BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

All three of the BBC News website’s March 21st and March 22nd reports concerning the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights included links to the BBC’s profile of that area which was last updated on March 14th.

In that profile BBC audiences are told that:

“The area [Golan Heights] is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.”

While that may have been the case in the past, does the Golan Heights really currently provide “a third of Israel’s water supply”?

A document produced by the Knesset Research and Information Center last year shows that three main natural sources – one of which is the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) basin – currently together provide just 40% of Israel’s water.

“The Israeli water sector has natural and artificial sources of water. The main natural sources are the Kinneret Basin, which includes aquifers and rivers that flow into the Sea of Galilee, the Coastal Aquifer, and the Mountain Aquifer. Natural fresh water makes up some 40% of water consumption. In addition to the sources of natural water, two sources of artificial water play a vital role in the water sector: desalinated water (mostly seawater), which in 2016 provided 25% of water consumption, and reclaimed wastewater, used mostly for agriculture, which in 2016 provided 25% of the water consumed across all sectors.”

Moreover, rainfall on the Golan is just one of several sources of water supply to the Sea of Galilee and, as the Knesset report goes on to say:

“For years, Israel has faced a water crisis, which has manifested itself in low precipitation and dwindling natural resources (groundwater and sources of surface water, primarily the Sea of Galilee). The drought in Israel’s north, an area that usually receives greater precipitation, is particularly severe.”

“…the volume of water flowing into the Sea of Galilee in the past four years is the lowest ever on record: in August 2017, water flow to the Sea of Galilee reached a record low—that month, the Sea of Galilee lost 26 MCM of water (the previous record was set in August 2014). As a result, the water level in the Sea of Galilee is expected to drop and may break the record low set in 2001, despite the fact that almost no water has been pumped from the Sea of Galilee in recent years.” [emphasis added]

With the Sea of Galilee being only one of the three main natural sources which together currently provide just 40% of Israel’s water supply and the Golan Heights being only one of several severely reduced sources of water to the lake, the BBC’s claim that a third of Israel’s water supply comes from the Golan Heights is clearly inaccurate and misleading.

Readers of this profile also find the following:

“Syria wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. In late 2003, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was ready to revive peace talks with Israel.

In Israel, the principle of returning the territory in return for peace is already established. During US-brokered peace talks in 1999-2000, then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak had offered to return most of the Golan to Syria.

But the main sticking point during the 1999 talks is also likely to bedevil any future discussions. Syria wants a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border. This would give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee – Israel’s main source of fresh water.

Israel wishes to retain control of Galilee [sic] and says the border is located a few hundred metres to the east of the shore.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no such thing as a “pre-1967 border”. There is however a 1923 border set out by the then mandatory powers Britain and France.

“The territorial aspects of the Syrian-Israeli dispute date to 1920–23, when Great Britain and France devised a boundary between Syria (then including “Greater Lebanon”) and Palestine, two entities that would fall under League of Nations mandates. Often referred to as the “1923 international boundary,” the line was drawn to keep the upper course of the Jordan River (between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee) and the Sea of Galilee itself entirely within Palestine and to give Palestine a few kilometers of frontage on the Yarmouk River. Between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, the boundary ran between fifty and four-hundred meters east of the Jordan River, just below the Golan Heights. Along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, it ran parallel to the shore and ten meters from the water’s edge. Sovereignty over these water resources was vested in Palestine.” [emphasis added]

There is also a 1949 Armistice Agreement Line, which was specifically defined as not being a border. Article V of the agreement states:

“1. It is emphasized that the following arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement.

2. In pursuance of the spirit of the Security Council resolution of 16 November 1948, the Armistice Demarcation Line and the demilitarized Zone have been defined with a view toward separating the armed forces of the two Parties in such manner as to minimize the possibility of friction and incident, while providing for the gradual restoration of normal civilian life in the area of the Demilitarized Zone, without prejudice to the ultimate settlement.” [emphasis added]

As documented by Frederic C. Hof:

“During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syrian troops penetrated Palestine-Israel in several areas. When an armistice was signed in July 1949, Syrian forces still held blocs of territory west of the 1923 international boundary. The parties agreed to a compromise: Syrian forces would withdraw from the farthest extent of their advance (the truce line—later the Armistice Demarcation Line [ADL]) to the 1923 international boundary, and Israel would refrain from introducing military forces into areas vacated by Syria. Thus was created a demilitarized zone consisting of three, non-contiguous blocs of land in what had been mandate Palestine totaling 66.5 square kilometers. In some places the ADL corresponded to the 1923 international boundary, and in others it penetrated into the former Palestine mandate. The demilitarized zone was everything between the ADL and the 1923 international boundary. Syria — quite inexplicably — agreed that the ADL along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee would correspond to the 1923 international boundary (i.e., the 10-meter strip), even though its soldiers and civilians enjoyed access to the sea’s waters before, during, and after the 1948 fighting. Therefore, any time a Syrian national—military or civilian— crossed the invisible line to swim or fish an armistice violation occurred. Israel claimed sovereignty over the entire 66.5 square kilometer zone. Syria did not, reserving its claims for a future peace conference.” [emphasis added]

There is also what is termed the Line of June 4, 1967 (link includes map). That line is also not a border: it represents the positions – despite the Armistice Agreement – held by Israel and Syria on the eve of the Six Day War.

“Neither side lived up to its [Armistice Agreement] obligations. Syria retained pieces of the demilitarized zone, including the Palestinian Arab town of El Hamma on the Yarmouk River, and treated the 10-meter line paralleling the northeastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee as if it did not exist. […] Secret talks in 1952–53 to partition the demilitarized zone failed. Between 1954 and 1967 there was a “game of inches” for control of the zone, always fought to the advantage of Israel. On the eve of war in June 1967, Syria still controlled the 10-meter strip and some 18 of the zone’s 66.5 square kilometers, including El Hamma (along with a small salient to its west along the Yarmouk River), the east bank of the Jordan River between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, some high ground overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and a small patch of land overlooking the Hula Valley.” [emphasis added]

Hof goes on:

“As a result of American shuttle diplomacy, Syria came to believe, by July 1994, that Israel would seriously contemplate full withdrawal “to the line of June 4, 1967” in return for a peace treaty satisfactorily addressing Israel’s core concerns. Syria demanded that all land wrested by Israel from Syrian control in June 1967—18 square kilometers of demilitarized zone in the Jordan Valley and the 10-meter strip along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights—be returned to Syria in its entirety. […] Syria wanted a line that had, for the most part, not been demarcated: a line that, in several key areas, corresponded neither to the 1923 international boundary nor to the 1949 ADL. Syria wanted the eve of war (1967) status quo restored and a boundary drawn reflecting, in effect, a snapshot of who was where on June 4, 1967.”

In other words, the BBC falsely claims the existence of a “pre-1967 border” and its assertion that the existence of a border to the east of the shore of the Sea of Galilee is something that only “Israel says” exists is untrue.  

The claim that a return to a “pre-1967 border” would “give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee” is inaccurate, seeing as the only border in existence prior to 1967 was the one agreed upon in 1923 by France and Britain which left access to the lake within the borders of Mandate Palestine. 

Related Articles:

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part two

In part one of this post we took a look at some examples of the glaring lack of impartiality found in a programme in a series called ‘Y Wal’ (The Wall) produced by the licence fee funded Welsh language channel S4C which is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

In this post we will look at the accuracy of the background information provided to viewers – information which, at least in theory, is supposed to enhance their understanding of the programme’s subject matter and enable them to reach informed opinions.

Just minutes into the programme its presenter – actress Ffion Dafis – tells viewers that:

[02:20] Dafis: “The turn of the millennium saw another dark chapter in the history of the conflict – the Second Intifada, or uprising. Hundreds of lives were lost on both sides. In 2002, after dozens of suicide bombings, Israel decided to build a wall.”

As we see Dafis makes no effort to inform S4C audiences of the fact that the Second Intifada terror war was planned in advance by the Palestinian leadership and she downplays the number of Israelis murdered in those attacks. Israel of course did not decide to “build a wall” but an anti-terrorist fence, the vast majority of which is made of wire mesh and while the decision to do so was indeed taken in April 2002, the first section of that fence was only completed 15 months later. Dafis goes on:

Dafis: “When completed the 700 kilometer-long concrete wall will encircle the West Bank. It is a monstrosity. It is also deemed illegal according to international law. In 2004 the International Court of Justice concluded that the wall breached humanitarian law. Israel was told to demolish it but construction work continues.”

The claim of a 700 km-long “concrete wall” is a blatant falsehood. Neither was the anti-terrorist fence ever intended to “encircle the West Bank”. The politicised conclusions of the International Court of Justice in 2004 were of course never more than an advisory opinion and Dafis’ claim that the structure is “illegal according to international law” is unfounded. Later on Dafis tells audiences that:

[06:07] Dafis: “In the aftermath of the Second World War the UN voted to divide Palestine between Arabs and Jews. In May 1948 the State of Israel was created. The Jewish people had returned to their holy land.”

Dafis fails to clarify that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was rendered irrelevant by its rejection by Arab states and the local Arab population, who together proceeded to launch violent attacks against the Jewish residents of what was still at the time British administered Mandate Palestine. With absolutely no mention of the League of Nations ‘Mandate for Palestine’ intended to establish a national home for the Jewish people, Dafis goes on:

[06:53] Dafis: “The Jewish nation were to claim more than half of Palestine’s land even though the Jewish population was less than half the population of Palestine. After two years of civil war Israel expanded its territory further. An armistice was agreed in 1949. A tentative border was drawn between Palestine and Israel –the so-called green line.”

Dafis’ claim that a “civil war” took place of course conceals the attacks by numerous Arab countries. Not only did the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically state that the armistice line was not a border, but it was signed by Israel and Jordan – not “Palestine” – with no claims whatsoever made on that territory at the time by the local Arab population.

With no mention of the fact that Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem had been under illegal Jordanian occupation for 19 years when Jordan chose to attack Israel in June 1967, Dafis goes on:

[07:20] Dafis: “Since then, relations between the two nations have been fraught and bloody. The roots of today’s clashes lie in the 1967 six-day war when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. Israel maintains its military occupation of the West Bank, an area which is home to 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel claims the wall is essential to protect its people and says terrorist attacks have fallen by 90%. They’re reluctant to demolish the wall.”

Using a clear Christmas reference Dafis then turns her attention to Bethlehem.

[08:26] Dafis: “South of Jerusalem, in the little town of Bethlehem, the wall is having a devastating effect on people’s lives. It snakes through the town, separating people from schools, work, families and hospitals.”

As the B’tselem map below shows, the anti-terrorist fence (marked in red, with planned construction in purple) does not ‘snake through’ Bethlehem at all – that claim is a complete falsehood.

Nevertheless, Dafis later repeats that falsehood and adds a new one: the claim that Bethlehem is “surrounded” by “settlements”.

[22:06] Dafis: “Pilgrims flock to the holy city of Bethlehem from all over the world to visit the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem lies within Area A but the city still suffers the effects of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Tourist numbers are down and it has the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank. Bethlehem is surrounded by Israeli settlements and the wall snakes through the centre of the city.”

Viewers are again inaccurately told that the 1949 armistice line is a “border” and hear a partisan version of ‘international law’:

[09:30] Dafis: “Only a fifth of the wall follows the green line – the internationally accepted border between Israel and the West Bank. Around 80% of the wall’s route cuts into Palestinian land. In some places it encircles Jewish settlements built by Israel on Palestinian land. For generations Jewish and Arab people had lived side-by-side in these lands. Following the Six Day war of 1967 more than a million Palestinians came under Israeli control. This was the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories which continues today. For religious Jews, their victory was a miracle from God. Their dream of returning home to the holy land had been realised. They started to build settlements on the occupied land in defiance of international law. These are a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Today there are over 150 settlements in the West Bank with over half a million residents. But Gush Etzion was the first to be built after Israel occupied the land in 1967.”

Viewers are not informed that Jews had purchased lands in Gush Etzion long before the Jordanian invasion and ethnic cleansing and that the “first” community “to be built” – Kfar Etzion – was actually established in 1943, depopulated in 1948 and rebuilt in 1967.

Dafis’ portrayal of the Oslo Accords – signed by the PLO rather than “Palestine” as she claims – fails to inform viewers of the reasons for the failure to reach final status negotiations.

[19:48] Dafis: “In 1993 Israel and Palestine signed an agreement to bring the conflict to an end. But Palestine paid the price. The West Bank was split into three administrative divisions. […] Area C accounts for 60% of the West Bank. It was intended as a temporary arrangement. 25 years on it’s still in place.”

At 22:35 viewers hear of a “partition” that never took place.

Dafis: “On the outskirts of Bethlehem is the Aida refugee camp. This was created after the 1948 partition. The camp is overcrowded and living conditions are appalling.”

Viewers are of course given no explanation of the political reasons behind the existence of a ‘refugee camp’ in a place which has been under full Palestinian control for well over two decades.

At 28:31 Dafis comes up with the following claim:

Dafis: “In the West Bank, there are 500 checkpoints along the wall where Israeli soldiers guard the border. Israel maintains they’re essential to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. For Palestinians they represent yet another way in which the Israeli military control their lives.”

In addition to the fact that the route of the anti-terrorist fence is not a “border” and that final status negotiations to define the route of any border between Israel and a potential Palestinian state have never taken place, it is unclear where Dafis gets the conveniently round number of 500. There are in fact 14 crossings serving vehicles and/or pedestrians.

As noted in part one of this post, throughout the whole 48-minute programme viewers hear the entire anti-terrorist fence exclusively described as a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate. Viewers also hear extensive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’ throughout the programme despite the fact that no such state exists at this point.

[30:35] Dafis: “The wall doesn’t only separate Israel from Palestine. It also separates Palestinians from one another.”

It is difficult to recall a more blatantly one-sided and factually inaccurate programme being aired on British television and promoted on the BBC’s On Demand Programme Services (ODPS). Obviously this publicly funded production was motivated by purely political intentions rather than the aim of informing British Welsh-speaking audiences.

Related articles: 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

On February 8th 2017 the BBC News website published an article by Jonathan Marcus titled “Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?“ which was discussed here at the time.

The original version of that article included a map:

Several days later – sometime between February 12th and February 15th 2017 – changes were made to that map:

In July 2018 the BBC News website linked to Marcus’ 2017 article as ‘related reading’.  

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning the inaccurate map in which he pointed out that:

Kibbutz Gadot

“In the map about half way down the page it shows a triangular area to the west of the River Jordan which is shown in yellow as “occupied by Israel”.  (It is the area just to the right of where it says “River Jordan”.)  This area has been internationally recognised as being a part of Israel since the 1949 armistice agreement.  It was a demilitarised zone (DMZ) from 1949 to 1967, but still a part of Israel.  In the middle of that zone was Kibbutz Gadot, which came under frequent bombardment by Syrian forces on the Golan Heights between 1949 and 1967.  The armistice agreement by which that area became a DMZ was superseded on May 31st 1974 by the Israel Syria disengagement agreement, which created a new DMZ, which is shown on your map as the UNDOF area.”

Mr Franklin’s initial complaint was rejected by the BBC and so he submitted a second one on July 27th, to which he received a reply on October 25th.

“Thank you for getting in touch again about our feature article entitled ‘Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38891358) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the map.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

The amended map now appears as follows:

No footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences who read that article anytime during the last twenty and a half months that they had been presented with an inaccurate map.

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

BBC’s Jerusalem backgrounder for young people breaches style guide

In September 2017 the BBC World Service launched a new project aimed specifically at younger audiences.

“Stephen Titherington, Sr Commissioning Editor of BBC World Service English, says: “BBC Minute has turned News on its head. Young people are information hungry, but only if it’s done in a way which matches their own energetic curiosity. With new BBC Minute Video, partners can now share vision as well as sound with their audience. We are delighted to have two new partners in Egypt and Jordan, bringing BBC Minute’s fresh sounding news coverage to more audiences in the region.”

Broadcast in the English language, BBC Minute bulletins are vibrant audio summaries of the news headlines and topical stories delivered in a high-energy style that entertains as much as it educates and informs. It is broadcast twice an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a team of young journalists in London. The team also produce BBC Minute On… which focus on a single subject or key story in more detail and is broadcast twice daily.”

Those ‘BBC Minute On’ backgrounders – billed as “making sense of the news” – are available online and hence potentially the subject of editorial complaints.

In early December 2017 one edition appeared under the title “BBC Minute: On Jerusalem“. Its synopsis states:

“The US President Donald Trump is expected to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians said it would be a “kiss of death” for the Middle East peace process, but an Israeli minister urged other countries to follow the US lead. But how did the city become so politically important for both sides? The BBC’s Yolande Knell and BBC Arabic’s Hadya Al-alawi explain.”

The ‘explanation’ given to the target audience of “young people” around the world is as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Presenter: “This is BBC Minute on Jerusalem. The city’s holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. But why is it politically significant for Israelis and Palestinians? Here’s the BBC’s Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured East Jerusalem and then later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

Presenter: “Now about a third of the people of Jerusalem are Palestinians. But what do Palestinians in general want? Here’s BBC Arabic’s Hadya Al-alawi.”

Al-alawi: “So Palestinian authorities have been negotiating a two-state solution which means returning to the 1967 internationally recognised borders. Also they want East Jerusalem to be their capital. However Palestinians on the ground might not agree. They want the whole of Jerusalem and also returning to the historical Palestine.”

As we see, the BBC’s audiences around the world – including in Middle Eastern countries – are not given any information concerning either the status of Jerusalem before 1948, the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or the circumstances that caused Jordan to enter the Six Day War and loose its hold on that territory.

Worse still, BBC audiences are presented by Hadya Al-alawi with a partisan portrayal of the two-state solution which promotes and amplifies the PLO’s interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Moreover, Al-alawi promotes the inaccurate notion that the 1949 armistice lines are “internationally recognised borders” when in fact the armistice agreement that created them specifically states that they are not borders – as does the BBC’s ‘style guide’.  

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949. […]

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.” 

Given Al-alawi’s subsequent use of the politically loaded term ‘historical Palestine’ and promotion of the notion of ‘return’ without clarifying to listeners that what that actually means is the destruction of Israel, it is hardly surprising that her portrayal of the 1949 ceasefire lines is likewise intended to promote a specific political narrative and agenda.

Nevertheless, one would obviously expect a BBC journalist participating in a project declared to be aimed at “making sense of the news” for young people around the world to stick to the BBC’s style guide as well as its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

 

 

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

The US administration’s announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 prompted an exceptionally large number of BBC reports on all its various platforms.

In six of the twenty-two written reports on the story (see here) that appeared on the BBC News website throughout December, no historical background was given at all. In eight of those articles audiences were given ‘background information’ on the city of Jerusalem that eliminated its history prior to June 1967 – for example:

Israel occupied the area in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries, including Israel’s closest ally the US, maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 4/12/17

And:

Israel occupied the east of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 22/12/17

Seven of the 22 articles made a cursory reference to the Jordanian occupation that existed before June 1967 but failed to clarify its context or even its duration:

Israel occupied the sector, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. [emphasis added] BBC News website, 5/12/17

One report mentioned Jordan but failed to explain that it occupied parts of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state. […]

Israel annexed the sector from Jordan after the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 6/12/17

Of the twelve filmed reports relating to the story which appeared on the BBC News website during December, only one – which, significantly, was presented as a backgrounder: “Yolande Knell explains why the city is so important” – gave any historical information. Knell told BBC audiences that:

“Most Israelis see Jerusalem as their “eternal, undivided capital”. Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured east Jerusalem, including the Old City, and it later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

As we see, Knell’s ‘backgrounder’ made no mention whatsoever of Jordan’s nineteen-year occupation of parts of Jerusalem and the fact that the later Jordanian annexation was unrecognised by the international community.

Like all the BBC’s numerous reports, this ‘backgrounder’ too failed to note the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. The belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, was completely ignored, as was the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders. Israel’s warning to Jordan not to participate in the Six Day War was also eliminated from all the BBC’s accounts of events.

A radio report by Yolande Knell aired on BBC Radio 4 on December 23rd likewise failed to inform BBC audiences of those significant factors.

“But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognised…”

In response to a complaint from a member of the public about the lack of historical context in that programme, BBC Complaints claimed that:

“It is important to note that the aim of Yolande’s report was to offer insight to the listeners of the local reaction of Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In this five minute report it would not be possible to give the full context and history of the city of Jerusalem.

In relation to what Yolande said about the annexing of East Jerusalem by Israel, she said it was during “a war with it’s [sic] Arab neighbours 50 years ago”. […]

The BBC have [sic] of course explored the subject of the 1967 war in detail, for example in:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39960461

That link leads to a long article by Jeremy Bowen that appeared on the BBC News website in June 2017 and in which no attempt was made to explain Jerusalem’s pre-1948 history – including its Jewish majority – and the topic of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent unrecognised annexation of parts of the city was ignored.

There is of course nothing new about the BBC’s failure to provide its audiences with the full range of information that would enhance their understanding of the background to stories concerning Jerusalem.

But while that practice has been in evidence for years, the failure to provide even one accurate, impartial and comprehensive account of the relevant history of the city which was the topic of dozens of BBC reports on multiple platforms in one month alone is obviously remarkable.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in BBC WS Jerusalem history backgrounder

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

For almost two years the BBC News website has been using maps credited to UNOCHA and/or the political NGO B’tselem which purport to inform audiences about the geo-political status of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions in the past, those maps describe the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City along with many other locations of pre-1948 Jewish habitation as ‘Israeli settlements’ and – as regular readers are aware – the BBC consistently steers its audience towards the view that such neighbourhoods and communities “are considered illegal under international law”.

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

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

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

Among the inaccurate features on those maps is the portrayal of the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus as “Israeli settlements”.

Map as it appeared on the BBC News website between February – September 2017

The Hebrew University (established in 1925) and Hadassah Hospital (established in 1938) were both built on land purchased by Jews in 1914 and the Mount Scopus enclave remained Israeli territory throughout the 19 year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem. Interestingly, B’tselem’s own map does not mark Mount Scopus as a ‘settlement’.

Map produced by B’tselem

Earlier this month BBC Watch submitted a complaint raising that specific topic and others (including the portrayal of the Jewish Quarter as a ‘settlement’), as well as the general issue of the compromise of impartiality caused by the use of partisan maps sourced from a foreign funded political NGO engaged in lawfare against Israel.

The response received includes the following:

“We have rectified our map of the area of the Hebrew University/Mount Scopus. The source map had incorrectly identified it as an Israeli settlement and we have now corrected this.

The issue of Israeli settlements and East Jerusalem is obviously contentious and given the different political positions held on the matter, no map can be considered strictly neutral.

The BTselem map corresponds with the position of the UN, which considers the Jewish Quarter a settlement in occupied territory, as it does all the Jewish communities beyond the pre-1967 ceasefire line, and for this reason we do not consider it a breach of the guidelines on impartiality.”

In other words, the BBC would have us believe that its impartiality is not compromised by the use of maps that it admits are not “strictly neutral” which it sourced from an interested party because they reflect the non-legally binding position of a body which is neither a legislature nor a court. Moreover, the BBC makes no effort to meet its editorial guidelines on impartiality by providing its audiences with maps reflecting any alternative views.

The amended map now looks like this:

After amendment

Related Articles:

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’ 

BBC’s new US embassy relocation report recycles old themes

Since mid-December 2016 the BBC has been telling its audiences that relocation of the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is on the cards. During those five and a half months, numerous BBC reports on that topic have been aired or published, with many if not most of them providing amplification for unchallenged PLO messaging to the effect that such a move would bring an end to the chances of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and spark regional violence.

“A senior Palestinian official warned that such moves “will be the destruction of the peace process”.

Veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat said moving the embassy and “annexing” settlements in the West Bank would send the region down a path to “chaos, lawlessness and extremism”.” (BBC News website, 16/12/16)

““If this is the decision, to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, it will not help peace and we hope it doesn’t happen,” President Abbas told reporters outside the Vatican.

Palestinian officials say the plan would undermine chances of a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution, in which Palestinian and Israeli states would live side-by-side.

“Not only would this move deprive the United States of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy the two-state solution,” Mr Abbas was quoted earlier as saying in French paper Le Figaro.” (BBC News website, 14/1/17)

““This is very dangerous what President-elect Trump wants to do,” Palestinian official, Mohammed Shtayyeh tells me. “It is American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel.”

“We would consider this American move as an end to the peace process, an end to the two states and really putting the whole region into chaos.”” (BBC News website, 14/1/17)

“The conference comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and there are fears President-elect Trump’s plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could stoke it further.

There was deep alarm among participants at the conference that if President Trump does break with decades of US policy and move the embassy to Jerusalem, then conditions will be set for another upsurge in violence in the region, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris.” (BBC News website, 15/1/17)

“And the Palestinians are basically saying that any move for a US embassy – bringing it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – would kill the two-state solution; this long-standing goal of international policy on this conflict.” (BBC Radio 4, 15/1/17) 

“Palestinian minister Mohammed Shtayyeh says this would kill hopes for creating a Palestinian state. “For us we consider Jerusalem as a future capital of the State of Palestine, so having the president moving the embassy there, then it is an American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel. That’s why we consider this American move as an end to the peace process; an end to two states and really, putting the whole region into chaos.”” (BBC World Service radio, 14/1/17)

“…this is serious cause for alarm and if it moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.” (BBC World News, January 2017)

“If the US moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.” (BBC Radio 4, 6/2/17)

“And the idea of Trump moving the embassy of the United States to Jerusalem is against international law […] If he does that he is just ruining the entire peace process. He is defying the international law and he knows very well that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a breach to all kinds of agreements; to all UN Security Council, believing that Jerusalem is the united capital – the eternal capital – of the State of Israel. That will dramatically shift the entire game and the entire negotiations and the entire peace process. If he does that, this is a recipe for another intifada…” (BBC Radio 4, 15/2/17)

“David Friedman favours relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, a highly inflammatory proposal because both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to the city as their capital.”(BBC News website, 10/3/17)

However, as has been repeatedly observed on these pages, in all of its reports on the topic, the BBC has not once provided its audiences with any explanation as to why the transfer of a foreign embassy to a location in Jerusalem to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim should be an obstacle to a negotiated settlement. 

As has also been noted, despite making claims that the proposed relocation would be “break with decades of US policy”, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences of the existence of the 1995 US Embassy Relocation Act. Nevertheless, a vague reference to that legislation appeared in the opening sentences of a report that appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages on June 1st under the headline “Trump delays moving US embassy to Jerusalem“.

“President Donald Trump has decided to delay moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite promising to do so during the election.

He renewed a waiver for a law requiring the relocation, as his predecessors have done every six months since 1995. […]

On Thursday, as a deadline loomed, the White House announced that Mr Trump had continued his predecessors’ policy of signing a six-month waiver for the Jerusalem Embassy Act.”

As in previous reports, PLO messaging on the topic is given unquestioning amplification.

“Palestinian leaders had warned the move would threaten a two-state solution.”

During January of this year no fewer than three BBC reporters (Yolande Knell, Tim Franks and Mark Lowen) visited the plot of vacant land next to the US Consulate in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Talpiot that, as Knell put it at the time, has “long been reserved for a US embassy”. Despite the fact that the said plot lies on the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Agreement lines, nowhere in this article are readers informed of its location.

Moreover, immediately after they have been told that “the move would threaten a two-state solution”, readers find the following:  

“Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the area in 1980 and sees it as its exclusive domain. Under international law the area is considered to be occupied territory.

Israel is determined that Jerusalem be its eternal, indivisible capital. But Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.”

Clearly that would prompt readers to mistakenly assume that the proposed site for an American embassy in Jerusalem is located on land the BBC describes as “occupied” – without providing any information whatsoever concerning its actual occupation by Jordan during the 19 years prior to 1967.

In addition, this article included a partisan map produced by the political NGO B’Tselem which has been repeatedly seen in previous BBC News website content.

That map of Jerusalem portrays places such as the Jewish quarter in the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and even the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus (which never came under Jordanian occupation) as ‘Israeli settlements’, despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those and other areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948.

The BBC’s repeated use of that inaccurate and politically partisan map indicates that the corporation is not committed to accurately and impartially informing its audiences about the geo-political situation in Jerusalem.

Likewise, six months of recurrent unquestioning promotion of PLO messaging concerning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the repeated lack of clarification to audiences where that embassy would be located and the chronic failure to explain existing US legislation on the issue shows that the BBC’s presentation of this topic to audiences also fails to meet its professed standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Related articles:

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

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

 

 

 

Trump visit coverage on BBC Radio 4 promotes unchallenged inaccuracies

The BBC’s coverage of the US president’s visit to Israel included two items broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ on the morning of May 22nd.

The first item (from 2:05:36 here) was part of the 8 a.m. news bulletin and listeners were told that the proposal to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem is a “break with decades of US policy” while the existence of the 1995 US Embassy Relocation Act was not mentioned.

Newsreader: “President Trump will arrive in Israel this morning on the second leg of his first overseas tour. He’s due to meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visit a number of holy sites. It’s unclear if Mr Trump will repeat a previous aim to break with decades of US policy and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”

Amplifying the Palestinian narrative by referring simplistically to “occupied territory” rather than informing listeners that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria are all located in Area C and that the final status of that area is – according to agreements already signed between Israel and the Palestinians – to be determined in negotiations, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “During the US election candidate Trump expressed views that seemed to fit neatly with those of the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, favouring expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied territory and a tough line towards Palestinian aspirations for independence. But in office, President Trump has been more nuanced so there’s been some nervous speculation on the Israeli right that he might demand concessions from their side. During the visit he’ll meet both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Reports in the Israeli press quoting White House sources say that President Trump will ask them to undertake confidence building measures to try to improve the climate enough eventually to resume direct talks.”

The second item in the same programme (from 2:50:24 here) was introduced by presenter John Humphrys – using a highly questionable claim:

Humphrys: “Donald Trump says he can bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s the ultimate deal, he says, and today he goes to Israel to prove it – or not. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Tom Bateman’s report commences in Eilat with the space-filling and rather pointless story of a proposed visit by Trump to that town in 1989 which did not materialise. Echoing his ME editor’s previous statements, Bateman went on to tell listeners that:

“Trump’s campaign energised many on the right of Israeli politics who felt shunned – betrayed even – by President Obama. Candidate Trump could close the gap, they felt, by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by giving a green light to settlement building in the West Bank.”

Having interviewed an Israeli who ran the Trump election campaign aimed at Israeli-American voters and after visiting a church in Bethlehem and speaking with two ‘man on the street’ Palestinian interviewees, Bateman went on introduce his final contributor.

Bateman: “Majed Bamya is a Palestinian diplomat acquainted with the view from Washington. It was noticeable of course at President Trump’s press conference with President Abbas that Mr Trump never used the expression ‘two-state solution’; it was notably absent. Does that concern you?”

Majed Bamya (who, despite the claim in his Twitter handle to be ‘from Yaffa’ was actually born in the UAE) was then given an unhindered platform from which to mislead BBC Radio 4 listeners.

Bamya: “We are hoping that President Trump will be able to shape his message and his positions – including during his upcoming visit – on things as important as the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which is enshrined in international law, on the two-state solution – and the two-state solution means ’67 borders – on settlements. We believe that’s an important issue as well and we hope that his feeling of the ground will reveal to him that we are facing an occupation that is annexing land instead of withdrawing from it, which is the basis of peace.” [emphasis in bold added]

Rather than explaining to listeners that (as the BBC well knows) there is no such thing as “’67 borders”, that the two-state solution does not necessarily mean the establishment of a Palestinian state according to 1949 Armistice lines and that land is not being ‘annexed’, Bateman instead encouraged listeners to believe that it is all about “narrative”:

“Donald Trump will not only have to deal with the competing narratives in this conflict but attempt to restart talks with the two sides deeply polarised”

While narratives undoubtedly exist, so do facts. It is the BBC’s job to help it audiences distinguish between narratives and facts –as defined in its public purposes.

“The BBC will provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

The failure to challenge inaccurate claims promoted as part of politically motivated messaging actively hinders that public purpose.

Related Articles:

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

Part one of this post looked at BBC News website coverage of the launch of Hamas’ new policy document and part two reviewed reports concerning the same topic on BBC World Service radio – in which the document was repeatedly and inaccurately portrayed as a ‘new charter’.

The same story also received coverage on BBC Radio 4, including a lengthy item in the May 2nd edition of ‘The World Tonight’ (from 31:16 here). In contrast to her World Service colleagues, presenter Ritula Shah introduced the item to listeners without falling into the trap of describing the document as a ‘new charter’. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has said it’s willing to accept an interim Palestinian state without recognising Israel’s right to exist. The group’s published a new policy document; the first since its founding charter of 1988. The new document doesn’t mention Hamas’ parent organisation the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist movement banned in Egypt. The text is seen as an effort by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to soften its image. The group as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, the UK and some other powers. Launching the document in the Qatari capital Doha, the leader of Hamas Khaled Masha’al said the aim was to clarify the organisation’s ideology, politics and guidelines but Hamas maintained its view that Israel was established illegally and they wouldn’t recognise its right to exist.”

Listeners then heard a voice over translation of an excerpt from Masha’al’s speech.

v/o: “Hamas is developing without losing the core principles or waiving the established rights and demands of our people. Hamas also believes that our struggle against the Zionist occupation, the Zionist enterprise, is not a struggle against the Jews or the Jewish faith. Hamas is struggling against the Zionist occupiers, the aggressors.”

Shah continued, introducing her first interviewee.

“So just how significant is the move? Khaled Hroub is an expert on Hamas and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University in Qatar.”

Unfortunately, the reasonable portrayal of the story that listeners had so far heard in this item was compromised when Hroub opened his commentary by making the inaccurate claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and promoting the falsehood of ‘1967 borders’ – with no meaningful challenge from Ritula Shah forthcoming.

Hroub: “It’s indeed very significant to acknowledge and accept the idea of the two state solution; to have a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Now we have this kind of in a document; official document.”

The Hamas document states very clearly that it views the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory in part already under Palestinian Authority control as an interim measure rather than a permanent solution to the conflict. It also clearly states its rejection of Israel’s right to exist and therefore obviously does not “accept” the two-state solution that promotes a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel, but rather Hamas obviously sees that as a stepping stone along the route to its aspiration to eradicate Israel.

After Hroub had also promoted the notion that the new document means that Hamas has changed from being “a religious movement with political, national dimensions” to “a national Palestinian movement with a religious and Islamist background” (despite the fact that the text includes the claim that “Palestine is an Arab Islamic land” and “Palestine is at the heart of the Arab and Islamic Ummah”), Ritula Shah interjected, but failed to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression that Hamas now accepts the two-state solution.

Shah: “But crucially the document doesn’t officially recognise Israel or renounce violence. From the view of – the point of view – of Western diplomats, presumably that gives them little room for manoeuvre.”

Hroub’s answer to that question included the inaccurate claim that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state is not a crucial part of the story, along with the falsehood that Israel does not accept the two-state solution and erasure of the fact that the Oslo Accords put the vast majority of Palestinians under PA rule.

Hroub: “Recognising Israel is not really the big issue. From Hamas’ perspective – and I am not defending them but let’s say from a wider Palestinian perspective – they say well, we have been collectively doing this and yet nothing in return we have achieved. The Israeli side did not get on the two-state solution. Nothing whatsoever concretely materialised on the ground so the internal, if you like, Palestinian political spectrum recognised Israel except Hamas. This lack of recognition on the side of Hamas is not the issue. We have so many bigger issues [unintelligible], you know, the process.”

Shah then asked:

“If we accept that Hamas has moved its position somewhat but perhaps not nearly as far as the Israelis would like, who do you think Hamas is aiming to appeal to by changing its stance in the way that it has?”

Hroub’s response once again misled listeners by erasing the Hamas document’s unequivocal references to “Arab Islamic land” and the “Islamic Ummah”.

Hroub: “Number one I think to the Palestinian constituency itself – the Palestinian people – because by saying well we are a national Palestinian liberationist [sic] movement, this means we are kind of cutting off any trans-national Islamist dimensions so we are a purely Palestinian movement.”

He continued:

Hroub: “Number two is maybe the wider regional and international audience to say well we speak politics, we speak diplomacy and now we are going maybe halfway through in fulfilling a number of conditions that have been imposed on Hamas – and even the Palestinians – by the Quartet Middle East committee saying well they have to do this and that. Now I think Hamas is saying now we are kind of going down that road but we cannot go the entire kind of road without having or without receiving in return substantial and concrete steps from the Israeli side and the American side.”

The Quartet’s three principles are renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and adherence to existing agreements. Hamas is nowhere near “halfway” to fulfilling those conditions and – as this new document once again shows – clearly has no intention of doing so. In other words, Khaled Khroub was again allowed to mislead BBC audiences with inaccurate claims that went completely unchallenged.

The editorial decision to broadcast this interview with Khaled Hroub – which clearly not only contributed nothing to audience comprehension of this story but actually muddied any such understanding by promoting numerous false claims – is obviously highly questionable. The fact that the item then went on to broadcast an interview with Michael Herzog in which listeners heard ‘the Israeli view’ of the new Hamas document (together with a few home truths that BBC audiences rarely encounter) does not mitigate that editorial decision.

Shah: “Well Israel’s held Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and has carried out three major military campaigns in Gaza since 2008. The offensives were preceded by escalations in cross-border fighting with scores of rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes against Hamas by Israel. So what do Israelis make of the Hamas document? Michael Herzog is a retired brigadier general in the IDF. He’s participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians since 1993.”

Herzog: “Hamas feels isolated. It’s in economic bankruptcy. There is a huge rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. There are strained relations with Egypt and I think they felt the need to do something in order to extricate themselves from this position of isolation but in terms of what’s in the document itself…”

Shah: “So what would you say that’s new? Just identify what’s new for us.”

Herzog: “What’s different is first they try to present themselves …to go away from antisemitism which characterised their 1988 charter by saying that they are not against Jews but they are against Zionism. However, they reject Israel as it is; they will never recognise it. Another modification is that in the original charter – which by the way was not abrogated; it’s still there – Hamas presents itself as a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it is. In this document this disappeared because they did not want to upset Egypt. Other than that there is willingness to accept a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines – which is not new, by the way; they’ve been saying it over the last few years – but on condition that Israel will withdraw to ’67 lines, accept all refugees – which means the annihilation of Israel – and they will not relinquish their demand for the whole of historical Palestine – including Israel – and they will never give up on what they call armed resistance which we refer to as terrorism.”

Shah, however, insisted on trying to put some positive spin on the story:

Shah: “So, plenty of shortcomings from your point of view but you recognise that there is a move – however incremental – and is that in itself to be welcomed?”

Herzog: “The move is very modest. It does not change the basic ideology of this organisation. It does not turn it into a willing participant in a peace process which espouses recognition between two states. I think it’s more of a tactical move. I of course think that any move in that direction is positive but let’s not delude ourselves about this organisation. At the very same time that they come out with this document they continue to encourage and direct and initiate terrorist activities in the West Bank and inside Israel. You just have to follow what’s happening every week here.”

Listeners to this programme would be unlikely to have the knowledge to enable them to understand Herzog’s words because BBC audiences are of course serially denied information concerning “what’s happening every week” in Israel. Since the beginning of this year, the BBC has not reported any of the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip to its English-speaking audiences and as of March 2017, had reported just 0.3% of the total number of terror attacks that took place.  

Shah continued:

Shah: “So in terms of the bigger picture then, in trying to restart some kind of meaningful peace process, as far as you’re concerned this makes no difference.”

Herzog: “It does not. The partner of the peace process is not Hamas; it is the Palestinian Authority which is rival to Hamas and feels that Hamas wants to undercut it. And I think the context for this document – as well as very harsh measures recently adopted by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas, including cutting of salaries and not paying for electricity and so on – is the upcoming meeting between President Abbas and President Trump in the White House tomorrow. I think that both parties feel Abbas would like to present himself as someone who is a willing partner, while Hamas would like to not be cut out of the picture.”

While the BBC has certainly not been alone in falling for this latest Hamas PR stunt, it is remarkable that the corporation’s various platforms have presented differing portrayals of the Hamas document. Particularly noteworthy is the BBC World Service’s repeated insistence on telling audiences that the document is a ‘new charter’ despite the fact that even Hamas itself says it is not. Given the plethora of inaccurate reporting, it will be important to track the BBC’s portrayal of this topic in the future.

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio