How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

We have on many occasions documented the use of imprecise language in BBC reports which results in audiences being given inaccurate impressions of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

“The employment of phrases such as “Israeli settlement building”, “construction of Jewish settlements” and “construction of settlements” obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.”

Last September the BBC News website corrected one such article but the phenomenon remains widespread.

On February 2nd the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had set up a committee that would “begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement” for those evicted from Amona.” [emphasis added]

As the Jerusalem Post noted in its coverage of that February 2nd announcement:

“This would be the first new government-authorized settlement in the West Bank since the establishment of Revava near Ariel in 1991, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister.”

On February 6th the BBC’s Middle East editor told listeners to BBC Radio 5 live that:

“Mr Netanyahu has authorised the…ah…six thousand new dwellings in the settlements plus the first all-new settlement in about thirty years.” [emphasis added]

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses in existing communities and the establishment (so far not even on paper) of a “new settlement”.

Nevertheless, the day before that announcement was made, listeners to the February 1st edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ heard Owen Bennett Jones use the inaccurate term “new settlements” to describe the announcement of building in existing communities (from 50:22 here).newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

Bennett Jones: “…And there is another big development we need to mention today. The Israeli government has announced thousands more housing units for settlers on occupied territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the evacuation of an outpost. Let’s hear now from Yolande Knell.”

Following Knell’s report of the evacuation of Amona, Bennett Jones continued: [emphasis added]

“And that was Yolande Knell from Amona and we’ve still got Tim Franks on the line. So all these new…ah…new units, housing units, new settlements and then that news from Amona – is any of this tied to the new president in the United States or is it all driven internally?”

Franks: “It’s both, Owen, because I mean the case over Amona has been dragging on for years. They were talking about evicting people from Amona when I was posted here and that was some years ago. Ahm…but undoubtedly all the announcements of thousands of new…eh…eh…eh…homes for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – yes; the Israeli government feels liberated by the…eh…the incoming Trump administration…”

It really should not be difficult for the BBC to ensure that its journalists are aware of the difference between construction in existing neighbourhoods, towns and villages and “new settlements” and that they use precise language to describe the story they are reporting in order to prevent audiences from repeatedly going away with inaccurate impressions. 

BBC’s ME editor ditches impartiality in portrayal of ‘international law’

h/t RM

When Jeremy Bowen was appointed to the post of Middle East editor in 2005, that role was described as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

On February 15th a report by Jeremy Bowen concerning that day’s meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’. Revisiting the ‘blank cheque’ theme he promoted days earlier on BBC 5 live radio, in that report, Bowen told viewers that:

“Before he was elected president Mr Trump seemed ready to give Israel a blank cheque on the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu authorised thousands more homes for Jews in the occupied territories, in defiance of international law, within days of Mr Trump’s inauguration.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences are used to reading and hearing the BBC narrative on international law which goes along the lines of:

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

In this case, Bowen not only did not bother with the qualification “Israel disputes this” but, despite his remit of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”, failed to inform viewers of the existence of alternative legal opinions on that issue.  

Moreover, when challenged on Twitter, Bowen appointed himself legal expert, ruling that alternative views to the narrative he chooses to promote are false.

bowen-tweets-intl-law-3

The BBC knows full well that the legal position on this issue is not unanimous. The backgrounder on ‘settlements’ that was first published in late December on the BBC News website states:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter. […]

A UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

Nevertheless, the man charged with enhancing BBC audience comprehension of ‘complex stories’ and providing information which would throw light on context that is ‘disputed’ obviously prefers to reduce this particular one to facile black and white.

This example raises an additional issue too. When the BBC covers stories concerning disputed territory in places such as Cyprus or in Western Sahara it does not find it necessary or appropriate to provide its audiences with an opinion on what is legal or illegal. The difference of course is that the BBC has not adopted a campaigning role in relation to those locations.  

 

Weekend long read

1) The Jewish News has an interview with the creator of a new documentary concerning reporting from the Middle East.Weekend Read

“Curious to discover how this came to be the media’s viewpoint, Himel has interviewed combatants, civilians and politicians from both sides of the conflict for his provocative documentary, Eyeless In Gaza, which premieres in London later this month. […]

“It’s something I call ‘group think’,” explains Himel.  “Group think isn’t a malicious attempt to lie or distort the truth, but there is a strong herd instinct of what is allowable and what is not. […]

“The idea of objectivity, that was very sacrosanct in journalism 50 years ago, is basically gone. Everything is from a point of view today, so you can’t just rely on one source – even if it is an established source.””

2) Freelance journalist Hunter Stuart has written an interesting account of his change of views following a stint in Jerusalem.

“In the summer of 2015, just three days after I moved to Israel for a one-and-a-half year stint freelance reporting in the region, I wrote down my feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A friend of mine in New York had mentioned that it would be interesting to see if living in Israel would change the way I felt about it. My friend probably suspected that things would look differently from the front-row seat, so to speak.

Boy was he right.”

3) The JCPA takes a look at the evolution of the two-state solution.

“The term “two-state solution” seems to have become a form of “lingua franca” within the international community, the magic panacea for all the ills of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the wider problems of the Middle East.

Not a day goes by without some leading politician, journal, or international body mentioning it as the buzz-word for the ultimate outcome, while at the same time usually accusing Israel – and only Israel – of “undermining the two-state solution.””

4) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has produced a summary of Palestinian terrorism in 2016.

“In 2016 there was an increase in the number of shooting attacks. Shooting attacks made up 23% of all the significant terrorist attacks carried out during the year. The number of shooting attacks was also high in January 2017. In 2016 shooting attacks accounted for the deaths of ten people, more than half of those killed during the year.”

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

h/t AO

In late December 2016 the BBC News website published an article that included an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?”

The original version of that explanatory insert amplified the Palestinian interpretation of the two-state solution as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967:

“A “two-state solution” to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the declared goal of their leaders and many international diplomats and politicians.

It is the shorthand for a final settlement that would see the creation of an independent state of Palestine on pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.

The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and the United States routinely restate their commitment to the concept.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“…the BBC told its audiences that various international bodies and countries are ‘committed’ to that concept when in fact the UN, the EU, Russia and the US in their ‘Quartet’ capacity support “an agreement that […] resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties; and fulfils the aspirations of both parties for independent homelands through two States for two peoples”. Those “permanent status issues” defined in the Oslo Accords of course include borders and Jerusalem.

Noteworthy too is the fact that the BBC’s portrayal of the two-state solution does not include the all-important phrase “two states for two peoples” – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.”2ss-trump-art-15-2

Later on, a change was made to the wording of that insert:

“At some point somebody at the BBC News website apparently realised that the phrase “on pre-1967 ceasefire lines” is problematic and in version 10 of the article that paragraph was changed to read:

“It is the shorthand for a final settlement that would see the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.” [emphasis added]”

On February 15th the later version of that insert reappeared in two BBC News website reports:

Israel-Palestinian conflict: Two-state solution not only option, US says

Trump relaxes US policy on Middle East two-state solution

The following day it was found in two additional articles titled Israel-Palestinian conflict: UN warns Trump over two-state reversal” and “Israel-Palestinian conflict: US ‘thinking outside box’“.

2ss-insert

The BBC’s decision to reuse that insert in the same format raises additional points.

1) The claim in the first paragraph that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders is inaccurate and misleading because it does not clarify to BBC audiences the repeated refusal of Palestinian Authority leaders to recognise Israel as the Jewish state – a necessary condition for fulfilment of the concept of “two states for two peoples”. That claim also of course conceals the fact that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions reject the two-state solution outright. 

2) The reference to ‘East Jerusalem’ conceals the fact that – as the BBC itself reported in 2003 – the text of the ‘Roadmap’ compiled by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia (the Quartet) defines the two-state solution as including:

“…a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides, and protects the religious interests of Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide…”

As we see, an insert ostensibly intended to help BBC audiences understand the concept of the two-state solution in fact fails to provide the full range of information necessary for that aim to be achieved.

The BBC and book bans – real and imagined

Readers may recall that in late 2015 and early 2016, various BBC radio programmes misled their audiences by promoting assorted versions of the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ (‘Borderlife’) has been banned in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

A BBC Watch complaint on the topic was eventually upheld.book-ban

Recently a Middle East author really did have a book banned. However, the writer is Palestinian and the government department that ordered the ban is part of the Palestinian Authority. Coincidentally or not, BBC audiences have heard nothing of that story.

“Palestinian Authority Attorney General Ahmad Barak announced on Monday that he was banning the distribution of a new novel on the grounds that it contained “indecent texts and terms that threaten morality and public decency, which could affect the population, in particular minors.”

The book, Crime in Ramallah by Abbad Yahya, reportedly contains explicit sexual content, including masturbation.

The attorney general’s office stated that all copies of the novel would be seized because the book “breaches both international treaties and Palestinian press and publication ordinance.””

In addition, the author apparently faces an arrest warrant.

“In a telephone interview, Yahya told The Associated Press that he was visiting Doha when he learned of the ban and the arrest warrant, published by the official governmental news agency. He said he is now stuck in the Qatari capital, fearing he would be arrested as soon as he returns home.

“I don’t know what to do. If I go back, I will be arrested, and if I stay here, I can’t stay far from my home and family,” he said.”

Oddly, the media organisation that gave so much coverage to a non-existent ‘book ban’ while citing unfounded concerns of “political interference in Israeli culture” does not appear to be interested in reporting this actual Palestinian Authority banning of a novel.

 

 

BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ brings in pro-BDS NGOs to talk Israel trade

h/t SJ

The first discussion topic in the February 12th edition of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious” debate programme ‘The Big Questions’ was titled “should we trade with Israel now settlements are recognised?” and it was introduced by host Nicky Campbell as follows:big-questions-12-2

Campbell: “On Tuesday, Mrs May held talks at Downing Street with her opposite number in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Increasing trade and investment with Israel was high on the agenda. The day before, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a bill legalising settlements on privately owned Palestinian land on the West Bank, in direct contradiction to a UN Security Council Resolution. Mrs May was clear that Britain opposes settlement activity and believes the two-state solution is the best way to bring peace to the region. Should we trade with Israel now the settlements have been recognised? Well, I’ve been doing debates on this issue for 30 years now. And it’s never that quiet. It’s very, very impassioned on both sides. We shall attempt to proceed in a civilised direction.” 

The programme is available here or to those in the UK here.

In addition to Ryvka Barnard – senior campaigns officer at ‘War on Want’ – panel guests included Kamel Hawwash of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, Paul Charney of the Zionist Federation and Tom Wilson of the Henry Jackson Society.

Notably, audiences were not provided with background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both ‘War on Want’ and the PSC, the antisemitism which has come to light in both those organisations.  Neither were audiences informed of the obviously relevant fact that both organisations support the boycott campaign (BDS) against Israel – which is actually the topic of this discussion. 

Compared to some previous editions of the programme in which Israel related topics were discussed, this one was noteworthy for the fact that baseless anti-Israel propaganda and Nazi analogies promoted by some speakers were in several cases – though not all – challenged by the host, panel members or members of the audience. 

However, as can be seen from the transcript below, historical context was frequently lacking with, for example, uninformed viewers remaining none the wiser with regard to the fact that the final status negotiations concerning Area C have yet to come about because the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada or the fact that Israel came to control Judea & Samaria because Jordan chose to attack once again in 1967. Similarly, viewers were given a monchrome impression of ‘international law’ which was not challenged by the host. [emphasis in bold added]

Transcript:

Campbell: “Now, Ryvka from War on Want, many would say, ‘Are you serious? Come on! We have trade deals with Saudi Arabia, with China, with Russia, with the United Arab Emirates, some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet – none of them a democracy like Israel is. How can you possibly justify this?'”

Barnard (WoW): “Well, I think there’s a major issue with the UK. The UK should be putting human rights and international law at the centre of all of its trade negotiations with all countries.”

Campbell: “Should we stop trading with all those countries?”

Barnard: “I think it’s a question to be brought up. I think we can’t talk about trade without talking about human rights and international law. That’s why it’s important for the UK to take action right now, move beyond words and suspend its trade relations with Israel because of its systematic violations of international law.”

Campbell: “If we stop trading with countries with human rights abuses, at a time when we need friends, we’d go out of business.”

Barnard: “I think what happens when you continue trading with human rights-abusing regimes like Israel, you’re basically incentivising human rights abuse and you are giving a green light to say that violations of international law, doing things like building settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, is OK. You know, we might say on the side, we don’t like it when you do that, as Theresa May did, but incentivising them with trade and especially things like the arms trade – the UK Government has approved over £100 million worth of arms exports to Israel in 2016 alone – those arms are used in violence against Palestinians. So it’s a real double standard to say ‘no settlements’ on one hand but then to be giving arms to the country that is building them.”

Campbell: “You refer to Israel. Paul, good morning Paul; chairman of the Zionist Federation, former tank commander with the IDF. There’s a couple of things I need to ask you and then we’ll throw it out. I want to hear from the audience, because, of course, hands going up already. But Ryvka referred to, in unequivocal terms there, Israel as a human rights abuser. How would you respond to what she said there?”

Charney (ZF): “Well, that needs to be qualified. Israel, certainly by Freedom House, is recognised as the only free country in the Middle East. It has a very strong democracy. It has a Supreme Court which is not subservient to the executive. It will look at this legislation and it will decide whether it’s legal or not. There is a huge social housing crisis amongst the Palestinians and amongst the Israelis and these towns that are expanding need to expand. So, it is a controversial issue and you can disagree, but the same time, if the UK disagreed with every country, with every political decision, certainly it wouldn’t be dealing with China, it wouldn’t be dealing with India over Kashmir, it wouldn’t be dealing with Turkey over Northern Cyprus, and the opposite would be true. It’s not like Spain would cease dealing with the UK over Gibraltar, or Argentina would cease dealing with the UK over the Falkland Islands. What we need is to understand to put this into perspective, that the settlements are an issue but they’re one issue, since 1967, that needs to be dealt with in the much larger framework of a peace agreement which the Palestinians require and when they want to build a home in a state for themselves more than they want to destroy and boycott Israel. When that priority changes then peace can be achieved.”

Campbell: “Let’s go to the audience first. Right behind Paul. Good morning. Your microphone is coming! This gentleman here.”

Audience Member 1: “We’re in an age where Trump wants to build walls and impose travel bans and impose restrictions on people based on their religion or identity and, surely, what we want to be doing is reaching out to countries, reaching out to different communities…

Campbell: “Israel for example?”

Audience Member 1: “…and to Israel…and to engage and to challenge, constructively, and to say this is wrong but also to say, we recognise you are a democracy, we want to work with you. We want to build those trade links, build those partnerships, improve relationships for all the peoples in the world, rather than being isolationist.”

Audience Member 2: “You keep saying it’s a democracy. It’s not a democracy. It’s a democracy similar to what South Africa was in the apartheid time. You know, so many people are disenfranchised, they don’t have any say in the running of Israel and they keep saying it is a democracy. The Palestinians…”

Campbell: “It has women’s rights, it has trades-union rights, it has Gay rights. That is one angle on it.”

Audience Member 2: “It’s the biggest concentration camp in the world. It’s almost a prison.”

Campbell:  “OK, let’s get a…Paul, do you want to respond to that? I need to be very careful bringing the points back and forth, so that it is fair.”

Charney: “You have to be very careful with the terminology that you use, and that’s hugely harmful for what is recognised internationally as a democracy. As we said, we have all the minorities as heads of Supreme Court, as doctors, as heads of hospitals, heads of universities. Minorities from across the board; Arab, Druze, Christian. And this is recognised across the Middle East as a beacon for what could be seen as a free country that all the rest of the countries around can look and see this is what we want to have. This is the beacon. This is your ultimate.

Campbell: “Gentlemen there, first of all, there is a point you made, the first speaker, so what’s your name?”

Audience Member 1: “Leon.”

Campbell: “The point Leon made I want to put to you, Professor Hawwash, which is an interesting and many would think a very significant one. First of all, good morning. How are you?

Audience Member 3: “Good morning. Very well, thank you. I mean, I’m just shocked that you have reduced the Palestinian question and the crisis in the Middle East to a housing problem. I think you said that it’s a housing problem that exists for Israelis and Palestinians and you are expanding these towns because there is a housing crisis that needs to be addressed. It’s the continued colonisation of Palestine. You’re demolishing houses. You are chasing and removing, and let’s call it out for what it is. It’s ethnic cleansing going on in these areas that have gone on for decades.”

Campbell: “OK, I’m going to put that point to Tom. OK, go on Leon, come back on it.”

Audience Member 1: “I think it’s really important to have a debate but we need to be so careful with our language because we want to have a civilised debate here and using words like ‘concentration camps’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ is really offensive, not just to Jews but to all people who have actually suffered that extreme genocide and persecution. So please don’t use language like ‘concentration camps’ because it is not concentration camp.”

Audience Member 2: “Well, it’s a fact, isn’t it? It is a fact. All these people have been disenfranchised. I mean, the building settlements, Palestinian houses are being demolished.”

Campbell: “Professor Harwwash, let me put a point to you that Leon did make, that trade means links, means diplomacy, means influence. It means you can make progress. OK, Zimbabwe. We have sanctions on Zimbabwe. We have absolutely zero influence there. We cannot help the people who are suffering egregiously at the hands of Mugabe and his thugs. The only way we get to Zimbabwe is through the back channels of South Africa, and that’s difficult enough. Would you want to create a situation where we have no influence, no trading links with Israel?

Kamel Hawwash (PSC): “You said you have been covering this topic for 30 years and during this period the number of settlers in the West Bank has increased by something like 100,000, to now 600-700,000 people. It will reach a million unless we do something to stop it, because if people really are interested in peace, you need to look at the situation of the Palestinians, who didn’t choose to be occupied, to have their land taken, to have another state created in our homeland – and I speak as a Palestinian. We didn’t choose any of that. So what this is about is the rights of the Palestinian people. Paul talked about housing, building houses. It’s just ludicrous. These houses are built for only one type of person: a Jewish Israeli. Not for Palestinians. If Israel was serious about solving the housing crisis, why doesn’t it open up the settlements out to Palestinians? Even better, not build on someone else’s land.”

Campbell: “Paul?”

Charney (ZF): “It’s never been Palestinian land. You’ve never had a state and we want to help you create a safe, but prior to ’67 it was owned by the Jordanians and the Jordanians would not allow you to own your own land. And prior to that the British and prior to that it was the Ottomans. This land is called ‘disputed’ for that very fact. We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people?”

Charney: “We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people, do you think? Do you recognise us as a people?”

Charney: “Absolutely. And you should have a state and you should live alongside us and you should…”

Hawwash: “Right, so why don’t you put pressure on the Israeli government?”

Charney: “…put down your arms and stop glorifying terrorists.”

Campbell: “Wait, wait! Let me intervene right there. So, Tom, is this not the situation now, with the settlements having been legitimised in the Knesset? Does that not put a…someone mentioned a wall just now; does that not put a massive wall up to the possibility of a two state solution? Massively counter-productive.”

Wilson (HJS): “This is a proposed law. We’ll see if it gets through the Supreme Court, because Israel does have quite strong checks and balances on its democracy. I think it’s very concerning that we think the presence of Jewish people in the West Bank in some way negates there being able to be a Palestinian state. Why is it assumed this Palestinian state has to be Jew-free? Why couldn’t Palestinian state have a Jewish minority, just as Israel has an Arab and Muslim minority? I don’t think we can criminalise an entire community just because they’ve ended up on the wrong side of an Armistice line. The fact is, as we’ve said, there are about half a million people there, they are not going anywhere so it’s better that we learn for the two sides to be able to accept a minority within one another’s countries.”

Campbell: “Ryvka, do you want to come back on that?”

Barnard (WoW): “Yes, I think it’s important for us to recognise that the settlements, like people have referred to, it’s been a policy of the state of Israel for decades now and the reason why settlements exist in the West Bank is not because they ended up on the wrong side of the Armistice line. It’s a policy of expansion and colonisation, as somebody has mentioned. And it’s against international law – and that’s undisputed. And it’s against UK policy.

Campbell: “Would you boycott…as a consumer, would you boycott products from Israel?”

Barnard: “Absolutely.”

Campbell: “How do you feel when you use Google, because they have a major research and development centre in Israel? How do you feel about that?”

Barnard: “It think it’s less about an individual consumer, though. People should make…”

Campbell: “You just said you definitely would do that. If you had a list of choices would you radically transform your habits and stop using Google?”

Barnard: “I think the important thing is for the UK Government to take action in line with its own policy. So the UK foreign policy recognises settlements as illegal under international law. It’s important for the UK to act on that policy. You know, we talked a little bit about engagement and you raised the question of whether the UK would have more influence through engagement. If viewers remember Margaret Thatcher’s days in relation with South Africa, the policy was constructive engagement. Now, in retrospect, it’s recognised that that actually prolonged apartheid and that actually allowed apartheid to deepen. Constructive engagement as a policy was rubbished after apartheid fell finally, because of economic pressure like sanctions. So I think it’s important for us to recognise that as an important tool that the UK Government has and it is time again to move beyond words and condemnation and into action.”

Campbell: “Paul? And then we’ll come to more from the audience in a second. Paul, just come back on that.”

Charney (ZF): “Yes, I just like to bring something constructive into it, and the blame game is not going to get us to a peace deal and I’d like to see the Palestinian Authority take more control over its own people and over the peace process and be wanting a Palestinian state more than it wants to destroy and denigrate an Israeli state. I think there is goodwill around the world and in Israel to help you do that. But you must remember that with all the wars that came in, that Israel had to defend itself. It has given back the Sinai. It has given back Gaza. It is ready to concede…”

Campbell: “What about the gentleman’s point that a proportion of our audience…a proportion of our audience…I’m just going to put that to him…a proportion of our audience will be wondering, and it’s the point represented by that gentleman: taking land from people, land that is not yours. How do you respond to that?”

Charney: “Firstly, this is disputed territory with Palestinians living on it and Jews living on it. Please allow me to speak. Please allow me to speak.”

Hawwash (PSC): “No, it isn’t disputed territory. It is occupied. It’s illegally occupied.”

Charney: “When the Israelis left Gaza, every inch of Gaza, all the Palestinian land, gave it back and said ‘Create a state! We are leaving you greenhouses. We are leaving you businesses’, what was created was a mini terrorist state with only the development of bombs and warfare. The problem is that if Israel does the same thing immediately and retracts from the West Bank, we’re going to have the same extremist ideology coming out of there. We cannot trust and rely without a strong security presence. We cannot trust and rely on these states like Hamas to automatically become democratic and allow Gays and Christians to flourish. That’s not happening.”

Campbell: “Kamel, Professor Hawwash, I will be with you. You will have the next voice on the front row, and Ibrahim will be in as well. And Tom will be back. First off though, more audience comments. Leon, you’ve had a good say. Let me go to the gentleman at the back. Good morning.”

Audience Member 4: “It is important to realise, I believe, after the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and other factors coming into the 21st-century, that Britain is no longer the global player in the world that it was in the post-colonial period after 1945 at the end of the Second World War.”

Campbell: “So what should we do?”

Audience Member 4: “The diminishing power, I believe, you know, we haven’t got a responsibility to police the world in the same way and we haven’t got the capability.”

Campbell: “So what do we do about Israel?”

Audience Member 4: “We shouldn’t boycott them in any sense at all because in respect of trading with places like Dubai, trading with places like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, even trading with Pakistan…”

Campbell: “Where there is a blasphemy law.”

Audience Member 4: “…Israel is democratic and free, as the gentleman said.”

Campbell: “A point made earlier on and expressed well by yourself as well. Go on.”

Audience Member 5: “Good morning, Nicky. This question is about trade. My concern is that the Brexit vote will lead to our leaders, Prime Minister May and others, only giving criticisms of countries that are abusing human rights behind their hands, whispering it instead of saying it forcefully.”

Campbell: “Because we need friends?”

Audience Member 5: “Because we need friends. So I worry that that ethical foreign policy that Robin Cook wished for is not going to happen because we are in no position to criticise others.”

Campbell: “Realpolitik. Is there such a thing as an ethical foreign policy?”

Audience Member 5: “I think there should be.”

Campbell: “Professor Hawwash, you pointed at Paul. You wanted to come back.”

Hawwash (PSC): “Yes, in the age of Trump, it seems that trade trumps human rights and that is something we should all oppose and oppose very strongly. Paul talked about the Palestinians should take more control of their people and so on. Well I’ll just give you an example. Under the Oslo Accord, an area called Area C, which is the most fertile part of Palestine, is currently under Israeli security and administrative control. It was to be passed over. It isn’t being passed over. In fact Naftali Bennett – and a number of Israeli ministers – say it should be annexed. They actually have no interest in a Palestinian state emerging. Naftali Bennett only yesterday advising Prime Minister Netanyahu, who’s going to Washington next week, said “Two words you should not use. You should not utter two words, ‘Palestinian’ and ‘state'”. So if there is no Palestinian state, I would very much like to hear from Paul and others what the solution is where there are almost an equal number of Palestinians and Jewish people in that land”

Campbell: “Tom, what’s the solution and how strategically important do you believe Israel is to this country?”

Wilson (HJS): “It is very strategically important in terms of…you know, we’ve got a growing hi-tech economy in Israel certainly, and things like counterterror. But that is by-the-by and I think that the issue here is the moral issue; is the issue of human rights. I think we are being very selective in how we are talking about human rights. I mean, War on Want is being particularly selective with their targeting of Israel for boycotts. They say they care about international law. I don’t hear them calling for boycotts of other countries with similar issues. And on the issue of Palestinian human rights, it seems that many people in this audience are more angry about the building of Jewish houses in the West Bank than they are about the abuse of Palestinian rights by Palestinians. If your starting point is Palestinian human rights why don’t you call out the Palestinian Authority for its extra-judicial killings of Palestinians, for torture of Palestinians, for harassment of journalists and for detention without trial? And yet we hear silence on all of this. The focus is exclusively on finding reasons to boycott and demonise the world’s only Jewish state.”

Hawwash (PSC): “We are talking about Palestinian rights and freedom. What the other side is talking about is simply sustaining the status quo. The status quo has led us to a situation where there is a lot of unhappiness and anger and abuse of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. We need to be free for there to be peace in Palestine.”

Campbell: “Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, do you recognise Israel’s right to exist?”

Mogra (MCB): “Within internationally recognised borders, yes. I think we have brought Israel into our embrace far more than I would have liked to see. They are participants in the football Euro competitions. They are participants in the Eurovision Song Contest and we don’t even share a border with them. So in response to your point about isolating Israel, we have actually remained in at least cultural and political contact with them. The important thing here is international law has to be applied equally across the board. It is not about Israel, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was mentioned, the Gulf states were mentioned, China. Whichever state it is, if we as human beings [who] subscribe to international law, fail to apply the UN resolutions equally across the board, what are we showing to the world? That democracy is selective. That powerful nations will pick on the weaker nations. That self-interest and national interest will trump all the other global interests. So the question here is are we applying the same yardstick to measure all the different behaviours of government? We have gone into Iraq, we’ve gone into Libya because their leaders – corrupt and dictatorial as they were – flaunted UN security resolutions. How many resolutions has Israel overlooked over time? As long as…”

Campbell: “We’ve got to leave it there because we have other things to debate, but your point came across loud and clear. Not that everybody watching is going to agree with it. It’s a perilous line, this debate, always, but I think that was pretty calm. Do you reckon? Do you reckon? Everyone? Yes? OK, let’s do the next one!”

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

Earlier this month we documented the BBC’s promotion of a map produced by the political NGO B’Tselem in three separate BBC News website reports.

Since then the same politically partisan map has also appeared in an article titled “Israel passes controversial law on West Bank settlements” published on February 7th, in an article titled “Rights groups challenge Israel settlements law in court” published on February 8th and in an article titled “Trump urges Israel to ‘act reasonably’ on settlements” which appeared on February 10th.

In addition, the same map has been added to the BBC News website backgrounder titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” which first appeared in late December 2016.

The backgrounder was subsequently amended in January 2017 to include a link to the website of the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a map of Jerusalem produced by B’Tselem and UNOCHA which had been found in previous BBC material.

Since then, that backgrounder has been amended yet again and the B’Tselem/UNOCHA map of Jerusalem has been replaced with two versions of the new one produced by B’Tselem. In addition, the section previously titled “What difference will Donald Trump make?” has been retitled and rewritten.

settlements-backgrounder-new-jlem-map

Since its latest amendment, visitors to the BBC News website have also found a link to that backgrounder promoted under the title “Can Jewish settlement issue be resolved?” [emphasis added] in numerous reports  – for example here, here, here, here, here and here.settlements-backgrounder-link-1

In other words, anyone visiting the BBC News website’s Middle East page since February 1st would have been more than likely to come across those politicised maps. The map of Jerusalem portrays places such as the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and parts of Mt Scopus as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. The same is the case in the bigger map of Judea & Samaria which portrays the whole of Gush Etzion as a ‘settlement’.

The BBC News website’s vigorous promotion of campaigning maps produced by the foreign funded political NGO B’Tselem (which engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS) makes it very difficult to believe that the corporation is committed to providing its audiences with the accurate and impartial portrayal of this issue which would meet the BBC’s obligation to provide information which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”.  

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

BBC News website produces a backgrounder on ‘settlements’

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

BBC amplifies Gaza ‘collective punishment’ trope yet again

On the afternoon of February 13th an article titled “Hamas hardliner Yehiya Sinwar elected as Gaza leader” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The report opens:sinwar-art

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has elected a hardline commander of its armed wing as the movement’s overall leader in the Gaza Strip.

Yehiya Sinwar replaces Ismail Haniyeh, a former prime minister in the territory’s Hamas-run government.

Mr Sinwar was jailed in Israel for murder but freed under a deal when Hamas released an Israeli in 2011.”

Later on readers are told that:

“Yehiya Sinwar was jailed for four life terms by Israel in 1989 for a series of offences, including murder and kidnapping.

He was freed in October 2011 under a deal in which Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for a soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid in 2006.”

However, the BBC apparently did not find it necessary to inform audiences that Sinwar’s convictions relate to the murders of Palestinians, as has been noted by other media organisations reporting the same story, including the Times of Israel.

“Sinwar, sentenced to life in 1989 for murdering Palestinian collaborators with Israel, spent 22 years in Israeli prisons before being released in the 2011 prisoner exchange deal for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.”

And:

“He [Sinwar] has boasted more than once of the manner in which he executed collaborators. At one point he became known as “The Man of the Twelve” for the twelve Palestinians, suspected collaborators, whom he murdered with his own hands. The number has gone up since then.

Sinwar is the man who established the Al-Majd intelligence unit, which operated against collaborators from the start of the first intifada. In a report written by Amit Cohen, a reporter for Ma’ariv at the time, Sinwar recalled how Hamas’s spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin granted him a fatwa allowing him to execute anyone who confessed to collaborating. Wonder of wonders, they all confessed.”

Neither does the BBC article make any mention of the alleged involvement of Sinwar in the execution of Hamas’ own Mahmoud Ishtiwi last year.

Nevertheless, the report does include some relevant context not found often enough in BBC articles and a link to the Hamas Charter.

“Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist and Mr Sinwar is known to oppose any compromise with the Jewish state.

Some Hamas leaders have suggested a long truce with Israel if it completely withdraws to pre-1967 ceasefire lines and lifts its blockade of Gaza.

The movement’s charter, however, calls for Israel’s destruction and it is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU and other world powers. […]

The militia has thousands of fighters and is believed to have rebuilt a considerable arsenal of weaponry since the last war with Israel.

It has also carried out scores of attacks with suicide bombers and fired thousands of rockets and missiles across the border since the mid-1990s.”

However, the next paragraph reads:

“Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade around Gaza aimed at preventing attacks by militants there, though the measure has been condemned by rights groups as a form of collective punishment.” [emphasis added]

The BBC knows full well that restrictions – such as those on the import of munitions and dual-use goods – implemented by Israel following the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by a terrorist organisation almost a decade ago are necessary counter-terrorism measures and not ‘collective punishment’. But nevertheless, it once again misleads its audiences by amplifying that baseless propaganda trope. 

 

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – January 2017

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during January 2017 shows that throughout the month a total of 100 incidents took place: eighty-two in Judea & Samaria, sixteen in Jerusalem, one in Haifa and one attack from the Gaza Strip.

The agency recorded 81 attacks with petrol bombs, 11 attacks using explosive devices, five shooting attacks and one vehicular attack in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem as well as one shooting attack in Haifa and one shooting attack from the Gaza Strip.

Five people – one civilian and four members of the security forces – were murdered in attacks in January and sixteen people  – one civilian and 15 members of the security forces – were wounded.terror-attack-jlem-8-1

The BBC News website covered the vehicular attack in Jerusalem on January 8th in which four soldiers were murdered and thirteen were wounded in two written and four filmed reports.

In a shooting attack which took place in Haifa on January 3rd, one civilian was murdered and one wounded. Although the background to that incident was not initially clear and the perpetrator was identified only two days later, the subsequent investigation confirmed that it was a terror attack. BBC News has not covered that incident at all.

Additional attacks which did not receive any BBC coverage include an IED attack on January 23rd in which a soldier was injured, an incident in Jenin on January 26th in which another soldier was wounded and a shooting attack near Nili on January 27th.  

In all, just one of the 100 attacks which took place during January received coverage on the BBC News website.

table-jan-17

Related Articles:

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – December 2016 and year summary

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – December 2015 and Q4 summary

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Special final instalment – part two

The second segment of Tim Franks’ special report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ concerning the viability of the two-state solution (see ‘related articles’ below) that was broadcast on February 3rd can be found from 45:09 here.newshour-3-2

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

Franks: “Welcome back to Israel and Tel Aviv. It’s Friday so it’s the weekend and these boardwalk cafés and shops on the edge of the Mediterranean are overflowing. Tel Aviv is smart and hip and pulsing with the hi-tech start-ups that are so key to the modern Israeli economic success story. That sector, this place, can feel a world away from ‘the conflict’ even though the West Bank is only ten miles, 16 kilometers, down the road. But in between the two – almost exactly geographically in between – lives a man who says the topic is rarely out of his mind. He’s one of Israel’s greatest writers; David Grossman. He’s a life-long advocate of the two-state solution but does he now fear the ship has sailed?”

An edited clip from that interview was promoted separately on Twitter by the BBC World Service.newshour-3-2-clip-grossman

Grossman: “As an Israeli, as a Jew, the idea of something that is irreversible is not acceptable. All the reality of us today consist of so many impossibilities of 20 or 30 years ago. The collapse of the Berlin Wall, the fact that an Afro-American man was elected as president in the United States, the new elect president that seems even more impossible even when he’s already possible, seems impossible. All these were regarded as a dream and suddenly they happened and once they happened, all reality started to reorganise itself around them. It is possible because a) I do not see any better solution and b) because still there is a majority in both peoples; the more mainstream and realistic and sober people who will vote for this solution.”

Franks: “Why did you say, in that case, back in 2014 ‘the Israeli Right has not only vanquished the Left, it has vanquished Israel’?”

Grossman: “I cannot afford the luxury of despair because I live here, it is home for me. But I think that what the Right-wing did to Israel is that it dismantled the infrastructure of Israel as a state, as a civil society and brought us back to a situation where the family and the tribe are the superior dimension. What really counts is the deep, total, unconditional loyalty to the idea of the Jew. And this is dangerous because you see how such behaviour and such belief dooms us to perpetuate the conflict. I do not say that the voices of the Right-wing are totally wrong. I do not say it. I pay a lot of respect to the way they are afraid for the future of Israel in this region. I share many of their fears.”

Franks then raised a very relevant issue but misrepresented it as being in the domain of “the Right” whereas in actual fact, the second Intifada and the outcome of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip caused many Left-leaning Israelis to reconsider the ‘land for peace’ formula too.

Franks: “And yet the argument often voiced from the Right is that you’re dreaming and you’re coming up against the reality of recent historical experience. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 – Hizballah rushed in to fill the vacuum. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 – Hamas took over. It would be insane, say the Right, for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.”

Notably, Grossman did not answer that question but did go on to promote a generalised and completely unsourced allegation concerning Israeli ‘views’ of Palestinians which went unquestioned by Franks.  

Grossman: “It is a dream to believe that we should continue to be a democracy if we keep a regime of occupation on a whole other people. Now if you are occupying another people for 50 years inevitably you start to believe that you are better; that there are two groups of human beings. One is superior and one is inferior by nature, existentially. People in Israel start to feel that the Palestinians by nature and existentially are inferior. This is a destructive way of thinking. It is destructive for us inside Israel. It’s destructive to our relationship with others. It is destructive by the way we find ourselves entrapped again in this idea of the chosen people, which I find as a pathetic, dangerous idea that in a way brought us to live our life in a kind of mythological level; not in a down to earth level. They say I’m a dreamer. They are nightmarish reality creator.”

Franks: “What about the criticism from the Left – from the international Left – that Zionism is founded on a contradiction. That yes, you want a homeland for the Jews but that inevitably involves the dispossession of another people and that is what is at the root of this conflict.”

Grossman: “So what do you suggest? To dismantle Israel and send us back to the countries we came from? No: even if there have been some injustices and ill-doings and even crimes in the first stages of the creating of Israel, now we have a reality. You know you will not repair one injustice by creating another injustice. We shall try to create a recovery but I think it will be pointless – in a way an excuse for not dealing with the complexity of the present situation – to go back 70 years ago.”

Franks: “All that you’ve said is an appeal for there still to be hope, as you describe it. Much of what you’ve written is a lament. You are a brilliant chronicler of grief and pain and loss and I wonder whether part of that is because of that sense of loss in what your country has become.”

Grossman: “First of all, I beg to differ. I have all kind of books and I think that the very act of writing, of creating a new reality, is an act of liberty and an act of hope. Being oppressed by the heaviness of the situation, by the feeling of hopelessness, [unintelligible] the ability to create, just to create characters and to deal with the nuances of life – not like what we see here when you go out to the big thick blocks of politics that have no nuances and no real understanding of the delicacy of the situation. When you write you are able really to get to the thinnest fibres of human conditions and human situation and especially when you live your life under the heaviness of grief. The power of writing is to act against the gravity of all those losses. Even in the worst human situation you can still throw something into the future like an anchor that you throw away from you – an anchor of hope – and you start to pull yourself until you can get there. Because once you are able to perform this act of hope, you say that you are not totally eliminated.”

Franks: “David Grossman, insisting he will not be denied his hope of peace and that the old order can change fast. But there are many others I’ve spoken to here who believe that change can also work destructively, that it’s ever more likely to be so and that when it does, the future – once imagined the future of a two-state solution – will stay left forever in the past.”

The declared purpose of this series of long reports by Tim Franks was – in the BBC’s own words – to examine the question “Is The Two-State Solution Dead?“. Clips from those reports were curated on a special webpage bearing that title which provides the following rationale for Franks’ visit to the region:franks-merukaz

“The moribund peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis has rarely looked so fragile. The very notion of a negotiated two-state solution is looking increasingly unattainable, and to some, undesirable. Newshour’s Tim Franks travelled to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to investigate what visions the people living there hold for the future.”

Throughout this series of reports listeners heard from four Israelis and six Palestinians. The prime focus was placed on portrayal of ‘settlements’ as the main obstacle to the two-state solution. Despite the opportunities presented by interviews with representatives of Hamas and Fatah, Franks avoided raising a whole host of no less relevant topics including the ‘two or three-state’ question raised by the decade-long split between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas’ refusal to countenance the two-state solution and the rehabilitation and expansion of its military capabilities were completely excluded from audience view. The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state together with its incitement – including portrayal of the whole of Israel as ‘Palestinian land’ – and glorification of terrorism were similarly ignored. Not only did Franks fail to raise the relevant topic of the peace process-killing second Intifada but – in line with usual BBC policy – the word ‘terror’ did not once pass his lips.

If the aim of sending Tim Franks to the region was to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of why the peace process fails to progress and to enable them to reach informed opinions about the relevance of the two-state option, then obviously that purpose was not achieved in this series of long reports.

If, however, the purpose was to try to convince audiences – as the BBC has been doing intensively for some time and in particular since the US election – that the main barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is Israeli building, then Tim Franks certainly ticked the box.

Related Articles:

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part two