BBC: ‘Israel is deeply controversial’ and BDS is a ‘human rights’ group

For years the BBC has reported stories relating to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) without adequately clarifying to its audiences that what that campaign ultimately seeks to achieve is the end of Israel as the Jewish state.  Moreover, in August 2015, we learned that the BBC considers the provision of such crucial background information “not our role“.

Nevertheless, one might have expected that in two reports specifically relating to the issue of support for the BDS campaign from student unions in British universities, the corporation would have made an effort to get the facts right.

On April 27th BBC Two’s current affairs programme ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ included a report by Jon Ironmonger (available here or here) about a Charity Commission investigation into 17 student unions that have endorsed the BDS campaign.

Having told audiences that Israel is “one subject” that “bitterly divides” students, Ironmonger went on to inform them that:

“The Jewish state of Israel is deeply controversial; accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and provoking anger around the world.”

He of course provided no evidence for that “human rights abuses” smear.

Audiences were later told that: [emphasis added]

“Students’ unions in increasing numbers have been voting to adopt strict anti-Israel policies under the banner of a global movement called BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. […]

BDS pressures Israel to end the occupation of Arab lands by calling for the boycott of Israeli companies and institutions.”

Obviously the use of such partisan terminology to describe disputed territory is not consistent with supposed BBC editorial standards of impartiality.

That report included two appearances by Sai Eglert who was described on screen as a “student teacher” and portrayed by Ironmonger as “a member of the Palestine Society at SOAS”. Viewers were not told that Eglert – who has appeared in BBC content before – is a BDS supporter and anti-Israel campaigner.

While interviewing a Jewish student about his experiences, Ironmonger appeared to question the existence of antisemitism at some UK universities.

“What’s fueling this antisemitism – if you like – on campus?” [emphasis added]

In addition to the filmed report, Ironmonger also produced a written article which was published on the BBC News website’s UK page on April 27th under the headline “Concerns raised over students’ unions’ anti-Israel stance“.

The portrayal of the BDS campaign in that article was no better. 

“Seventeen student bodies have endorsed the BDS movement – which calls for an international boycott of Israel over the way it treats Palestinians. […]

The BDS – which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – describes itself as a human rights organisation and criticises Israel for its human rights record.

It says it stands for “freedom, justice and equality”, saying it is “inclusive and categorically opposes as a matter of principle all forms of racism” – including anti-Semitism.”

Had audiences been told in the BBC’s own words that the BDS campaign is opposed to Jews having the basic human right to self-determination in their own country and that denial of Israel’s right to exist is considered – including by the UN Secretary General and according to the definition adopted by the UK government – to be a form of antisemitism, they would have been able to put the BDS campaign’s claim to be a non-racist human rights organisation into its correct context.

The subject matter of Jon Ironmonger’s two reports is important and serious. It is therefore all the more regrettable that BBC audiences were not provided with the full range of information critical for proper understanding of this story. 

 

 

BBC News portrays political NGOs as ‘human rights activists’

On April 25th an article billed “Israel PM snubs German foreign minister” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with the sub-heading “Sigmar Gabriel had refused to call off talks with Israeli human rights activists”.

The report itself – headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu scraps talks with German minister over rights groups” – opens with a description of the NGOs concerned in the same terms.

“Israel’s prime minister has cancelled talks with Germany’s foreign minister after he refused to call off a meeting with Israeli human rights activists.

Sigmar Gabriel had been due to meet Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu had warned he would not see Mr Gabriel if he met the groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.”

The fact that the BBC chose to describe those two political NGOs as “human rights activists” should not be surprising: after all, both ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘ are among the campaigning NGOs (overwhelmingly from one end only of the political spectrum) that are routinely quoted and promoted in BBC content.

However, in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality, the BBC has a longstanding policy of consistently refraining from adequately informing its audiences with regard to the foreign funding, agenda and “particular viewpoint” of the NGOs it promotes in Israel-related content – including ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘.

In this particular report readers are told that:

“Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers, gathers anonymous testimony from within the military about alleged abuses of Palestinians by the army.

Israeli authorities have accused it of making unreliable accusations.”

They are not however informed that a significant proportion of those ‘testimonies’ have been shown by persons completely independent of the “Israeli authorities” to be false, exaggerated or unverifiable.

With regard to B’tselem, the BBC’s report states:

“B’Tselem is one of Israel’s leading human rights groups and has come under similar criticism.”

Readers are not told that B’tselem was one of the sources of dubious casualty figures (also used by the BBC) during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas or that it engages in ‘lawfare‘ campaigns intended to delegitimise Israel – the one country it openly admits to wanting to see “punished” by the international community.

Both ‘B’tselem’ and ‘Breaking the Silence’ are generously foreign funded campaigning NGOs with a clear and specific political agenda. The BBC’s anodyne portrayal of those groups as ‘human rights activists’ is a barrier to audience understanding of this story.

Related Articles:

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC News portrayal of Israeli law airbrushes political NGOs

 

 

 

BBC WS programme on anti-terrorist fence promotes inaccurate information

The April 16th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Documentary’ was titled “Walls and Peace“. In that programme, Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan of Ulster University visited locations in her native Northern Ireland, in the USA and in Israel asking “do walls built for political purposes create bigger problems than they solve?”.

Gormley-Heenan’s own position on the topic (she is not in favour) is very much apparent in the programme’s conclusion but along the way to that summing up, she ostensibly presents both sides of the debate.

The synopsis to the online version of the programme includes the following:

“Professor Gormley-Heenan is a specialist in barrier walls, which she has witnessed and studied in her native Belfast, where “peace walls” still separate Nationalist and Unionist communities. […]

There have been fewer militant attacks in Israel since the barrier with the West Bank was built there, yet many Palestinians are cut off from, for example, their olive groves on the Israeli side. And even Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who are now on the Israeli side of the barrier, and feel safer, are adversely affected by the barrier.”

The photograph used to illustrate the programme is described by the BBC World Service as follows:

‘Photo: man climbs a wall on a ladder. Credit to Heidi Levine, with kind permission’

That photograph – from 2002 – was in fact taken in Israel. Why the BBC chose to change the original caption is unclear.

The section of the programme relating to the anti-terrorist fence constructed by Israel during and after the second Intifada commences at 13:20 and goes on for over 17 minutes.

Gormley-Heenan’s introduction to that section includes generalised speculations about the socio-economic status of the residents of neighbourhoods near the structure which are absent from the sections of the programme relating to Northern Ireland or the USA.

“Here’s another one [wall]. It’s made of concrete slabs 9 meters high in the middle of a major city and there’s a big contrast between the housing on the two sides. This is the separation barrier in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian side is very densely populated with high-rise blocks of housing packed close together. The western, Israeli side is more spacious with more beds of grass and a population – judging by the style and quality of the housing – seems considerably better off. The barrier isn’t a wall everywhere; only in cities. It was put there by popular demand from the Israeli side.”

BBC coverage of the anti-terrorist fence has never been notable for its balance and impartiality and so the fact that listeners to this programme got to hear from the man who planned it is remarkable.

“My name is Colonel (retired) Danny Tirza. In March 2002 in one month we lost 128 people that were murdered by terror attacks. And people said to the government ‘enough is enough; we cannot live with such level of terror. Do something. Build something’. And the government took the first decision to let the army design and build a security fence. And that was the moment when I got the mission to be the head of this project. From 2000 till the end of 2006 we had in Israel more than four thousand terror attacks. We lost in this period 1,562 people that were murdered by terror attacks. We’re a very small country.”

Unfortunately, nowhere in the item are listeners provided with statistics concerning the reduction in the number of terror attacks following construction of the anti-terrorist fence.

Gormley-Heenan then goes to meet a resident of the community of Tzofim in Samaria – Hagai Mayer. Her introduction to that interview includes standard BBC messaging concerning ‘international law’ but does not clarify to listeners that, like all Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria, Tzofim is located in Area C and under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status is to be determined in negotiations.

CGH: “Away from the cities, in the more rural areas, things look different. The concrete wall turns into a high metal fence with sensors and cameras. So let’s go meet residents to find out what it’s like to live close to these barriers. This is Tzofim; a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. The international community considers these settlements illegal but Israel disputes this. In places the separation barrier runs right on the ‘green line’; the 1949 Armistice Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Elsewhere the barrier diverges into the West Bank to surround settlements like Tzofim which now finds itself on the western, Israeli side of the barrier along with 9.4% of the West Bank.”

After her interviewee has told her about his feelings and experiences before and after the fence’s construction and explained the procedures put in place to provide access to Palestinians with agricultural land on the western side of the fence, listeners again hear from Col. Danny Tirza.

CGH: “Despite the inconvenience in places like Tzofim, the barrier is popular in Israel. But why was it built in the particular way that it was? Colonel Tirza remembers why he designed it the way he did.”

DT: “I tried to construct only wire fences. But when we came to urban areas I had to construct concrete walls. In some areas like along road number 6 cross-Israel highway, there are two Palestinian towns – Tulkarem and Qalqilya – and they were shooting from their towns to where the traffic that runs on the main highway of Israel. So I had to construct there concrete wall. Another reason: in urban areas I wanted to reduce the friction between the soldiers and the people that lives on the ground. I didn’t want that some Palestinian children will throw stones on the fence. The fence is very sensitive so the fence will react, the soldiers will run and it will start something between the soldiers and the people on the ground. There is another reason; the fence costs a lot of money and I didn’t want the Palestinians to harm the fence. Therefore, in urban areas – concrete walls. So a lot of people says to me OK, we can understand that but why so high? Mostly it’s 9 meters high. Can you make it some shorter? Well really at first I tried to construct only 6 meters high but six meters, if you climb it, some people can jump. Nine meters; nobody jumps.”

Gormley-Heenan then introduces her own agenda into the story by promoting a specific theory in the form of a ‘question’ and finding an interviewee who will give her the desired answer [from 21:43].

CGH: “I wonder though, could the separation barrier make Israelis less safe in the long-run? Might it be counter-productive by further escalating tensions and anger in the Palestinian areas? Here’s what Barbara Opall-Rome says. She’s the Israel bureau chief of Defense News – a US publication.

BOR: “Absolutely. There’s a fine line between deterrence and provocation. And these physical barriers are deterring but – as you noted – the other side can see it as a source of oppression; something to rebel at, something to gain their courage and act upon. When assessing threats you always have to take two things into consideration; capabilities and intent. So the fact that Israel has built these barriers, whether it’s all along the Gaza border – where they’re reinforcing and fortifying even more – or along all of its borders, with these barriers the ability is diminished but the intent; that could have expanded, that could have been accentuated. So it’s always a fine balance and it’s an interesting question that you pose. I would assume that along with deterrence comes a perception of provocation on the other side.”

Remarkably, that lengthy response to a deliberately posed question completely erases the political and religious ideology behind the terrorism that has necessitated the building of fences in Israel.

Gormley-Heenan than goes to visit Palestinians “on the other side” – beginning in Nazlet-Isa near Baka al Garbiya. There, the head of the village council recounts how the construction of the anti-terrorist fence “affected directly on the local economy of the village because it affected on the income that they were having before through the open road and the open market and shops on the main road of the village”.

It is of course true that the terrorism of the second Intifada – which included several cases of murders of Israeli shoppers in Palestinian villages – and the later construction of the fence caused Israelis to cease shopping in Palestinian areas, as used to be the case. However, without providing the relevant background information, the BBC found it appropriate to include the following statement from that interviewee:

“I have no logical idea about why did they construct such a barrier inside the village. […] they say that it’s for security issues but we don’t understand what are the security concerns.”

Ignoring the Oslo Accords, the fact that Area C is subject to final status negotiations and the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically and purposely defined the ‘green line’ as not marking a border, Gormley-Heenan goes on to promote the notion of “Palestinian territory”.

“In Nazlet-Isa the wall is exactly on the ‘green line’ – the 1949 Armistice Line that divides Israel from the occupied West Bank. But elsewhere the barrier diverges from the ‘green line’ and cuts into Palestinian territory; sometimes by several kilometers. As a result, 9.4% of the West Bank is now on the Israeli side of the barrier. Some see this as an Israeli land-grab but Israel says it’s for security, including that of the Jewish settlers.”

That is the second time that listeners to this programme heard the figure “9.4%” together with the word “now”. However, even political organisations that tout that figure – eg UN OCHA and CAABU – clarify that it does not relate to the current situation and that it includes areas such as Ma’ale Adumim where the fence has not yet been constructed.

“Some 85% of the Barrier’s route runs inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line; if completed as planned, the Barrier will isolate 9.4% of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Gormley-Heenan then visits Jayus to interview a man – identified as Abu Azzam – who challenged the route of the fence in court and won his case. Once again erasing the Oslo Accords and final status negotiations from her story, she again promotes the term “occupied Palestinian land”.

CGH: “Just on the other side of the barrier, across from Abu Azzam’s village, is the Jewish settlement of Tzofim that we visited earlier. It’s the one that’s now on the Israeli side of the barrier despite being situated on occupied Palestinian land.”

Gormley-Heenan also facilitates her interviewee’s promotion of patently false claims concerning water and land.

AA: “If it [the fence] is for security they have on the ‘green line’ two fences. No dog, no cat can pass through it. If it is about security, those two fences are enough. And if it is a matter of security, why go 22 kilometers inside West Bank land? So why?

CGH: “So why do you think?”

AA: “It’s clear. It is to steal as much as possible from our main waters in addition to the fertilized areas. We are not allowed to pump water as much as we need.” […]

CGH: “The barrier has given Israel control over more land and resources.”

That, of course, is untrue. It is, however, consistent with the ‘land-grab’ falsehood that has been promoted by the BBC consistently over the years.

Returning to previous interviewee Barbara Opell Rome, Gormley-Heenan chooses to close the part of the programme relating to Israel in a truly bizarre manner [from 30:00].

CGH: “Let’s talk now a little bit about the technology that has underpinned the construction of these barriers. Has it given a boost to the defence industry in Israel?”

BOR: “In a word, yes. Big time yes. This is a multi-million dollar global business. And Israeli industries view themselves as the forefront in this industry. They have proven operationally deployed barriers and technologies that are…and when we talk about a barrier it’s not just a barbed wire fence and ditches and patrol paths. These are sensor-fused border protection elements where they have every 150 to 200 meters there are stationary cameras and radars that are all fused together and they filter in to command centres. It’s fortress Israel and I can tell you that it is big business: billions of dollars. A major company in Israel that is at the forefront is Elbit Systems and Elbit has been selected by the US government some years ago to protect and render some type of similar programme along the border with Mexico.”

Beyond the convenience of creating a smooth transition to Gormley-Heenan’s next port of call – the US-Mexico border – it is difficult to understand why those statements from Opall-Rome were deemed relevant to the programme’s supposed subject matter.

While this programme did go somewhat against the grain of usual BBC reporting on the anti-terrorist fence in that it presented a more accurate picture of actual structure and included rarely heard information from Col. Danny Tirza, it nevertheless stuck to the usual BBC mantras on ‘international law’ and promoted to audiences information that is inaccurate and misleading.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

CAMERA Corrects Defense News on ‘Breaking the Silence’ (CAMERA) 

 

 

 

Inaccuracies unchallenged in BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview on UN ‘apartheid’ report

The April 17th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Rima Khalaf – the former head of UN ESCWA.

The programme was broadcast on BBC television channels (available to UK-based readers on iPlayer here) and a clip from the filmed version was promoted on the BBC World News website under the title “Non-Jewish Israelis ‘cannot challenge’ their status”.

“The former head of a UN agency has said that under current laws, non-Jewish citizens of Israel “cannot challenge their subordinate status”.

Rima Khalaf was the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) until March 2017.

She resigned in March 2017, after the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked her to withdraw a report categorising Israel as an apartheid regime.”

An audio version of the interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio.

“Why did a UN agency publish a report that categorised Israel as an apartheid state? Rima Khalaf was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia until March 2017. She commissioned a report which accused Israel of systematically implementing apartheid policies and promptly resigned from her UN post when the Secretary General refused to accept the work. What were her motives?”

Audiences certainly did not hear an honest account from Khalaf of her own motives or those of the member states of the UN agency she headed. They did however hear presenter Stephen Sackur challenge her robustly on that topic as well as on the issue of the controversial choice of authors for the report and on the use of the term ‘apartheid’ in connection with Israel.

However, Sackur was apparently less able or willing to challenge the numerous falsehoods promoted by Khalaf throughout the interview, with the result that audiences were highly likely to go away with numerous inaccurate impressions.

On more than one occasion Khalaf brought up the subject of the legal system in Judea & Samaria.

“I mean in the West Bank you have a dual legal system; one that applies to Jewish settlers and one that applies to the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territory.”

“When Richard Falk said that there is a dual legal system applied in the West Bank, there is a dual legal system.”

“…the apartheid problem emerges not from the occupation but from the fact that you have two populations on the same land and you have two different laws applying to the two populations.”

Audiences were not informed that the legal system that exists does so because Israel has not annexed the area and that certain elements of that legal system – e.g. Ottoman law (1517-1917), which regulates property and lands; British law (1917-1948), which regulates defense; Jordanian law (1948-1967), which regulates planning, construction and parts of the penal code – pre-date Israeli control over the territory. Neither were they informed that the vast majority of Palestinians – who reside in Areas A and B – are subject to the legal system of the Palestinian National Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

Khalaf’s false claim that Israel “sends” civilians to live in Judea & Samaria was not challenged.

“…this is a case where Israel sends its population to settle in the West Bank, to colonise the West Bank…”

Khalaf’s false claims concerning the rights of Israeli citizens were not challenged at all.

“… in Israel there is a differentiation between nationality and citizenship – and this is very strange by the way – and that you have to be a Jew in order to be a national. And there are lots of rights that are associated with nationality. So you can be a citizen but you cannot have those other rights. And this is extremely important. You cannot discriminate between your citizens.”

Likewise, her misrepresentation of land related issues – further amplified in the promoted clip – went unchallenged.

“In Israel, I’m sure you know that 93% of the land is owned by the state. And land laws allow agencies to develop and sell land to Jews only. So you talked about 20% of the population who are non-Jewish; fine. But they’re not allowed to buy land in Israel except the lands that stayed with them after Israel was established…”

While it is true that the Israel Land Administration does administer around 93% of the land, it is not true that land is only sold to Jews – as explained in this backgrounder produced by CAMERA.

“In 1960 under Basic Law: Israel Lands, JNF-owned land and government-owned land were together defined as “Israel lands,” and the principle was laid down that such land would be leased rather than sold. The JNF retained ownership of its land, but administrative responsibility for the JNF land, and also for government-owned land, passed to a newly created agency called the Israel Land Administration or ILA.

Today, of the total land in Israel, 79.5% is owned by the government, 14% is privately owned by the JNF, and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Thus, the ILA administers 93.5% of the land in Israel.

Statements that Israel refuses to sell state-owned land to Israeli Arabs are extremely misleading, since, as stated above, such land is not sold to Israeli Jews either, but is instead leased out by the ILA and is equally available to all citizens of Israel.”

Khalaf also misled audiences – unhindered – on the topic of political parties and that misinformation was further amplified in the promoted clip from the programme.

“But you mentioned also political parties. Do you know that it is unlawful in Israel to establish a political party that questions the nature of the state as a Jewish state. So basically you’re telling the non-Jewish citizens of Israel you can vote but once you’re elected you cannot…you cannot question your subordinate status. OK; you can lobby for better budgets, for municipal services, for better health and better education. But the basic laws that discriminate against you and that establishes [sic] inequality are beyond your reach because if you do, you’re illegal as a party.”

In fact, the establishment of such a party is not illegal as Khalaf claims but it might be prevented from running in elections as explained here:

“According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, the Central Elections Committee may prevent a candidates’ list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:

  • negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
  • negation of the democratic character of the State;
  • incitement to racism.”

That clause was applied in 1988 in the case of the ‘Kach’ party. In contrast to the impression given by Khalaf, the anti-Zionist party Balad has been continuously represented in the Knesset since 1996 and one would of course expect a seasoned interviewer such as Stephen Sackur to know that and to ensure that audiences were provided with that information.  

Khalaf invoked UN GA resolution 181 but the fact that the Arab states rejected that recommendation was not clarified to BBC audiences.

“I suggest you and probably the audience they go back to the UN resolution that establishes Israel: the Partition resolution. That resolution was very clear: there is a Jewish state and there is an Arab state. But neither of the two states – neither the Jewish state nor the Arab state – can have laws that discriminate between people based on religion, sex or race. So that was the condition for establishing the state. Actually the declaration of independence for Israel does not discriminate based on any of those factors. But then later on, laws that discriminate based on religion and ethnic origin crept into the legal structure of Israel.”

Khalaf’s suggestion that peace in the Middle East depends on Israel was not questioned and her deliberate misrepresentation of the words of the Israeli prime minister was not challenged or clarified.

“What I am saying is, if we want peace in the region, we really need to address those laws, particularly now that we’re talking about recognising Israel as a Jewish state. My reference is the prime minister of Israel. When asked what do you mean by a Jewish state, his response was a state for the Jewish people and for the Jewish people only.”

In fact, while referring in 2014 to a proposed bill, Netanyahu said:

“The State of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation-state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status. The new law will be formulated in dialogue with all components of the coalition so that the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state are preserved.”

Sackur made no comment when Khalaf invoked the Livingstone Formulation.

“Look, and I know that there are lots of laws where criticising Israel will lead to defamation and to labelling you as an antisemite….”

Moreover, Sackur himself contributed to the misinformation relayed to audiences in this interview by referring to “roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers”.

Sackur [13:21]: “Of course the Israelis say that so many of the conditions they impose on Palestinians in the occupied territories in the West Bank are connected to security. It is security, they say, that led them to build that barrier fence or wall – whatever you choose to call it. It is security that leads them to have roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers to get them safely to their settlements. And that is not about a racial theory; that is about the practicalities of security.” [emphasis added]

Such roads of course do not exist: while vehicles with PA plates have been restricted from travelling on a small number of roads (a total of 40.22 kms according to B’Tselem) in Judea & Samaria for security reasons, non-Jewish Israelis and tourists were always free to use them. CAMERA has secured numerous corrections in the past from media outlets that have promoted the same falsehood.

Stephen Sackur’s robust questioning on the topic of the intentions behind the ESCWA report, its author and the use of the ‘apartheid’ smear was a refreshing novelty on ‘Hardtalk’ and particularly important seeing as previous BBC coverage of the story (see ‘related articles’ below) refrained from addressing those issues. Unfortunately, his failure to challenge Rima Khalaf’s misleading claims equally robustly and his own promotion of inaccurate information detracted from the interview and made it highly likely that uninformed members of the public would go away with multiple misconceptions.   

Related Articles:

BBC News erases identity of authors of UN ‘apartheid’ report

Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

As noted in a recent post, the April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included a monologue from a person described as “the mother of a Palestinian inmate”. The monologue was also promoted to the BBC World Service Twitter account’s 303,000 followers and those who listened to the clip heard the following in a voice-over:

“I haven’t seen or visited my son for around maybe ten months. Israeli security won’t let me see him. When I used to visit Diya I felt as if I owned the world. Every visit request I put in only comes back with rejection, rejection, rejection. I’m 67 years old. What risk am I to Israel’s security? I am of no danger. All I want is to see my son, to check on him and he can check on me. This is all I want but they deprive even a mother from seeing her son and a son from seeing his mother.”

While BBC audiences are no strangers to the promotion of pathos-rich stories from the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists, the fact that listeners were not told who the speaker is or why her son is in prison and did not hear any response to her allegations from the Israeli authorities obviously does not inspire confidence in the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting of this story.

So who is this “mother of a Palestinian inmate”? A clue to that question comes in a video that appears on the BBC Arabic website and is also embedded in an Arabic language article titled “More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails begin hunger strike” that, like its English language equivalent, promotes the notion that Palestinian “detainees” might be seen as “political prisoners”.

The woman extensively profiled in that BBC Arabic video is called Najat al Agha and she lives in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Mrs al Agha is by no means publicity shy: she recently told a very similar story to the one promoted by ‘Newsday’ to ‘Amnesty International’ which, predictably, is supplying publicity for the current Fatah hunger strike.

“Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, told Amnesty International that her son, Dia al-Agha, 43, has been imprisoned in Israel for the past 25 years. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on murder charges.  He is being held in Nafha prison in Mitzpe Ramon in the south.

“I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him,” his mother said.

“Every time I apply for a permit I get rejected. It is almost a year that I haven’t seen my son, it is devastating. They are punishing us, they are trying to break us.””

Moreover, Najat al Agha – who actually has had two sons serve time in prison in Israel – appears to come forward to tell her story quite frequently and – perhaps not unrelatedly – has been the recipient of ‘honorary gifts’ from the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

The son she names in the ‘Newsday’ clip is Diya Zakariya Shaker Al-Agha “Al-Faluji”. He was convicted of the murder of Amatzia Ben Haim from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in a greenhouse in Ganei Tal in October 1992.

“…Amatzia worked as an engineer in the fledgling electronics factory of the kibbutz. The final product was a computer controlled irrigation and liquid fertilization system sold to farmers who owned greenhouses, small plots of land, who grew tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and flowers.

Amatzia would go to these farms, install the systems, and often go back to maintain them or to troubleshoot them if needed.  Some of these farms were in the Gaza Strip, prior to the Israeli evacuation of all farms and settlements in Gaza.

It was on one of these trips that Amatzia was helping one such farmer in the Gaza strip, focused entirely on an irrigation line that may have been clogged, or a computer lead that may have malfunctioned. He did not pay attention to the young teen working nearby with a hoe, weeding the furrows. It was to be Amatzia’s last day on earth, as the teen brought the hoe down on Amatzia’s head, killing him instantly, widowing Amatzia’s wife, and orphaning his children.”

A media organisation truly committed to accurate and impartial journalism would of course have provided its audiences with information concerning the “Palestinian inmate” and the act of terror he committed. The BBC World Service, however, chose to give completely context-free amplification to his mother’s claim that Israel is ‘depriving’ her of seeing her son, without any mention of the fact that her son deprived three children – the youngest of whom was only five years old at the time – from ever seeing their father again.

That, of course, is not accurate and impartial journalism but self-conscription to a political campaign.

Related Articles:

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

The BBC, the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists and Twitter

 

More BBC disinformation on Gaza power crisis

The chronic shortage of electricity in the Gaza Strip is – as frequently documented on these pages – a story that is consistently badly reported by the BBC. Rather than informing its audiences of the real reasons behind that permanent crisis, the corporation’s journalists regularly promote the entirely inaccurate notion that it is connected to the restrictions on entry of certain dual-use goods to the Gaza Strip that are part of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

In recent days the crisis was further exacerbated.

“The Gaza Strip’s only functioning power plant was not functioning Sunday after running out of fuel, the head of the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave’s electricity provider told AFP.

Samir Metir said that all the plant’s fuel, purchased with funding from Qatar and Turkey, had been used up.

He said it was not clear when the Palestinian territory would receive more, owing to a “dispute” between the electricity authority in Gaza and Palestinian authorities in the West Bank.

The Gaza Health Ministry warned of a humanitarian crisis as a result.”

As the Jerusalem Post notes, this is yet another chapter in a long-running dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Hamas appealed to Ramallah on Monday to lift an onerous fuel tax which it said would force the Gaza power plant to shut down on Tuesday for the third day in a row.[…]

“We were surprised by the decision of the government [in Ramallah] to fully reimpose the taxes on the price of fuel used for operating the power plant,” the Gaza Energy Authority said on its web page.

The authority added that it “appealed” to Ramallah to waive the taxes. It further charged that Ramallah had delayed projects that would help resolve the electricity problem in Gaza.

A similar electricity crisis in December was resolved by tax-free donations from Qatar and Turkey that ran out last week. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is no longer willing to allow the plant to operate on tax-free fuel.”

On April 18th the BBC News website posted a filmed report – apparently also shown on BBC television news programmes – titled “Gaza power cuts: Man shares his tricks“. The report profiles an engineer from Gaza who has developed alternatives to mains electricity and the background to that story is described as follows:

“Power cuts in Gaza typically last 8 to 12 hours a day – sometimes longer. […]

There are strict controls on the movement of goods and people going in and out of Gaza.

Israel and Egypt tightened their blockade after Hamas, a militant group, took control in 2007.

Electricity is imported from both countries and there’s only one power plant.

Demand far outstrips supply.”

Leaving aside the predictable whitewashing of Hamas’ terrorism, obviously BBC audiences would understand – wrongly – that the electricity crisis in Gaza has something to do with the “strict controls” imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Not only is that not the case but the BBC has once again erased the real reason for the crisis from audience view.

Related Articles:

Gaza Strip background the BBC does not provide

BBC News again avoids telling audiences real reasons for Gaza power crisis

BBC’s sketchy reporting on Gaza power crisis highlighted

 

 

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

As regular readers are aware, despite having offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza the BBC does not devote much coverage to the topic of internal Palestinian politics. In particular, the story of internal Fatah power struggles is one that has been serially under-reported in recent months.

BBC’s Knell omits back stories in portrayal of PA succession

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics

Abbas’ Fatah reelection ignored by the BBC – in English

BBC News passes up coverage of recent Fatah congress 

BBC News ignores the story of the new Fatah vice-chair

That chronic lack of coverage means that BBC audiences are not well placed to understand the developing story of a pre-planned hunger strike by Fatah prisoners serving time in Israeli prisons.

As analyst Avi Issacharoff pointed out when it was announced earlier this month, while ostensibly about prison conditions, the hunger strike – led by convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti – is actually rooted in the Fatah power struggle.

“Officially, the Barghouti-led prisoners’ move is in protest of what they see as the Israel Prison Service’s failure to meet their demands regarding an improvement of conditions in the detention centers.

The strike will be Barghouti’s most significant test since he entered prison some 15 years ago. […]

In the Fatah Central Committee’s leadership elections (the party’s most senior institution) in December, he won first place. His wife, Fadwa, took the top place in the movement’s Revolutionary Council elections (the party’s second most senior institution). He is ostensibly the movement’s undisputed leader, despite being behind bars.

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his loyalists in the Fatah leadership have carried a series of steps to isolate and weaken him. Abbas did not appoint him as deputy chairman of Fatah, as Barghouti had expected, and other senior positions were divided between rivals Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud al-Mottak.

Barghouti’s backers also failed to be elected to other spots in the Central Committee, and he’s realized that he has been slowly pushed out of the picture.

Forced from the halls of power, Barghouti is using the strike to signal to the PA with that he can still wield considerable power in the Palestinian street.”

The strike commenced on April 17th and at the time of writing is limited to just over a thousand of the Fatah-linked prisoners.

“The hunger strike initiated by jailed Fatah official Marwan Barghouti is expected to start Monday – to coincide with Palestinian “Prisoners Day,” an annual event held in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences for his role in murderous terror attacks during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

With the annual event comes the concern of increased tensions in the prisons, and in the West Bank with Israeli security forces. Hamas, Fatah’s main rival, announced Sunday that its members will also join the strike, as did the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), another Palestinian faction. […]

Barghouti began to call for a strike after talks between prisoners’ representatives and the Israel Prison Service on improving prison conditions reached an impasse. Those talks began more than a year and a half ago. […]

Among the demands from Barghouti and the prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and cell phones in security wings.

According to sources close to Barghouti, the gradual increase in prisoners joining the strike is a planned step intended to prevent it from breaking early. But some have said that the fact that only about half of the Fatah prisoners announced that they would join points to a disagreement over Barghouti’s measure.

Barghouti supporters are also planning parades and demonstrations in the West Bank in support of the strike.”

On April 17th the BBC produced coverage of the strike on various platforms.

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ heard from the anonymous mother of an anonymous prisoner. A context-free clip from that programme was circulated on BBC social media accounts under the title “A mother’s plea for prison visitations” with the following synopsis:

“More than a thousand Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions. Rallies in support of the prisoners have been held in the occupied West Bank, and led to clashes with the Israeli security forces in the city of Bethlehem. The BBC spoke to the mother of a Palestinian inmate.”

Viewers of BBC television news programmes saw a short filmed report which was also posted on the BBC News website under the title “Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in support of prisoners“. The background to the story was described as follows in that report:

“Palestinian youths are clashing with Israeli forces in the West Bank. They are out in support of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who are on mass hunger strike against their detention conditions. There are fears that the protests could fuel tensions in the region.”

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page found an article titled “Palestinians in Israeli jails hold mass hunger strike” which informs them that:

“More than 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions.”

The report does clarify that the hunger strike is led by Marwan Barghouti:

“The action is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader jailed by Israel for life for five murders.

Barghouti has been touted as a possible future successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

However, like the other reports, the strike’s political background is entirely erased from this account of the story and instead audience attentions are focused on “detention conditions” without clarification of the specific demands.

Securing amplification from international media organisations is of course part of the strategy of the organisers behind this pre-planned action. If the BBC is going to collaborate with that strategy, it should at least be telling its audiences the whole story behind the motives for the strike.

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BBC reports on British student murdered in Jerusalem exclude the word terror

On April 14th a British exchange student was murdered in a terror attack in Jerusalem.

“The young British woman murdered on Friday in a terror attack in Jerusalem was named as Hannah Bladon, 21, an exchange student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. […]

Bladon died of her wounds after being stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife by a Palestinian terrorist while riding on Jerusalem’s light rail.

An off-duty police officer and a passerby wrestled the terrorist, a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem, to the ground before he could harm anyone else. Two other people were lightly injured when the tram made an emergency stop.”

A report on the attack appeared on the BBC News website some two and a half hours after it took place.

Originally titled “Jerusalem stabbing: British woman killed in train attack”, the report was amended numerous times and its headline changed as details emerged and the victim was identified – but the word terror does not appear in any of its thirteen versions.

An additional report on the same story appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘England’ page on April 15th under the title “Hannah Bladon Jerusalem stabbing: Family ‘devastated’ at attack“. The word terror is likewise absent from all versions of that article. 

When British tourists were murdered in Tunisia in 2015, the BBC accurately described the incident as a terror attack. When an attack in which some of the victims were visitors to Britain took place in London in March 2017, the BBC similarly used accurate terminology to describe it to its audiences.

However, when visitors to Israel have been murdered in terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians, the corporation has consistently refrained from using accurate language to describe those attacks.  

Once again, the BBC’s double standards on terrorism, together with the redundancy of its inconsistently applied guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’, are glaringly apparent.

Related Articles:

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

 

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ jumps on the ‘cultural censorship’ bandwagon

h/t JS

For well over a year the BBC has been telling its audiences dark – though consistently inaccurate – tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC News website: How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

November 2016, BBC World Service: In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’.

On April 12th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ jumped on that bandwagon with a filmed report by the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy that was heavily promoted (see here, here, here and here) on Twitter.

The seven minute long report was also uploaded to Youtube where it is presented as follows:

“While the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel is itself divided, not least on issues of culture. There have been fights over plays, music, books, the funding for the arts and academic awards. The populist culture minister – a rising star of the right – is rarely out of controversy. So what is that culture war all about? Thomas Fessy has been finding out.” 

Fessy’s report opens with showcasing of a play called ‘Palestine, Year Zero’ and viewers are told that “it deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities” before they see equally context-free subtitles on screen saying “In 2016: 34 homes demolished, 130 people evicted”.

A journalist committed to providing his audiences with an objective view of the story would of course have clarified at this point that the play in question is a political as well as artistic project and that its writer received ‘guidance’ and ‘assisstance’ from individuals and NGOs (eg ‘Zochrot’) that campaign for the elimination of the Jewish state. Fessy, however, tells his viewers that:

“Before it was first performed the office of the culture minister, Miri Regev, assessed it. A complaint had been lodged because the play apparently contained messages of incitement that undermined the state and insulted its symbols.”

Viewers then see the play’s writer and director recount how “scared” she was of people coming to watch rehearsals because of the suspicion that they “had been sent by the culture minister”.

While a complaint concerning the play was indeed lodged, the ominous picture painted by Fessy does not – according to the play’s writer – reflect the whole story and in fact no ministry representative ever visited rehearsals.

Having presented BBC audiences with that partial story, Fessy then goes on to explain the ‘rationale’ behind his report.

“Israel likes to project an image around the world that it is an open society in which dissent is not persecuted. But there’s a growing fear here that a new generation of political leaders wants to shut down critical voices. Some say the culture minister, Miri Regev, is trying to gain control over cultural production, putting the vitality of this country’s culture and its freedom of creation in jeopardy. Many talk of a culture war that has been declared against Israeli artists.” [emphasis added]

Exactly who those “some” and “many” are is not disclosed to viewers.

The antagonist in Fessy’s story is very clearly the Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev. Although at no point do viewers get to hear a response from her or her office, Fessy tells them that:

“Here is a culture minister who has called artists arrogant, hypocritical and ungrateful and she rails against the liberal elite. She set out a so-called loyalty in culture plan, threatening to condition support for cultural institutions or on the contents they present or the place where they perform.”

Later viewers see footage from last November taken in Kiryat Arba as Fessy tells them:

“One of her [Miri Regev] other battlefields: the Jewish settlements. We followed her to Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank. That night was the first time that the national theatre had ever come to perform here – a move that many say normalises the residence of settlers in occupied territory, or Judea and Samaria in biblical terms.” [emphasis added]

Fessy once again refrains from disclosing to viewers who the “many” he quotes actually are and he makes no effort to clarify that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’. He fails to tell audiences that while that may indeed have been the first performance by ‘Habima’ in that specific location, the theatre company has appeared in what he would call “the occupied West Bank” (i.e. in communities in Area C) in the past – long before Miri Regev became culture minister and despite his transparent attempt to create false linkage.

“The culture ministry issued a memo that’s become known as the loyalty form. From now on, cultural institutions that would perform in the occupied West Bank would benefit from a financial bonus. Those that wouldn’t may face funding cuts.”

Failing to provide viewers with the name of the organisation he describes as campaigning “to end the occupation”, Fessy devotes part of his report to a tour of Hebron by an Israeli actress, portraying it as an effort on her part to express dissent.

“But some of the performers want to make their feelings clear. […] Not a word – but her tour said it all.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, however, that political tour was in fact initiated by the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Throughout the whole seven minute and twelve second-long report, viewers see just 37 seconds of footage presenting an alternative view of the story. A man at the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba is given three seconds of airtime while commentator Isi Leibler accurately and succinctly explains the issue in 34 seconds.

Nevertheless, Fessy chooses to close his report with take-away messaging concerning “a society turning its sights inward” and “censorship”, invoking “the peace process” which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

“As the peace process with the Palestinians remains frozen and with new leaders leaning to more populist agendas, Israel is for now busy fighting on the cultural front.”

Once again we see that the BBC is intent upon promoting – with more than a pinch of artistic licence – a politically motivated non-story concerning an alleged “shut down” of “critical voices” and a “culture war” that simply does not exist. 

BBC News recycles a confusing Amnesty euphemism

On April 11th the BBC News website published an article titled “Death penalty: Global executions fall 37% since 2015 – Amnesty” which is little more than a rehashed version of the press release put out by Amnesty International on the same day to launch its annual report on the subject of judicial executions.  

In that article, BBC audiences find the following paragraph:

“Meanwhile, Belarus and authorities within the Palestinian territories resumed executions in 2016 after a year’s hiatus, while Botswana and Nigeria carried out their first executions since 2013.” [emphasis added]

Who exactly are those “authorities within the Palestinian territories” and how did that odd and confusing phrase come to be included in the BBC’s report? The answer to the latter question is found in the AI press release which states:

“Belarus, Botswana, Nigeria and authorities within the State of Palestine resumed executions in 2016…” [emphasis added]

One has to search out the full AI report (which is not linked in the BBC’s article) in order to learn that those “authorities” are not – as readers may understandably have concluded – the Palestinian Authority but in fact the terror group that violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and that the executions it carries out are in breach of PA law.

“Three executions were carried out in Palestine (State of). Mohammed Fathi Mohammed Othman, Yousef Mohammed Abu Shamleh and Ahmad Helmi Abdel Qader Sharab were executed on 31 May 2016 by the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip; the executions were carried out without the ratification of the death sentences by the Palestinian President, contrary to the Palestinian Basic Law of 2003 and the 2001 Penal Procedure Law. Amnesty International recorded 21 death sentences, all in the Gaza Strip. There were 12 death sentences issued by military courts and nine by civilian courts. At least 21 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2016.”

As we see, the BBC edited the information it took from the AI press release; according to its ‘style guide’ the corporation does not generally use the term ‘State of Palestine’ and so that terminology was replaced with “Palestinian territories”. BBC audiences would obviously have benefited had editing also included replacement of the euphemistic and unhelpful phrase “authorities within” with clear identification of the group responsible for those executions.  

Related Articles:

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BBC News’ confused messaging on Gaza Strip executions

BBC’s Connolly ‘contextualises’ Hamas torture and execution (spoiler – it’s Israel’s fault)  

BBC framing of Iran’s president once again shown to be redundant