
“DOUCET: Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed what others have noticed, that Iran seems to want to establish a land bridge, a corridor, from Iraq to Syria into Lebanon, connecting all of its allies. Is that your strategic ambition?
ARAGHCHI : Well we are in Syria fighting a terrorist elements, and we have there by the invitation of the Syrian government to help them establish peace and, you know, stability and territorial integrity of Syria. We continue to be there as long as we are asked by the Syrian government to help them fighting the terrorist and terrorist elements, and to establish peace and order and stability in that country.
DOUCET: But it’s also – you saw the New York Times did a study of all the Iranian positions of Iran, you know the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) advisors, also your allies like Hezbollah, the other militias, giving the impression that Iran is establishing its own bridgehead in –
ARAGHCHI: Just imagine if we were not there. Now you had Daesh [Islamic State group] in Damascus, and maybe in Beirut and other places. So I think we have to actually don’t care about these kind of propaganda which have some other objectives perhaps.
DOUCET: Some say this latest call is to make Syria a new front, between Iran, Hezbollah and Israel – an Axis of Resistance, as they call it.
ARAGHCHI: Well an Axis of Resistance is there for a number of years now.
DOUCET: But you’ve been, is that your ambition to strengthen it for Iran?
ARAGHCHI: This is actually to combat the hegemonic policies of Israeli regime in the region, and to, you know, stand firm against Israeli aggression. We all remember –
DOUCET: So it is an Axis of Resistance?
ARAGHCHI: Well the Axis of Resistance is always there, you know, when Hezbollah and the Syrian government actually combat it, Israeli forces when they attacked Lebanon in the past, we all remember Israeli attacks to the Lebanon territory, we all remember when they occupied Beirut, you know, as an Arabic, Arab captor. And we all remember 2006 when they invaded southern Lebanon. I think Lebanon, Syria and other countries in the region have every right to establish a kind of resistance against these aggressions by Israelis.””
Doucet refrained from asking Araghchi about his country’s repeated violations of UN SC resolution 1701, the support it provides for terror groups in the region including Hizballah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or the genocidal threats against Israel repeatedly voiced by Iranian regime officials.
“DOUCET: Now Prime Minster Netanyahu made it clear in Munich, and I quote: he says Israel will continue to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria. Do you take that threat seriously?
ARAGHCHI: I think Israel should find the root causes of its problems somewhere else. They always try to accuse Iran for the problems they are facing in the region and I think this is actually wrong perception they are creating and against Iran, and I don’t think they can achieve anything by this.”
Obviously one must wonder why the BBC thinks that its audiences’ understanding of the background to recent and potential events in the Middle East (as well as other topics such as the demonstrations in Iran and the imprisonment of dual nationals) is enhanced by hearing poorly challenged disinformation and spin that could just as well have been aired on Iranian state TV.
The US State Department’s February 23rd announcement concerning the opening of an interim embassy in Jerusalem this coming May was the topic of an article published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page that same evening under the headline “US to open new embassy in Jerusalem in May“.
The two initial versions of the article inaccurately suggested to BBC audiences that Tel Aviv could be seen as the capital of Israel.
“Donald Trump said in December that the US would recognise Jerusalem – not Tel Aviv – as Israel’s capital, infuriating Palestinians.”
“Donald Trump’s decision last year that the US would recognise Jerusalem – not Tel Aviv – as Israel’s capital infuriated Palestinians.”
In the final version of the report – amended the following day – that statement was replaced by the following:
“Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv, where all other embassies are located, infuriated Palestinians.
The declaration broke with decades of US neutrality on the issue and put it out of step with the rest of the international community.”
In fact, the US Congress of course voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago.
Readers were told that:
“Within days of President Trump’s declaration, a UN resolution was passed declaring any decisions regarding the status of the city “null and void” and insisting on its cancellation. It was backed by 128 states, with 35 abstaining and nine voting against.”
They were not however informed that the UN GA resolution concerned is non-binding.
Readers of this report were not told that the site chosen for the new US embassy in Israel is in a neighbourhood of Jerusalem that remained under Israeli control under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.
“The US Department of State spokeswoman said the embassy would initially be located at existing consular facilities in the Arnona district of the city.”
As has been the case ever since it began covering this story in late 2016, the BBC not only did not question Palestinian objections to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences – including in this article – the PA does not lay claim, but provided them with uncritical amplification.
“A senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, called the move a “blatant provocation”. […]
Mr Erekat said the US move “reflects their total insensitivities to what goes on in this region”.
It “reaffirms our position that the US can no longer be part of the peace process,” he added. “The US administration has become part of the problem and not part of the solution.””
Readers also found a context-free portrayal of passive Palestinians displaced in 1948 that made no mention of the fact that the war concerned was instigated by Arab leaders who, in many cases, ordered them to leave their homes.
“The US Department of State has said that a new American embassy in Jerusalem will open in May.
The opening of the mission will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary, the statement said. […]
The anniversary of Israel’s founding precedes by a day what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe” of their displacement in the 1948-49 Arab-Israel war. […]
Last month, US Vice-President Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament that the move would occur sometime before the end of 2019.
The sudden change to this May has been seen by some as a deliberate snub to Palestinians.”
Notably – although unsurprisingly – that latter unattributed BBC claim is entirely in step with Palestinian statements on the issue.
Despite the fact that the BBC has a permanent presence in Beirut, the last time its audiences saw any reporting from southern Lebanon was over three years ago. Last year, Hizballah violations of UNSC resolution 1701 received no coverage whatsoever.
“The UN force in Lebanon has accused Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army of hampering their work, which includes spying on the peacekeepers, in a report due to appear on the website of French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, on Friday.
The report quotes a chief warrant officer for the French contingent as saying during an interview: “In the evening we never leave the barracks because the Lebanese forces are not friendly. […]
“We are caught in the aggressor’s grip. Doing the bare minimum has become a political choice,” the officer added.
A former liaison officer with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, who was only recently transferred to another post, told the newspaper that “when we would detect military activities in our area, especially near the Blue Line [border with Israel], the Lebanese Army would prevent us from posting observers. It is as if those decisions did not come from them. Everyone knows that Hezbollah is using the area for the next war.””
The dearth of up to date BBC reporting on the situation in southern Lebanon and UNIFIL’s failure to implement UNSC resolution 1701 obviously means that if and when conflict between Israel and Hizballah does break out again, the corporation’s audiences – as well as the journalists it sends to cover the events – will lack the insight crucial to understanding of the background and context to that story.
1) At the Tablet, Tony Badran discusses the US Secretary of State’s recent visit to Lebanon.
“As the military confrontation between Iran and its regional proxies on one hand, and Israel on the other hand, heats up, Lebanon has emerged as the nerve center of the Iranian camp. On the eve of Tillerson’s visit, Lebanon hosted Akram al-Kaabi, the leader of an Iraqi militia which operates under the command of Iran’s Qods Force. From Beirut, al-Kaabi stated his group would fight Israel alongside Hezbollah in a future war. The presence of al-Kaabi in Lebanon—his terrorist comrade Qais al-Khazali had dropped by late last year—underscored Lebanon’s role as a hub for Iran’s regional terrorist assets.”
2) The Times of Israel carries an excerpt from Ben Dror Yemini’s latest book – now available in English.
“We must admit that there is no chance for peace in the foreseeable future.
It’s not that the solution is complicated. Despite the disagreements, despite the fantasy of mass Return, and despite the isolated settlements, there are clear parameters for peace. Bill Clinton presented them in late 2000; the Geneva plan presented a similar plan in 2002; Ehud Olmert repeated it, with semantic changes, in 2008; John Kerry introduced two versions with almost the same parameters in 2014. Even the Arab initiative, if we take away the fantasy of mass Return, could have been the basis for an agreement.
Although the parameters are known, peace cannot be achieved.”
3) The ITIC has published a report titled “Palestinian Terrorism: Analysis of 2017 and Forecast for 2018” (full version available in Hebrew here).
“Mahmoud Abbas, the PA and Fatah continue their indirect encouragement of popular terrorism and the shaheed cult in general in various ways. That includes speeches and public declarations issued by senior figures, glorifying the Palestinians who carry out attacks, providing political and media support for popular terrorism, the participation of senior PA and Fatah figures at the funerals held for terrorists killed while carrying out attacks, paying condolence calls to the families of terrorists who were killed, naming streets, institutions and town squares for shaheeds and providing financial support to the families of shaheeds and prisoners.”
“I have, over the past year, slowly put together a video using my archive of recordings of BBC Global and CNN International’s news broadcasts. It portrays a mindset among journalism that has them “in the name of the ‘whole world’,” misinforming the whole world by reciting Palestinian war propaganda as news. “Everybody knows it’s Israel’s fault” that there’s no peace settlement.
Among other violations of journalistic principles of presenting the relevant evidence, I indict the MSTVNM (mainstream TV news media) for not letting their audiences know what Palestinian leaders – both PA and Hamas – say in Arabic, thus compounding the misdirection involved in highlighting and affirming what Palestinian spokespeople say in English.”
As we saw in part one of this post, the February 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview (from 30:06 here) with UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbul.
Having failed to challenge Krahenbuhl’s unevidenced claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”, presenter Tim Franks next provided him with the cue for dismissal of one of the prime criticisms of the UN agency.
Franks: “What do you say to the other criticism that is often levelled at UNRWA – particularly of your work inside Gaza where there’s a huge proportion of the refugees – and that is that – maybe inevitably, maybe willingly, you have allowed yourself to become too close to the authority that runs Gaza which is Hamas which is proscribed by an awful lot of countries – most of the West sees it as a terrorist organisation – and that the split between what UNRWA does and what Hamas does has become blurred?”
Krahenbuhl: “Working in conflict zones means that you operate in proximity to groups that are either governmental armed forces, that are non-state armed groups so that’s by definition the work. One of the things that you do also is to ensure the neutrality of your work by every means possible. And so just to take the example of Gaza, last year during repair works to two of our schools we discovered tunnels that had been built below those schools. Now we publicly condemned Hamas for those actions and that is a measure of the robustness with which we pursue our policies of neutrality. Now if anybody however can describe to me who would be the alternative provider of education to 270 thousand students in the Gaza Strip who go to UNRWA schools and who among other things are taught a human rights curriculum with focus on tolerance and co-existence, then I’m happy to be told what that alternative is, because there is none.”
As readers may recall, the BBC failed to report the story of those tunnels beneath UNRWA schools at the time. BBC audiences are also unaware of the case last year in which an UNRWA employee was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip because the BBC chose to ignore that story too. Listeners would therefore not be able to put Krahenbuhl’s flimsy claim that the statement his organisation issued on the topic of those tunnels is evidence of a ‘robust’ approach to ‘neutrality’ into its correct context and Franks made no effort whatsoever to question him further on the long-standing issue of UNRWA employees with links to terror organisations or support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism on social media by UNRWA staff.
Franks closed the interview by encouraging Krahenbuhl to give “a message for those listening in Washington”.
Franks: “You say that you’re turning to other donors to try and make up what might be a pretty big shortfall in funding as a result of this change in US policy. If you had a message for those listening in Washington about what this dramatic cut in funding would mean, what would it be?”
Krahenbuhl: “The idea that people have to have in mind is to think about what would it be for one’s own family if we faced a situation of conflict where we’re worried about our future and suddenly the key provider of education, services, is no longer able to deliver that and, you know, yet another avenue or horizon is shut. People have to think about in these terms. When you are in the Middle East today, one of the worst things for the Palestinians – but that affects everybody in the region – is that there is no political horizon, there is no personal horizon. There is no freedom of movement, no jobs to be found. We have some of the most, you know, extraordinarily courageous students probably on the planet. I handed over a certificate to a 15 year-old student in Gaza two years ago who had survived an air strike on her home, had spent seven months in a coma. When she woke up she was told by the doctor that her mother and one of her brothers was killed in the strike and yet she was one of the highest performing students in our school. And she has an outlook on life. She wants to be recognised for her skills, for her abilities. She doesn’t want to be seen by the world as only a refugee or a victim. And I think what we need in this region is to rediscover the humanity in people. You know I can…if I believed that polarisation would lead to a solution or to an improvement, I would embrace polarisation but I don’t see that. I see humanity being rediscovered in everybody as being the way forward.”
Franks: “Pierre Krahenbuhl: the boss of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports millions of Palestinian refugees.”
Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.