BBC News promotes non-starter topic to advance Israel election narrative

A report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the morning of March 2nd under the headline “Israelis vote in unprecedented third general election in a year” closed with a section headed “Does this election matter?” in which – predictably – the BBC brought up the topic of the US Administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal that was made public in January.

Readers were told, inter alia, that:

“The US plan also proposes ceding a cluster of Israeli-Arab towns and villages into a future Palestinian state – effectively transferring Arab citizens out of Israel.

Israeli Arabs, who comprise about 20% of Israel’s population and often complain of discrimination, have been angered by the suggestion.”

Similar messaging was promoted by the BBC’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman in a report aired in the March 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:05 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Bateman: “There’s been a deep anger among many Arab Israelis. There were new laws [sic] asserting Jewish sovereignty by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Right-wing nationalist government and recently the Trump plan; offering to swap hundreds of thousands of people in Arab Israeli towns into a Palestinian state in return for Israel getting the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”

The “new laws” to which Bateman refers is actually one law – the Nation State Law passed in July 2018 – which the BBC covered badly at the time.

The US proposal states: [emphasis added]

“Land swaps provided by the State of Israel could include both populated and unpopulated areas.

The Triangle Communities consist of Kafr Qara, Ar’ara, Baha al-Gharbiyye, Umm al Fahm, Qalansawe, Tayibe, Kafr Qasim, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulia. These communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated. The Vision contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine. In this agreement, the civil rights of the residents of the triangle communities would be subject to the applicable laws and judicial rulings of the relevant authorities.”

An explanation of that reference to “negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949” can be found here.

Neither Tom Bateman nor the writer of the BBC News website report bothered to inform BBC audiences that both the main contenders for the post of prime minister of Israel in this election have already rejected that possibility raised in the US proposal.

“The Triangle area in Israel’s North will not become part of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Israeli Arabic-language channel Hala TV on Tuesday night.

Asked about the section of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan that raises the possibility of trading the predominately Arab Triangle area – which includes Umm el-Fahm, Kafr Kara, Baka al-Gharbiya and more – to the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu responded: “There is some vague statement [in the plan] that has no meaning.”

“There will not be any population transfers under any circumstances: I oppose it in principle,” he added.

In recent years and in the immediate aftermath of the plan’s release last month, Netanyahu said that he will not have people forced from their homes on the Israeli or Palestinian side.

The US “Peace to Prosperity” plan did not call for any populations to be moved but did suggest that the border could be redrawn such that the Triangle’s approximately 250,000 Arab citizens of Israel be in a future Palestinian state. However, this was not a core point: the map in the 180-page plan shows Israel swapping land in the Negev near Gaza and Egypt with the Palestinians, and keeps the Triangle in Israel.

The idea of swapping the Triangle was highly controversial and sparked protests in the North and in Tel Aviv. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has said he opposes it.”

In short, worldwide audiences were once again denied information that erodes the narrative the BBC has chosen to promote – in this case that of supposed background to the “anger” of Arab Israeli voters.  

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How will the BBC cover Israel’s election?

BBC News website coverage of the last Israeli election in September 2019 was relatively limited in comparison to its reporting on previous election campaigns in 20132015 and April 2019.

As Israelis prepare to head to the polls yet again on March 2nd, BBC audiences have seen even less coverage of the run-up to the 2020 election with just three related articles having appeared last December and no additional reporting since then apart from amendments made in late February to a profile of Benny Gantz which the BBC has been recycling since April 2019.

BBC News website kicks off 2020 election reporting

Reviewing BBC coverage of the Likud leadership primary

BBC audiences hence currently have no idea how many (29) or which lists are running in the election and on what platforms. They do not know how many people are entitled to vote or that some of them will have to use special voting facilities for people in isolation due to exposure to the Corona virus. Even a limited-edition ice-cream created especially for the election has failed to rouse the BBC’s interest.

However documentation of the BBC’s coverage of Israeli elections over the past seven years has shown that regardless of which lists are in the running or which issues are at the forefront of voters’ minds, the corporation manages to reduce the story to one narrative.

Back in January 2013 we made the following observations in relation to BBC coverage of that year’s Israeli election:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

Two years later we noted that:

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities.”

In April 2019 we commented:

“Overall, the BBC News website’s selective coverage of the 2019 election conformed to the agenda evident in the corporation’s reporting of the two previous ones. Israel was once again portrayed as a country ‘shifting’ to the right and that alleged shift was depicted as the exclusive reason for the predicted failure to make progress in ‘the peace process’.”

And last September we noted that “the BBC’s overriding interest in promoting a political narrative means that it continues to adhere to that well-worn formula”.

There is of course very little reason to anticipate that coverage of the upcoming election will deviate from that long-standing chosen narrative, particularly given that the BBC’s recent framing of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan was overseen by its Middle East editor – who is once again in the region, apparently to cover the election.

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BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ promotes half a story from 2014

In the February 26th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk’ presenter Stephen Sackur interviewed the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

The interview was aired on the BBC News and BBC World News television channels (available in the UK here) and an audio version was aired on BBC World Service radio.

“HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Dr Yasser Abu Jamei, director of Gaza’s biggest mental health program. The past few days have seen rising tension in Gaza – Islamist militants fired rockets into Israel; the Israelis responded with air strikes aimed at the Islamic Jihad group. Hardly unusual and certainly not the stuff of international headlines but that in itself is telling. In Gaza conflict is the norm, so too an economic blockade that has long choked the economy. What happens to a people living with trauma and collective despair?”

Despite BBC editorial guidelines concerning “Contributors’ Affiliations” which state that audiences should be informed of “their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints”, that information was not provided in relation to the GCMHP or its founder, whom Sackur brought up during the conversation.

Stephen Sackur’s introduction to the interview made no mention of the core issue of Hamas terrorism and even cancelled out the trauma suffered by residents of southern Israel with his use of the word “unique”. Failing to explain why there are people classed as “refugees” in a territory under the exclusive control of Palestinians for almost a decade and a half, he described his interviewee as: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “…an experienced psychiatrist working in a place which poses unique and daunting mental health challenges. The Gaza Strip is home to 2 million people. The majority are young, impoverished and classed as long-term refugees. They’ve been raised in a place of conflict where bomb-blasts, insecurity and sudden death have been constant facts of life. Not only that, Gaza is a densely populated enclave cut off from the outside world by fortified barriers. Israel and Egypt control access in and out for people and goods. It is, in short, a mental health pressure cooker and from time to time the lid blows off. Anger, violence, despair, drug addiction, childhood trauma: all are commonplace. But what can under-staffed, under-resourced mental health professionals do to help? Are the people of Gaza suffering extreme levels of mental illness or simply reacting normally to a uniquely grim situation?”

The interview followed a sadly predictable pattern, with Sackur failing to effectively challenge most of his interviewee’s politically motivated talking points. Even when he did raise issues such as Hamas’ staging of the ‘Great Return March’, the Hamas-Fatah feud and incitement in Palestinian school text- books, he failed to adequately challenge the inadequate responses given.

After the broadcast of the programme, the BBC News website chose to upload a clip to its ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Mental health: Coping with the trauma of living in Gaza”. The video’s synopsis includes the following:

“In 2014 Dr Jamei’s family home was bombed in an Israeli strike and he lost a number of family members.”

The clip itself begins with that event.

Sackur: “I am very mindful that in 2014 your own family home was bombed, destroyed, by an Israeli military strike. Tell me how many members of your extended family were lost.”

Abu Jamei: “Ah…well we live in an area that is the eastern side of Khan Younis and unfortunately my family endured the biggest loss when it comes to the number of people. You know every single life matters a lot to everyone, you know, but in that simple attack 27 people were killed including three pregnant women and I think seven…seven children. A three-storey building was levelled to the ground basically, you know…”

BBC audiences were not provided with any further context to that account.

The day after that incident – which took place on July 20th 2014, the political NGO B’tselem noted that:

“B’Tselem’s initial findings indicate that the likely target of the attack was Ahmad Suliman Sahmoud, a member of Hamas’ military wing, who was visiting a member of the family.”

Sahmoud was identified (number 446 on the list here) as an Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades commander.

The IDF Magistrate Advocate General subsequently launched an investigation into that incident.

The results of that investigation (number 12 here) showed that: [emphasis added]

“…on 20 July 2014, IDF forces carried out an aerial strike on a structure in use by Palestinian terrorist organizations for military activities against IDF forces maneuvering in the area. The strike intended to target the military infrastructure in the structure as well as a command level military operative, who according to real-time intelligence was commanding military operations against IDF forces from within the structure. During the planning and execution stages of the strike, which took approximately 24 hours, additional information about the structure was received, which corroborated the understanding that the structure contained military infrastructure that presented clear and immediate danger to IDF forces maneuvering in the area.[…]

Contrary to the allegation [inter alia from B’tselem – Ed.], it was found that a number of warnings were issued in the area of the strike, using various means, which called on civilians to evacuate from the area. It was further found that it would not have been possible to provide a specific warning to those present in the structure prior to the strike, as such a warning was expected to frustrate the objective of the attack. Moreover, it was also found that because the precise location of the military activity in the structure was not known, the strike could not be limited to a particular portion of the building. […]

After reviewing the investigation’s findings, the MAG found that the attack process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements. The decision to attack was taken by the competent authorities, and the attack was aimed at a military objective – a structure used by Palestinian terrorist organizations for military activities against IDF forces maneuvering in the area, and a command level military operative present therein.”

That information was denied to BBC viewers and listeners worldwide even though it has been in the public domain since August 2018. In other words, BBC audiences were given a partial account which conceals essential information and thus prevented from forming their own opinions on the incident as well as about the interviewer and interviewee presenting it in that one-sided fashion.

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BBC News tells readers of Sadat’s “victory in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict”

Following the death of Hosni Mubarak on February 25th, the BBC News website published an article titled “Mubarak: Egyptian statesman of war and peace” on its Middle East page.

The article includes portrayals of chapters in Middle East history, some of which are notable for their inaccuracies and omissions.

“Mubarak was instrumental in planning the surprise attack on Israeli forces at the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

The raid took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Mubarak became a national hero for the role the air force played in the initial thrust across the Suez Canal.

Russia and the United States came close to superpower conflict as they rushed to supply their respective allies. Israel repelled the invasion; but eventually ceded Sinai back to Egypt.”

Readers are not informed that Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula took place within the framework of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

“He [Mubarak] was not a noted supporter of the 1979 Camp David peace agreement – signed by President Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin.”

The Camp David Accords were signed in September 1978. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in March 1979.

“The treaty sharply divided the Arab world. Mubarak regretted Sadat’s failure to prevent relations with moderate allies deteriorating; and radical groups were inflamed at what they saw as a sell-out.

In October 1981, soldiers sympathetic to one such group assassinated Sadat during a parade commemorating his victory in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Egypt’s Sadat of course did not win a “victory” in the Yom Kippur war and that parade was actually to commemorate Operation Badr. Readers are not informed that the group responsible for Sadat’s assassination was the Egyptian Islamic Jihad

“Egypt – expelled from the Arab League in 1979 – was readmitted, and the organisation’s headquarters returned to its original home on the banks of the Nile.”

Readers are not told that – as stated in the BBC’s own timeline of the Arab League – Egypt was “suspended from the Arab League in the wake of President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel”.

Despite those omissions and inaccuracies – most notably the inversion of the outcome of the Yom Kippur war – readers scrolling to the bottom of the page find a link telling them “Why you can trust BBC News”.

A third BBC report from Beit Ijza highlights omissions in previous two

As documented earlier this month, a filmed report by Tom Bateman of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau was published on the BBC News website and aired on the BBC News television channel on February 14th.

BBC’s Tom Bateman tells part of a story about a Palestinian house ‘in a cage’

We noted at the time that:

“In addition to failing to note the second Intifada terror war as the context for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence, Bateman does not bother to clarify that the land on which the ‘settlement’ – Giv’on HaHadasha – was built had been purchased by Jews long before the State of Israel came into being, that it had been the site of a Jordanian army camp after the 1948 Jordanian invasion and subsequent 19-year occupation or that claims by the Gharib family that they owned additional land were shown to be unsupported in several court cases.

Later on in the report Bateman interviews a resident of Giv’on HaHadasha. Pointing at the fence he asks her:

“What do you think when you see a Palestinian home behind all this?”

Ilanit Gohar replies: “He chose this, he chose this type of living” but BBC audiences would be incapable of understanding her reply because Bateman did not bother to inform them that the Gharib family refused an offer of compensation for relocation prior to the construction of the anti-terrorist fence in that area in 2008 and that their claims were rejected by the Supreme Court.”

Just over a week later, on February 22nd, an audio version of Bateman’s report was the lead item in that day’s edition – titled “A Family Fenced In” – of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’. The synopsis reads:

“President Trump’s plan for peace in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories would allow Israel to apply its sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements as well as swathes of strategic land in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright saying it would create a “Swiss cheese state”. Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman spent time on two sides of a fence that separates an Israeli settlement from a Palestinian family with its own checkpoint.”

Presenter Kate Adie similarly introduced the item (from 00:31 here), failing to clarify that the “Palestinian leadership” had rejected the US plan long before they had seen its content. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “First; President Trump has a plan for peace for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Tensions are high as the American proposals would allow Israel to apply sovereignty to all the Jewish settlements – held as illegal under international law – as well as swathes of strategic land on the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan outright. Tom Bateman has been on both sides of the fence to take soundings.”

While Bateman may indeed have physically “been on both sides of the fence”, his report makes it very clear which side is the focus of his monologue and with which side listeners are supposed to sympathise.

Providing no context concerning the history of the area – including the highly relevant illegal Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967 – Bateman commenced with some very obvious framing of the story which included further repetition of the BBC’s standard partisan mantra concerning the alleged ‘illegality’ of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

Bateman: “Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. Sa’adat Gharib was born over a decade later – a Palestinian boy growing up under Israeli occupation. He watched the territory around him close in. Now he lives in a house surrounded on all sides by a six-meter-high fence with a sliding metal gate. It was installed by the Israeli army, who he says can seal the family into their home at any time. On the map his family’s bungalow appears as a blip, an enclave. On the other side of the wire, an Israeli settlement that grew to dominate the land surrounding Sa’adat’s house.

We drove to see him on the second Friday after President Trump announced his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. At one checkpoint tyres burned and the smell of tear gas seeped into the car as soldiers confronted a Palestinian protest. Tensions have been rising. The Israelis and Americans have started joint work on a map of all the West Bank settlements ready for Israel to formally annex them. Most of the rest of the world opposes this. The settlements, illegal under international law, thread through the land the Palestinians want as their future country. Their leader calls the Trump plan’s design a Swiss cheese state. Israel’s prime minister says it’s the opportunity of the century.”

Listeners then heard Bateman paraphrasing statements from his interviewee which they later find out he knows not to be true.

Bateman: “On Sa’adat’s driveway the fence rises around us. We look at the homes of the Israeli settlement a few meters away on the other side. He tells me he feels under siege. ‘The settlers confiscated my land’ he says. ‘They haven’t left me air to breathe’. His father built the bungalow in the late 70s. Then, Israel declared the territory around the house state land. Swathes of the West Bank were treated in the same way. Israel adopted an old land law introduced in Palestine in the 19th century. That was when the ruling Ottoman sultan could declare public ownership of any lands he said hadn’t been used to grow crops or keep livestock. Israel used this as a legal basis in the 1980s to claim land for settlements. Sa’adat’s father challenged this at the Israeli courts, claiming ownership of the land around his house. He lost. The judges ruled much of the territory had been bought by Jewish owners in the 1920s.”

Bateman did not bother to inform Radio 4 audiences that the 1858 Ottoman Land Code was also used by the British during their time as administrator of the Mandate for Palestine or that had Israel not used that Ottoman law post-1967, it would be in breach of  Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations which refer to “respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country”.

Failing to inform listeners that the US proposal does not propose uprooting either Palestinian or Israeli residents of Judea & Samaria from their homes (and of course makes no claim of US ‘ownership’ of the land), Bateman went on:

Bateman: “Sa’adat aims to respond to the American plan by staying put. ‘Trump doesn’t own this land’ he says. But the settlers see his home at the edge of the Palestinian village of Beit Ijza as a potential breach in the sprawling separation barrier which cuts through the land here and disconnects the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. The network of walls and fences was built at the height of the Second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising – in the early 2000s and Israel maintains it was and remains essential for its security, to protect Israeli civilians from attack.”

Refraining from clarifying that “attack” actually means Palestinian terrorism and that it is that terrorism which made the checkpoint he later describes necessary, Bateman continued:  

Bateman: “The iron meshwork that surrounds Sa’adat’s home contains sensors that alert the army should anyone try to climb the fence and get into the settlement. The police can then monitor the feed from cameras trained on his property. As his children run towards us, I spot a love heart scrawled on his side of the wall. Sa’adat describes the feeling of being under surveillance 24 hours a day. ‘It’s like living in a prison’ he says before adding ‘actually, in a real prison there’s someone to feed you, to take care of you’.

We leave the enclave to go to the settlement. It’s a few meters away and should be a 30-second drive but it takes an hour and a half. We have to head through the city of Ramallah to a military checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem where Sa’adat and most Palestinians may not pass. It’s our only route from the lives of those Palestinians we visited to the Israelis next door.

Ilanit Gohar greets me in the settlement of Givon HaHadasha. The name means new Givon, named after a biblical city whose residents were said to have built the walls of Jerusalem. We walk this side of Sa’adat’s fence, peering through the wire at his house, a few meters – but a world – away. You can feel the impact of the Israeli security all around. A jeep rushes along a military road that tunnels under Sa’adat’s driveway. Israel’s security dominance also forms the core of President Trump’s plan. It says the proposed Palestinian state would be demilitarised while Israel would use blimps, drones and aerial equipment for the so-called early warning station inside Palestine to keep watch.”

In the closing lines of his report it emerged that Bateman also knows of the second court case involving the Gharib family.

Bateman: “Ilanit, a young lawyer and resident of the settlement, keeps walking – perhaps in range of some of the security cameras around Sa’adat’s house. ‘He chose to live like this’ she tells me, referring to an offer of compensation if the family moved. ‘It was ruled this land belongs to Israel and not to him’ said Ilanit. ‘We can’t move him, he won’t move us’ she says as she calls President Trump’s plan a historic breakthrough. Annexation is fabulous she tells me, not only for the residents of this settlement but for all the people of Israel.”

The main question arising from this audio report is if Tom Bateman knew about both the Ghraib family’s failure to prove in court ownership of part of the land they claimed and their later refusal to accept compensation for relocation (with the situation described in all three of his reports being the result), why did he fail to provide that information to BBC audiences who saw the two previous filmed reports and why did he wait over a week to include that information in his radio report for non-international BBC audiences?

 

 

What can BBC audiences expect if the ‘Great Return March’ returns?

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip intend to renew the ‘Great Return March’ rioting (which was suspended in December) next month.

“Maher Muzher, a member of the Commission of the Great March of Return, a group consisting of various Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, said on Saturday that the organizers are planning mass demonstrations near the border with Israel on March 30 to commemorate the second anniversary of the weekly protests, which also coincides with Land Day. […]

Recently, the organizers of the weekly protests decided to change the group’s name to The National Commission for the Great March of Return and Confronting the Deal, reference to US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for Mideast peace.

Muzher said that work has begun to prepare for the mass demonstrations. “We will continue to work towards mobilizing a large number of people to participate in the popular and peaceful protest against the occupation,” he said. “We want to send a message to the Israeli occupation that the Great March of Return is continuing in order to achieve our goals and express rejection of the Trump deal which aims to liquidate the Palestinian issue. Our people will win, and the deal will collapse.”

Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad official and member of the commission, said that the weekly protests will resume on March 30. “We have decided to resume the marches of return,” he said. “They will be an important tool to express our rejection of the Trump deal.”

Hamas, meanwhile, called on Palestinians to step up protests against the Trump plan. Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, Ahmed Abdel Hadi, urged Palestinians to launch more protests against the Trump plan in the coming days. “Our heroic people who foiled previous projects will, god willing, also thwart this malicious deal and expel the occupation,” he said in a statement. “We will return to our homes in beloved Palestine, and we will pray at the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jerusalem is ours, and it is the capital of our state. The whole land is ours, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.””

As regular readers will be aware, BBC coverage of the weekly ‘Great Return March’ violence between March 2018 and December 2019 was remarkable for its promotion of very specific framing which:

  • Erased the fact that around 80% of those killed during the violent rioting at the border have been shown to be affiliated with various terror organisations – primarily Hamas.
  • Erased or downplays the violent nature of the events by failing to provide audiences with a representative view of the number of attacks using firebombs, airborne incendiary devices, IEDs, grenades and guns, the number of border infiltrations and the number of rockets and mortars launched.
  • Erased or downplayed the violent nature of the events by uniformly describing them as ‘protests’, ‘demonstrations’ or ‘rallies’.
  • Failed to provide adequate context concerning the stated aims of the events including ‘right of return’ and lifting of counter-terrorism measures.
  • Erased or downplayed Hamas’ role in initiating, facilitating, organising, financing, executing and controlling the events and portrayed terrorists as ‘militants’.
  • Cited casualty figures provided by “health officials” without clarifying that they are part of the same terror group that organises the violent rioting.

Even before the ‘Great Return March’ events began in March 2018 the organisers described their aim as being to stage events “that the whole world and media outlets would watch”. The BBC definitely played a part in ensuring that would be the case and with no evidence to indicate that editorial policy on that topic has shifted, if the events do indeed recommence next month, audiences can likely expect more promotion of the same jaded themes and euphemisms alongside the omission of vital information and context.

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BBC News report on PIJ attacks focuses on Israel’s response

On the morning of February 24th the BBC news website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report concerning a sequence of events that took place the previous day.

Those events were presented in reverse chronological order with the article’s headline  – “Israel says it struck Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza and Syria” – telling audiences only of the last episodes in the series of incidents.

The report’s first five paragraphs related to Israeli strikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip and Syria. The PIJ was presented as a “Palestinian militant group” (a euphemistic portrayal twice repeated later on in the report) despite the fact that it has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK government since 2001. Once again readers found unqualified BBC promotion of standard Syrian regime propaganda. [emphasis added]

“The Israeli military says it has launched air strikes against a Palestinian militant group in Gaza and Syria in response to rocket fire.

Israel’s military said it had struck Islamic Jihad targets in southern Damascus and the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

In a rare acknowledgement of a strike on Syria, the Israeli military said it targeted “a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity”.

Syria said its air defences shot down most of the Israeli missiles.

Four people were wounded in Gaza, health officials say, but there have been no immediate reports of fatalities from the Israeli strikes.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the nature of the PIJ targets in Syria (although a BBC Jerusalem correspondent knows what they were) or that at least two members of the terror group were killed in that strike. The Times of Israel reports:

“The IDF said its fighter jets targeted the main base of the Iran-backed terror group in Syria, which it said was used to develop new weapons and to manufacture “tens of kilograms of [ammonium perchlorate]” rocket fuel each month.

The military said the site, in the Damascus suburb of al-Adleyeh, was also used for training exercises for members of the organization “both from the Strip and on the northern front,” referring to Lebanon and Syria.”

The BBC’s report continued in reverse chronological order:

“The strikes were launched after southern Israel was hit by a barrage of at least 20 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday. There were no reports of casualties.”

The BBC’s portrayal of “at least 20 rockets” reduces by a third the number actually launched. As is more often than not the case, BBC audiences were told nothing of how those rocket attacks had affected local residents or of the related closure of schools, roads and railway lines on the day this article was published.

The article went on to portray events which preceded the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

“The hostilities began on Sunday morning, when Israel said it killed an Islamic Jihad member along its border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military said the the [sic] man was attempting to plant an explosive device.

A video shared widely on social media showed an Israeli bulldozer scooping up the body of the man, provoking anger among Palestinians.

Some Palestinians called for retaliation and hours later, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, setting off air raid sirens.”

The IDF released filmed evidence of the two PIJ terrorists planting the IED at the border fence but the BBC nevertheless chose to portray that event as something that ‘Israel says’ took place. While the BBC did tell readers of “a video” showing “an Israeli bulldozer”, they were not informed of the related fact that two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Neither were audiences informed that the mourning tent set up for the person the BBC chose to describe as “the man” included a photograph of him in military uniform carrying a weapon.  

The BBC found it appropriate to remind audiences of previous incidents:

“Violence between Israel and Islamic Jihad flared up last November, when an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of the militant group in Gaza.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians were seen earlier this month too, days after US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan.”

Audiences were not however informed of a much more recent incident in which Palestinian Islamic Jihad snipers opened fire at is Israeli forces.

To summarise: two Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists tried to plant a bomb intended to kill Israelis at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel but were thwarted. Additional PIJ terrorists then fired over 30 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians in ‘retaliation’. The Israeli army responded with strikes on the terror group’s military assets in the Gaza Strip (including a rocket launching squad) and in Syria. The following day the BBC News website published a report with a headline and first five paragraphs relating to the last chapter in that chain of events, while having produced no stand-alone reporting on the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians which had commenced eleven hours earlier and devoting one sole two-sentence paragraph to that topic in this report.

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BBC Complaints response invokes non-existent “pre-1967 borders”

As readers may recall, the January 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ included a report (which is still available online) concerning the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan that included several misleading statements.

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

BBC reporter Aleem Maqbool told listeners that “They [the Palestinians] have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital” and spoke of “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access”.

As noted here at the time, Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggested to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” was also misleading to listeners: none of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

In addition the programme’s newsreader told listeners that “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war”. 

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that long report which included a reminder that – as stated in the BBC Academy style guide’s entry for ‘Green Line’ – no such “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” and that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

On February 18th we received the following response to that complaint. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for contacting us about the midnight news bulletin on Radio 4 on Wednesday 29th January.

We have spoken to senior staff about your concerns.

Aleem Maqbool’s line in his report, “the return of occupied East Jerusalem”, was referring to the point that Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed it. He was not suggesting that this part of the city had previously been under Palestinian control – he did not, for example, say “return to them” but “the return of.”

The newsreader’s introduction to the report said “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war.” The phrase “its borders” refers to Jordan (which is the subject of this sentence) not to the Palestinians and it did not imply that a Palestinian state was in existence then.

The sentence in the report that said “Palestinians no longer have a border with Jordan” was referring to the Trump plan, under which the proposed state would not have a border with Jordan, as it would if there were a two state solution based on a return to the pre-1967 borders, a long-held Palestinian position.

In addition, the reason for talking about the border was to reinforce the point that without the Jordan Valley, any proposed West Bank State becomes an island (or group of islands) within Israel.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint which includes yet another reminder to the BBC that – as its own style guide states – the 1949 ceasefire lines are not “borders”.

 

BBC News uncritically amplifies Iranian regime claim on voter turnout

On February 21st the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report which is currently headlined “Iran elections: Hardliners set to sweep parliamentary polls”.

Readers of the latest version of that report are told that:

“Observers say authorities were hoping for a high voter turnout as a sign of support for the regime.

Voting was extended three times on Friday because of a “rush of voters”, state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying. The polls have now closed.”

Similar statements amplifying the Iranian regime’s claims of a “rush of voters” appeared in two earlier versions of the report.

Not only is there no evidence of the BBC having independently verified that claim before amplifying it, but reports from other sources suggest that turnout was in fact low, particularly in Tehran.

Radio Farda reported that:

“Officials in charge of holding Iran’s parliamentary elections have been making contradictory remarks about the the turnout which appears to be very low in at least several provinces.

For weeks Iranian officials have been saying that high voter turnout in the elections will prove the ineffectiveness of U.S. policies toward Iran so a higher turnout appears to be highly important to the regime.

Authorities sound concerned about the participation rate in today’s elections. Mahmoud Alavi, Intelligence Minister, expressed hope that by the end of the polls the number of participants in the election would reach “an acceptable level”. […]

Fars News Agency has claimed that on the basis of figures compiled by 6:00 pm the turnout is estimated to be 39 to 40 percent of the eligible voters at the national level and 30 percent for Tehran.”

AP reported that:

“By comparison, the 2016 parliamentary election saw 62% turnout. On Friday, election officials kept the polls open an extra five hours in an effort to boost turnout. Iran’s leadership and state media had urged people to show up and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty.”

An article at the Jerusalem Post states:

“Iran kept its voting booths open late on election day Friday. Officials claimed it was so more people could vote, claiming there were long lines. But videos showed few people voting. It appears that turnout was low and the government kept the polls open late to beg people to come. ISNA media in Iran noted that turnout looked to be only 20% or 12 million of the 60 million who could have voted. If that number ends up as the official tally, it will have been a disaster for the regime.”

Iran expert Dr Raz Zimmt noted that according to unofficial figures, voter turnout appears to have been a little over 40% – the lowest since the 1979 Islamic revolution – and that in Tehran voter participation appears to stand at less than 30%.

In other words, there appears to be no justification for the BBC’s unquestioning amplification of the Iranian regime’s claims.

All versions of the report tell readers that:

“More than 7,000 candidates were vying for 290 seats in the parliament, known as the Majlis. It is part of Iran’s mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance, under which the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in the most important matters.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC squares that claim of “democratic…governance” with its own next paragraph is unclear.

“More than 16,000 contenders – including 90 mostly reformist members of the current Majlis – were disqualified from standing by the Guardian Council, a vetting committee loyal to Mr Khamenei.”

The BBC does not bother to explain to readers why the Guardian Council is “loyal to Mr Khamenei”.

The Atlantic Council explains:

“These are the most uncompetitive elections in years because the Guardian Council—a vetting body of six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six jurists appointed indirectly by him—has disqualified dozens of reformist candidates, including at least eighty sitting members of parliament. With the exception of the first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in 1980, the Islamic Republic’s parliament has only ever allowed a narrow range of politicians to run for office. But this time the Guardian Council has gone much further, effectively expelling the reformist faction of the regime from the political realm.

On paper, running for parliament is open to all Iranians who are between the ages of 30 and 75 years old, hold at least a Masters degree or the equivalent, have finished their mandatory military service (for men), and have shown their commitment to Islam (with the exception of those running for the five seats reserved for religious minorities).”

That is not a “mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance” by any stretch of the imagination and indeed the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index rates Iran as an authoritarian regime ranked 151 out of 167 countries.

As usual (see ‘related articles’ below) this report promotes the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’ and uncritically amplifies Iranian regime propaganda concerning its nuclear programme.

“Foreign powers suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Iran insists its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes.”

Once again the BBC’s coverage Iranian affairs falls embarrassingly short.

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BBC News ignores events that challenge its chosen ‘peace process’ narrative

As we recently observed, the BBC’s coverage of the launch of the US Administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposals once again provided no shortage of examples of the corporation’s one-dimensional portrayal of supposed Palestinian aspirations.

Does BBCsplaining of Palestinian aspirations stand up to scrutiny?

While BBC audiences are no doubt able to recite by heart the narrative according to which “the Palestinians want an independent state of their own, comprising the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem”, they do not see any serious reporting on the topic of Palestinians who are opposed to the two-state solution.

This past week two stories emerged which did not – and will not – receive any BBC coverage because they contradict the chosen editorial line. The first of those stories concerns a meeting held in Tel Aviv.

“Palestinian factions have condemned the participation of Palestinian figures in a meeting organized by The Israeli Peace Parliament, a public unaffiliated forum whose members are former representatives of a variety of political parties and movements, including former ministers and members of the Knesset.

Friday’s meeting in Tel Aviv was held under the banner “Yes to Peace,” “No to Annexation” and “Two States for Two People.”

Twenty Palestinians participated in the meeting. Among them: former Palestinian Authority economy minister Bassem Khoury; former PA health ministers Fathi Abu Mughlieh and Sameeh al-Abed; former PA local governance minister Hussein al-A’raj; and former PA prisoners affairs minister Ashraf al-Ajrami. […]

Denouncing the gathering, Hamas said it was a “blow to all Palestinian positions rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for Mideast peace.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the meeting was also a form of “normalization” with Israel that is rejected by all Palestinians. “These meetings encourage some parties in the region to normalize their relations with the Zionist entity,” Qassem said. “They also weaken the movement of solidarity with our Palestinian people.” […]

Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Ahmed al-Mudalal strongly condemned the meeting in Tel Aviv. “How can we convince the world to reject normalization [with Israel] when some of us are promoting it and involved in it?” he asked. “These meetings are intended to support Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century.’”

The PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) denounced the meeting as a “stabbing of the Palestinian people.””

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh also reported that: 

“Anti-Israel groups, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, have also joined the “anti-normalization” drive.
After Friday’s meeting in Tel Aviv, several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, accused the Palestinian participants of engaging in normalization with Israel. Palestinian Facebook users published “black lists” of some of the participants and accused them of betraying the Palestinian people and cause by talking to Israelis.
A woman who attended the Israeli Peace Parliament gathering in Tel Aviv told the Post she has since received scores of hate messages from Palestinians who hurled abuse at her and called her a traitor. […]

The smear campaign on social-media platforms forced one of the Palestinian participants, Hamdallah Al-Hamdallah, mayor of the West Bank town of Anabta, to announce his resignation on his Facebook page. […]

On Monday, Bir Zeit University published a statement distancing itself from Bassem Khoury, a member of the university’s board of trustees who participated in the Tel Aviv meeting. The statement came after students protested against his participation in the “normalization meeting” with Israelis.
“The university affirms its clear policy of rejecting any form of normalization with the occupation,” the statement said.”

Opposition to ‘normalisation’ has of course long been a tenet of the anti-Israel BDS campaign but the BBC’s enduring record of superficial reporting on that campaign has avoided that topic.

The second story concerns the Palestinian Authority’s invitation of a group of Israeli journalists to briefings in Ramallah on February 16th.

“The attacks on Palestinian “normalizers” escalated on Sunday after Palestinians learned that Israeli journalists had been invited to Ramallah for meetings with PA officials.
Many Palestinians posted on social media a video of some of the journalists near Nelson Mandela Square in Ramallah. The Palestinians claimed the Israeli journalists were “Jewish settlers who had invaded Ramallah.”
As photos of the meetings between the journalists and the PA officials surfaced, dozens of Palestinians launched an online campaign denouncing normalization with Israel as “criminal and treachery.” […]

On Monday morning, unknown assailants hurled Molotov cocktails at a restaurant where senior PA official Mahmoud al-Habbash met with Israeli journalists on Sunday. Nobody was hurt and no damage was reported. The attack, however, served as yet another warning to Madani and other Palestinians engaged in all forms of dialogue with Israelis.”

As one of the participating Israeli journalists noted, the meeting was also condemned by senior PLO members Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi.

The fact that BBC audiences have heard nothing of these two stories comes as no surprise. The editorial policy which underlies the BBC’s frequent and ample coverage of ‘the peace process’ allows no room for the reporting of events which challenge its chosen narrative concerning Palestinian aspirations and its misleading portrayal of one unified and representative Palestinian voice that aspires to peace by means of a two-state solution. That means that the BBC is deliberately avoiding its obligation to provide audiences with information which would enhance their ability to understand and engage with the issue.