Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

The US administration’s announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 prompted an exceptionally large number of BBC reports on all its various platforms.

In six of the twenty-two written reports on the story (see here) that appeared on the BBC News website throughout December, no historical background was given at all. In eight of those articles audiences were given ‘background information’ on the city of Jerusalem that eliminated its history prior to June 1967 – for example:

Israel occupied the area in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries, including Israel’s closest ally the US, maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 4/12/17

And:

Israel occupied the east of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 22/12/17

Seven of the 22 articles made a cursory reference to the Jordanian occupation that existed before June 1967 but failed to clarify its context or even its duration:

Israel occupied the sector, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. [emphasis added] BBC News website, 5/12/17

One report mentioned Jordan but failed to explain that it occupied parts of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state. […]

Israel annexed the sector from Jordan after the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 6/12/17

Of the twelve filmed reports relating to the story which appeared on the BBC News website during December, only one – which, significantly, was presented as a backgrounder: “Yolande Knell explains why the city is so important” – gave any historical information. Knell told BBC audiences that:

“Most Israelis see Jerusalem as their “eternal, undivided capital”. Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured east Jerusalem, including the Old City, and it later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

As we see, Knell’s ‘backgrounder’ made no mention whatsoever of Jordan’s nineteen-year occupation of parts of Jerusalem and the fact that the later Jordanian annexation was unrecognised by the international community.

Like all the BBC’s numerous reports, this ‘backgrounder’ too failed to note the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. The belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, was completely ignored, as was the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders. Israel’s warning to Jordan not to participate in the Six Day War was also eliminated from all the BBC’s accounts of events.

A radio report by Yolande Knell aired on BBC Radio 4 on December 23rd likewise failed to inform BBC audiences of those significant factors.

“But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognised…”

In response to a complaint from a member of the public about the lack of historical context in that programme, BBC Complaints claimed that:

“It is important to note that the aim of Yolande’s report was to offer insight to the listeners of the local reaction of Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In this five minute report it would not be possible to give the full context and history of the city of Jerusalem.

In relation to what Yolande said about the annexing of East Jerusalem by Israel, she said it was during “a war with it’s [sic] Arab neighbours 50 years ago”. […]

The BBC have [sic] of course explored the subject of the 1967 war in detail, for example in:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39960461

That link leads to a long article by Jeremy Bowen that appeared on the BBC News website in June 2017 and in which no attempt was made to explain Jerusalem’s pre-1948 history – including its Jewish majority – and the topic of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent unrecognised annexation of parts of the city was ignored.

There is of course nothing new about the BBC’s failure to provide its audiences with the full range of information that would enhance their understanding of the background to stories concerning Jerusalem.

But while that practice has been in evidence for years, the failure to provide even one accurate, impartial and comprehensive account of the relevant history of the city which was the topic of dozens of BBC reports on multiple platforms in one month alone is obviously remarkable.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in BBC WS Jerusalem history backgrounder

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

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