On November 1st an unattributed filmed report titled “On board the new Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page with the following synopsis:
“It’s been a long time coming, but Israeli commuters are finally able to board double-decker high-speed trains on a new link from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
Construction has been plagued by engineering and planning challenges, and the last section of the line is still not open. The route has also angered some Palestinians, as part of the track runs in tunnels under the occupied West Bank.
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz hopes it will eventually whisk passengers from secular, liberal Tel Aviv to a “Donald Trump Station” next to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.”
Roughly halfway into the film, its focus changes from the subject of the new train line itself to politicised messaging.
“But Palestinians in this village in the occupied West Bank are angry. A tunnel runs under part of the area but many Palestinians don’t have permits to enter Israel, so can’t use the train.”
Issa Odeh al-Jamel, Beit Surik resident:
“This train passes through Beit Surik land and we are not even allowed to use it. This is itself is a catastrophe for us.”
“Palestinians say Israel is illegally using occupied territory.”
The village of Beit Surik is located in Area B and its residents are Palestinian Authority citizens. The land under which – rather than “through” – the railway tunnel runs is located in Area C which, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control – including planning. Of course the BBC did not bother to clarify to audiences that it was the Palestinian Authority instigated Second Intifada which made permits necessary for residents of PA controlled areas. Neither were viewers told that there are no stops near Beit Surik or anywhere else along the line running from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport.
The film continues:
“Villagers fear they may lose access to some of their land.”
Muhammed Abdul Razik, Beit Surik resident:
“We don’t have enough information about the route of the train. It definitely passes under the lands of the village of Beit Surik but whether it is above the land or under the land, it is the same problem. For us the damage is the same. I am sure we will not have the freedom to work on our lands.”
Seeing as that tunnel – Tunnel 3 – was completed over four years ago, the claim that the route is not clear is an obvious red herring which the BBC chose nevertheless to include in its report. The BBC provides no evidence to support the specious claim that the existence of the tunnel will have any effect on access to farming land.
The film goes on to tell BBC audiences that:
“The Israeli Transport Ministry has not commented. The full route is not open yet. […] And next, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz wants to tunnel underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City. He wants to build “Donald Trump Station” near the Western Wall after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. More controversy is likely.”
While there are indeed plans to extend the train line from its current final stop in Jerusalem towards the city centre and the Old City, those plans – including the route – are still under Planning Committee discussion and so the BBC’s suggestion that construction will take place “underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City” is at best premature.
As we see just over half of the BBC’s anonymous report on this new train line is devoted to amplification of politicised messaging. Coincidentally or not, that messaging just happens to align with that put out by Saeb Erekat and the PLO when the train line was opened.