Revisiting a BBC Radio 4 report from Jerusalem

On July 26th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ heard a report from Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman concerning the unrest in Jerusalem and elsewhere that followed the murder of two Israeli policemen in a terror attack twelve days earlier.

As was noted here at the time, in that report:

“Bateman then went to visit the family of a person killed while participating in violent rioting in a district of Jerusalem.

Bateman: “Children played outside as I visited the home of Susanne Abu Ghannam. Her son Mohammed was among those who died on Friday, shot – she said – by Israeli forces.”

Although listeners heard the mother claim that “the occupation forces were surrounding the hospital in order to take his body”, Bateman did not inform them that there is no indication that was the case.”

On August 12th Israel’s Channel 10 aired footage filmed inside the grounds of that hospital – the Makassed Hospital – on the same day. The video shows (at 01:20) large amounts of paving stones and breeze blocks which were stockpiled in advance in the hospital’s car park as ammunition to be thrown at the security forces during the rioting. One rioter can be seen (at 01:40) throwing a breeze block at the police from the hospital’s roof. Channel 10’s reporter explains (at 02:22) that the police activity in the hospital was aimed at locating the rioters hiding in the hospital grounds.

The likelihood that BBC audiences will hear or see that aspect of the story is of course exceedingly slim.  

BBC ignores calls for UNIFIL mandate change – in English

At the end of this month the mandate of the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon – UNIFIL – will expire and its renewal is scheduled for discussion at the UN Security Council.

That mandate of course includes clauses which have not been met throughout the last eleven years:

“Assist the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] in taking steps towards the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an free [sic] of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL deployed in this area;

Assist the Government of Lebanon in securing its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel.”

However, this time round the mandate’s renewal may perhaps not be as automatic as in previous years. On August 7th the US mission to the UN put out a press release:

“On Friday, August 4, UN Secretary-General António Guterres submitted a letter to the Security Council recommending that the Council renew the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is due to expire on August 31. In the letter, the Secretary-General called for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the authority of Lebanon’s government. He also noted the illegal presence of armed personnel, weapons, and infrastructure inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, and his intention to look at ways in which UNIFIL could enhance its efforts against them.

“We share the Secretary-General’s strong desire to enhance UNIFIL’s efforts to prevent the spread of illegal arms in southern Lebanon,” said Ambassador Haley. “These arms – which are almost entirely in the hands of Hizballah terrorists – threaten the security and stability of the region. UNIFIL must increase its capacity and commitment to investigating and reporting these violations. The United States will continue to raise the threat posed by Hizballah as we seek significant improvements to UNIFIL when the Security Council renews its mandate this month.””

The UN Secretary General’s letter to the Security Council stated:

“The government of Lebanon must exercise effective authority over all Lebanese territory, prevent hostile actions from its territory, ensure the safety and security of the civilian population, in addition to United Nations personnel, and also ensure the disarmament of all armed groups”.

Whether or not those demands based on UNSC resolution 1701 will finally be met is obviously questionable given the make-up of the current Lebanese government.

Nevertheless, reports concerning Ambassador Haley’s intention to seek “significant improvements” to UNIFIL’s mandate were seen on many media sites – but the story did not receive any coverage on the BBC’s English language platforms.

In contrast, editors at the BBC Arabic website did consider that story newsworthy and an AFP report on the topic was translated into Arabic for publication on that site.

Related Articles:

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Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701 

 

 

 

BBC News website amends a report with an inaccuracy

h/t C4T

This week marks twelve years since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in which over 8,000 people lost their homes and livelihoods when twenty-one communities were evacuated. All Israeli military personnel were redeployed outside the Gaza Strip and even the dead were exhumed and reburied elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the BBC still refers to the Gaza Strip as being “occupied” by Israel and an amendment made recently to a BBC News website article a week after it was originally published provides some insight into that practice. 

On July 28th the BBC News website published a report titled “Jerusalem holy site measures fail to halt clashes“, earlier versions of which informed readers that:

“Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza after weeks of friction over a Jerusalem holy site.

Violence erupted on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City and across the occupied West Bank after the end of Muslim Friday prayers.”

However, that wording raised objections from Chris Doyle of CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding) who wrote to the BBC stating:

“We wish to address this article about the clashes in Jerusalem. This article starts off by stating that “Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.” We consider this inaccurate and biased.

The clear international legal position is that all the territories taken in 1967 are occupied, and that this includes East Jerusalem and indeed Gaza, as well the rest of the West Bank.” 

The BBC duly obliged and seven days after its original publication the article was amended – as explained in the BBC News website’s response to Doyle:

“We have now addressed this by rewording the first and second lines so they read:

“Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in the Occupied Territories after weeks of friction over a Jerusalem holy site. Violence erupted on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City, across the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip after the end of Muslim Friday prayers.” […]

Lower down, for the benefit of readers who might be less familiar with the complexities of the issues, we have included a couple of lines of context explaining Gaza’s status in light of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal:

“Israel has occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war. The UN also still considers Gaza part of the Occupied Territories because of the control Israel exercises over its airspace, shared borders and coast despite pulling its troops and settlers out in 2005.”” [emphasis added]

But is that last sentence an accurate representation of the UN’s position?

In January 2012, responding to a question from UN Watch, the UN’s chief spokesperson explained why the UN still refers to the Gaza Strip as ‘occupied’ even though Hamas has said it is not and Israel disengaged from the area in 2005.

Spokesperson:  “Under resolutions adopted by both the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Middle East peace process, the Gaza Strip continues to be regarded as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The United Nations will accordingly continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until such time as either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view.”

Question:  “Can I follow up on that?  It is the legal definition of occupation and why is Gaza considered occupied?”

Spokesperson:  “Well, as I have just said, there are Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that cover this.  For example, there was a Security Council resolution adopted on 8 January 2009 — 1860 — and that stressed that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967.  And as you know, Security Council resolutions do have force in international law.

Furthermore, there is a resolution from the General Assembly from 20 December 2010, and while it noted the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, it also stressed, in quotes, “the need for respect and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.  So just to repeat that the United Nations will continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view on the matter.”

In other words – as clarified by Elder of Ziyon at the time:

“What the UN seems to be saying is that if part of the territory is occupied, then all of the territory is considered occupied, since there is are UN resolutions that declare the two territories are considered united.”

And:

“Note that the UN isn’t saying that Gaza is legally “occupied.” It is saying that Gaza must be referred to as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” – it is arguing nomenclature, not law. The Hague Conventions makes it clear that occupied territory refers only to portions of territory under control of another party, not that an entire territory is either occupied or not if only part of it is. […] At no point does the UN respond to UN Watch anything about control of borders or airspace […].

In conclusion, the amendment made by the BBC News website to this article in response to a request from the lobby group CAABU inaccurately represents the reasoning behind the UN’s stance and also falls short of editorial guidelines on ‘due impartiality’ by failing to inform audiences of the existence of alternative opinions on the topic.

Related Articles:

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Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’ 

BBC Radio Ulster promotes ‘Zionism is racism’ and the ‘apartheid’ smear

h/t B

On July 16th, at an event in Paris marking the 75th anniversary of the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz, the French president Emmanuel Macron said:

“We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.” 

Macron’s statement is of course in accord with the US State department’s definition of antisemitism and in step with the IHRA working definition of antisemitism that was adopted in recent months by the British government and the EU parliament. The IHRA definition includes the following in its possible manifestations of antisemitism:

 “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

And:

“Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

As was noted here at the time, BBC News website coverage of the ceremony made no mention whatsoever of the French president’s recognition of anti-Zionism as a manifestation of antisemitism.

However, two days later – on July 18th – BBC Radio Ulster’s daily phone-in show ‘Talkback‘ ran a 35 minute long programme with a title that signaled its tone:

“We debate the very controversial claim by the French president that anti-Zionism is simply another form of anti-Semitism” [emphasis added]

Presented by William Crawley, the programme’s studio guests were Unitarian minister Chris Hudson and Fiona Ferguson from the ‘People Before Profit Alliance’: a very small Irish Trotskyist political party which includes the following in its manifesto:

“We support the Palestinian struggle for liberation against Zionist occupation and oppression and back the international campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Apartheid Israel.”

That relevant information was not communicated to listeners.

In addition, listeners heard the opinions of four callers – all of whom presented negative views of Israel.

The programme began with an introduction from Crawley:

Crawley: “At what point do you think a criticism of the State of Israel turns into antisemitism? Given the many centuries of abuse the Jewish people have experienced, particularly in Europe, the allegation of antisemitism is a very serious one. We often hear activists and campaigners pushing back against that allegation. There is a world of difference, they say, between being an anti-Zionist and being antisemitic.  That’s a distinction the French president Emmanuel Macron clearly doesn’t accept. He told the prime minister of Israel that France will never surrender to anti-Zionism because it is – and I quote – ‘a reinvention of antisemitism’. The French president’s words have travelled quickly around the world. Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer who leads the Democrats in the US Senate applauded him for his comments.”

Listeners then head a recording of Senator Schumer speaking, which included the clearest presentation of the issue under discussion in the entire programme.

Schumer: “The idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to determination but the Jewish people cannot; that other nations have a right to exist but the Jewish State of Israel does not – that too is a modern form of antisemitism.”

Crawley continued, ignoring BBC style guide instructions on the use of the term ‘Palestine’:

“…in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Crawley: “We know that the politics of Israel and Palestine is extremely contentious here with many active in campaigns on both sides of the debate. In a moment we will debate ourselves whether the French president is right to see no distinction whatsoever – no difference – between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. But first let’s try to understand the central tenets – the central ideas – at the heart of Zionism.”

Crawley then brought in a person he repeatedly addressed as ‘Yoel’ but who is in fact Yoav Peled. Not surprisingly, when Crawley asked “what is Zionism?” Peled’s answer included a strawman definition that is not adopted by Zionists.

Peled: “There is no one clear definition. If you define Zionism as support for whatever the Israeli government does, that’s one thing. And if you’re against that then certainly this is nothing to do with antisemitism. If you say that Zionism is recognizing the right of Jews to have a state of their own in that particular part of the Middle East, then the question is, is it justified given the fact that it came at the expense of the Palestinians? And there is a debate about that and I think it’s a legitimate political debate and neither side is necessarily racist against the other.”

Crawley’s conversation with Peled continued, touching on the history of Zionism, its ‘leaders’ and Jewish opponents to it. Crucially though, the ostensibly neutral academic brought in to explain “the central tenets” of Zionism and provide what Crawley termed “historical backdrop” did so from one very clear side of the political spectrum.

Crawley’s studio guests were then brought into the conversation with no particular surprises in their positions. However, listeners did hear a series of mostly inadequately challenged allegations about Israel and Zionism that are worthy of note – including repeated promotion of the ‘Zionism is racism’ canard and the ‘apartheid’ smear. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

07:43 – Ferguson: “For me Zionism is ahm….it’s ahm… […] it’s an exclusionary right-wing ideology. It’s political and it oppresses or opposes those that don’t come from a Jewish background. It’s racist and it has led to… […] it’s racist and it has led to appalling treatment of Palestinians and so anti-Zionism is the opposition to that. […] Opposition to a racist state and opposition to the racism of Semitism [sic] are what are synonymous here – not anti-Zionism.”

08:37 – Ferguson: “…there are two ways that we can interpret Zionism, the first one being that one set of people have a divine right to an area of land over others and should be able to take that back regardless of the detriment or the persecution of the people who live there. That is wrong, I think. Second […] it’s full support for the Israeli state. I think that the Israeli state is racist. I think that it’s an apartheid state and therefore I think that even the second definition is wrong.”

12:20 – Ferguson: “I think that it is the State of Israel which is racist in this case. […] I think that if one group of peoples is being given a divine right to exist over another and despite […] the detriment that it causes to the other, then yes; that is racist.”

15:41 – Ferguson: “To oppose the racist record of a state cannot in itself be racist. That’s an oxymoron. Israel has carried out some of the worst human rights atrocities that we have seen in history but most notably in the last ten years, thousands of people within the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been murdered.  Their homes have been bulldozed. Notably, Rachel Corrie – an American activist – was trapped and murdered and crushed under the bulldozer operated by an Israeli official who was destroying the home of a Palestinian – which they do systematically in order….”

Corrie’s death was of course an accident and the Ferguson’s claim that the bulldozer was “destroying the home of a Palestinian” is contradicted by the findings of the court that ruled on the case. William Crawley did not however bother to inform listeners of those facts.

18:02 – Connor (caller): “I have been in Palestine. I have been in the West Bank. I have been in Ramallah, Jericho. I’ve seen first-hand the disgusting treatment of the Palestinians. […] It is apartheid; the only apartheid and everyone knows this. […] It’s [Israel] completely ignoring the right of those of the Palestinian Jews [sic].”

19:26 – Connor (caller): “The Palestinians have been there for generation after generation. The Law of Return in Israel allows any Jew in the world to go and live in Israel and occupy land belonging to Palestinians […] occupy land, throw people out of their homes. I’ve seen this first-hand. I’ve seen bulldozers. I’ve seen families getting put out of their home to accommodate settlers from foreign countries who are being put….and they’re being paid £14,000 a year by the Israeli state to occupy and take over territory…”

Those blatant falsehoods were not challenged.

21:34: Hudson: “When I opposed apartheid in South Africa I didn’t call for the destruction of the South African state. […]

Crawley: “Did you call for the destruction of white domination?”

Hudson: “Absolutely.”

Crawley: “That by analogy is what Fiona is saying. She’s not calling for the destruction of Israel but she is calling for the dismantling of a power system that prejudices in favour of Jews.”

Listeners heard falsehoods concerning the rights of Arab Israelis that the presenter was clearly unable to correct because he is insufficiently informed.

22:10: Crawley: “So every Palestinian living in Israel is allowed to vote?”

Hudson: “To my knowledge they are, yes.”

Ferguson: “They’re not. There are two judiciary systems as well so depending whether you’re a Palestinian or a Jew, you’re treated by the law differently.”

Husdon: “You’re talking about Israeli Arabs?”

Ferguson: “Well exactly. That’s exactly the point, isn’t it, because there are full citizens who are Palestinians living within the State of Israel who are under a different judicial system. That’s apartheid.”

Crawley: “Are they allowed to vote on equal terms?”

Feruguson: “It depends. They’re…apparently they are. What you’ll hear is that they are and what the State of Israel will tell you that they are but actually in reality it doesn’t happen. It’s just something that is…ehm….the system is either fiddled with in a way…”

Those inaccurate allegations clearly materially misled listeners and were even later repeated.

24:15 – Ferguson: “But if we’re talking about the existence of the political structures as we referred to earlier of Israel, which are racist, which are prejudiced, which are apartheid – and by the way, Chris, you’re one of a minority nowadays that doesn’t accept it is apartheid. Desmond Tutu who, let’s be honest, has more experience on this topic than either of us […] calls it apartheid. The UN in a report at the end of last year has accepted that Israel is an apartheid state. Should an apartheid state in itself – the structures of the state – be allowed to exist? Of course not.”

25:05 – Crawley: “You accept the right of the State of Israel to exist as a democracy?”

Ferguson: “But the State of Israel is not a democracy.”

Crawley:[…] But do you accept the right of this state to exist as a democracy?”

Ferguson: “I don’t see how that can be answered because a) Israel is not a democracy as it is and b)…no, of course it’s not a democracy…I mean people…it’s not a democracy. Can I explain why it is not a democracy? Because there are two judicial systems for different people who live within there. There are 1.7 million Palestinians who live within Israel who are not afforded the same rights as Israelis. It’s not a democratic state.”

26:04 – Kaitlin (caller): “This thing about Israel being a democratic state. You know, that phrase is trotted out and it’s rarely questioned […]. I just want to give you two examples in which Israel is not a democratic state. One are the thousands of Palestinians including men, women and children, who are imprisoned without trial – effectively interned and left to rot in jail for years and many of them having been tortured by the way. The second example is the West Bank. Now Israel has complete control over the West Bank and yet the people there, who live effectively under military occupation, don’t have any vote. They have no right to vote for the parliament – the Jewish parliament – which actually controls their lives.”

Notably Crawly made no attempt to clarify the context of terrorism in relation to administrative detention or to inform listeners that Palestinians living under PA rule in Areas A and B vote for their own legislative council. Neither did he clarify that the Israeli Knesset is not “Jewish”.

28:14 – Michael (caller): “I was in Israel in 1985. […] I also experienced teenage soldiers – Israeli soldiers – bullying elderly men who were coming from the very north end of the country through the blazing sun to work in the south and making them sit in the sun for 3 or 4 hours extra at a checkpoint for no reason. And I noticed this. That’s just bullying.”

Crawley: “So what you’ve got, you’ve got evidence in your mind of bullying, intimidation, inappropriate behavior by Israeli forces.”

32:06 – Crawley: “But there are those on the other side […] who say it’s a manufactured majority because the right of return is not being granted to Palestinians and if it was, you would no longer have a Jewish majority in the State of Israel. So it’s a manufactured majority – that’s the allegation.”

33:24 – Ferguson: “I just want to pick up on the last comment […] about the displacement of 6.5 million Jews – sorry: of Palestinians – and their right to return. It wasn’t just something that happened and is now something that we get over and can swipe under the carpet. These Palestinians still do not have the right to return to that area of land. Never mind that Jewish people – regardless of where they came from, regardless of their background – are welcomed, encouraged to come along and often – as Connor rightly said, our caller – given subsidies to do so and allowed to buy land. Palestinians are not allowed to do so. The treatment of one peoples above another in that way is racist and I believe the State of Israel is apartheid as a result of that.”

The false claim of “6.5 million” displaced Palestinians was not challenged.

The editorial decisions behind the making of a programme with this subject matter by a regional BBC station are of course worthy of discussion. The fact that listeners were materially misled because the presenter was insufficiently informed to be able to effectively challenge inaccurate claims and falsehoods from an unbalanced field of contributors is obvious. The fact that the programme’s producers clearly had no qualms about facilitating the non-stop promotion of delegitimisation of Israel by means of politically motivated smears and falsehoods should be a serious cause for concern.

However, this programme did fulfil one useful function: it – albeit inadvertently – proved the point made by the French president.

Resources:

BBC Radio Ulster contact details

‘Talkback’ contact details   

 

 

 

 

 

Filling in the blanks in BBC reports on Hamas, Qatar and Iran

As readers may recall, while early BBC News website coverage of the rift between Qatar and several other Arab states did clarify that one of Saudi Arabia’s demands was for Qatar to cut ties with Hamas, it did not inform BBC audiences of Qatar’s reported demand that a number of Hamas officials leave that country.

Yolande Knell later produced two reports on the topic of Qatari funding of Hamas which made vague, brief references to that subject.

“Meanwhile, some top Hamas figures living in exile in Doha have moved away to ease pressure on their patron.” BBC Radio 4, 15/6/17

“Many leaders of the group [Hamas] – including its former head, Khaled Meshaal, have been living in luxurious exile in Doha.

Now as Hamas seeks to ease pressure on its patron, several have reportedly left at Qatar’s request.” BBC News website, 20/6/17

As was noted here when the story broke:

Among those reportedly asked to leave [Qatar] was Saleh al Arouri – the organiser of Hamas operations in Judea & Samaria who was previously based in Turkey and was designated by the US Treasury in 2015. Arouri is said to have relocated to Malaysia or Lebanon.”

At the beginning of this month al Arouri made an appearance in Beirut.

“A senior Hamas terrorist believed by Israel to have planned the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank was spotted publicly in Lebanon’s capital Beirut for the first time since he was expelled from Qatar in June.

In photos published Wednesday, Saleh al-Arouri can be seen meeting with senior Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian — a former deputy foreign minister — and a number of other members of Hamas, among them senior spokesman Osama Hamdan and the terror group’s representative in Lebanon, Ali Barka. […]

After his expulsion from Qatar in June, al-Arouri moved to Lebanon, where he is being hosted by the Hezbollah terror group in its Dahieh stronghold in southern Beirut, Channel 2 reported last month.

Citing Palestinian sources, the report said that Arouri and two other senior Hamas figures have relocated to the Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, an area heavily protected with checkpoints on every access road.”

Meanwhile, on August 5th the BBC News website published a report about the Iranian president’s inauguration:

“Dozens of world dignitaries attended Mr Rouhani’s inauguration at Iran’s parliament, reflecting an easing in Iran’s isolation since the nuclear deal.

Guests included EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the chairman of the North Korean parliament, Kim Yong-nam, signalling a growing closeness between Tehran and Pyongyang particularly over defence matters.”

The BBC did not however report that the inauguration’s guest list also included Hamas officials.

“A senior Hamas delegation arrived in Tehran on Friday in a bid to bolster the relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The visit included senior Hamas figure Izzat al-Rishq, currently based in Qatar, and head of the Hamas administration Saleh al-Arouri. They were formally invited to the swearing-in ceremony of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is beginning his second term in office.”

That Hamas delegation apparently also met with IRGC representatives.

“Senior members of the Hamas terror group met on Monday in Iran with representatives of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard, according to Arabic media reports.

A high-level Hamas delegation arrived in Tehran on Friday in order to attend the inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and to “turn a new page in bilateral relations” between the two sides, according to a statement by Hamas.

This is the first Hamas visit to Iran since the group elected new leadership earlier in 2017. The rapprochement between Hamas and Iran is reportedly being facilitated by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is supported by Tehran.

The delegation consisted of Hamas political bureau members Ezzat al-Resheq, Saleh Arouri, Zaher Jabarin, and Osama Hamdan.

During its stay in Iran, the group met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday, as well as a number of other senior Iranian officials. […]

Hamas also needs to re-establish ties with Iran, as its current top backer Qatar is under fire from Gulf allies for supporting the Palestinian terror group.”

At the end of that August 5th BBC report on Rouhani’s inauguration audiences were told that:

“Last month, the US state department accused Iran of undermining stability, security and prosperity in the Middle East.

It criticised Iran’s support for the Syrian government and groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas and accused it of prolonging the conflict in Yemen by providing support for Houthi rebels.”

Had BBC audiences seen any coverage of Salah al Arouri’s relocation from Qatar to the Hizballah ruled suburb of Beirut and of the Hamas delegation’s visit to Tehran, they would of course be much better placed to understand what lies behind those US State Department statements. 

Related Articles:

The figures behind a story the BBC chooses not report  

More narrative-driven ‘history’ from the BBC World Service

The August 8th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ is titled “The Murder of Naji al-Ali” and it is described as follows in its synopsis:

“The acclaimed Palestinian cartoonist was gunned down in London in 1987. His attackers have never been identified. Naji al-Ali’s cartoons were famous across the Middle East. Through his images he criticized Israeli and US policy in the region, but unlike many, he also lambasted Arab despotic regimes and the leadership of the PLO. His signature character was called Handala – a poor Palestinian refugee child with spiky hair, who would always appear, facing away with his hands clasped behind his back, watching the events depicted in the cartoon. Alex Last has been speaking to his son, Khalid, about his father’s life and death.”

Despite that synopsis, listeners actually hear very little about the substance of Ali’s criticism of Arab regimes and the Palestinian leadership and even less about how that may have been connected to his murder. They do however hear promotion of the familiar context-free narrative of displaced Palestinians with no responsibility for or connection to the events that resulted in their displacement.

Erasing the essential words ‘British Mandate’ from his use of the term Palestine, presenter Alex Last introduces his guest:

Last: “Some fifty years earlier Naji al Ali was born in a village in Galilee in 1936 in what was then Palestine. Khalid al Ali is Naji’s eldest son.”

 Ali: “The village had Muslims, Christians and Jews and they’re all playing together and sharing things together, I mean, in the village square, so he had a happy life, a normal life.”

The 1931 census shows that the village concerned – al Shajara in the sub-district of Tiberias – had at the time 584 residents: 556 Muslims and 28 Christians – but no Jews. A similar demographic make-up appears in the 1945 census. In contrast to the idyllic impression created by Ali, the villagers of al Shajara frequently attacked their Jewish neighbours in the moshava Sejera (known today as Ilaniya) during the ‘Arab Revolt‘ that began in 1936.

Listeners then hear Last say:

Last: “But in 1948, following the creation of the State of Israel and in the fighting that ensued, at least three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs either fled or were driven from their homes. Naji, his family and the other Palestinian Arabs in their village were among them. They became refugees. Naji ended up in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. It was an experience that would define him.”

Contrary to the impression given by Last, the fighting did not break out after and because of “the creation of the State of Israel” but had begun well before that event took place following Arab rejection of the Partition Plan in November 1947. Listeners are not informed of the all important context of the infiltration of the Arab League’s ‘Arab Liberation Army’ into the Galilee in early January of 1948 and the series of attacks it launched against Jewish communities in the region, including the moshava Sejera. The fighting in Naji al Ali’s village of al Shajara actually took place on May 6th 1948 – eight days before Israel declared independence.

The narrative of passive victims with no responsibility for the conflict that saw them displaced is then further promoted by Ali.

Ali: “Being used to your surroundings, being part of the family, the wider villages, this overnight ended completely and that was a great shock. And suddenly [they] became refugees in a tent. There’s no income. They lost their land. They’ve lost their businesses. No end of [in] sight in a way. It was imprinted on them. I mean my father, his main agenda is Palestine. For him, till the last day of his life he wanted to go back to his village, he wanted to go back to Palestine. It’s very straightforward, it’s very simple. He could not see why not.”

A similarly context-free representation comes at 05:05 when Last tells listeners:

Last: “In 1982 Naji was in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; events which, says Khalid, had a profound effect on his father.”

Audiences are not informed that – despite the impression they may very well have received from Last’s portrayal – the Sabra and Shatila massacres were carried out by a Lebanese Christian militia.

The programme ‘Witness’ purports to provide BBC World Service audiences with “the story of our times told by the people who were there”. All too often, however, we see that when the story relates to Israel, narrative takes priority over history.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘The Fifth Floor’ highlights cartoonist known for antisemitic imagery

BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist 

 

 

BBC News conceals part of a story on Hamas tunnels

On August 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel to speed up Gaza tunnel barrier“.

“Israel is to accelerate the building of a huge barrier along its boundary with Gaza aimed at preventing militants from tunnelling under the border.

The 64km (40-mile) long construction will reach a depth of 40m (131ft) below and 6m above ground, at a cost of 3bn shekels ($833m).

An Israeli army commander said the barrier should be completed in 2019.

Israel has sought to neutralise the threat of cross-border tunnels since its war with militants in Gaza in 2014.”

The BBC apparently based that article on local media reports concerning a briefing given the previous day by the head of the IDF’s southern command.

“At a briefing on Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Maj Gen Eyal Zamir said the hi-tech barrier would be completed, even at the risk of renewed conflict with Hamas.

“If Hamas chooses to go to war over the barrier, it will be a worthy reason [for Israel] to go to war over. But the barrier will be built,” Israeli media quoted him as saying. […]

According to local media reports, the machine used to dig the new the barrier will destroy any existing tunnels, while the barrier itself will use sophisticated technology to detect any new tunnels being built.”

While readers are not informed which Israeli news site was the source of the information used in the BBC’s article, it is notable that an additional, related and widely reported part of Major General Zamir’s briefing was omitted from the BBC’s account.

photo credit: IDF

Ha’aretz reported:

“Zamir showed reporters pictures of sites in Gaza, some of them civilian, which Hamas is believed to be using as tunnel shafts. He warned that any civilian who allows terror organizations to use his property for military purposes is risking his life, his family’s life and his property. For example, he showed a house in the Beit Lahiya area, which the army says has an entrance to an underground tunnel that is also connected to a mosque. Another structure, near the Shati refugee camp, has an entrance to a network of tunnels.”

The Jerusalem Post informed its readers that:

“According to Zamir, many of the tunnels run under civilian homes in the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday, he presented two residential buildings used by Hamas, including one which belongs to a family with six children and another six-story building built within the past two years.

“Any civilians who stay in these buildings endanger their lives and the lives of their families. It’s Hamas who endangers them first and foremost, but every building over a tunnel is a legitimate military target,” Zamir said. 

“Part of Hamas’s combat strategy is to conduct itself within civilian areas, which is intended to make it difficult for the IDF to locate, attack and destroy the group’s military infrastructure,” Zamir stated, adding that by drawing Israeli fire to these buildings, Hamas aims to delegitimize Israel and the IDF.”

The Times of Israel reported that:

“In addition to disclosing additional information about the border barrier, the military on Wednesday also revealed that it had found two alleged Hamas tunnel sites buried beneath an apartment building and a family’s home in the northern Gaza Strip.

Zamir accused the Hamas terror group of purposefully building the tunnels under civilian structures to provide cover for its operations. That being the case, the general warned, “these sites are legitimate military targets. Anyone inside of one, should another conflict begin, endangers himself and endangers his family, and the responsibility is on the Hamas organization.””

The IDF also published a backgrounder on the subject, including aerial photographs.

As readers may recall, during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, some senior BBC journalists claimed that there was “no evidence” of Hamas using the civilian population of Gaza as human shields and the BBC Trust subsequently defended that inaccurate reporting following complaints from members of the public.

Given that the BBC’s Middle East editor repeated that claim less than two months ago, the editorial decision not to inform BBC audiences of this clear example of Hamas’ placement of military assets in civilian residential areas is particularly noteworthy.

Related Articles:

BBC ignores another Gaza tunnels story

BBC ignores latest Hamas terror infrastructure in Gaza civilian district

In which the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen repeats his ‘no human shields in Gaza’ claims

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

 

BBC WS history show ‘explains’ Camp David summit failure

h/t JB

The August 4th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ is described in its synopsis as follows:

“In 2000 the US led a major effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bill Clinton brought the two sides together at the leafy presidential retreat in Maryland. The Israeli leader, Ehud Barak and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, failed to reach any agreement and the summit ended in failure. Farhana Haider has been speaking to the senior American diplomatic interpreter and policy adviser, Gamal Helal who attended the Camp David summit.”

Promotion of the programme on Twitter showed that it purports to inform BBC audiences why the Camp David summit failed.

So what do listeners hear on that topic and what conclusions would they reach? [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

After introducing the programme, presenter Farhana Haider tells audiences that:

“Israel had been pushing for this summit. Chairman Arafat for the Palestinians had argued there’s not been enough progress on earlier agreements to merit such a high level meeting but President Clinton had pressed ahead.”

Later on Haider tells listeners that the actual process of negotiation:

“…involved the negotiating teams meeting with each other and also separately with the Americans on most days. Face to face contact between Arafat and Barak was very limited. Mistrust was clearly running deep, says Gamal.”

Helal: “The main meal was dinner and all three parties were attended by the principals. So during dinner was the only time when they would sit together. […] Sort of like mingling. What did not happen was a bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks or the trilateral talks at the principals level. That did not happen because Prime Minister Barak did not want it.”

Haider alleges:

“…both sides were clearly under pressure from some of their own supporters not to make concessions. The US and the Israelis had also overestimated Arafat’s willingness to bargain away sovereignty over Jerusalem. In fact, the city’s final status was as much of a red line for Arafat as it was for Ehud Barak.”

 Gamal Helal recounts how, in a one-on-one conversation with Arafat he tried to persuade him to seize the historic opportunity and that:

“…at the end he looked at me and he said ‘I can’t’. And I said ‘why can’t you?’ He said if I accept this they will kill me’.”

Listeners never find out who ‘they’ are and Haider asks “could you sense his frustration?” without clarifying whether she is referring to Arafat or Clinton. Helal answers:

“Yes and I think there was also a lot of frustration as a result of Prime Minister Barak’s behaviour and attitude during Camp David. For example he promised that there would be negotiations around the clock and the two sides would be meeting discussing all permanent status issues and none of that happened. He basically locked himself up in his cabin. He met only with President Clinton. There was no bilateral meetings with Chairman Arafat except a very short encounter but no actual negotiations between the two leaders. He was not engaged at all. The Palestinians, when they saw that they decided to withdraw and simply say no to everything.”

Haider sums up the story:

“After 15 days of talks, nothing was agreed. Though President Clinton came and went, leaving the parties to continue their discussions, the basic problem was that the maximum Israel offered was less than the minimum the Palestinians could accept. On July 15 2000 the parties left Camp David, blaming the other for the failure.”

The Camp David summit did not end on July 15th 2000 but actually took place between the 11th and 25th of July. Although this programme clearly steers listeners toward the view that the negotiations failed because of “Barak’s behaviour and attitude”, a report published in the New York Times the day after the summit concluded gives a different account.

“The president [Clinton] and other American mediators made clear that it was Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who balked in the end, and by all accounts the issue was Jerusalem, the Holy City both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their sacred capital.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Clinton singled out the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, for his readiness to make hard compromises. ”I would be making a mistake not to praise Barak, because I think he took a big risk,” the president said. ”The prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly surrounding the question of Jerusalem.””

In an interview he gave to Ha’aretz in 2002, Ehud Barak cast light on the circumstances behind Helal’s claim that he “locked himself up in his cabin” and the allegation that the Palestinian delegation’s negative responses were the product of Barak not being “engaged”.

“The moment of truth at Camp David occurred when Clinton brought his ideas and put them on the table. Overall, Clinton’s ideas said that in return for ending the conflict and acquiescing to some Israeli security demands and leaving 80 percent of the settlers in Israeli territory, [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat would get a sovereign Palestinian state, demilitarized and contiguous, in ninety-something percent of the West Bank and a hundred percent of the Gaza Strip. Including exit points to the neighboring countries, a hold in East Jerusalem and the right of return to the Palestinian state but not to Israel. Israel would agree to accept a certain amount of refugees on a humanitarian basis but not a single one on the basis of the right of return.

For us these ideas are no simple matter. They are far from a simple matter. Especially when you try to go into a bit of detail about Jerusalem. But we held lengthy discussions and in the end we decided, because of considerations of historic responsibility, that we have to accept the plan as a basis for discussion. Arafat twisted and turned with it and effectively said no. Clinton went back to him and pounded on the table and Arafat again did not answer but effectively gave an answer that was no.

At this stage Clinton has to go to Okinawa, for a meeting of the G-8. So I say to him, Look, until you extract readiness from Arafat to accept your ideas as a basis for negotiations, there is nothing to discuss. It is hard for us, too, we also have reservations, these ideas are very close to the Palestinian position, but we accept them as a basis for discussion. When you get a positive answer out of Arafat, I’m here. You know where my cabin is.

Clinton goes off to Okinawa, leaving me with the impression that he understands that there can be no discussion. But he leaves a different impression with his staff and with the Palestinians. They understand that in the meantime the discussions can proceed with [secretary of state Madeleine] Albright. When I discover this, I find myself in an impossible position. That is the origin of the story that Barak locked himself in his cabin in a state of depression. But in fact I had no choice. I couldn’t undercut Albright but I couldn’t continue with the negotiations, either. So I told everyone to leave my cabin and I did some sports and I read the book `Five Days in London’ from cover to cover.”

As for Haider’s claims that “both sides were clearly under pressure from some of their own supporters not to make concessions” and her description of Jerusalem as “a red line […] for Ehud Barak”, Israel’s top negotiator at Camp David, Shlomo Ben Ami, has some interesting recollections.

“Question: I understand that there was a stage at which Barak astonished everyone by agreeing to divide the Old City of Jerusalem into two quarters under Israeli sovereignty and two quarters under Palestinian sovereignty. Did he do that on his own or was it a joint decision made by the entire Israeli team?

Ben Ami: “As I told you, I suggested that a special regime be introduced in the Old City. In the wake of that discussion, sometime later, the president put forward a two-two proposal, meaning a clear division of sovereignty. In a conversation with the president, Ehud agreed that that would be a basis for discussion. I remember walking in the fields with Martin Indyk [of the State Department] that night and both of us saying that Ehud was nuts. We didn’t understand how he could even have thought of agreeing. Afterward I wrote in my diary that everyone thinks that Amnon [Lipkin-] Shahak and I are pushing Barak to the left, but the truth is that he was the one who pushed us leftward. At that stage – this was the start of the second week of the meeting – he was far more courageous than we were. Truly courageous. Clinton told me a few times: I have never met such a courageous person.””

And Ben Ami also comments on why the Camp David summit failed.

“Camp David collapsed over the fact that they [the Palestinians] refused to get into the game. They refused to make a counter proposal. No one demanded that they give a positive response to that particular proposal of Clinton’s. Contrary to all the nonsense spouted by the knights of the left, there was no ultimatum. What was being asked of the Palestinians was far more elementary: that they put forward, at least once, their own counter proposal. That they not just say all the time `That’s not good enough’ and wait for us to make more concessions. That’s why the president sent [CIA director George] Tenet to Arafat that night – in order to tell him that it would be worth his while to think it over one more time and not give an answer until the morning. But Arafat couldn’t take it anymore. He missed the applause of the masses in Gaza.” […]

“But when all is said and done, Camp David failed because Arafat refused to put forward proposals of his own and didn’t succeed in conveying to us the feeling that at some point his demands would have an end. One of the important things we did at Camp David was to define our vital interests in the most concise way. We didn’t expect to meet the Palestinians halfway, and not even two-thirds of the way. But we did expect to meet them at some point. The whole time we waited to see them make some sort of movement in the face of our far-reaching movement. But they didn’t. The feeling was that they were constantly trying to drag us into some sort of black hole of more and more concessions without it being at all clear where all the concessions were leading, what the finish line was.”

Obviously the explanation of why the Camp David talks failed given in this BBC World Service ‘history’ programme is heavily tipped towards a particular politicised narrative that does not accurately reflect the whole story and therefore misleads BBC audiences.

BBC audiences still not getting news of Palestinian politics

The last few weeks have seen some interesting developments in the world of Palestinian politics, although those getting their news from the BBC will of course be unaware of that because – as often noted on these pages – the corporation largely avoids that subject.

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

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics

Abbas’ Fatah reelection ignored by the BBC – in English

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

Internal Palestinian politics again off the BBC’s agenda

In the second half of July listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard Yolande Knell make the following unexplained statement:

“On this trip I meet some Gazans clinging to rumours of political solutions involving the return of exiled figures or improved relations with Egypt.” 

The day after that programme was broadcast, one of those mysterious “exiled figures” – Mohammad Dahlan – gave an interview to AP in which he claimed that his talks with Hamas and Egypt will, among other things, bring about the opening of the Rafah crossing. On the same day, BBC Arabic produced a report concerning that topic, but without any mention of Dahlan.

Four days later, on July 27th, an unusual event took place in Gaza.

“Rival Palestinian lawmakers came together for the first time in a decade on Thursday in Gaza’s parliament, the latest sign that an emerging Gaza power-sharing deal between the territory’s Hamas rulers and a former Gaza strongman is moving forward.

Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief and Hamas rival, praised the new partnership, addressing the gathering by video conference from his exile in the United Arab Emirates.

“We have made mutual efforts with our brothers in Hamas to restore hope for Gaza’s heroic people,” Dahlan told the lawmakers.

The gathering included dozens of legislators from Hamas, several Dahlan backers from the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and independents.

Fatah legislators loyal to Abbas stayed away from the meeting, underscoring the deepening rift in the movement. Dahlan fell out with Abbas in 2010.

The legislature has been idled since Hamas routed pro-Abbas forces, then under Dahlan’s command, and took over Gaza in 2007.

Over the past decade, only Hamas lawmakers met in parliament to pass resolutions concerning Gaza.”

On August 1st local media reported that PA president Mahmoud Abbas was making his own overtures to Hamas which included a meeting with a Hamas delegation in Ramallah.

“Earlier this year, the PA cut its payments for Israeli-supplied electricity the Strip by 35%, and slashed salaries for government personnel in Gaza.

The feud between the two Palestinian factions — Fatah, which controls the PA in the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza — also brought about a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.

A deal to truck in fuel from Egypt to keep a power plant running was brokered by Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah strongman, seen as a top rival to Abbas. […]

The new framework reportedly being discussed between the two sides would enable the PA to restore electricity supplies and allow Gazan banks to trade in foreign currency again, according to the daily.

But in return, Hamas must publicly renege on its agreement with Dahlan, and dismantle its governing structures in Gaza, which, according to the PA, contravene previous agreements between the group and the PA.”

Days later, Abbas reportedly voiced his intention to keep up the financial pressure on Hamas.

“”While there is a severe electricity crisis in Gaza, Hamas provides light for its underground tunnels and the homes of its officials around the clock,” Abbas told a group of prominent visitors from East Jerusalem at his Ramallah headquarters.

Abbas’s government in the West Bank began earlier this year to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza. Such cuts have exacerbated blackouts. […]

Abbas told the gathering that the PA would “continue the cuts in Gaza, gradually, unless Hamas accepts the requirements of the reconciliation.””

Meanwhile, the negotiations concerning yet another attempt at Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ apparently continue.

How this saga will play out and whether either Abbas or Dahlan will end up doing a deal with Hamas is still unclear. Nevertheless, what is obvious is that whatever the outcome – and its possible consequences – BBC audiences are already very badly placed to understand its background and context due to the corporation’s serial avoidance of the topic of internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza 

 

 

 

 

Another Gaza missile attack and BBC silence continues

At around 9 p.m. on the evening of July 8th residents of Ashkelon and the Hof Ashkelon district in the western Negev had to scramble for cover as sirens warned of an incoming missile fired from the Gaza Strip.

“The army said the projectile struck an open area in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.

No injuries were immediately reported, and soldiers were searching the area, the IDF said.”

Several hours later Israel responded with strikes on two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip.

Despite at least one employee at the BBC’s Gaza office being aware of those events, the attack did not receive any coverage.

Since the beginning of 2017 thirteen separate incidents of missile fire from either the Gaza Strip or the Sinai Peninsula have taken place. The BBC’s English language services have not informed audiences of any of those attacks.

The pattern of reporting whereby the vast majority of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip are not covered in the English language but Israel’s response to those attacks is sometimes reported in Arabic has been in evidence since the end of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas. Throughout 2016 just one of the ten attacks that took place received BBC coverage in the English language.

A similar policy of omission appears to have been adopted regarding missile attacks perpetrated by a terrorist group located in a neighbouring country, with all of the four attacks launched from the Sinai Peninsula since the beginning of 2017 having been ignored by the BBC’s English language services.

Related Articles:

BBC ignores two more missile attacks from Gaza