Weekend long read

1) The JCPA has a report on part of the background to a story covered by the BBC last week.

“Deadly riots in Iraq’s southern city of Basra erupted following protests waged by the local population that have been going on since early July 2018. The turmoil worsened after the governor of Basra ordered troops to use live bullets against the protesters. Rioters stormed the provincial government building on September 4, 2018, and set it ablaze.

The cause of discontent is the crumbling and obsolete state of the local infrastructures. Today, the blame is directed mainly against the failing water infrastructure, which is causing plague-like conditions in the local population: according to the news from Basra between 500 to 600 individuals are admitted to emergency rooms daily because of water poisoning accompanied by skin diseases. Some 17,000 intestinal infection cases due to water contamination were recorded, according to Basra health authorities. Hospitals are unable to cope with the flow of the sick, nor do the authorities know how to deal with the spreading diseases and the threat of cholera.”

2) At the INSS Oded Eran takes a look at “The Idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation, Revisited“.

“In the quest for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian federation/confederation, which has been raised from time to time, has recently resurfaced. In a September 2, 2018 meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen and a group of Israelis, the Palestinian leader said that the idea was raised by the US team engaged in the effort to renew the negotiations between the parties and formulate a proposal for a settlement. Beyond the major question regarding the Palestinians’ political and legal status in the American proposal, a confederation model, particularly one involving Jordan, the Palestinians, and Israel, creates a possibility for “creative solutions” to issues related to economies, energy, and water. A trilateral framework of this nature may also facilitate solutions that include relinquishing elements of sovereignty for the sake of the confederation.”

3) Jonathan Spyer discusses the situation in northern Syria.

“Before the civil war, Syria’s Kurds were among the most severely oppressed, and among the most invisible minorities, of the Middle East. Numbering between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the pre-war Syrian population, they were prevented from educating or even naming their children in their native language. A section of the Kurdish population was deprived of travel and passport rights. Some, the so-called maktoumeen (unrecorded), lacked even citizenship and access to education.

The emergence of a de facto Kurdish enclave following the withdrawal by the Assad regime from a swath of the county’s north in 2012 changed all this. The enclave successfully defended itself against an early attempt by the rebels to destroy it. In 2014 the Kurds formed a de facto alliance with the US and the West in the war against Islamic State. This war, along with the regime’s (and Russia and Iran’s) war against the rebels, now is in its closing stages.”

4) The ITIC reports on recent violent power struggles in eastern Syria.

“In August 2018, several cities in the Euphrates Valley witnessed violent clashes between the Syrian army and Syrian militias affiliated with it on the one hand, and Shiite militias handled by Iran on the other. The clashes took place in the region between Albukamal and Deir ezZor, and both sides sustained dozens of casualties. In the background, there were violent power struggles and conflicts on the extortion of money from local residents, mainly by collecting “crossing fees” in return for the use of crossings between the two banks of the Euphrates River. During the clashes, attempts were made to find local solutions to defuse the situation: the militias were supposed to stop running the crossings and the Russian Military Police was supposed to take their place. However, since late August 2018, the clashes stopped and a reconciliation committee was convened in the city of Albukamal, to resolve the conflicts.”

 

 

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BBC’s Hardtalk presenter claims Israel ‘slaughters civilian protesters’

The September 5th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Israel’s ambassador at the UN, Danny Danon.

“In the turbulent recent history of the Middle East, has there ever been a time when Israel has seemed more powerful – militarily, diplomatically and economically? Israel has the fulsome support of the Trump Administration and also has common strategic interests with Saudi Arabia and Arab nations preoccupied with perceived threats from Iran. HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. Is Israel making wise choices from its position of strength?”

The interview – which was aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio, with a clip also posted on the BBC News website – followed the usual format employed by presenter Stephen Sackur in which he lays out pre-prepared lists of things he considers to be wrong with Israel in front of an Israeli official or public figure based on claims from a particular brand of sources – in this case including Michael Sfard, UNRWA’s Chris Gunness, the EU, Amnesty International and the FMEP‘s Lara Friedman.

However, one section of this programme is particularly noteworthy because it once again provides evidence of the BBC’s efforts to rewrite the narrative concerning one particular recent news story in the minds of its audiences.

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

[03:37] Sackur: “Yeah but…but of course many of the engagements and conflicts that we see Israel…ah…occupied with are actually not about Israel in an existential struggle for survival – in fact, quite the contrary. Since March of this year we’ve seen 5 months of the Israeli military lining up along the border with the Gaza Strip using live fire ammunition against Palestinian protesters. More than 165 have been killed including 23 Palestinians under the age of 18. I guess Mr. Netanyahu just regards that as proof that the Middle East is, again, quote ‘no place for the weak. The weak crumble and are slaughtered’. And that’s what Israel’s doing.”

As Danon then tried to explain, the out of context and edited quote employed by Sackur in fact related to Iranian threats against Israel. Interrupting him, Sackur however persisted.

Sackur: “No, no Ambassador. With respect my question…my question is not about Iran. My question is about civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip who for many months have been protesting along the border fence. They do not carry guns. Admittedly some of them throw stones; they even fly kites with flaming torches on them at times. But what they do not have is guns and the Israeli military responds with live fire.”

After Danon had noted that the ‘Great Return March’ is “orchestrated by Hamas”, that violent rioters have indeed used guns and Molotov cocktails and tried to infiltrate Israeli territory and that calling the events of the past five months a peaceful demonstration “is a lie”, Sackur retorted:

Sackur: “You’re sitting in New York. I’m sitting in London. I’m inclined to take the word of a very experienced Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, who has looked at cases where the Israeli military opened fire in the last five months and he says it is quite clear lethal force against unarmed civilians who do not pose a danger is illegal and this is the crux of many cases there on the Gaza border.”

Sackur of course did not bother to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the “human rights lawyer” whose word he is “inclined to take” and the political NGOs cast as ‘human rights groups’ which Sfard represents come from a very specific side of the political spectrum.

As regular readers know the BBC refrained from providing its audiences with information concerning the organisations and motives behind the ‘Great Return March’ events that have been staged since March 30th – even though that information was publicly available in advance.

The BBC has repeatedly whitewashed the links of terror factions to the weekly agitprop, downplaying and erasing their role in its encouragement, organisation, financing and facilitation.

The fact that a significant proportion of those killed during the violent rioting – including under 18s – have been shown to have links to Gaza Strip based terror factions has been downplayed and ignored by the BBC.

Violent incidents have also been serially ignored and the BBC’s editorial approach to this story has been to repeatedly portray it as one that is about ‘peaceful protesters’ killed by Israel’s armed forces.

As we see, Stephen Sackur has fully taken that editorial policy onboard. Carefully avoiding mentioning the name of the pre-planned violent rioting – the ‘Great Return March’ – he inaccurately told BBC audiences that a project with the self-proclaimed aim of having millions of people categorised as Palestinian refugees ‘return‘ to Israeli territory is “actually not about Israel in an existential struggle for survival”.

Describing violent rioters and would-be infiltrators – including proven members of terror factions – as “Palestinian protesters” and “civilian protesters” who are being “slaughtered”, Sackur twice inaccurately told BBC audiences that they “do not carry guns” while making a facetious reference to “stones” and “kites“. In order to present that distorted picture, Sackur deliberately ignored numerous border infiltrations, hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, scores of IED attacks, dozens of shooting attacks, at least nine attacks with grenades.

It is all too obvious that Sackur’s inaccurate portrayal is not merely the product of months of shoddy news reporting or uninformed discussion of current affairs. It is part and parcel of the BBC’s creation and promotion of a politically motivated false narrative which does nothing to serve its public purpose of helping audiences understand this story.

Related Articles:

Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

 

 

 

 

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

Previously we saw how a BBC News website report on the US decision to close the PLO office in Washington DC failed to provide readers with an adequate explanation of both the legal background to that decision and the fact that the same Palestinian officials now protesting it have had nearly three years in which to study the requirements for keeping that mission open.

The September 10th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ closed with an item on the same story which was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall (from 45:05 here) with the following framing:

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

Marshall: “The Trump administration is piling the pressure on the Palestinians. It’s already ended bilateral funding and also funding to the UN agency which looks after Palestinian refugees. President Trump says they’re ungrateful and should return to the negotiating table with Israel. And today the US ordered the closure of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Washington. The US State Department said the Palestinians were refusing to engage with the US over peace efforts. US National Security Advisor John Bolton also touched on the topic in his speech excoriating the International Criminal Court. He said the US decision to close the mission in Washington was a result of the court’s insistence on investigating Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.”

In contrast to Marshall’s claim, the ICC’s preliminary investigations in fact came as a result of actions by the Palestinian Authority beginning in January 2015. Listeners then heard a recording of John Bolton speaking on the same day.

Recording Bolton: “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel. And today, reflecting Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the Department of State will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office here in Washington DC and the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. The United States supports a direct and robust peace process and we will not allow the ICC or any other organisation to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence.”

Marshall: “So why is Mr Bolton conflating two issues: the ICC and the Palestinians? Our State Department correspondent again, Barbara Plett-Usher.

While it is obvious that Barbara Plett-Usher is aware of the history and legal background to this story, BBC World Service listeners did not hear a lucid explanation. Despite the BBC having itself reported on Palestinian petitions to the ICC – including as recently as in May – Plett-Usher disingenuously portrayed that topic as though it were a claim dreamed up by John Bolton.

Plett-Usher: “Well that’s because Congress conflated them. Congress put some conditions on the ability of the PLO to open an office in Washington, one of which was that the Palestinians could not be going after Israel in the ICC and you heard there Mr Bolton saying they were in fact trying to do that. But even then, even if the Palestinians had made such moves, the PLO office could still be allowed to operate here if the Palestinians were engaging in peace talks with the Israelis, which they are not. They’re boycotting the US attempts to revive negotiations because they see them as blatantly favouring the Israelis on core issues. But the administration used these two arguments, these two conditions put down by Congress, to close down the mission.”

Marshall: “And has this mission in Washington been useful for the Palestinians?”

Misrepresenting the title of the PLO envoy to Washington and giving a partisan interpretation of the Oslo Accords Declaration of Principles, Plett-Usher replied:

Plett-Usher: “I think it’s been more useful at some times than at others but by and large what it was, it was set up after the Oslo Accords were negotiated in ’93-’94 and this was the sort of point man point in Washington to liaise with the US administration on efforts to implement those accords which of course were supposed to result in a Palestinian state and never did. More recently the diplomats here have engaged in direct outreach to Americans – to churches, civil organisations, students and the like – trying to build support for the Palestinians, to take advantage of a decrease in support for the Israeli government policies among Americans but also including American Jews. In fact the PLO ambassador claims that that was one reason they were shut down.”

Plett-Usher refrained from mentioning reports that the PLO mission in Washington had been funding campus activity of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the US.

Marshall then went on to introduce his second contributor, failing to clarify to listeners that Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

Marshall: “[…] and earlier I spoke to Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian legislator and former negotiator. What’s her reaction to Mr Bolton’s remarks?”

[48:23] Ashrawi: “This is not an act that happened in isolation. It’s part of a concerted American assault on Palestinian rights, on the chances of peace [laughs] and on any semblance of justice, on legality and solving the Palestinian-Israeli issue. And it seems to me the US is certainly doing Israel’s bidding and is trying to resolve all issues by bashing the Palestinians, by punishing the Palestinians – who are already under occupation – and by rewarding Israel and granting it full immunity to act outside the law with full impunity.”

Marshall: “The United States says it’s doing this because the Palestinians are not supporting peace talks with Israel.”

Ashrawi: [laughs] That’s extremely ironic. There are no talks. There are no plans. There is no negotiating table to invite us back to: the US has smashed it into smithereens. It has decided unilaterally to give away Jerusalem to Israel which is illegal because Jerusalem is occupied territory – it is Palestinian land. It has decided single-handedly to redefine Palestinian refugees and to stop funding UNRWA which is an international organisation specifically set up to serve and protect the Palestinian refugees. It has unilaterally decided that the settlements are not illegal, that it doesn’t want the ’67 boundaries or the two-state solution. So what does it want? Right now it is busy telling the Palestinians if you do not surrender to our dictates, if you do not accept all these steps then you are going to be punished again and Israel is rewarded. So it’s extremely ironic. It’s really disingenuous to talk about peace. Actually now we are being punished because we dared ask the International Criminal Court to speed up its investigation of Israeli war crimes and as you know, settlements are a war crime by international definition according to the Rome Statute.”

Making no effort whatsoever to challenge Ashrawi’s egregious portrayal of Jerusalem as “Palestinian land”, her “war crimes” smear or her partisan interpretation of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, Marshall changed the subject.

Marshall: “Do you have any idea what the US peace plan is? Because the Trump administration says that the Palestinian leadership has condemned that plan that they haven’t even seen [Ashrawi laughs] and refused to engage the US government with respect to peace efforts in other words.”

Ashrawi: “Yes of course we refuse because we don’t need to talk about a plan; they’re implementing it. I mean anybody who has any sense – any sight – would see that the US is busy dismantling every single component or requirement of peace. These issues are very clear. So it’s not that we [laughs] are not talking peace. We have been talking peace for decades and we’ve negotiated with numerous American administrations. It’s this one that has…I think it has lost its mind. I think in this mad, hysterical defence of Israel, they just don’t make sense. They have lost their balance and it’s really serious because they’re creating a situation of tremendous volatility.”

Marshall: “How do the Palestinians now though gain their independent state? You’ve rejected the United States as a mediator; you’re not prepared at the moment to sit down with Israel. How do you achieve your political objectives?”

Ashrawi: “Well the president Mahmoud Abbas last year declared or announced an initiative about convening an international conference about the requirements of peace. There is a plan but obviously when the US has taken sides so blatantly and I think now it’s up to the international community that has to take up its responsibility to protect the Palestinians and to hold Israel to account and now to hold the US to account.”

Failing to inform listeners that Abbas’ ‘international conference’ was supposed to have taken place “by mid-2018“, Marshall closed the item there, once again neglecting to clarify Ashrawi’s PLO links.

As we see, once again BBC audiences were not given an adequate account of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of the US decision to close the PLO mission in Washington. They did, however, hear Hanan Ashrawi’s political talking points, inaccuracies and distortions go completely unchallenged for four straight minutes in this one-sided presentation of the story.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

 

 

 

BBC WS airbrushes terror out of a story about Palestinian prisoners

The September 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ included an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“Radio messages for prisoners
Around 6,000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli jails, and one of the ways they get news from home is through Palestinian radio. Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring is based in Ramallah and has been listening in.”

The introduction by presenter David Amanor (from 17:31 here) likewise did not bother to inform listeners why those people are serving time in prison or that over 2,000 of them are directly responsible for the murders of Israelis. 

Amanor: “Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring tells me, by the way, the number of Palestinian radio stations in the West Bank has been steadily increasing over the years and so has the variety of programmes aimed at prisoners – yes, prisoners. Around six thousand are currently detained in Israeli jails and for many, radio is a vital contact with the outside world. Tala is based in the city of Ramallah.”

Having told listeners of her penchant for changing radio stations while driving, Tala Halawa went on: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Halawa: “I have been fascinated with the content of the radio programmes aimed at prisoners and their families. So this is Marasil [phonetic] which means messages in Arabic; a broadcast on Palestinian radio station Ajyal FM. The presenter Jenin Zaal is giving out the phone number for families to call with messages for prisoners. Her show lasts for 90 minutes and goes out every Friday. I met her in the radio station in Ramallah city centre.

Jenin told me that those 90 minutes are among the most important in her life but she says the programme is very draining. She says she could never give it up; it’s one way she feels she can contribute to the Palestinian cause and do something for her homeland. The promo for Marasil [phonetic] says the programme breaks down prison bars. You can hear that messages like this one from a wife to her imprisoned husband.”

After listeners heard a voice-over of the message, Halawa went on to give her own interpretations:

Halawa: “This is a kind of a typical news a wife would share with her imprisoned husband knowing that thousands are listening to her call. She wants to tell him how much she misses him but in a relatively conservative society she keeps the conversation limited to their kids’ news. To excel in school is a very important matter in the Palestinian context so it’s always the main topic to discuss on air. Spending too much time on social media platforms and computer games concerns all parents.

I also talked to a former prisoner Rula Abu Daho. She’s now a lecturer in Birzeit University and she’s one of the leading figures in women and gender studies in the Palestinian context. Rula said that getting a message from your family through the radio was almost like a visit. Of course it’s a one-way communication but it still feels like a visit. This is Jenin Zaal taking a call from a girl whose mother is in prison.”

After listeners heard another voice-over Halawa went on:

Halawa: “Another former prisoner Esmat Mansour who spent 20 years in prison. During that time he learned Hebrew and now he established a career in journalism. Esmat told me that he found out from the radio that his 20 year imprisonment was about to end. He said that the prison administration just would not say when his release date was. But then some fellow prisoners in the yard started calling him and telling him to listen to Ajyal FM. When he turned on the radio he heard his own family saying how they were preparing celebrations to welcome him back the next day. So, at least, the waiting was over.

I met Mansour for the first time in 2014. He never mentioned that he knew about his release from the radio programme. That was a surprise for me and this made me realise that those programmes are not simply two hours of broadcast: they carry a heavy load of human stories that deserve to be heard.”

Obviously Tala Halawa’s interest in “human stories that deserve to be heard” does not extend beyond the people she presents as ‘prisoners’ without the provision of any context whatsoever. BBC World Service listeners were not told that the quoted university lecturer Rula Abu Daho was imprisoned for her part in the murder of Yigal Shahaf in 1987.

“Dusk was settling over the Old City, reaching into its labyrinthine alleys and shrouding its holy sites as Yigal and Ronit Shahaf made their way slowly toward the Damascus Gate. The young couple, chatting in Hebrew with two friends, paid little heed to the dwindling crowds or the shopkeepers closing for the day.

Nearby, four young Palestinians, three men and a woman, waited. When the Israelis paused in front of a jewelry shop near the Via Dolorosa, one of the men ran toward them, aimed a pistol at the back of Yigal Shahaf’s head and fired one shot.

As chaos broke out, the gunman fled, handing his weapon to one of his comrades, who gave it to the woman, a college student who had just joined the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a radical faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The woman, Rula abu Duhou, 19, paid with nine years in prison for her participation in the slaying of an innocent Israeli civilian. And still today, freed by a controversial amnesty, she is unrepentant.

“I’m not sorry for it,” Abu Duhou said recently, her dark eyes direct, as relatives and friends streamed into her family’s comfortable West Bank home to celebrate her release. “On the contrary, I’m proud. And I wish I could do more for my country.””

Neither were BBC World Service listeners informed that the ‘journalist’ Esmat Mansour “spent 20 years in prison” because he took part in the murder of Chaim Mizrahi in 1993 or that since his release in 2013 he has received financial benefits for his part in that act of terror.

“In a typical homecoming package, the Palestinian self-rule government gave him $50,000, the rank of colonel and a monthly stipend of 6,000 shekels ($1,725), a higher-than-average income.”

A month before this item was aired on BBC World Service radio the partially licence fee funded BBC department BBC Monitoring – which purports to “to provide news, information and insight to BBC journalists, UK government customers and commercial subscribers, allowing users to make well-informed decisions” – found it appropriate to publish similar ‘analysis’ by Ramallah based Tala Halawa under the title “The ‘private space’ radio offers to Palestinian prisoners“.

There too Halawa showcased contributions from Rula Abu Daho and Esmat Mansour – but with no mention whatsoever of their involvement in acts of terror. She did however tell subscribers that:

“It is estimated that around 6,000 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli jails as a result of the ongoing conflict between the two sides. Palestinians see them as prisoners of war or political prisoners under international law, while Israel disputes this, saying they are terrorists or active in illegal terrorist organisations.”

As has been noted here on previous occasions, the idea that people who have been convicted of perpetrating acts of terrorism are ‘political prisoners’ is rejected in Europe and we certainly do not see the BBC promoting the notion that people imprisoned in the UK for terror related offences may legitimately be defined in such terms.

These two reports further indicate that the BBC has not adequately addressed the issue of politicisation of Middle East related content produced by local staff and the serious question marks that raises regarding the impartiality of BBC content. 

Related Articles:

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BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

On September 10th a story that has been brewing for a long time was reported on the BBC News website under the headline “US to shut Palestinian mission in Washington“.

Nearly 22% of the 578-word article was used to tell readers “How have the Palestinians responded?” and over 31% of its word count was given over to descriptions of US cuts to donations – including the already widely covered UNRWA story – under the sub-heading “What other steps has the US taken?”.

The background ostensibly intended to enable readers to understand the story was presented in 138 words under the sub-heading “Why is the Palestinian mission being closed?” and began by quoting parts of the relevant statement from the US State Department.

“The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the state department said on Monday.

“To the contrary, the PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”

The statement also cited Palestinian efforts to get the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged violations of international laws and norms regarding the treatment of people and property in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.”

Readers were next provided with links to two previous BBC reports: the first dating from November 18th 2017 and the other from May 22nd 2018.

Last year the US state department warned the mission that under US law it faced closure if Palestinian leaders continued to do so.

But in May, the Palestinian foreign minister formally asked the ICC’s chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation, saying he had “ample and insurmountable evidence”.”

In order to understand the relevance of “US law” to the current story, readers would have had to click on that first link, where they would find the following:

“US officials say the PLO could be breaking a legal condition for it to operate in the US.

The US law says Palestinian authorities must not pressure the International Criminal Court to investigate Israelis.

The PLO, which is seen by the international community as representing all Palestinians, opened an office in DC in 1994.

It is the first time that the State Department has declined to reissue a six-monthly operating licence for it.

A state department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the reason behind the non-renewal.

Obviously that account does not provide readers unfamiliar with the story with a full and clear explanation of its background. An article published by the Times of Israel around the same time however does.

“In 1987, Congress sought to rid US soil of any PLO institutions, which included a United Nations mission located in New York City and a Palestinian information bureau in DC. At the time, the PLO was a US-designated terror organization, backing attacks against Israelis. […]

Despite the bill becoming law, ultimately the US couldn’t close the Palestinian mission to the UN because this would have violated international law. The DC information office, however, was closed.

Fast-forward to 1993. Israel and the PLO have just signed the Oslo Peace Accords. The Palestinians have sworn to end decades of terror attacks against Israel and are slated to receive their own state in the coming years. At this historic occasion, the US Congress allowed the president to suspend all sanctions against the PLO as long as the Palestinians stay faithful to commitments made in the accords. The suspension would have to be renewed every six months. This act by Congress allowed the PLO to open up a diplomatic mission in DC.

In 1997, Congress made it easier for the president to waive the sanctions against the PLO: The president would now just have to say the waiver was in the US’s national security interest with no explanation needed. Again, a waiver would have to be signed every six months.

This was the case until 2011, when the Palestinians joined UNESCO and declared they wanted full-membership status in the UN.

In response, Congress slipped in a new provision into the annual State and Foreign Operations Bill […]

Now, if the Palestinians obtained full membership status in the United Nations outside of an agreement with Israel, the president would be unable to waive sanctions against the PLO, unless “the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” […]

After the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, Congress, without any public debate or headlines, slipped in a similar provision into the December 2015 foreign ops bill […]

The provision calls for the waiver to be revoked should the Palestinians “initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation” against Israel.”

In other words, when Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly on September 20th 2017 that “[w]e have called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people” he was no doubt aware of the potential consequences under the terms of the legislation passed by the US Congress nearly two years earlier under the Obama administration. And yet despite the US State Department having issued that warning in November 2017, in May 2018 the PA’s foreign minister nevertheless chose to present a referral to the ICC.

Nevertheless, as was reported in November 2017, the PLO mission in Washington could have remained open.

“The declaration does not automatically mean the mission will close. US President Donald Trump now has a 90-day window to decide whether “the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel” — in which case he can waive the requirement to shutter the office.”

However, the Palestinians have of course done no such thing and – as the BBC has itself reported on numerous occasions over the past ten months – Palestinian officials have repeatedly made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of even considering a US peace plan.

In summary, while readers of this BBC report found an unsatisfactory 48 word ‘explanation’ of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of this story, they saw 127 words of PLO condemnations of the US administration decision – but no clarification of how the Palestinians could have prevented that decision from being taken.  

Related Articles:

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BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

 

 

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

On September 5th the BBC News website published a 609 word report headlined “Khan al-Ahmar: Israel court approves demolition of Bedouin village” which opened by telling readers that:

“Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected appeals against the demolition of a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank whose fate has been a subject of international concern.

Judges upheld an order to raze Khan al-Ahmar, where about 180 people live in shacks between two Jewish settlements. […]

An injunction against the demolition will expire within seven days.”

The caption to the main photograph illustrating the article, together with a later paragraph, suggests that the BBC’s journalists did not read the court’s decision in which it is stated that the settlement was built during the last twenty years.

“Khan al-Ahmar was established in the 1950s by members of a tribe from the Negev desert”

“Khan al-Ahmar, which is 8km (5 miles) east of Jerusalem, was established in the early 1950s by members of a semi-nomadic tribe the UN says was displaced from the Negev desert in southern Israel.”

Readers are told that:

“Israel’s government says the structures were built illegally, but Palestinians say permits are impossible to obtain.”

And:

“Palestinians complain that the Israeli military refuses the vast majority of Palestinian building requests and say they are left with little option except to build without permission.”

They are not however informed that the court’s decision notes that the residents make no claim of ownership of the said land and that the site – and in particular the illegally built school – is too close to a major highway for construction to be permitted there under planning laws. Neither were they informed that the court stressed the importance of an equal approach to illegal construction, regardless of the ethnicity of the petitioner.

The article states:

“Since 2009, residents have been fighting demolition orders issued for the wooden and corrugated iron shacks in which they live, as well as a clinic, mosque and an Italian-funded primary school.”

Readers are not informed of the relevant fact that the residents were represented by lawyers hired by the Palestinian Authority.

The article states:

“In May, the Supreme Court rejected petitions to prevent the demolitions at Khan al-Ahmar and the relocation of its residents to a site designated by the Israeli government near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis.”

Readers were not told that the offer of relocation includes a free plot of land already connected to utilities at a site with existing services including a school.

The BBC’s report includes the following:

“Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman congratulated the court on Wednesday’s ruling upholding the demolition order, which he said had come despite “the orchestrated hypocrisy of Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], the Left and European states”.

“Nobody is above the law, nobody will keep us from acting on our sovereignty and responsibility as a state,” he added.”

Readers found no explanation of that reference to “European states” and so remain unaware of the fact that some of the illegal construction at that site and others was carried out by the EU.

In addition, readers found forty words of comment from what is described as the PLO’s “human rights body” along with a link to the B’tselem website. The only other link in the article leads readers to the UNRWA website and readers are provided with 145 words of highly questionable legal interpretation attributed to “the UN”.

In other words, in addition to the serious omissions in the BBC’s representation of this story, audiences saw four times more comment (and two links) from outside sources opposing the evacuation of the illegally constructed settlement than they did opinions in favour. 

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THE LA TIMES, THE BEDOUIN OF KHAN AL AHMAR AND ‘THEIR LAND’  (CAMERA)

Weekend long read

1) Dr Denis MacEoin chronicles the UK Labour Party antisemitism story at the Gatestone Institute.

“Mainstream, moderate political parties are normally sensitive to accusations in the media or from the public that threaten to put citizens off voting for them. Labour’s anti-Semitic reputation has been on the front pages of newspapers, has led to a plethora of articles in leading magazines, and has been a deep cause of concern for some two years now. The current British government is in a state of crisis – a crisis that could result before long in a fresh general election in which Labour might hope to win or further increase its vote, as it did in 2017. One might have thought that they might do anything to win voters back by abandoning any policies that might make the public think them too extreme to take on the responsibilities of government in a country facing confusion over its plan to exit the European Union. But this July, they did the opposite by turning their backs on moderation, presumably in the hope that this is where the voters are.”

2) At Tablet Magazine Tony Badran discusses “The Myth of an Independent Lebanon“.

“The reason Hezbollah continues to be able to fly in Iranian planes loaded with weapons straight into Beirut airport has nothing to do with absence of state authority, or lack of LAF capacity. Rather, the theory undergirding U.S. policy, which posits a dichotomy between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, simply has no relation to the reality of Lebanon. The LAF will never take action to prevent Hezbollah’s arms smuggling, because it will never be asked to by the Lebanese government, regardless of how much we “professionalize” it or build up its capacity.”

3) Dr Jonathan Spyer takes a look at Turkish interests in Syria.

“Idlib is set to form the final chapter in a Russian-led strategy that commenced nearly three years ago.   According to this approach, rebel-controlled areas were first bombed and shelled into submission and then offered the chance to ‘reconcile’, ie surrender to the regime. As part of this process, those fighters who did not wish to surrender were given the option of being transported with their weapons to rebel-held Idlib.

This approach was useful for the regime side.  It allowed the avoidance of costly last-stand battles by the rebels.  It also contained within it the expectation that a final battle against the most determined elements of the insurgency would need to take place, once there was nowhere for these fighters to be redirected. That time is now near.  There are around 70,000 rebel fighters inside Idlib.  The dominant factions among them are Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, (the renamed Jabhat al-Nusra, ie the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria), and the newly formed, Turkish-supported Jaish al-Watani (National Army), which brings together a number of smaller rebel groups.”

4) At the INSS Michal Hatuel-Radoshitzky and Kobi Michael discuss “The End to US Funding to UNRWA: Opportunity or Threat?

“The US decision to cease funding UNRWA is no less than historic. Although the Palestinians view such a step as a serious blow, if it is presented as a necessary step on the path to Palestinian statehood, it has the potential to harbor long term, positive implications. While Israel should certainly prepare for negative scenarios that such a policy move may generate in the near term, it is unwise to cling to the current paradigm that distances the Palestinian leadership’s pragmatic and ethical responsibility for rehabilitating and resettling Palestinian refugees within the Palestinian territories. With staunch Israeli, American, and international incentives and policy initiatives, the US decision to cease funding UNRWA can serve as a wake-up call to the Palestinian leadership and potentially inject new life into the Israeli-Palestinian process.”

 

 

 

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

The September 1st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item nearly thirteen minutes long on the topic of the previous day’s US State Department announcement concerning its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA.

Presenter Lyse Doucet introduced the item (from 30:06 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees – known by its acronym UNRWA – has lurched for many years from one financial crisis to the next. But now the agency supporting some 5 million Palestinians faces its greatest test. Palestinian officials as well as the UN are criticising a decision by its biggest donor the US to withdraw all funding. Israel welcomes the move saying UNRWA keeps Palestinian hopes alive of returning to their homes which now lie in Israel proper.”

Obviously uninformed listeners would not understand from that portrayal by Doucet that at most only a tiny proportion of those 5 million people could actually claim to have had “homes” over seventy years ago in what is now Israel.

Doucet first brought in the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell who noted that pupils in UNRWA schools had begun the school year, citing “526,000 pupils across the Middle East”, “711 schools” and “270,000 students” in the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a reference to an aspect of the story rarely discussed by the BBC: that of UNRWA as an employer of Palestinians.

Doucet: “So and it’s not just schools; it’s also health facilities. I mean in effect entire families they depend on this for their sole source of income?”

Knell: “That’s right; of course UNRWA is also a major employer. 22,000 teachers in those schools that I’ve just mentioned. If you go to Palestinian refugee camps you will find that there are also clinics run by UNRWA that is providing many of the services such as rubbish collection.”

Knell went on to mention a story from July not previously covered by the BBC.

Knell: “…already we’ve seen protests, particularly in Gaza in recent weeks – a sit-in at the UNRWA headquarters there – as the first rafts of cuts have hit and about a thousand people were told that they were going to have their contracts ended.”

Doucet then introduced her second contributor.

Doucet: “But we do know that there are urgent meetings going on in the region including the Arab capitals…where millions of Palestinian refugees rely on UN support. And we reached UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness just as he was boarding a plane in the Jordanian capital Amman.”

BBC World Service audiences then heard Chris Gunness repeat talking points he used back in January when the US administration announced a cut to its UNRWA contribution. They also heard Gunness claim that his clients – rather than Yazidi, Syrian or Yemeni refugees living in temporary shelters – are “some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East” with no challenge from Lyse Doucet.

[33:25] Gunness: “The impact will be absolutely devastating. It’s likely to be widespread, profound, dramatic and unpredictable because – let’s make no mistake – some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East are going to likely suffer because of this. 562,000 schoolchildren receiving an UNRWA education every day. 1.7 million food insecure people. 3.5 [sic] patients coming to our clinics every day. We do assistance to disabled refugees, to women, to vulnerable children. The list goes on and as I say, the impact on them is likely to be utterly devastating.”

Doucet then asked Gunness “but what is your reply to the critics?” before playing part of an interview with Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the FDD heard in another BBC radio programme.

Schanzer: “This was a decision that was long time coming. For several years now we’ve been hearing about calls for reform within UNRWA. UNRWA has been slow to respond to the allegations that, for example, it has allowed Hamas to exploit some of its operations, that it has inflated the number of refugees making it virtually impossible for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace and that their budget has been over-inflated. Amidst these calls, UNRWA has dragged its feet and now the Trump administration, which is looking for really any excuse to cut budget, has found a new target.”

[34:52] Gunness: “Well it’s very interesting that just a few months ago the US administration was praising the high performance of UNRWA. They expressed praise for our reforms; we’ve been doing root and branch efficiency reforms – that was just a few months ago.”

If that sounds familiar it is because BBC audiences heard Gunness say the exact same thing in January:

“As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms.”

As noted here at the time:

“Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.”

Gunness went on:

Gunness: “On the specific allegations, whenever there’ve been accusations for example about militants leaving weapons in our schools or weapons components in our schools in Gaza, we were the first to come out and condemn and call for an investigation, which we did. When Hamas built tunnels under our schools we discovered them. We condemned it. So that allegation I reject absolutely.”

Having seen no BBC coverage of that latter story and others, listeners would of course be unaware of additional UNRWA related issues.

Gunness then repeated another previously made claim:

Gunness: “On the question of refugee numbers, the General Assembly have endorsed our methodology that we…err…confer refugee status through the generations exactly as the UN’s other refugee agency UNHCR does and the General Assembly has, as I say, approved this. If any single member state wants to try and bring that case, that accusation, to the General Assembly they’re very welcome to do that but our mandate remains. It cannot be changed unilaterally by a member state and, you know, as I say we’ve got the mandate. What happens now is we have less money to implement it but the mandate remains the same despite this decision by the Trump administration and we will do everything we can to implement it.”

Speaking to the BBC World Service in January, Gunness claimed that:

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

And:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Once again a BBC WS presenter failed to challenge Gunness’ intentionally misleading presentation of that issue or to raise the relevant issue of ‘refugees’ that hold Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship. Doucet also refrained from questioning Gunness about the discrepancy between the number of registered refugees and actual refugees in Lebanon which came to light last year and an UNRWA official’s related claim that UNRWA’s figures do not necessarily reflect “deaths or relocation”.

Doucet next asked Gunness about alternative sources of funding and then went on to put a political slant on the story while ignoring the fact that when the US made its previous announcement concerning UNRWA donations in January, it specifically urged other nations to “step in and do their part“. 

[36:58] Doucet: “It’s clear that Israel and also the new US administration wants to take the issue of refugees off the negotiating table. They want to look at the so-called peace process in a different way. Do you believe that you’re a victim of that?”

Gunness took that cue to deflect criticism of UNRWA and proceeded to provide an example of why many consider UNRWA to be a political lobbying body.

Gunness: “Certainly it feels as if, given the praise for our reforms, that there are other forces at work. But let’s be very clear: you cannot airbrush out of the equation 5.4 million people. These are individuals with rights, including the right to self-determination, to a just and durable solution and whatever else must happen, if there is to be a peace dispensation it must be based on international law, it must be based on UN resolutions and of course the refugees themselves must be consulted. As I say, they cannot simply be airbrushed out of history. These are people who’ve been a UN protected population for 70 years and we have a continuing obligation towards them.”

Doucet went on to ask Gunness about “the mood” in Amman where, she pointed out, there are “so many refugees…dependent on UNRWA funding” but without clarifying that the vast majority of them are Jordanian citizens. After Gunness had spoken of “real alarm”, “panic and alarm” and “dramatic and unpredictable consequences”, Doucet further pursued her point.

Doucet: “Jordanian officials are even warning that this could be explosive. There could be security consequences.”

After Gunness had spoken of “the consequences of having 2 million angry, ill-educated, hungry people in Gaza on the doorstep of Israel”, Doucet closed that conversation and re-introduced Yolande Knell and the theme of a link between the US decision to stop contributions to UNRWA and “what’s happening in the peace process”. Knell took up the baton, promoting Palestinian messaging on that topic.

At 41:36 Doucet brought up a topic rarely discussed in BBC content.

Doucet: “What about the criticism that neighbouring Arab states, you know, keep the Palestinians generation after generation as refugees, denying them rights, as a political bargaining chip with Israel?”

Failing to mention the Arab League decision of 1959 designed to do exactly that, Knell responded:

Knell: “Well it depends on the different countries. There has been the different response to the Palestinian refugee issue. Certainly Jordan would point out that it has given citizenship to many of those Palestinian refugees but those in Syria and in Lebanon, it’s important to remember, they are still considered to be stateless. They are kept as refugees and the governments of those countries have said that it would be against the Palestinian interests, against the interests of their nationalist struggle if they were to be absorbed as citizens in those countries. This is an extremely sensitive issue for Palestinians and there are lots of Palestinian people that have lived their life in limbo from one generation to the next. They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic but which the different parties including the Palestinians say can only be solved through negotiations; not by just taking an issue off the table.”

With no mention made of the real motivation behind promotion of the ‘right of return’ issue, Doucet brought what she described as “a very sensitive, a very crucial story” to a close.

As we see BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.

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BBC silent on Gaza crossing closure

Back in May the BBC failed to adequately report on three separate incidents of severe vandalism at the Kerem Shalom crossing carried out by Palestinian rioters – on the instruction of Hamas – on May 4th, May 11th and May 14th.

BBC WS audiences get distorted account of Kerem Shalom closure

On September 4th a large number of Palestinians rioted at the Erez Crossing.

“According to the IDF Spokesperson Unit, hundreds of people participated in the riots, reportedly hurling rocks at the crossing which resulted in severe damage to the infrastructure. The IDF said they responded with tear gas and live fire.”

According to AFP:

“The Palestinians were protesting against an announcement by Washington on Friday that it would cease all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) which helps some three million needy refugees.”

The following day it was announced that the Erez Crossing – the only transit route for pedestrians and patients seeking medical care outside the Gaza Strip – would have to be closed for repairs.

“Israel announced the temporary closure of its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after the border terminal was damaged during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. […]

“As a result, the crossing has been closed until the repairing of the damage caused as a result of the riot is completed,” the army said in a statement.

It did not indicate when the repairs would be completed.

The army added that the closure does not include humanitarian cases, which it said would be approved on a case-by-case basis.”

The BBC, however, did not find the fact that violent Palestinian rioters deliberately trashed facilities serving Gaza Strip residents in the least bit newsworthy.

With BBC audiences being repeatedly steered towards the inaccurate belief that all the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures, it is significant that once again the corporation has shown no interest in reporting a story which conflicts its chosen narrative

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