BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – September 2017

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during September 2017 shows that throughout the month a total of 103 incidents took place: 74 in Judea & Samaria and 29 in Jerusalem.

In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 85 attacks with petrol bombs, 17 attacks using explosive devices and one shooting attack.  

Two civilians and one member of the security forces were murdered and an additional civilian was wounded during September.

The BBC News website reported the fatal attack in Har Adar on September 26th without identifying the victims. None of the additional attacks received any BBC coverage.

During the first nine months of 2017 the BBC News website has reported 0.7% of the total terror attacks that took place and 93.75% of the resulting fatalities.

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BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – August 2017 

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BBC’s Bateman misleads on US and Israeli approach to Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’

The October 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item concerning that day’s meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in the Gaza Strip. The report (from 45:06 here) was introduced by presenter Razia Iqbal as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Iqbal: “The Palestinian cabinet has met in Gaza for the first time in three years as the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority moves closer to taking charge of the territory from Hamas, which has controlled it for the past decade. Last month Hamas agreed to dissolve its administration in Gaza and make way for a unity government led by the prime minister Rami Hamdallah. These Palestinians said they hoped the new government would improve the lives of the people in the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners then heard two short ‘man in the street’ interviews.

Man 1: “The youths of Gaza are living in a very difficult situation. We’re waiting for this reconciliation in the hope that there will be more job opportunities for the younger generations.”

Man 2: “We welcome them and the new government. We call on them to look at the young people – which is the most important thing – and to solve the electricity issue and the crisis in Gaza and whatever else is possible to raise the quality of life of the Palestinian people.”

Iqbal: “Let’s speak now to the BBC’s Tom Bateman who joins us live from Jerusalem. Tom; let’s pic up from what we heard from the young Palestinians there about the quality of life in Gaza. It’s a…it’s a tiny strip of land but it is a very difficult place to be, isn’t it?”

Bateman: “It’s two million people. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. I mean people are dealing with electricity for two to four hours a day. There are severe water shortages as you heard there because of the electricity crisis. That means that…ah…there is a serious problem with raw sewage…ahm…and life there is extremely difficult.”

Bateman sidestepped the topic of the reasons behind the electricity crisis in Gaza, dismissing the subject as “complex”. He also failed to tell listeners why conditions in Gaza did not improve during the two weeks between the Hamas announcement that it would dissolve its managing committee in the Gaza Strip and the cabinet meeting that is the subject of his report.

“Regarding the punitive measures Abbas levied against Gaza in April in order to force Hamas to cede control of the Strip, he [Abbas] said he was in “no hurry” to lift them.

He said the measures cut 22% of the PA’s funding to Gaza — a total of $1.5 billion US dollars — which affected the already dire electricity and water situation in the Strip. These steps would not be reversed until the PA was in full control of Gaza, he said.”

Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Now the factors behind that [electricity crisis] are complex but what’s happened today in terms of this meeting of the unity cabinet – that was actually first established about three years ago – is in terms of its symbolism, in terms of what Hamas and Fatah are saying about this, is that this is, you know, paving the way for Palestinian reconciliation. However…ah…you know, we’ve been on this road before. Previous attempts at such unity have come to nothing. I think this time, you know, the backing of the Egyptians – which has been in place previously – seems to be at a level where there is some hope that this…eh…this time that unity may come to fruition in terms…it may deliver something for the people of Gaza and an end to a lot of these problems. But we’ll just have to wait and see and after the cabinet meeting today there are now due to be talks between the two sides in Egypt.”

Bateman then went on to suggest that the approach of the United States to the prospect of a Palestinian unity government is different to that of Israel:

Bateman: “Meanwhile, there is everything from some support internationally from the US but from Israel the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that, you know, he’s not prepared to accept what he called imaginary appeasement in which the Palestinians supposedly reconcile at the expense of the existence of the State of Israel.”

A statement from the US Middle East envoy put out the day before Bateman’s report made the US position clear.

“The United States on Monday said it welcomes efforts for the Palestinian Authority to resume control over government institutions in the Gaza Strip after the PA premier arrived in the Hamas-controlled enclave earlier in the day for a cabinet meeting. But it made clear there would be no dealing with a Palestinian government including Hamas unless or until the terror group recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism.

“As the Palestinian Authority Cabinet visits Gaza today in preparation for its October 3 cabinet meeting, the United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza,” Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s envoy for Middle East, said in a statement. […]

“The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.”

Using the Hebrew phrase פיוסים מדומים – fictitious reconciliations – rather than “imaginary appeasement” (which Bateman appears to have gleaned from a report by Ha’aretz), Netanyahu said:

‘“We expect anyone talking about a peace process to recognize Israel and, of course, recognize a Jewish state, and we won’t accept faux reconciliations in which the Palestinian side reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said during a special Likud faction meeting in the West Bank city of Ma’ale Adumim.

“We have a very straightforward attitude toward anyone who wants to effect such a reconciliation: Recognize the State of Israel, dismantle Hamas’s military wing, sever the relationship with Iran, which calls for our destruction,” he added.’

In other words, with both the US envoy and the Israeli prime minister stating that any Palestinian government must recognise Israel and reject terrorism, the two countries’ responses to the prospect of a Palestinian government are far less different than Bateman would obviously have his audience believe.

The report continued with Bateman failing to clarify to audiences why Hamas’ designation as a terrorist organisation and its continuing refusal to reject terror is a significant part of this story.

Iqbal: “I suppose we shouldn’t forget and remind people that the US and the European Union have blacklisted Hamas as a terrorist organisation which does complicate the formation of any unity government.”

Bateman: “Well this is of course one of the major issues in terms of the way that…ehm…the governance of Gaza should be dealt with because as you say…ah…it’s not just Israel but of course many countries around the world that…eh…regard Hamas as a terrorist…ahm…organisation and so you therefore have a situation where if there is reconciliation, what does that mean for the Palestinian Authority and the way it is run? Not just in Gaza but in the West Bank. I think that much will depend on these talks that are due to take place, as I say, in Cairo. And just getting through those with the many issues that have to be resolved; not least the control of arms in Gaza itself, with President Abbas suggesting…ah…that he will not accept a model where Hamas has control of arms with a sort of PA government just in charge of civilian control. Lots of issues to deal with and – as I say – you know….ah…those people hoping it may deliver something but of course the past has proven otherwise.”

Once again BBC audiences did not hear a proper explanation of why existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians mean that Hamas must be disarmed before becoming part of any Palestinian government. As was the case in previous reports on this story, that means that audiences are not receiving the full range of information necessary for its proper understanding.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part three

BBC News sidesteps the topic of Hamas disarmament yet again 

 

 

BBC ignores appointment of new Hamas deputy chief

As documented here previously, BBC News website reporting relating to the latest attempt at Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ has side-stepped the issue of Hamas disarmament and audiences have not been informed of comments made by senior Hamas officials on that pivotal topic.

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

BBC News sidesteps the topic of Hamas disarmament yet again

Another recent development also puts paid to the notion that Hamas’ position has ‘softened’.

“Hamas on Thursday announced that top commander Saleh al-Arouri, who in recent years served as the terror group’s head of West Bank operations, will be appointed as the organization’s deputy political leader.

Arouri will thus serve under Ismail Haniyeh, who himself replaced Khaled Mashaal as the group’s political bureau chief in May.

Arouri, who is believed by Israel to have planned the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, was expelled from Doha in June along with other Hamas officials due to pressures it faced by other Arab states.

He is believed to have since settled in Lebanon, and was publicly spotted in Beirut in August.”

As readers may recall, the BBC did not report al Arouri’s claim of Hamas responsibility for the kidnappings and murders of the three Israeli teenagers in 2014 or his designation by the US Treasury in 2015. Neither did it inform audiences of al Arouri’s forced relocation from Turkey to Qatar and subsequently to Beirut or of his visit to Tehran in August.

Similarly, BBC audiences have yet to see any coverage of al Arouri’s appointment to the second most important position in the Hamas terror organisation.  

Related Articles:

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Qatar’s expulsion of Hamas officials not newsworthy for the BBC

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

 

New BBC complaints procedure finalised following consultation

Earlier this year the BBC launched a public consultation concerning its interim complaints procedure.

“In April 2017 the BBC published an interim Complaints Framework to reflect the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

In July 2017, as required by the Charter, the BBC opened a consultation on the Framework. This consultation closed on 16 August 2017.”

Following that consultation, the BBC has finalised its new complaints procedure (effective from October 3rd 2017), which can be found here.

The submissions made by organisations (not individuals) can be read here and include BBC Watch’s submission.  

The BBC’s response to the submissions made can be found here.

Among the points raised by BBC Watch was that of the different reference numbers at the various stages of complaint: a practice which is obviously confusing. The BBC responded to that point as follows:

“The current technology for making complaints online and for the allocation of reference numbers, does not allow for the same reference number to be used by the complainant throughout the process. However, the BBC will endeavour to rationalise this when the current system is due for reprocurement.”

Another issue highlighted by BBC Watch was that the generic responses received by complainants at Stage 1a in cases in which there is a high volume of complaints often do not address the points raised. The BBC’s response is as follows:

“The use of generic responses to large numbers of complaints on a same issue was introduced by the BBC in an earlier review of the complaints framework as a way of speeding up the process of replying to complaints. We continue to believe that this is the most efficient and timely way of dealing with high volume complaints on the same subject. Complainants who receive a generic response will continue to be notified that their complaint is being dealt with in this way, and why. And they continue to have the ability to escalate their complaint should they feel that a particular issue raised in their original complaint has not been addressed.”

BBC Watch also raised the issue of the 30-day time limit around complaints relating to online material, pointing out that the complaints procedure contradicts the BBC’s own guidelines on Removal of BBC Online content and that if the content is still on the BBC website, the complaint should still be admissible. The BBC’s response is as follows:

“In response to the issue raised about 30-day time limit for editorial complaints (especially in relation to online material), the BBC has reviewed the text and concluded that the current wording is sufficient as it states that complaints may be considered after that date if there is a particular reason for this. This should give assurance to licence fee payers that complaints about online material more than 30 days old will be dealt with appropriately.” 

In addition, BBC Watch highlighted the issue of the word restriction in the online complaints form and the inability to add supporting documents such as maps. The BBC responded:

“For editorial and general complaints, we are satisfied that the character limit in the online form and word count limit for complaints in writing should remain as is. The framework does make clear that lengthier complaints will be considered in certain circumstances.”

Related Articles:

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How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes

How to Complain to the BBC

 

 

A terrorist defies the BBC’s narrative

Over the past two years visitors to the BBC News website have repeatedly read the following statement in reports usually – but not exclusively – concerning terror attacks:

“Israel says Palestinian incitement has fuelled the attacks. The Palestinian leadership has blamed frustration rooted in decades of Israeli occupation.”

Examples of such messaging in reports from the last few months alone include:

Israeli policewoman stabbed to death in Jerusalem June 16th 2017

Israeli police killed in attack near Jerusalem holy site July 14th 2017

Three Israelis stabbed to death in West Bank attack July 21st 2017

Palestinian gunman kills three Israelis in West Bank  September 26th 2017

Interpol approves Palestinian membership despite Israeli opposition  September 27th 2017

That narrative complies with ‘media guidance’ put out by the PLO in November 2015.

In addition to the fact that the BBC has made very little effort to explain to its audiences why Israeli officials cite Palestinian incitement as a factor underpinning the violence, it has also serially avoided the issue of the religious motivations behind some such attacks.

This week the Hamas affiliated perpetrator of an attack that took place three and a half years ago was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment.

“Ziad Awad, the terrorist who was convicted of murdering Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrahi and wounding his wife Hadas in April 2014, was sentenced to two life sentences on Monday.

The presiding judge also took into account that Awad had carried out the attack despite being one of the terrorists released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal.

Baruch Mizrahi was killed on the eve of Passover while driving with his wife Hadas and five children to the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, to take part in the Passover Seder (feast).

Awad, who is a resident of the Palestinian West Bank town of Idhna, opened fire on the vehicle, killing Baruch, seriously injuring Hadas and lightly wounding one of their children.”

The BBC initially reported that attack in a belated thirty-four word paragraph and subsequent reporting failed to clarify that the incident was a terror attack. The terrorist’s arrest and indictment did not receive any BBC coverage and so audiences did not receive any information concerning the motive behind the murder.

“Before launching the attack, Awad confided in his son that he had religious motivation, saying that, “according to Islam, whoever kills a Jew goes to heaven.””

Such cases do not of course fit into the BBC’s chosen narrative of Palestinian terrorism caused by “frustration” at “decades of Israeli occupation” and audiences therefore do not get to hear about them.

 

BBC News sidesteps the topic of Hamas disarmament yet again

On October 2nd an article headlined “Palestinian PM in rare Gaza visit as rift with Hamas eases” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

“The Palestinian prime minister has appealed for unity at the start of a rare trip to Gaza, as part of efforts to end a rift between Fatah and Hamas.

Rami Hamdallah is heading a delegation from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is taking over from an administration disbanded by Hamas.”

This is the BBC News website’s first follow-up report on the latest tentative Hamas-Fatah ‘unity deal’ since the news of Hamas’ announcement of the dissolving of its ‘administrative committee’ in the Gaza Strip broke on September 17th. In its report at the time the BBC News website told readers that:

“It is not yet clear whether Hamas is ready to place its security forces under Mr Abbas’s control – a major sticking point in the past, Associated Press reports.”

Back in 2014 when a previous (failed) ‘unity deal’ was being negotiated, the BBC similarly told its audiences that:

“…a Hamas official told the Associated Press that there were still disagreements over who should be responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza, and whether the PA’s own security forces would be allowed a significant presence in the territory.” [emphasis added]

That three year-old formula appears again in this latest article:

“Despite the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah, a number of issues are yet to be resolved.

It is unclear to what extent Hamas will allow the PA’s forces to take over security roles, and what will happen to thousands of Hamas civil servants who have not been on the PA’s payroll for the past decade.”

Since the BBC last reported on this story in September, a senior Hamas official has made statements relating to the issue of Hamas disarmament.

“Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Thursday that the Gaza-based terror group is not prepared to discuss the dissolution of its military wing during talks with the Fatah party, as the two sides attempt to form a unity government. […]

“This issue [of Hamas disarming] is not up for discussion, not previously and neither will it be in the future,” Abu Marzouk said in an interview with the semi-official Turkish news agency Al-Andalous. “The weapons of the resistance are for the protection of the Palestinian people, and it is inconceivable that Hamas will lay down its weapons as long as its land is occupied and its people dispersed.” […]

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has a reported  27,000 armed men divided into six regional brigades, with 25 battalions and 106 companies.”

Despite its previous enthusiastic coverage of the prospect of a Hamas-Fatah unity government, the BBC has not since reported Abu Marzouk’s statements.

In a recent interview with Egyptian media, however, the PA president clarified that the issue of Hamas disarmament is a deal breaker.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he would not be prepared to accept Hamas keeping its armed forces in Gaza like Hezbollah does in Lebanon and demanded “full control” of the Strip, including over the border, security and all the ministries. […]

“I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon” in Gaza, Abbas said in an interview late Monday with the Egyptian news station CBC, pointing to an early point of conflict with Hamas, which has vowed not to turn in its arms. […]

Hamas, however, has said that it will not even broach the subject of dismantling its vast military wing during negotiations, leading some to believe the group was seeking to follow in the footsteps of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is part of the government but retains its own army.

Abbas addressed this point specifically, saying, “I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience of Lebanon” in Gaza. He added that just as his security forces arrest those in the West Bank with illegal arms, the same would occur in Gaza.”

Significantly, in the same interview:

“Abbas noted that Hamas is still an “Islamist group,” while Fatah is a secular party. However, he said, the terror group still constitutes a “part of the Palestinian people,” and would be included in a Palestinian government as long as it agrees to uphold the policies of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the largest Palestinian umbrella group. Abbas is the head of the PLO.

The PLO has recognized the State of Israel, while Hamas refuses to do so and continues to call for the Jewish state’s destruction.”

However, Hamas’ Abu Marzouk also recently stated that:

“…Hamas would not be willing to accede to the demands of the so-called Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations — that it renounce terrorism and agree to accept past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the largest Palestinian political umbrella group.”

In addition, the US Middle East envoy said that:

“…there would be no dealing with a Palestinian government including Hamas unless or until the terror group recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism. […]

…Greenblatt reiterated the so-called Quartet Principles that the terror group must meet in order for a government it sits in to receive diplomatic recognition.

“The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.”

One of those “previous agreements” between the Palestinians and Israel is the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That treaty states, inter alia, in Article XIV:

“Except for the Palestinian Police and the Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

And:

“Except for the arms, ammunition and equipment of the Palestinian Police described in Annex I, and those of the Israeli military forces, no organization, group or individual in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall manufacture, sell, acquire, possess, import or otherwise introduce into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip any firearms, ammunition, weapons, explosives, gunpowder or any related equipment, unless otherwise provided for in Annex I.”

In other words, the failure of a Palestinian Authority unity government to disarm all Hamas’ armed personnel (including its terrorist militia) would constitute a breach of one of those “previous agreements” – as both Mahmoud Abbas and Jason Greenblatt obviously appreciate.

The BBC’s report, however, once again failed to make any effort to enhance audience understanding of those points and – while refraining from reporting the relevant statements made by the Quartet, the PA president and the US administration – instead told readers that:

“Israel also resolutely opposes any involvement by Hamas in the PA. Along with several countries and organisations, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group and has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that contains Hamas members.”

Yet again the BBC’s superficial reporting on a potential Hamas-Fatah reconciliation falls far short of providing its funding public with comprehensive information needed to properly understand the story.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

BBC fails to clarify to audiences significance of PUG failure to disarm Hamas

Dumbed down BBC reporting on the Palestinian Unity Government continues

 

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

In part one of this post we saw how an item by Trevor Barnes relating to the Balfour Declaration that was aired in the October 1st edition (from 18:14 here) of the BBC Radio 4 ethics and religion show ‘Sunday‘ promoted assorted historical inaccuracies.  

Trevor Barnes’ fourth interviewee likewise began by promoting an inaccurate claim, suggesting (from 21:10) that “Israel and Palestine” were British colonies.

“I think Britain doesn’t come out of any of the colonial history of Israel and Palestine in that good a light.”

Barnes: “Chris Rose – director of the Amos Trust; a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza.”

That description of the Amos Trust is grossly inadequate and fails to inform listeners of that NGO’s political agenda and anti-Israel activities as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

Rose: “Even Balfour himself a couple of years later on said that Zionism be right or wrong is more important than the wishes of the 700,000 Arabs. Our call is to the British Government now, if it is determined to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, to do so in the only real meaningful way by working tirelessly for full equal rights for everybody who calls it home.”

The statement by Lord Balfour shoddily paraphrased by Chris Rose (who has in the past attributed Palestinian terrorism to “high unemployment and poor amenities“) comes from a memorandum written by Balfour in 1919 and its context – the question of the selection of mandatories in various regions of the Middle East – is important. 

“Without further considering whether the political picture drawn by the Covenant [of the League of Nations] corresponds with anything to be found in the realms of fact, let us ask on what principle these mandatories are to be selected by the Allied and Associated Powers

On this point the Covenant speaks as follows:—

‘The wishes of these communities (i.e., the independent nations) must be a principal consideration in the selection of a mandatory.’

The sentiment is unimpeachable; but how is it to be carried into effect? To simplify the argument, let us assume that two of the ‘independent nations’ for which mandatories have to be provided are Syria and Palestine? Take Syria first. Do we mean, in the case of Syria, to consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants? We mean nothing of the kind. According to the universally accepted view there are only three possible mandatories—England, America, and France. Are we going ‘chiefly to consider the wishes of the inhabitants’ in deciding which of these is to be selected? We are going to do nothing of the kind. England has refused. America will refuse. So that, whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have. They may freely choose; but it is Hobson’s choice after all.

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Referring to Chris Rose, Trevor Barnes continued – with noteworthy use of the word Jewish rather than Israeli:

Barnes: “His claim is that the second half of the declaration has still to be honoured. While the first half favoured a Jewish homeland, the second reassured explicitly – quote – ‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’ which Chris Rose says hasn’t happened in practice, though for the Board of Deputies Richard Verber defends the Jewish record on religious freedom post-Balfour.”

Verber: “Well there are many cases in Israel proper where religions do indeed co-exist in harmony. Jerusalem has its flash-points but you go and you see Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahai, Druze walking around. Many have their own areas and places of worship. Israel is of course the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to worship without persecution.”

Rose: “If you live in Bethlehem you may well not be able to go up to Temple Mount to pray, to worship. If you want to go and worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you pretty won’t be able to do that and so while yes there’s religious freedom in that respect, there has to be recognised that there’s also major constrictions on freedom of movement which restricts people from having their religious freedom.”

Unsurprisingly Chris Rose did not bother to tell listeners that residents of Bethlehem and other areas that have been under Palestinian Authority control for over two decades can apply for permits to visit religious sites in Jerusalem (among other reasons) or that “constrictions on freedom of movement” are the unfortunate outcome of Palestinian terrorism. While Trevor Barnes did tick the impartiality box by paraphrasing the Israeli view, he too failed to make any reference to Palestinian terrorism. Listeners were then told that Jewish self-determination is a “hotly contested concept”.

Barnes: “Chris Rose of the Amos Trust. For its part the Israeli government has repeatedly said that such restrictions as there are are driven solely by security concerns and by the imperative legitimately to ensure the country’s survival. And in essence, says Richard Verber, the right of Israel to exist in the first place is at the heart of any religious definition of that hotly contested concept Zionism.”

Verber: “Zionism is a religious imperative. It’s a core belief in Judaism today. The word Zionism is clearly a newer invention – we’re talking here 19th century – but the idea of there being a desire among the Jewish people to have autonomy in their own homeland dates back 3,300 years when the Jewish people first entered what was then the land of Canaan – Cna’an. I think Jewish people have long understood the importance of living alongside their religious brethren; whether that be Christian or Muslim or indeed any other stripe or people of no faith at all.”

Barnes: From its inception Zionism itself did not have the backing of all Jews – especially religious Jews who argued that a return to the land of Israel was to be the work of the Messiah and couldn’t be engineered by any human agency. Events of the Second World War and the Holocaust, however, put paid to many reservations and the promise of the Balfour Declaration was made actual in 1948. Indeed Richard Verber for the Board of Deputies argues that the founders of the State of Israel referenced the Balfour Declaration, repeating and reinforcing a commitment to civil and religious freedom. The Amos Trust, however, isn’t convinced and they’ve launched a campaign ‘Change the Record’ calling for equal rights for all in the holy land.”

Listeners then heard a recording promoting that political campaign currently being run by the inadequately presented political NGO: a campaign which aims to persuade the British government that “the seeds of today’s injustice, inequality and violence were sown by the Balfour Declaration in 1917”. 

Barnes went on to say:

Barnes: “Those celebrating – rather than mourning – the Balfour Declaration dispute that reading of events. But either way Nicolas Pelham says it changed the religious make-up not just of Palestine but of much of the Middle East.”

Pelham: “Until the Balfour declaration, under the Ottoman Empire religious communities had lived essentially as that – as holy communities – and what the Balfour Declaration does is to transform religious communities into religious national movements so that instead of sharing space they have conflict over space. Instead of having holy communities in the region, we have holy lands and the battle between sects for control of the land.”

Listeners to this unbalanced item heard inaccurate and blatantly politicised ‘history’ and were steered towards the false impression that the Middle East was a region blessed with idyllic inter-religious harmony until the day Arthur Balfour put pen to paper. They were also informed that Jewish self-determination is a “contested concept” and exposed to an ongoing political campaign run by a partisan NGO that engages in delegitimisation of Israel.

How this item by Trevor Barnes can be said to meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality is unclear.  

Related Articles:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative

 

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Despite the fact that it claims to take “a look at the ethical and religious issues of the week”, the October 1st edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item purporting to examine the “impact of the Balfour Declaration on religious communities in the Middle East”.

Presenter Emily Buchanan introduced the segment (from 18:14 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Buchanan: “This year marks the 100th anniversary of a letter that changed the face of Middle Eastern politics forever. The Balfour Declaration – written by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in 1917 at a critical period in the First World War – expressed for the first time Britain’s commitment to a national homeland for the Jews. It paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel 30 years later but what effect did the declaration have on the religious make-up of the region? Trevor Barnes reports.”

Interestingly, neither Buchanan nor any of the five other people from whom listeners subsequently heard talking about this topic bothered to mention the event that was arguably more significant in ‘paving the way’ towards the creation of Israel – the San Remo Conference – and the resulting Mandate for Palestine.

Trevor Barnes introduced his first contributor thus:

Barnes: “Whether you celebrate the Balfour Declaration, merely commemorate it or actively fulminate against it depends on the political and religious position you take. Eugene Rogan: professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Oxford.”

Rogan: “For anybody whose political aspirations are fulfilled by Zionism then obviously the Balfour Declaration was the essential first step in that direction. But for the Palestinian Arab people whose land was being promised away by the British government at the height of the First World War without their consent, without consultation, it’s been an unmitigated catastrophe from the outset.”

At the time that the Balfour Declaration was written the land concerned was of course under the control of the Ottoman Empire and had been for five hundred years. Subsequently that region came under British control during the First World War and later was declared mandate territory. Just last month the BBC acknowledged that the area was not ‘Palestinian land’ but nevertheless we see Eugene Rogan allowed to promote that myth again, even though Barnes went on to reference the Ottoman Empire in the very next sentence.

Barnes: “Precise figures are disputed but in 1917 in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, the region is reckoned to have comprised some 85% Muslim, around 10% Christian and 5% Jewish populations. Nicolas Pelham: Middle East correspondent at the Economist.”

Pelham: “It was a region that was remarkably heterogeneous. It had a predominance of Muslims but there were also large Christian communities and Jewish communities – largely sharing the same cities and towns and public space. There was no real distinct sort of Christian Quarter and Jewish Quarter and Muslim Quarter before the Balfour Declaration.”

The staggering inaccuracy of that latter claim from Nicolas Pelham is of course evident in maps such as those appearing in Sir Martin Gilbert’s Jerusalem Historical Atlas.

Trevor Barnes continued, enlisting a British Jewish representative to paint an idyllic picture of Jewish-Muslim co-existence.

Barnes: “Relations, he says, if not always cordial were manageable in the main. Richard Verber: senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.”

Verber: “Pockets of friendship and, unfortunately, pockets of violence. On the other hand, Jewish and Muslim friendships is not a new concept. There were times – across Spain, across North Africa, across parts of the Middle East – where Jews and Muslims lived for decades – and in some places centuries – harmoniously.”

Barnes then made the historically inaccurate claim that it was the Balfour Declaration that brought that supposed ‘harmony’ to an end.

Barnes: “The Balfour Declaration altered that balance, promising favoured status to the Jews at a critical stage in the First World War when Britain was looking for allies; especially those who could help secure post-war influence in this strategically vital part of the world. Nicolas Pelham:”

Pelham: “I think one of the reasons that Britain was so interested in Jews was because – unlike the French and the Russians – they really didn’t have an indigenous community for which they could take responsibility. The French had Catholics and Maronites in the Middle East. The Russians had the Orthodox Church and Britain was really scraping around for a community that it could sponsor and wield influence through.”

The Anglican Church had in fact first begun to establish a presence in the Middle East almost a hundred years before the Balfour Declaration was written, with churches consecrated in Jerusalem and Nazareth in the 19th century and St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem established as the centre of the diocese in 1898.

Barnes: “And Professor Rogan adds that the declaration came about not as a result of religious favouritism but solely in the context of the realities of war.”

Rogan: “I sympathise with the British government of the time in their willingness to promise anything to anyone who might be able to make a material difference in winning the war. The British government was neither pro-Arab nor pro-Zionist. It was pro-British Empire and its only objective in 1917 was to win the war.”

As will be seen in part two of this post, in the second part of this item the focus shifted from promotion of historical inaccuracy to blatant politicisation of its subject matter.  

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Yom Kippur war inaccuracies persist in BBC archive content

Four years ago we pointed out that an article concerning the Yom Kippur War (that is still available online in the BBC’s ‘On This Day’ archive under the date October 6th 1973) tells audiences in both its text and in a photo caption that:

Both sides have accused each other of firing the first shots, but UN observers have reported seeing Egyptian and Syrian troops crossing into Israeli-held territory.” [emphasis added]

That misleading forty-four year-old claim has still not been amended.

The same report also includes an inaccurate portrayal of the number of Israeli casualties in that war.

“Most hostilities ended on 22 October. Both sides suffered heavy losses. An estimated 8,500 Syrian and Egyptian soldiers died, while Israel lost about 6,000.”

As was also noted here four years ago, while various sources give slightly differing figures for Israeli casualties during the Yom Kippur War, “none of them reaches even half of the 6,000 claimed in this BBC article and others”.

At the time the BBC did amend one of the articles citing the inaccurate casualty figures but this archive report remains uncorrected, as does a separate backgrounder.