BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Reporting by BBC Jerusalem bureau staff on the topic of Coronavirus has so far focused mainly on Bethlehem (see ‘related articles’ below), apparently resulting in quarantine for one journalist. More recently the corporation chose to turn its attention to a location in which to date no cases of infection have been reported.

On March 13th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard a report by Tom Bateman (from 23:34 here) which was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Well the World Health Organisation may have identified Europe as the current epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak but it also has an eye on those countries and territories which have yet to be affected whose health services are far weaker than those of the developed Western world. Among them is the Gaza Strip where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions and where the WHO believes that urgent global intervention would be necessary if cases of Covid19 are recorded. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

On March 14th the same report was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 30:45 here) with presenter Alex Ritson telling worldwide listeners:

Ritson: “Let’s remind you of our top story: the World Health Organisation has warned that any spread of Coronavirus to the Gaza Strip would need urgent global intervention. There have been no confirmed cases there so far. The health system is already under significant pressure and more than two million people live in densely populated conditions. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners to both editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 14th also heard the same report (from 14:06 here and from 19:03 here) which was introduced by Ben James thus:

James: “Now the World Health Organisation says the full extent of the Coronavirus outbreak will only become clear when places with weak, underdeveloped health services are tested. Among those is Gaza, where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions. The BBC’s Tom Bateman begins this report in a local hospital.”

A filmed version of Bateman’s report apparently also exists.

The WHO’s latest update on the situation in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip – dated March 13th – makes no mention of “urgent global intervention”. The source of that dramatic claim promoted in two of those introductions is apparently one of Bateman’s interviewees.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are in general very badly placed as far as understanding the underlying status of medical care in the Gaza Strip is concerned because although they are told plenty about the dire state of medical services in the Gaza Strip, they rarely hear about the PA actions which exacerbate that situation such as the longstanding insufficient supply of medications

Bateman began his report with an unrelated story.

Bateman: “Ten-year-old Mansour is having kidney dialysis in a packed children’s ward. His father can’t afford the cost of a transplant for him, which would mean travel to Egypt or Jordan. This is the story of Gaza’s hospitals: outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies. And now the health system must prepare for Coronavirus.”

As ever, Bateman did not bother to inform listeners why Gaza Strip hospitals lack medicine and equipment. Listeners then heard that:

“We have in Gaza barely between 50 to 60 ventilators. Serious cases would require at certain stage that they need to be on ventilators. And if we have hundreds, then you would imagine what we need to deal with these hundred cases.”

Bateman: “Dr Abdelnasr Sohob is from the World Health Organisation. There have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus so far in Gaza but it’s on the borders and medics are warning of little capacity to cope with a sustained outbreak.”

Sohob: “Gaza with these facilities can deal with the first shock of 50 to 100 cases with the current resources. After that I think the international community has to step in to assist Gaza.”

Apparently that latter sentence is the source of those dramatic introductions.

Listeners then heard shouting before Bateman referred to a story which the BBC did not bother to report at the time. He went on to promote a much-used BBC narrative concerning population density and an entirely context-free reference to “Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers”.

Bateman: “A protest last month near a newly-built hospital in the town of Khan Younis. Some locals burned tyres and waved banners after reports Coronavirus patients could be brought there. Anxiety is spreading. More than two million people live in one of the world’s most densely crowded places. The UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians says health workers have learned from the most recent medical crisis: the so-called March of Return protests that saw thousands of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. After those emergencies, it says there are Coronavirus plans to triage patients at hospital entrances and clear public wards of non-essential cases.”

Bateman next interviewed a mother who recounted how she had cleaned the house and taught her children personal hygiene.

Bateman: “Lena Tahar is reading with one of her four children. Gaza’s schools have shut until at least the end of this month as a precaution. For her, like many Palestinians, even the hand-washing advice is hard with an unclean water supply and regular power cuts.”

Listeners were not told of the reasons for the clean water and power shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “In Gaza City the disinfectant spray squads are out on the streets.”

Listeners heard the “head of protective health department in Gaza municipality” tell them that his team was:

“Spreading the material that kills the microbe, kills the virus. Inshallah this procedure cover all the problem and solve the problem.”

Bateman: “But it might take more than that. There’s already been disquiet at more sweeping measures – like the month-long emergency declared in the West Bank with more than 30 confirmed cases – weren’t adopted initially by Hamas in Gaza. It’s feared infection could thrive amid the Strip’s deep poverty and in the crowded refugee camps – problems that are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify that the “recent bouts of fighting with Israel” were the result of attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (or how they “add to the crisis”), how exactly that “deep split” between Hamas and Fatah affects healthcare, water, sewage and electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip or why there are “refugee camps” in a territory which has been under Palestinian control for fifteen years.  

Bateman: “But some residents like Ibrahim Abu Leila hope the isolation could help ward off the latest health threat.”

Abu Leila V/O: “More than 11 years of blockade by land, by sea, by sky. The people that arrive here are counted. They come one day or two days and they leave. We don’t have hotels that tourists stay at so we don’t meet them, thank God. Maybe some good can come from the bad.”

Of course hotels do exist in the Gaza Strip and while normal tourism is understandably virtually non-existent in a destination ruled by a terrorist organisation, journalists, conflict tourists, foreign delegations and UN staff certainly do visit.

Bateman closed his report:

Bateman: “Gaza has so far avoided any confirmed Coronavirus cases. People know its impact could stretch their health system to the limit.”

That same observation is of course true in many other places around the world but as we see, the BBC made the most of the Coronavirus story to widely re-promote many of its long-standing mantras concerning the Gaza Strip even though no cases have been reported there so far.

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The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

On March 11th listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another report (from 37:50 here) from Anna Foster in Bethlehem about the discovery of Coronavirus in that town.

Tim Franks: “Around the world in places affected by the Coronavirus people aren’t just frightened of infection; they are scared of the long-term economic impact. This week Israel – with more than 70 cases of the virus – has taken stringent measures, ordering all new Israeli and foreign arrivals to the country to go into home quarantine which effectively halts tourism. Last week Bethlehem – just south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank – was put into near lock-down by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities after the first cases of Coronavirus were found at a hotel. The BBC’s Anna Foster has been talking to some residents in Bethlehem.”

The same item appeared in the BBC World Service ‘Global News Podcast’ (from 08:13 here) on that day.

Listeners would learn little more from Foster’s conversations with a student, market vendors, a hotel manager and a mother of two and her closing observation that “a whole community is suffering” could of course have been made in many other locations around the world. As in Foster’s previous report on the topic, listeners heard nothing about Israel’s efforts to help the Palestinian Authority deal with the outbreak of Coronavirus. 

Given the BBC’s long record of highly limited interest in reporting internal Palestinian affairs, it was not surprising to see that Foster showed no interest in reporting a story that began with televised remarks made by the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas concerning a recent doctors’ strike.

“Some trade unions, like the doctors’ union, have declared a strike. […] Why? They want a raise. What raise? They want to double their salaries. I can’t pay their original salaries, so how do they expect me to pay for a raise? Nevertheless, I told them that if we overcome our financial crisis, and if our money stops being confiscated [by Israel] and things get better, we can talk about it. I met the people at the doctors’ union, and their secretary-general. They had made me promises that they later recanted and declared a strike. Why a strike? Is it reasonable for the doctors’ union to strike today when we are being confronted by the coronavirus? Even if there were no other [problems], once the coronavirus appeared, they should have dropped everything and went to work. The measures taken by the doctors are irresponsible. To declare a strike at a time like this, when we have the Deal of the Century on the one hand, and the economic and financial siege on the other hand, and on top of that, we have the coronavirus…”

As reported by Khaled Abu Toameh, criticism of Abbas’ remarks on Facebook prompted the arrest of a member of Fatah.

“A senior Fatah official who called into question the mental health of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been arrested by the Palestinian security forces.

Hussam Khader, 59, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested by PA security forces at this home in Balata refugee camp in Nablus on Friday.

Khader, an outspoken critic of the PA leadership, was arrested by the PA’s Protective Security Service after he posted a comment on Facebook criticizing the 84-year-old Abbas’s handling of a recent strike by Palestinian physicians who are demanding a salary increase. […]

Khader’s daughter, Ameera, said several Palestinian security officers raided the family’s home around midnight and told her father they have a court order to search the house. […]

Ameera said the search warrant presented by the officers stated that her father was accused of “incitement against the Palestinian Authority.””

Khader was apparently released five days later.

It is difficult to imagine that the arrest of an MP for criticising remarks made by the president or prime minister of a Western country would not have been reported by the BBC but as we see time and time again, it is rare for BBC audiences to be provided with stand-alone reporting on internal Palestinian affairs if the topic cannot be framed within the context of ‘the conflict’ and does not have an Israel-related component. 

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BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The March 6th edition of the BBC radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 16:48 here) which suggests that following the discovery of seven Coronavirus cases in Bethlehem on March 5th and the subsequent introduction of measures by the Palestinian Authority which included the closure of the Church of the Nativity, the BBC decided to send a reporter to that town.

Presenter Shaun Ley introduced the item. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Ley: “Now, as governments try to contain the spread of Coronavirus, some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world are in place in Israel, where 21 cases gave been reported. So far, it’s closed its borders to more than ten countries, and ordered travellers recently arrived from places like France Germany and Spain to self-isolate for fourteen days. Yesterday the first cases were confirmed in the West Bank in the town of Bethlehem. Within hours the main checkpoint from there into Israel had been shut down. The prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he’s unafraid to take harsh measures to try to contain the virus. But how stringently are they being followed and is there a wider economic impact to consider? Our Middle East correspondent Anna Foster begins her report in Bethlehem.”

Anna Foster commenced with the debatable claim that the Church of the Nativity is “the world’s oldest church” and by promoting the notion that Bethlehem – which has been under exclusive PA control for nearly a quarter of a century – is “occupied”.

Foster: “The sight of the ancient wooden door being firmly locked made headlines. The world’s oldest church where Christians believe Jesus was born, forced to close its doors as Coronavirus reached the occupied territories. I watched as the final visitors scrambled to touch the metal star that marks the spot. Hand after hand rubbing it without any soap and water in sight.”

Foster spoke to some German tourists who did not seem to be paying particular attention to instructions concerning self-isolation before going on:

Foster: “In Israel tens of thousands of locals and tourists are now in self-quarantine. But if you’re on holiday and not following the Hebrew media, how do you find out if you’re affected and what you should be doing?”

Listeners were not told that there are numerous non-Hebrew media outlets in Israel reporting daily on that topic or that both the Ministry of Health and the ambulance service provide information and help lines in English and other languages. Instead, Foster asked a worker at a hotel in Jerusalem:

Foster: “Should you be trying to tell them more though, because the government would want you to pass that information on for them, wouldn’t they?”

Moving on to the Old City in Jerusalem, Foster noted the reduction in the number of tourists.

Foster: “Israel is proud of its proactive approach to containing Coronavirus but shop owners like Mohammed can already see the impact of keeping tourists away.”

When her interviewee complained that business was already in decline because of “the situations between the Israel and the Palestinians” Foster did not explain to listeners the effects of Palestinian terrorism and violence on the tourism industry.

As we see, listeners to this superficial report did not in fact find out why the Israeli government has implemented “some of the strictest quarantine measures anywhere in the world” or what steps are being taken to help sectors impacted by the situation.

Neither did they hear anything of the co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which has included the evacuation of tourists from PA controlled areas and the supply of testing kits and training.

“COGAT has been working in the past two weeks to assist the Palestinian Authority in curbing and preventing a coronavirus outbreak in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.  Under the stewardship of Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa, 250 coronavirus test kits have been transferred from Israel to the PA. Furthermore, joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel were organized for the professional study of the virus, the protection of medical personnel, and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers.

In addition, COGAT has made available to the Palestinian public through its digital platform – the unit’s website and Arabic language social media pages (Al-Munassiq) – the Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus spread and ways to deal with contagion and outbreak.  The information published in Arabic is available to the entire Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.”

That information would of course have been far more useful to BBC audiences trying to understand how Israel is handling the situation than interviews with a couple of random tourist industry workers in Jerusalem.  

BBC’s Donnison misleads on Israel’s election result

Listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 3rd heard a report about the previous day’s election in Israel. Presenter Jon Donnison introduced the item (from 18:56 here) with promotion of the notion that the Likud party had secured a “victory”. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Donnison: “Now, to Israel and after a third election in less than a year, it looks like – according to partial results anyway – like the Houdini of Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu, arguably the most successful and certainly the most durable politician of his generation, has just about pulled off another victory.”

Donnison’s reference to “another victory” misleads listeners by concealing the fact that in the election held in April 2019 Netanyahu’s party secured the same number of seats (35) as its main rival Blue & White and in the election held in September 2019, Blue & White secured 33 seats while the Likud party got 32.  

Fortunately for BBC audiences around the world, Donnison brought in Anna Foster to report from Jerusalem and she put his claim into perspective.

Foster: “Now it’s not a victory just yet because those votes need to be counted, they need to be verified. So far this is all based on exit polls which show that his [Netanyahu’s] Right-wing block will have potentially 59 of the 61 seats that he needs to form a governing coalition in the Knesset. So he’s only part way there and there’ll be a lot of negotiations to be done in the next few days.”

Given that the BBC correspondent in Jerusalem obviously understood the picture accurately, one must ask why ‘Newshour’ producers allowed Donnison’s misleading introduction to pass.

Anna Foster went on to explain that:

Foster: “…if he [Netanyahu] does end up having 59 or potentially 60 seats, what he needs to do is bring across an MK from a different party. Now that is not as easy as it may sound to get somebody to cross the floor because there are penalties. If he manages to…to woo somebody across from Blue & White for example, that person would not be able to serve as a minister or deputy minister in the Knesset and when that particular Knesset session ends, they would not be able to stand again for any of the parties currently represented. So it makes Mr Netanyahu’s negotiating hand somewhat difficult. What can he offer them? There are places on committees potentially that might…that might tempt somebody across but anybody who does that is very much limiting their future political life so it’s not going to be an easy horse trade.”

That portrayal of the sanctions against individual MKs who cross the floor is largely accurate (in addition, they would not be permitted to form a new party) but it only tells part of the story. As explained by Dr Assaf Shapira at the IDI, two additional scenarios also exist.

“A number of the slates elected to the twenty-third Knesset are actually joint lists made up of a number of independent parties. If an independent party decides to split from its list after the elections it will not face any sanctions. For example, if the Gesher party, headed by Orly Levy, decides to leave the joint list of Labor-Meretz-Gesher it will not face any sanctions. Such a move would be treated as a party splitting (as opposed to individual defections). In fact, the newly independent group would then either become an independent faction – or it could join an existing list already in the Knesset. Parties that decide to split do not face sanctions. 

An additional possibility is that one-third of the MKs elected to the Knesset on a particular list decide to break away. Such a move (that also must include a minimum of two MKs) will also be defined as a list that split into two independent factions and individual MKs who decided to defect.

In fact, the break-away MKs can either form new factions or join an existing one. And what about possible sanctions? They will be able to join the government and run in the next elections, but, if the split takes place in the first two years of the Knesset’s term, the new faction will not be eligible for public funding usually available to parties.”

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a BBC journalist in Jerusalem who clearly made an effort to understand the details of the story she is reporting and who provided audiences with fact-based pertinent information to enhance their understanding rather than promoting the usual jaded BBC narratives.

More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

As we saw previously, pre-election reporting from the BBC’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman focused on simplistic portrayal of the Arab Israeli vote and the Joint Arab list in a filmed report published on the BBC News website. Bateman also produced a similarly themed audio report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (part of which was previously discussed here) in which he visited the Galilee village of Gush Halav, also known as Jish.

Presenter Paul Henley introduced the item (from 45:05 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Henley: “Israel will have its third election in a year on Monday; testament to deadlock in the political system, with Benjamin Netanyahu unable so far to get the majority he needs for his leading Right-wing block. But going into this election the Arab Israeli parties are claiming to be making significant ground. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Bateman opened by describing his walk through the village with its mayor, linking a questionable statement about the weather with a widely condemned incident which took place last month.

Bateman: “These hills of northern Israel are sun-drenched even in the winter but the Arab Israeli residents here recently came under attack. […] In Jish Jewish extremists slashed hundreds of tyres and warned Arabs against assimilation. The police are investigating but have made no arrests.”

As we see, despite knowing that the police “have made no arrests”, Bateman nevertheless claimed to know the identity of the perpetrators. As for his claim that “Arabs” were “warned…against assimilation”, the graffiti concerned actually read “Jews wake up and stop assimilating” – as reported in the English language local press.

Just as inaccurate is Bateman’s blanket description of the residents of Gush Halav (Jish) as “Arab Israeli”: the majority of the village’s population are in fact Maronites.

Bateman went on to ask his host “what’s it like being an Arab Israeli?” and listeners heard Bateman paraphrase his response.

Bateman: “’We live here for better or for worse’, he says. ‘We don’t have the same rights as the others but we try to preserve our community, our heritage, our existence. And we will stay here’.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify to listeners that all Israeli citizens have the same rights regardless of ethnicity, including the right to run for public office, before going on to introduce one of the people who also appeared in his filmed report.

Bateman: “I meet Ayob Farah on the beach in Haifa – a mixed city of Arab and Jewish Israelis. He sings satire about fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel, as he prefers to be called, who will vote. He says they may only end up propping up a rival government to Mr Netanyahu that won’t help them either.”

Listeners then heard Bateman’s reference to a small part of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal, which he failed to note had already been rejected by the leaders of both main parties before his report was aired.

He closed his report:

Bateman: “The ice cream sellers outnumber the political canvassers overlooking the Mediterranean coast here. After all, this is the third election in a year. Its ingredients have been similar to the last two. Mr Netanyahu warns that his main rival Benny Gantz will have to rely on the support of Arab parties to win. A security risk to the Jewish state, he suggests. While the Joint List of Arab parties is aiming for an increase – up to 16 MPs in the 120 seat parliament – but the sentiment for many of their supporters is likely to remain it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always wins.”

Once again Bateman made no effort whatsoever to inform BBC audiences worldwide which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent – thereby denying them the ability to judge why some might perceive members of that list as “a security risk”. And yet again Bateman lumped Israel’s multi-faceted ethnic groups into the simplistic category of Arab Israelis in order to promote his own framing.

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

On March 1st – the evening before Israel’s election – the BBC put out a report by its Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman which focused on the Joint Arab List.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page found a filmed report titled “Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year?”.

“Parties representing Arab citizens of Israel believe they could see a high turnout among their voters in the country’s third election in less than a year, on 2 March.

The success of the ‘Joint List’ alliance – a bloc of Arab parties, could help shape the overall result by boosting support for Benny Gantz, the main rival to long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But many Arab Israelis feel their rights have been eroded by Israel’s right wing government, and some are refusing outright to take part in the election.”

Bateman travelled to Haifa to interview four Arab Israelis – one boycotting the election and three intending to vote.

Bateman: “Israel has been in political deadlock for a year. They are now onto their third election. And this time round one of the groups claiming to have momentum are the Arab Israeli parties. There are getting on for 2 million Arab citizens of Israel, that’s about a fifth of the population.”

Bateman: “If more Arab Israelis turn out to vote [than last time] and vote for their parties and get more MPs in parliament it could on the one hand, create more of a block to Benjamin Netanyahu being able to put together a right-wing coalition and potentially more support for his main rival, Benny Gantz.”

By the time that latter statement was aired, the head of the Joint Arab List had made it clear that scenario was unlikely.

Viewers were told that:

“The Joint List of Arab parties became the third biggest group at the last election.”

The Joint Arab List was also the third biggest group in the 2015 election but in the April 2019 election the four parties it comprises did not run as a combined list.

“Their leader Ayman Odeh thinks that their turnout will grow this time because his voters say they are fed up with Mr Netanyahu’s policies. During this election, his party has also been reaching out to left-wing and minority Jewish voters. Last time, a fifth of Arab citizens voted for majority Jewish parties.”

Interestingly, BBC audiences did not get to hear from any of those Arab Israelis who do not vote for the Joint List and so with the exception of that one sentence, the Arab Israeli vote was misleadingly portrayed as a uniform block – as reflected in the film’s opening caption: “Arab Israelis and the third election”.

“Mr Netanyahu often cites democratic participation by all groups as a source of pride for Israel. Historically, participation by Arab citizens has been high. In a close race, Arab Israeli turnout could help shape the overall result.”

Obviously the level of turnout of 20% of any nation’s citizens would “help shape the overall result”, regardless of ethnicity.

Also remarkable is the fact that at no point in this report were BBC audiences informed which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent. Ayman Odeh did indeed court certain sectors outside his list’s usual base during this year’s campaign but, as the Times of Israel pointed out:

“A more significant obstacle between the Joint List alliance and its coveted Jewish votes is its inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party and the Balad party, which contests Israel’s Jewish character.

Odeh is the secular leader of Hadash, a political offshoot of the Israeli Communist Party and other leftist groups. […]

But it’s not just Hadash that’s on the ballot. It’s the entire Joint List alliance — and many potential Jewish voters recoil at the words of Balad’s terrorist-supporting female MK Heba Yazbak, feel threatened when they see Palestinian flags at protests, and can’t vote for a party of which some members oppose LGBTQ rights.”

So while BBC audiences heard the opinions of a philosophy student who would not vote and three women who would – along with claims such as “a lot of racism against us” and “second class citizens” – they were told nothing of the policies of “their parties” which make up the Joint Arab List or how those policies have affected efforts to form past governments.

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen simplistic reporting on the topic of Arab Israeli voters: Kevin Connolly likewise portrayed that sector in monochrome terms in 2013 and 2015

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

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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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?

 

 

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

On February 14th the BBC News website published a filmed report by the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman on its ‘Middle East’ page. Titled “Israel-Palestinian conflict: The family with its own checkpoint”, the report was apparently filmed a week earlier and its synopsis indicates that it falls under the category of BBC framing of the recent US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal.

“How is President Trump’s plan to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict being received on the ground?

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman went to visit two homes in the occupied West Bank; starting with a Palestinian family whose house is in a fenced off enclave within an Israeli settlement.

Israel has said it intends to formally annex all settlements in the West Bank based on President Trump’s plan.

But the US proposals are rejected by the Palestinians, who say its vision of a state for them is unacceptable.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The same report was apparently aired on the BBC News television channel and readers will no doubt note the use of hyperbole in the title used in both versions: “The house ‘in a cage’ surrounded by a settlement”.

Similar rhetoric is used by Bateman himself – “like being in a prison, inside a cage” – and by his Palestinian interviewee – “not left me air to breathe”, “we are living in a prison”, “under siege”, “confiscated my land”.

Bateman tells BBC audiences that:

“Israel declared ownership of the land around the Gharib’s house. The settlement was built and the family home was later fenced off as part of the separation barrier Israel said it built for security.”

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

The compromise reached in that court case was that the fence would be built around the Gharib house (which had been constructed, according to court documents, without building permits) and that the family would have a key to the gate shown in the film. Nevertheless, BBC audiences were told by Sa’adat Gharib that “we live in a prison where they [Israeli forces] can lock the gate [when they like]”.

The aim of Bateman’s report is amply apparent in his closing remarks at 05:26:

Bateman: “What strikes me, you know, when you look at this [fence] with the settlement on the other side, most of the rest of the world has always said, building them by Israel is illegal. But what has changed in the Trump plan is he says OK, they become a formal part of the State of Israel. And as soon as you say that, you then say well these fences and walls that have been built by the Israelis, they become the new borders.”

The story that Bateman has chosen to highlight in this report is of course very much an exception. But by using that atypical example and failing to provide all the relevant background information, Bateman is able to further promote the BBC’s one-sided framing of the US Administration’s proposals to the corporation’s audiences.

Perusal of some of the comments under Bateman’s video shows just how far removed the report is from meeting the BBC’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial” reporting which will “build people’s understanding”. 

More tendentious BBC reporting on UNHRC blacklist

Last week we looked at the BBC News website’s simplistic reporting of the publication of a blacklist of companies by the UN Human Rights Council.

BBC News report on UNHRC blacklist conceals more than it reveals

Among the issues arising from that BBC report was the fact that at no point were readers informed that there is no prohibition in international law from doing business in occupied or disputed territories, as explained in this article by Orde Kittire:

“The blacklist also lacks a basis in international law. Indeed, international law does not prohibit business in disputed territories. Nor is doing such business inconsistent with the principles of corporate social responsibility (which are non-binding). That is the official view of the United Nations, expressed in its Global Compact document titled “Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: A Resource for Companies and Investors.”

The same serious omission was found in a news bulletin aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ on February 12th (from 18:04 here).

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “The UN Human Rights Council has released a list of more then a hundred companies it believes are operating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Publication of the names is being seen as the first substantial step against settlements by the international community in years. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports from Jerusalem.”

Listeners were not told by whom the UNHRC’s publication “is being seen” in that manner or what is the political agenda of organisations or individuals supposedly expressing such a view and hence were not able to judge that glib statement for themselves.

Bateman: “The list names 112 firms considered to help the development of Israeli settlements. The UN looked at companies who supplied building or surveillance equipment as well as banking, transport and travel services. Most of the firms named by the Human Rights Council are Israeli but others are large international companies including Airbnb, Booking.com and Motorola Solutions. The list also names the British construction company JCB and the travel booking firm Opodo. Settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. Its government has been deeply concerned about the release of the so-called blacklist, fearing it would be used to justify boycotts of its private sector. Tonight it called the publication a shameful surrender to those who want to hurt Israel, while the Palestinian Authority said it was a good day for peace and a rules-based order.”

Once again we see that BBC audiences were told nothing about the dubious composition and long-standing anti-Israel bias of the UNHRC or the fact that it has not complied similar lists of companies operating in other occupied or disputed territories anywhere else in the world. Likewise listeners were not informed of the role played by BDS supporting political NGOs in the compilation of the blacklist.

Most notably, however, while Tom Bateman specifically named several companies in his report – including two British ones – he did not bother to clarify that there is nothing illegal about their business activities before he immediately went on to recite the BBC’s standard partisan mantra concerning ‘international law’.

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BBC News report on UNHRC blacklist conceals more than it reveals

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