The BBC’s double helping ‘Nakba’ backgrounder

On May 15th the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “Why Nakba is the Palestinians’ most sombre day, in 100 and 300 words“.

“Palestinians have been protesting at Gaza’s border with Israel in the lead up to the the [sic] most mournful day in their calendar. The date, which falls on 15 May each year, commemorates events which caused Palestinians to lose their homes and become refugees. They refer to it as al-Nakba, or the Catastrophe.

Here it is briefly explained, in both 100 words and 300 words.”

Why the BBC thought its audiences needed a double helping of explanations was not explained.

In the 100 word version BBC audiences were told that:

“On 14 May 1948, Israel declared independence, and in a war which began the next day, up to 750,000 Palestinians who had lived on that land fled or were expelled from their homes.”

The 300 word account described the same events thus:

“The Nakba stems from the Arab-Israeli war which began on 15 May, 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence when British control of the land, known as Mandate Palestine, was about to end.

Most of the Arabs who lived in the area which became Israel fled or were expelled by Israeli forces in the 1948-49 war, and hundreds of thousands were freshly displaced by Arab-Israeli fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June, 1967.”

As we see, according to both those accounts the displacement of Palestinians only began after Israel declared independence and the sole entity cited as being responsible for that displacement is “Israeli forces”.

Obviously both those accounts erase from audience view the fact that hostilities – and with them displacement of civilians – had in fact begun five and a half months earlier. The BBC’s portrayals make no mention of Arab rejection of the recommendations of the November 1947 UN Partition Plan, immediately after which Arab rioting ensued and Arab forces launched what the UN described at the time as “armed incursions” into what was then still Mandate Palestine.

In other words, the BBC has chosen to present Palestinians as totally passive victims, airbrushing the fact that their displacement came about after Arab leaders elected – at their own admittance – to launch hostilities.

“The UN blamed the Arabs for the violence. The UN Palestine Commission was never permitted by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement the resolution. On February 16, 1948, the Commission reported to the Security Council:

‘Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.’

The Arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for starting the war. Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:

‘The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.’

The British commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, John Bagot Glubb admitted:

‘Early in January, the first detachments of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and even through Amman . . . They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine.'”

As our CAMERA colleague Gilead Ini has noted, the displacement of Palestinians did not take place – as the BBC would have its audiences believe – only after Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948. [emphasis added]

“Most broadly, the Arab flight can be divided into two time periods corresponding with the two major phases of fighting. Roughly half of those fleeing did so between November 1947 (when Palestinian Arabs responded to the United Nations partition recommendation with anti-Jewish violence) and May 1948 (when the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon invaded Palestine). During this period, the conflict more closely resembled a civil war, with Palestinian Jews battling Palestinian Arabs and several thousand Arab militiamen. A second phase of the fighting and flight occurred after May 1948, when neighboring Arab armies initiated the conventional phase of the war by joining in the fighting on the side of the Palestinians.

Some commentators divide the Palestinian exodus into three or four somewhat shorter waves. One prominent example of the ‘four wave’ characterization refers to 1) the flight of the Palestinian elite between November 1947 and March 1948; 2) a flight coinciding with the shift by the Jewish Haganah militia from defensive to offensive operations in April 1948 and lasting until a truce in June of that year; 3) the period between July, when that truce expired, and October, when a second truce ended; and lastly, 4) the period from October through November 1948.”

Notably, the BBC’s account erased all mention of the part played by the Palestinian Arab leadership in the displacement. As Gilead Ini writes:

“The Palestinian leadership and elite set an example for the rest of society by evacuating their towns and villages early during the conflict, usually long before fighting neared their towns, and some even before the civil war began. (Or as commander of the Arab Legion John Bagot Glubb put it, “villages were frequently abandoned even before they were threatened by the progress of war.”) This behavior not only shattered the morale of the Palestinian masses, but also, in the words of historian Shabtai Teveth, “amounted to clear — albeit unwritten — instructions to flee Palestine.”

The British High Commissioner for Palestine at the time, General Sir Alan Cunningham, described this phenomenon and its effect on the general population:

‘You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country. For instance in Jaffa the Mayor went on 4 days leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the National Committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually during the recent battle. Now the Chief Arab Magistrate has left. In all parts of the country the [elite] effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.’

Another British official, Palestine’s Chief Secretary Sir Henry Gurney, wrote that “It is pathetic to see how the [Jaffa] Arabs have been deserted by their leaders.”

After Haifa’s chief Arab magistrate abandoned that city, a British intelligence report described the act as “probably the greatest factor in the demoralization of Haifa’s community.””

The BBC’s accounts likewise erased the subject of Palestinian leaders’ instructions to flee.

“Palestinian leaders also explicitly instructed Palestinians to leave their homes. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, told a delegation of Haifa Arabs in January 1948 that they should “remove the women and children from the danger areas in order to reduce the number of casualties,” and continued to encourage evacuations in the months that followed. Indeed, just a few months later, when Haifa’s British, Jewish and Arab leadership were working to negotiate a truce, the Arab side, in line with the Mufti’s orders but to the great surprise of everyone involved, insisted on a complete evacuation of all Arab residents.

Similarly, the national Palestinian leadership (or “Arab Higher Committee”) published a pamphlet in March 1948 urging the evacuation of women, children and the elderly from areas affected by the fighting. The local Palestinian leadership (or “National Committee”) in Jerusalem heeded this call, ordering Jerusalem Arabs to evacuate these populations, and asserting that those who resisted doing so would be seen as “an obstacle to the Holy War” and as “hamper[ing]” the actions of the Arab fighters.

Jordan’s Arab Legion ordered women and children out of Beisan, a town near the Jordanian border and an anticipated point of invasion by the Legion.

In Tiberias, local Arab leaders chose to clear the town of its Arab residents, and did so with the help of the British authorities. In Jaffa, after the British forced Jewish militiamen to withdraw from the city, local Arab leaders organized the evacuation of the roughly 20,000 residents who hadn’t already fled during or before the fighting.

Similar scenes played out in dozens of Arab villages across the land.

Some villagers were not merely instructed to leave, but actually expelled by Arab militiamen from outside the country who feared local Arabs might ally themselves with the Jews, or who wanted to use the residents’ homes for lodging.”

In the 100 word version BBC audiences were told that:

“There are around five million Palestinians currently recognised as refugees by the UN. Most live in Jordan, followed by the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and East Jerusalem.”

In the longer version the same topic was presented as follows:

“Today some five million Palestinians are registered by the UN as refugees. Most live in Jordan, followed by the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and East Jerusalem.

Almost a third live in refugee camps.”

In neither of the two versions were BBC audiences told why Palestinians still live in refugee camps, why they are kept in refugee status seven decades on rather than being resettled, or of the political background to their inherited refugee status.

While the shorter version stated that “[r]eturning to their former homes is a key Palestinian demand” (implying that those “former homes” actually still exist seven decades on), the longer version stated:

“The right of return is a key demand of Palestinians and their leaders. They base their claim on a United Nations General Assembly resolution, which was passed in 1948.

The resolution says “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.”

The BBC did not bother to explain to audiences that UN GA Resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and that it does not – contrary to often heard assertions – grant any unconditional ‘right of return’. Neither does the BBC bother to inform readers of the fact that the Arab states voted against that UN GA resolution.

The longer version went on to state:

“Israel says it cannot allow five million refugees to return because this would overwhelm the country of 8.5 million and mean the end of its existence as a Jewish state.”

The shorter version made do with “but Israel says it would be overwhelmed”.

The fact that the intention of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is to bring about the end of the Jewish state – as Israelis rightly recognise – was not clarified to BBC audiences.

The BBC did not tell its audiences who wrote this backgrounder but whichever BBC journalist did so, it is blatantly obvious that he or she had no intention whatsoever of providing audiences with the full range of historical background and factual information which would enhance their understanding of the issue.

Instead, the BBC’s funding public got a double dose of promotion of a one-sided political narrative in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as totally passive victims and all mention of the responsibility of the Arab leaders who rejected the 1947 Partition Plan and subsequently started the war that led to their displacement is missing. 

 

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Inaccuracy and omission from ‘parachuted’ BBC Radio 4 presenter in Jerusalem

In recent days we have seen a number of BBC programmes broadcasting ‘special editions’ from Jerusalem. While the benefits to the BBC’s funding public of flying presenters of domestic programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ and ‘Sunday‘ out from the UK for a jaunt to Israel may remain a mystery to many, the May 11th edition of Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ provided a prime example of the perils of ‘parachuting’ reporters into an environment with which they are less than adequately familiar.

Presenter Mark Mardell introduced the item (from 27:49 here) with what was by that time an inaccurate claim regarding a “high alert” in northern Israel and a decidedly presumptuous prediction of its continuation. Interestingly though, he had nothing at all to say about the missile attacks by Iran against Israel the previous day.

Mardell: “Northern Israel is still on high alert and will stay so for a few days yet after the full-scale attack on Iranian bases within Syria. It’s obviously a tense time and next week the State of Israel will be 70 years old. My colleague Edward Stourton is in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Evidently – and not only in this programme – the BBC has elected to ignore the fact that Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence on April 19th and instead has adopted the staggeringly patronising policy of deciding for itself (in a manner similar to that in which it presumes to decide where Israel’s capital is – and is not) that Israel’s independence day should be marked according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hebrew one.

Edward Stourton also began his item by erasing Iranian missile fire at Israel from the picture. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Stourton: “Mark, Israel was of course born in war and – as the exchange of fire into Syria over the past few days has reminded the world – its history has been scarred by conflict ever since. The way events unfolded seven decades ago is a deeply and bitterly contested story but the bare bones of it go something like this: in the autumn of 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted to partition what was known as Palestine between an Arab and an Israeli state with an internationally managed special enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Stourton made no effort to inform listeners that the Arabs rejected the UN’s Partition Plan recommendation, thus rendering it irrelevant, before going on:

Stourton: “Violence between the two sides escalated into civil war and the British, who had a mandate to run Palestine, lost control.”

Listeners then heard an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs” – a recording which was also used by the BBC in the same programme last month.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order. In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Stourton: “Well that was the way Pathé News reported the story and Britain in fact dictated the timetable by announcing its mandate would end on May the 14th 1948. That afternoon, here in Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion – Israel’s first leader – declared independence.”

The declaration of independence was of course made in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. After listeners had heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion speaking, Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Well the new state came into being at midnight and the following day four Arab states attacked Israeli forces.”

Stourton then introduced his two guests – Sami Adwan from Bethlehem and Israeli ‘new historian’ Tom Segev – who, unsurprisingly, expressed remarkably homogeneous views.

Listeners heard Adwan claim that in 1948 Palestinians were “deprived from their national rights…their rights, their resources and their property, their places”. Awad went on to claim that “they were expelled without any reason, without any cause”.

Stourton – whose sole response to those claims was “well indeed” – refrained from clarifying to listeners that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who left in 1948 were not driven out by the Israelis, but left of their own accord – often because they were urged to do so by their own leaders. He likewise failed to mention that the Palestinians were not the passive actors portrayed by Awad, but also took part in what was intended to be a war of annihilation initiated by the Arab states and then he went on to give a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

Stourton: “Well indeed and just staying with you for a moment, this weekend marks Jerusalem Day which remembers the moment in 1967 when Israel took the east of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Fair to say that that period added another sort of layer of disputed history if you like.”

When Adwan went on to claim that “the British, the Israelis are responsible for our catastrophe”, Stourton made no effort to question him on the topic of Arab and Palestinian responsibility.

Listeners heard highly partisan portrayals of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from both Stourton and Segev, with the latter describing it as an “unnecessary development” and opining that the Palestinian refugee issue is a “burden…on our [Israel’s] morality and on the justification for the existence of Israel”.

When Adwan later presented a partisan view of the UN Partition Plan, Stourton failed once again to inform listeners that the proposal was rejected by Arab leaders – including representatives of the Palestinians – and hence has no relevance.

Obviously the aim of this unbalanced and partisan report – riddled as it was with important omissions and inaccuracies – was to advance the narrative of “disputed history”. No effort was made to get beyond that falsely ‘balanced’ label and to provide Radio 4 listeners with accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of a complicated story.

Nevertheless, one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of sending UK based journalists abroad to report on a story off their usual beat, it would at least ensure that they are au fait with the basic historical facts and ensure that they provide them to the corporation’s funding public. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4, WS mark Israeli independence with ‘nakba’ and ‘one-state’

 

 

BBC R4, WS mark Israeli independence with ‘nakba’ and ‘one-state’

h/t AS, RS

The April 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ – presented by Sarah Montague – included an item (from 33:34 here) that used Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations as a hook on which to hang the promotion of a political narrative and a campaign.

Montague began by inaccurately claiming that the day of the broadcast was the day upon which Israel was founded according to the Hebrew calendar. In fact, the date of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is the 5th of Iyar, which this year fell on Friday, April 20th.

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

Montague: “In the Hebrew calendar it was 70 years ago today that Israel was first founded. To mark the establishment of the Jewish state there will be 70 hours of celebrations in the country. Going by the Western calendar, the date of independence was May the 14th in 1948 and as in every year since then, Palestinians will mark that same event, which they call ‘al Nakba’ – the day of catastrophe – as a time of mourning and anger. Our correspondent Caroline Wyatt’s been looking back to 1948 and talking to a Palestinian writer and an Israeli Rabbi who both live in the UK about what the creation of Israel means to them today.”

Caroline Wyatt found it appropriate to open her item began with an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs”. She apparently failed to recognise the irony of a newsreel that described the same British authorities which had actively prevented Jews in both the pre and post-war eras from reaching safety in Mandate Palestine as the representatives of “law and order”.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order.”

Wyatt: “This was the drama of Palestine as Pathé News headlined its war report in January 1948. It was the year after the newly formed United Nations accepted the idea of partitioning Palestine. One zone for the Jews, to be known as Israel, and the other zone for the Arabs who formed the majority of the population there at the time. It was a plan accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but rejected by Arab leaders, so the fighting continued.”

Archive recording: “In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Wyatt: “The last of the British soldiers that had been there under the British mandate that administered Palestine for a quarter of a century withdrew from the region on May the 14th 1948 – the day before the mandate was due to expire.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion preparing to read out the declaration of independence – an event which Wyatt inaccurately claimed took place “at midnight” when in fact it took place at 4 p.m. so as not to run into Shabbat.

Wyatt: “At midnight that same day David Ben Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the State of Israel. For many Jews it was the culmination of over two thousand years of hope – and the beginning of 70 years of struggle of the Palestinian people. Professor Eugene Rogan is the director of St Antony’s College Middle East Centre at Oxford University.”

BBC audiences are of course familiar with the style of commentary on the Middle East advanced by Eugene Rogan but nevertheless his promotion of the falsehood that there had been an entity called the “State of Palestine” before May 14th 1948 is remarkable.

Rogan: “The founding of Israel meant very different things to the different stakeholders in the Middle East. For partisans of the Zionist movement it was the realisation of a generation’s old aspiration: to establish a statehood for the Jewish people. Coming in the aftermath of the Holocaust, it seemed to vindicate the greatest of hopes at a time when the Jewish people had suffered their worst of catastrophes. But of course for the Palestinian Arab people, the creation of the State of Israel came at the expense of their homeland: the State of Palestine as it had been ruled under British mandate since 1920. And so for them, rather than this being a moment of joy or triumph, it was a moment of their catastrophe and they’ve called it that ever since. They refer to it as the Nakba – the Arabic word for catastrophe.”

Listeners next heard from another academic who has also been a BBC contributor in the past and whose resume includes having been an advisor to Yasser Arafat – although that was not clarified.

Khalidi: “I’m Ahmad Samih Khalidi. I come from an ancient Jerusalemite Arab family. I was born and lived in exile. I am a writer and commentator. Currently I’m associated with St Anthony’s College at Oxford. I am myself a product of the Nakba. I was born in 1948 and my whole life of course has been determined by this experience, as has that of all my contemporaries, my family and everyone, really, who I relate to on a daily basis.”

Wyatt: “Ahmad Khalidi has spent much of his adult life involved in trying to help find a peaceful resolution for this one land claimed by two peoples.”

Khalidi: “This was an entity that had taken over my homeland, dispossessed my people, so there was an ongoing struggle and Israel was seen as an aggressive state that had dispossessed the people of Palestine and was bent on expanding its presence in the region. Later as I grew up it became more apparent to me that this was something that I personally had to do something about.”

After an ostensibly ‘neutral’ academic and a Palestinian voice, Wyatt introduced her ‘balance’ – an American-born, UK resident interviewee who has a “complex” relationship with Israel.

Wyatt: “So what about those for whom Israel has been a refuge? In north London I go to a deli – Falafel Feast – to meet an Orthodox Rabbi, Natan Levy, who’s known in the UK for fasting over Ramadan – an attempt to bring about greater understanding between Muslims and Jews. He says his relationship with Israel has long been a complex one.”

Levy: “When I was growing up in America we had family members that had the trauma – not just the history – but the trauma of the Holocaust was really real. My mum had a bag packed for us; each of the children had a bag packed at the front door. Just in case something should go horribly wrong we could grab our bags and our passports and run to Israel, the Holy Land, that was always seen – even before I’d ever been there – as the place of safety. We all have Israeli passports and my oldest daughter was born there.”

Wyatt: “Yet Natan Levy’s attitude towards Israel has changed over time.”

Levy: “So for my yeshiva – the place where I learned to be a Rabbi – was actually in the West Bank. There I guess you would say I was a settler with the ideologies that went along with being a settler. This land is all ours, promised in the Torah – in the Old Testament – and slowly I came to realise; we were on top of the hill and at the bottom of the hill was a Palestinian farm that had also been there for generation upon generation. And bit by bit it seemed like everyone was in a sort of prison. Everyone was kept separate. The fences were too big and eventually we began a bit of conversation with the people at the bottom and their story, like ours, was filled with longing and hope and deep trauma. And the more I spoke to them, the harder it was to justify being on top of the hill and having a fence between us.”

Levy studied at a yeshiva in Gush Etzion – an area in which Jews had purchased land and built communities years before the arrival of the British-backed invading Jordanian army in 1948. Radio 4 listeners were of course not informed of those narrative-spoiling facts and similarly Wyatt did not bother to clarify the role of Palestinian terror in her portrayal of ‘growing fences’.  

Wyatt: “Over the years the fences in Israel have grown, while hopes of a deeper dialogue on peace have withered. Ahmed Khalidi describes himself now as deeply pessimistic about the prospects.”

Khalidi: “The outlines of a two-state solution have slipped away. I think this one-state reality has now taken over. It’s becoming more deeply entrenched. I’m not suggesting that there is some kind of ideal solution out there that will emerge from this one-state reality. In fact one of my concerns is that the one-state reality may end up as a one-state nightmare. But if we don’t have partition and we can’t have a genuine one-state reality in which the two sides can live together, then we’re going to have a state of perpetual conflict.”

The item ended with that unchallenged and unquestioned promotion from ‘one-stater’ Ahmad Khalidi and no clarification was provided to BBC audiences to explain that what the Oxford academic is in fact touting is the demise of the Jewish state.

And not only did BBC Radio 4 find it appropriate to provide a stage for promotion of the campaign to end to Jewish self-determination on the very day that it was being celebrated, but the same item was also broadcast to BBC World Service listeners (from 45:05 here) in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day.

 

How the BBC invented territory ‘allocated’ to a Palestinian state

As has been known for several years, the BBC has a serious comprehension problem as far as UN GA resolution 181 – also known as the Partition Plan – is concerned.

In March 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its findings regarding appeals made (but not upheld) following complaints concerning the BBC’s failure to list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in its 2012 Olympics coverage (see page 34 onwards here).

A year later, in March 2014, the ESC published its findings regarding yet another request for an appeal on the topic of Israel’s capital city (see page 49 onwards here).

In both those rulings, the BBC stated that:

“The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “ [emphasis added]

The “UN resolution” to which the BBC referred is of course UN GA resolution 181 – the Partition Plan – which, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, was non-binding and no more than a recommendation, the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned.

As is well known the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan en masse and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses immaterial. 

However, the BBC’s distortion of the Partition Plan is not limited to Jerusalem. In a multi-part backgrounder titled “A History of Conflict” (which appears to have been available online for around a decade) readers of the entry for 1948 – headed “Establishment of Israel” – find the following:

“The State of Israel, the first Jewish state for nearly 2,000 years, was proclaimed at 1600 on 14 May 1948 in Tel Aviv. The declaration came into effect the following day as the last British troops withdrew. Palestinians remember 15 May as “al-Nakba”, or the Catastrophe.

The year had begun with Jewish and Arab armies each staging attacks on territory held by the other side. Jewish forces, backed by the Irgun and Lehi militant groups made more progress, seizing areas alloted [sic] to the Jewish state but also conquering substantial territories allocated for the Palestinian one.” [emphasis added]

The idea of partitioning the territory into two separate states – one Jewish and one Arab – was raised by the Peel Commission in 1937 and that plan was of course unanimously rejected by the Arabs while still on paper. When the idea was raided again in 1947 within the framework of the Partition Plan, the same negative response was received and the proposal was therefore rendered irrelevant.

The BBC’s claim that “territories” had been “allocated” to a Palestinian state in early 1948 – and that “Jewish forces” conquered them – is therefore disingenuous, inaccurate and misleading.

In two months’ time Israel will mark 70 years of independence and no doubt the volume of BBC coverage of that event will be considerable. One way in which the BBC could enhance audience understanding of that story is by reviewing the accuracy and impartiality of the various related backgrounders that it has produced in the past and which are still available online – and hence could potentially still be the subject of complaints

Related Articles:

The BBC and the 1947 Partition Plan

No Partition Plan anniversary coverage from the BBC

 

 

 

Reviewing BBC coverage of 2017 anniversaries

2017 was a plentiful year for Middle East related anniversaries but BBC audiences did not see reporting on all of them.

In June the BBC gave generous coverage to the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War – often without provision of relevant context but with uniform promotion of the BBC’s chosen narrative.

BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short

Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

BBC Arabic’s Sally Nabil promotes more uncorroborated Six Day War hearsay

A third feature promotes the BBC’s chosen Six Day War narrative

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

BBC’s Six Day War messaging continues on R4’s ‘Today’

BBC News endorses its Six Day War narrative by celebrity proxy

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part two

In contrast, later the same month the tenth anniversary of the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by the terrorist organisation Hamas did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

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

Neither the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress nor the 40th anniversary of President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel received any BBC coverage.

In contrast, copious cross-platform coverage was given to the Balfour Declaration centenary throughout October and November. While much of that coverage focused on the promotion of a particular political narrative, the question of whether Britain fulfilled the pledge made in that declaration was largely ignored.

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary programming continues

With the exception of one Radio 4 item aired in June, the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan in November did not receive any BBC coverage.

No Partition Plan anniversary coverage from the BBC

The BBC produced one item relating to the 30th anniversary of the first Intifada in December.

BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

As we see, the BBC chose to focus on just two of those 2017 anniversaries, producing reporting that primarily promoted specific political narratives rather than providing the full range of information and historical background that would enable audiences to put the events into context.

With the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s independence on the horizon, we can no doubt expect that the coming year will see similarly politicised messaging promoted under the banner of ‘history’.

Weekend long read

1) At the Middle East Quarterly, Wolfgang G. Schwanitz discusses ‘The “Ottoman Balfour Declaration”‘.

“In October 1917, as British forces knocked at Jerusalem’s gates, the Ottoman authorities declared a string of draconian steps aimed at destroying the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv). Should the Turks be driven from Palestine, threatened Djemal Pasha, governor of the Levant and one of the triumvirs who ran the Ottoman Empire during World War I, no Jews would live to welcome the British forces.

Less than a year later, on August 12, 1918, Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, Djemal’s co-triumvir, issued an official declaration in the name of the Ottoman government abolishing these restrictions and expressing sympathy “for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center in Palestine by well-organized immigration and colonization.”

Though issued far too late to have any concrete effect—nearly half a year after the British conquest of Palestine and some eighty days before the Ottoman surrender—the significance of the declaration cannot be overstated. Here was the world’s foremost Muslim power mirroring the British government’s recognition (in the November 1917 Balfour Declaration) of the Jewish right to national revival in Palestine, something that many Muslim states refuse to acknowledge to date.”

2) At the Algemeiner, Ben Cohen writes about a statement concerning the AMIA bombing case made by one of the political NGOs most frequently quoted and promoted by the BBC.

“The influential NGO Human Rights Watch rose to the defense of the previous Argentine government on Wednesday — two weeks after a federal judge indicted former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and several of her senior colleagues for allegedly colluding with Iran in the cover-up of Tehran’s responsibility for the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

In a statement, HRW claimed that there was “no evidence that would seem to substantiate those charges.”

“Relatives of victims of the AMIA terrorist attack deserve justice for this heinous crime,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW. “But, instead of promoting accountability, this far-fetched indictment further tarnishes the credibility of the Argentine judiciary over the AMIA attack investigations.””

3) At the Gatestone Institute, Khaled Abu Toameh reports on a new law in Iraq discriminating against Palestinians.

“Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Iraqi government has approved a new law that effectively abolishes the rights given to Palestinians living there. The new law changes the status of Palestinians from nationals to foreigners.

Under Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, the Palestinians enjoyed many privileges. Until 2003, there were about 40,000 Palestinians living in Iraq. Since the overthrow of the Saddam regime, the Palestinian population has dwindled to 7,000.

Thousands of Palestinians have fled Iraq after being targeted by various warring militias in that country because of their support for Saddam Hussein. Palestinians say that what they are facing in Iraq is “ethnic cleansing.”

The conditions of the Palestinians in Iraq are about to go from bad to worse. The new law, which was ratified by Iraqi President Fuad Masum, deprives Palestinians living in Iraq of their right to free education, healthcare and to travel documents, and denies them work in state institutions. The new law, which is called No. 76 of 2017, revokes the rights and privileges granted to Palestinians under Saddam Hussein. The law went into effect recently after it was published in the Iraqi Official Gazette No. 4466.”

4) At Mosaic Magazine Professor Martin Kramer discusses “The Fantasy of an International Jerusalem“.

“In the uproar over President Trump’s announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, one constant refrain has been the insistence that, by longstanding international consensus, the city’s status has yet to be decided. In the portentous words of the recent UN General Assembly resolution protesting the American action, “Jerusalem is a final-status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions.”

The most “relevant” of those prior resolutions was the November 1947 resolution proposing partition of Palestine and envisaging, in addition to two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish, an entirely separate status for Jerusalem as a city belonging to no state but instead administered by a “special international regime.”

One might have thought that the wholesale Arab rejection of the entire partition plan, in all of its parts, would also have put paid to the idea of an internationalized Jerusalem. Evidently, however, this fantasy is too convenient to lie dormant forever.

That is why it’s useful to know that, almost exactly three decades before the 1947 UN plan, internationalization of Jerusalem was killed—and killed decisively. Who killed it? Thereby hangs a tale, but here is a hint: it was neither the Arabs, nor the Jews.” 

Inaccuracies and distortions go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newsday’ – part two

In part one of this post we discussed an edition of ‘Newsday’ broadcast on BBC World Service radio on the morning of December 6th in which Mustafa Barghouti was given free rein to promote lies and distortions concerning Israel that went completely unchallenged by the programme’s presenter.

A later edition of the same programme – again presented by Lawrence Pollard and Andrew Peach – also included items relating to the then anticipated announcement by the US president concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel. At the start of the show listeners heard from American human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein and later on (from 26:57 here) a BDS supporting one-stater UCLA professor of English literature was brought in to give ‘the Palestinian view’. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Peach: “This morning the US president is expected later to make an announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Hugely controversial this as Israelis and Palestinians consider the city their capital. East Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The status is one of the most sensitive disputes in the conflict, further complicated by the presence in the city of holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

Pollard: “Well in the last couple of weeks [sic] a number of world leaders – Europeans, Arabs, allies of America – have been warning President Trump against taking this step, with some expressing concerns that it might threaten future peace talks and even trigger violence. We’ve been getting opinions from Israel, from America: now for a Palestinian view of the implications. We’ve been speaking to Professor Saree Makdisi. He’s based in California. He’s the author of ‘Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation’. So, Professor Makdisi, how significant is this move?”

Makdisi: “I think it’s going to destabilise the entire region and I think it’s gonna throw a lot of fuel on many different fires that are already burning. I also think it makes some things clearer, so it’s not all bad news in that sense. I think the most important thing – the first thing that needs to be said – is that it’s a major blow of course to Palestinian aspirations and Palestinian rights. It’s very problematic in that it represents the kind of acknowledgement of sort of giving American blessing to the acquisition of territory by force. But we have to remember after all that the reason why nobody recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is that Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is extremely questionable. The 1947 UN partition of Palestine  didn’t give Jerusalem to the putative Jewish state and the eastern part of the city was taken in the war of 1967 so that’s why the international community doesn’t recognise Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital and what the…what Trump basically will be doing is saying we’re giving our blessing to the acquisition of territory by force which is contravention of international law and giving our blessing to the colonisation of Arab land by the Israeli state.”

Pollard refrained from clarifying to listeners around the world that the 1947 Partition Plan never got off the ground because the Arabs refused to accept it and that it also did not give any part of Jerusalem to a Palestinian state. He also had nothing to add to Makdisi’s remarks concerning the “acquisition of territory by force” in terms of the very relevant context of the belligerent Jordanian invasion of parts of Jerusalem in 1948. Even Makdisi’s spurious reference to the “colonisation of Arab land” went completely unquestioned.

Pollard: “You said benefit might come out of it as well – a kind of clarification – what do you mean?”

Makdisi: “Yeah a clarification because you know for the twenty plus years of the so-called peace process, which has really done nothing in particular to accomplish anything like a just peace, there’s been this…I mean part of what’s stained the whole process has been this image of the United States as what’s called an honest broker. It has been anything but honest and really hasn’t even been much of a broker but certainly it’s been incredibly dishonest for all these years because of course the US is a partisan…an ally of the Israeli state. I mean it gives Israel billions of dollars in aid every year. It gives it pretty much unlimited support in the United Nations Security Council. It lets it get away with gross and grotesque violations of international humanitarian law.”

Pollard: “Is the move important enough in your opinion and weighty enough and symbolic enough to actually stop people talking about the peace process? To put a nail in the two-state solution? I mean does this, for example, preclude a Palestinian Authority capital of some kind in East Jerusalem? Because plenty in America say it doesn’t.”

Makdisi: “Let’s put it this way: there are no current negotiations as far as anybody knows. I mean there’s talk about it and there’s been talk on and off for more than 20 years about, you know, a two-state solution. During the process of talking on and on in all those years, what’s happened is Israel has consolidated its hold over East Jerusalem. It’s consolidated its hold over the West Bank by building more and more settlements and transferring more and more of its own population into these occupied territories.”

Pollard made no effort to clarify to listeners that – as the BBC knows – Israel has not built ‘settlements’ in the past twenty years and has not ‘transferred’ (and of course Makdisi used that particular word deliberately) any of its population to Judea & Samaria.

Had listeners been informed in the introduction – as required under BBC editorial guidelines – that Makdisi is a proponent of a bi-national state – and the resulting elimination of the Jewish state – and a supporter of the BDS campaign, they would have been able to put his next set of claims in context.

Makdisi: “And so what this does is it just makes it clear that that whole set of discourse is fictional basically and so what it does is it puts the onus on everybody to come up with a different set of solutions and that’s why there is something of a silver lining here because it’s giving the lie to a tired and worn-out set of really abstract actions and fictions. And we’re seeing the increasing isolation of Israel in terms of boycotts and sanctions which are really beginning to bite in all kinds of ways – culturally and in terms of sports and other things. And I think that will intensify, especially with the official demise of the two-state solution. It’s incredible.”

Lawrence Pollard did not even find it necessary to challenge Makdisi’s subsequent justification of terrorism or his allegations regarding a person unable to exercise the right of reply.

Makdisi: “And the other thing, you know, which one could have said – it seems kind of obvious – is that, you know, next time something awful happens and people say why do they hate us – well – now, I wonder why they hate us. It’s almost the self-fulfilling prophecy which is…and it doesn’t seem to have any benefit for anybody except…except that faction of the Israeli Right that really wants to have unlimited carte blanche and it’s getting what it wants, you know, and that’s…that’s Kushner’s role, no doubt.”

As we see, Lawrence Pollard yet again made no effort whatsoever to challenge the multiple inaccuracies and falsehoods promoted by the inadequately introduced Makdisi, meaning that BBC audiences once again went away with misinformation and misleading impressions that distorted their view of the story.

In the subsequent December 6th edition of ‘Newshour’ listeners once again heard (from 00:25 here) an edited version of Mustafa Barghouti’s earlier comments that included unchallenged repetition of his dubious interpretations of international law, two repetitions of the ‘apartheid’ smear, lies about Palestinian ‘non-violence’ and a distorted account of events in Jerusalem last July that began with a terror attack near Temple Mount that Barghouti erased from his account.  

It is glaringly obvious that both Mustafa Barghouti and Saree Makdisi were given unfettered platforms from which to promote inaccurate claims and blatant falsehoods without any hindrance whatsoever from ‘Newday’ presenters. Moreover, Barghouti’s slurs and inaccuracies were subsequently recycled both in the programme itself and in a clip promoted on social media.

While those softball interviews clearly contributed to the advancement of a specific political narrative, they certainly did not enhance audience understanding of the specific story under discussion or the wider topic.

Related Articles:

Inaccuracies and distortions go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newsday’ – part one

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at the Independent, our colleague Adam Levick lays out “Five reasons why Trump recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel won’t destroy peace in the Middle East”.

“Amid the cacophony of reports, comments and tweets by Middle East analysts and world leaders on the US President’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and plans to relocate the embassy to the holy city, one broad conclusion seems to be shared by most: that it will serve as a “death knell” for the peace process. The decision, so the thinking goes, not only sends a signal to the Palestinians that the US is no longer “an honest broker”, but also prevents the possibility of a compromise over Jerusalem, one of the more contentious issues within negotiations for a final peace agreement.

However, as with so much thinking within the echo chamber of the elite about “root causes” of the impasse between the two parties, the alarmist reaction to the announcement from Washington regarding the injurious impact on peace seems divorced from reality, and ignores facts which run counter to the conclusion.”

2) At the Atlantic, former MK Einat Wilf explains how the approach to Israel’s capital city was for years influenced by a notion to which the BBC still clings.

“The United States recognized the State of Israel upon its independence, so it should have been straightforward for the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to establish its embassy there. If anything, it is the Jordanian annexation of the Old City and the way Jews were denied access that should have led to international consternation (it didn’t).

Why didn’t the U.S. and all other countries recognize residential, non-holy, west-of-the-armistice-line Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? At the time the U.S. was still attached to an idea, proposed in the United Nations partition resolution of 1947, that the vast area of greater Jerusalem (including residential neighborhoods) as well as Bethlehem should be a “Corpus Separatum,” a separate area that would be governed by the international community.

This fiction never existed anywhere but on paper. It never existed because the Arabs rejected the partition proposal and started a war to prevent it from being realized. When they lost that war, Jerusalem west of the armistice line became Israel’s, and Jerusalem east of the line came under Jordanian occupation and entered an extended period of disputed claims. So the U.S., while recognizing Israel within the armistice lines, chose a policy that held the status of Israel’s capital hostage to a fiction that never had a chance of existing.”

3) Matthew Levitt discusses the much neglected topic of Hizballah’s activities in Latin America.

“On July 19, 1994, the day after Hezbollah operatives blew up the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the group sent a suicide bomber to take down a flight on Alas Chiricanas Airlines, a Panamanian commuter airliner carrying mostly Jewish passengers, including several Americans. The case languished for years, but the FBI appears to have recently collected new information which, together with evidence gleaned from other current investigations, is likely to serve as the basis for a variety of actions aimed at Hezbollah, the lynchpin of the ITN and Iran’s most powerful proxy group.

But Hezbollah’s more recent moves in Latin America are very much a matter of interest for investigators, too. In October, a joint FBI-NYPD investigation led to the arrest of two individuals who were allegedly acting on behalf of Hezbollah’s terrorist wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO). At the direction of their Hezbollah handlers, one person allegedly “conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal,” according to a Justice Department press release. The other allegedly “conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.”” 

4) At the Tablet, Paul Berman writes about Bernard-Henri Levi’s documentary Peshmerga.

“Realism, the doctrine, affirms that, in matters of international affairs, the strong count, and the weak do not. That is because realism entertains a utopia, which is that of stability. And stability can be achieved only by a concert of the big and the powerful. It cannot be achieved by the small and the weak. Therefore realism is hostile to rebellions for freedom, hostile to small nations, hostile to invocations of morality or principle—hostile with a good conscience, on the grounds that, in the long run, the stability of the strong is better for everyone than the rebellions of the weak. Realism is, in short, an anti-Kurdish doctrine.

What good are the Kurds, anyway? From a realist standpoint, I mean. They are good for short-term interests, and not for long-term interests. Kissinger used them in the 1970s, and then tossed them away. The Reagan Administration in the next decade was content to see them gassed by Saddam Hussein. And in our own time? We needed the Kurds to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they did fight. They are the heroes of the anti-Islamic State war. They ought to be parading in triumph along the boulevards of Manhattan and Paris.” 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish Chronicle, David Hirsh discusses the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

“The working definition does not seek to see a person’s essence to find out whether they are antisemitic. What it does instead is to help in the recognition of antisemitic actions and ways of thinking. It is concerned with what people do, what they say and what they tolerate; not what they are.

Many in the movement to boycott and to de-legitimize Israel are afraid of the working definition. They say that it defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It actually does the opposite. It helps us to make the distinction between what kinds of criticism may be legitimate and what kinds of hostility or demonization may either lead towards, or result from, antisemitism.”

2) The JCPA has a paper by Liora Chartouni titled “70 Years after UN Resolution 181: An Assessment“.

“Initially, both Jews and Arabs were shocked by the idea of partition. “The Zionist movement viewed the whole of Eretz Yisrael as a Jewish patrimony,” according to Israeli scholar Prof. Shlomo Avineri, “and the effort to reach a Jewish majority was aimed at giving this claim international support and legitimacy. And the emerging Palestinian national movement … viewed Falastin as integral a part of the great Arab homeland as all other lands from Morocco to Iraq.”

However, although the two sides shared the surprise, their reaction to the partition plan diverged significantly. The Jews accepted the plan with a mixture of joy and hesitation, while the other rejected it and launched a war to forcibly prevent its implementation.

Although both parties claimed a legitimate right to inhabit the area, the Arabs denied the Jews any right whatsoever in their ancestral homeland, and a large majority still maintains this view to this day. The adoption of UN Resolution 181 was seen as cataclysmic by the Arab side; not only did they not abide by it, but they went to war against the nascent Jewish State to express their discontentment and their refusal to allow a such a state to exist.”

3) Following the UNGA’s adoption of resolution 181 on November 29th 1947, Arab forces launched immediate attacks on the Jewish community in Palestine and acts of violence also took place against Jews in several Arab countries. The Israel State Archives recently put online documents relating to the pogroms in Aden, Yemen (at the time a British protectorate) that took place between December 2nd and 4th 1947 in which 82 Jews were murdered, 76 wounded, synagogues destroyed and property looted. The file – mostly in English – can be found here.

4) Writing at Newsweek, David Daoud and Jason Brodsky provide some insight into the domestic politics behind the recent story concerning Lebanon’s prime minister.

“Hariri’s dramatic resignation arose from an awareness that he no longer inspires the confidence of his Lebanese Sunni base, and that will cost him in parliament—his pro-Western camp’s last holdout—in the upcoming May 2018 elections. For over a decade, he’s been consistently outmaneuvered by Hezbollah and its political allies even while in power. Worse yet, his concessions over the last two years have made him look like a polite fig-leaf for creeping Iranian domination of Lebanon, further eroding his Sunni support—a fact he bemoaned in a recent interview from Riyadh. […]

Hariri’s Future Party is currently parliament’s largest—with 28 of 128 seats. With his broader allies, he theoretically has a slim majority. However, that is a holdover from the country’s last parliamentary elections in 2009. With his eroded credibility and Lebanon’s new electoral law placing a higher premium than before on popular support, he’s guaranteed to lose it the 2018 elections. Given parliament’s power of electing the president and confirming the prime minister and his cabinet, it is a particularly important body to lose.”