On the morning of July 22nd a report headlined “Israel demolishes ‘illegal’ homes under Palestinian control” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. The original version of the report – which was in situ for around four hours – told readers that:
“Israel has begun demolishing a cluster of Palestinian homes it says were built illegally too close to the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank.
Hundreds of police and troops moved in to Sur Baher as bulldozers tore down structures said to house 17 people.”
Readers were not informed that most of those “homes” were in fact multi-storey buildings in various stages of construction – and hence for the most part uninhabited – or that a halt to that building work was ordered in 2012.
They were however told that “Palestinians say it is an attempt by Israel to grab West Bank land” before the report went on to state that:
“Israel’s High Court had rejected appeals against the demolition order, saying the homes had been put up within a no-build zone next to the barrier.”
The BBC did not inform readers that while that no-build zone has been in force since 2011, construction of the said structures commenced after that date. Neither were they told that the court addressed the background to that no-build zone.
“…the justices sided with the Defense Ministry, saying in their decision that major construction along the barrier would “limit [military] operational freedom near the barrier and increase tensions with the local population.
“Such construction may also shelter terrorists or illegal residents among the civilian population, and allow terrorist operatives to smuggle weapons or sneak inside Israeli territory,” justices Menny Mazuz, Uzi Fogelman and Yitzhak Amit wrote […] “We therefore accept that there is a military-security need to restrict construction near the barrier.””
Readers next found the BBC’s standard framing of the anti-terrorist fence, which does not include presentation of the factual evidence of its efficacy.
“The barrier was built in and around the West Bank in the wake of the second Palestinian uprising which began in 2000. Israel says its purpose is to prevent infiltrations from the West Bank by Palestinian attackers, but Palestinians say it is a tool take over occupied land.” [emphasis added]
The report continued:
“The demolitions are particularly controversial because the homes, in the village of Wadi Hummus on the edge of Sur Baher, are situated in part of the West Bank under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority but were built on the Israeli side of the barrier.”
The BBC did not bother to inform readers that that is the case because – as documented by the political NGO ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’ the residents of Sur Baher petitioned against the original route of the anti-terrorist fence which excluded those Area A and Area B designated areas.
“In 2004, when the separation barrier was under construction, the route of the barrier was to leave the area of Wadi Hummus on the West Bank side of the separation barrier. After the residents despaired of stopping the construction of the barrier altogether, they appealed to the IDF to change the route of the barrier so as to include Wadi Hummus on the Jerusalem side of the fence. They had two major considerations: they sought to maintain the geographical integrity of the neighborhood, and to preserve access to one of the few areas of the neighborhood where additional construction could be carried out.”
As we see the BBC’s original reporting of this story seriously downplayed the security issues which are its context. While additional information – most of which was available at the time of the original publication – was subsequently added, the fact remains that the BBC was apparently quite content to promote an incomplete story for four hours, knowing full well that people who read the article during that time would be unlikely to return to it later in the day.