BBC Online Middle East Editor

In August 2013 Raffi Berg was appointed to the post of head of the Middle East desk at the BBC News website, replacing Tarik Kafala. 

In 2003, prior to his appointment as Middle East Editor for BBC Online, Tarik Kafala wrote:

“Though rudimentary and ineffective, Hamas’ Qassam-2 rocket is seen by Israel as a very serious threat.

In theory, the rocket brings Israeli population centres into the range of Hamas – just as Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon were able to target towns and villages in northern Israel.

Yet the rocket, first used in February 2002 against a target inside Israel, has caused very few casualties and very little damage. One estimate suggests that in approximately 2,000 firings of the rocket no-one has been killed.

For their own reasons, Israel and Hamas seem to be playing up the danger that the rocket poses – Hamas can trumpet its military effectiveness and Israel has further arguments to justify its raids into Gaza and the West Bank and its policy of liquidating Hamas members.” [Emphasis added]

Writing on January 20th, 2002, just two days after a Palestinian gunman from Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade had murdered six people and injured 33 others at a Bat Mitzva celebration in Hadera (bringing the Israeli death toll at that time since the beginning of the second Intifada to almost 200), Kafala filed a report about Palestinians living under closure.  Whilst the report contains a few cursory references to the fact that the closures were a necessary part of counter-terrorism operations, its bulk concentrates on emotive Palestinian stories, repeating and promoting a variety of bizarre claims and with one sub-section entitled ‘Living in cages’. 

“Palestinians say the closure is a policy intended to impoverish them and destroy the symbols of self-determination – and eventually to drive them out of the West Bank and Gaza.”

“”It feels like the Palestinian people are put into small cages in their villages and towns. It affects every aspect of life. Freedom of movement is very narrow now,” says journalist and academic Aref Hijjawi, a resident of Ramallah.”

“”Israel’s occupation of Palestinian areas is not a primitive thing. It is very intelligent and sophisticated. They have created a regime that in the end threatens our presence here. I’ve written about this and I call it “sociocide”. This is a phenomenon like genocide, but without the direct violence and killing. “Sociocide” just makes life hell – economic life, social life, the lot – so that a person loses all pleasure in life and chooses by his own accord to leave,” Mr Jawwad says.”

In January 2002, Kafala wrote an overview of the key events of the previous year in the Middle East in which his analysis of the beginnings of the second Intifada was as follows: 

“The intifada, or uprising, began in October 2000 – fuelled by resentment at the failure of the peace process and the visit of Mr Sharon to the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount before he became prime minister. The site is sacred to both Jews and Muslims but his visit was seen by Palestinians as provocative.”

However, a good three months before Kafala’s article was written, in September 2001, Marwan Barghouti had already told the London newspaper Al Ayyam that the intifada had been planned in advance.

“The Intifada however, was not ignited by a person or a group of people, but it evolved from reaching deeply into the feeling of the masses. There were those who were opposed to the conflict. At the same time, I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict.”

Previously, in March 2001, the PA’s Communications Minister Imad Al Faluji had told an audience in the Lebanese refugee camp of Ein al Hilweh:

“Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. [Arafat] remained steadfast and challenged [Clinton]. He rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US.” 

Kafala, however, elected to ignore the available evidence pointing to a planned campaign of violence, instead choosing to frame the second Intifada as the result of an Israeli ‘provocation’.

In April 2002 Kafala was to be found repeating unsubstantiated claims from Arab sources about mass Palestinian casualties in Jenin. Whilst the BBC was by no means the only media outlet at the time to fall hook, line and sinker for the myth of the ‘Jenin massacre’, it was certainly one which excelled at the task

The fact that such misleading articles from years gone by are still to be found on the BBC website – without any kind of correction or warning to the reader that the ‘information’ they contain is incorrect – raises serious questions about the integrity of the BBC’s claim that its website helps the public become better informed about the conflict, as well as questions regarding the impartiality of the BBC Online Middle East Editor ultimately responsible for the website’s content.  

Indeed, even after his appointment to the post of Middle East Editor of BBC Online, Kafala continued to mislead readers. 

As late as 2007 – almost five years after Operation Defensive Shield, during which substantial evidence of the Palestinian Authority’s involvement in and funding of terror attacks against Israeli civilians was gathered – Kafala claimed that:

“Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of funding some suicide attacks and rewarding the families of attackers. Evidence for this has been sketchy.”