Weekend long read

1) The ITIC reports on “Preparations for the mass “return march” to mark the first anniversary of the marches and Land Day”.

“With the escalation that followed the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in the background, preparations continue to be made for the “return march” that will take place on Saturday, March 30, 2019. The events will mark one year of “return marches” as well as Land Day, affiliated with Israeli Arabs. A series of events are planned, which will be held at the usual five sites of the “return marches.” The events will be accompanied by a general strike and closed schools to increase the number of participants. The organizers are also trying to attract Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, the Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the refugee camps in the dispersal to join the protest activities. It is unclear if and to what degree there will be a response to the calls from terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.”

2) Also from the ITIC: the background to the kind of Hamas propaganda uncritically recycled this week by the BBC News website.

“Instructions were posted to a Hamas forum regarding the terminology that should be used in the media. According to the instructions, media workers should avoid the use of terminology that indicates a recognition of the existence of Israel (the “Zionist entity”); care should [be] taken to designate all sites attacked by Israel as “civilian targets” and not as military targets; the cities in Israel which are attacked should be referred to as occupied Palestinian territories, and not as cities; and there is no such thing as “the residents of Israel’s south” because [the Israelis] are thieves who took the Palestinian lands by force.”

3) At the Jerusalem Post Lahav Harkov analyses “The ‘Wag The Dog’ Conspiracy That Never Happened”.

“When Palestinian terrorists shot rockets into central Israel and completely destroyed a house in Moshav Mishmeret, injuring all three generations of one family, some thought that instead of condemning Hamas for targeting infants, toddlers and their grandparents, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the real problem here.

A conspiracy theory in the style of Wag the Dog began to be floated in news outlets of varying levels of respectability – like the UK’s Independent – and on the social media accounts of anti-Israel organizations that Netanyahu wants a war, because it’ll somehow help him ahead of the April 9 election. They claimed that Netanyahu intentionally sparks wars right before elections to help him win.”

4) To mark the fortieth anniversary of the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, Ofir Winter and Udi Dekel of the INSS assess that treaty.

“March 2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. This signed agreement affirmed peace as the strategic choice of both countries, and in turn distanced them from the danger of war. Over the years, the peace has survived challenges and upheavals, and provided tightened security cooperation around shared interests. However, relations between leaderships and security establishment are not enough, and the time has come to deepen the roots of peace between the two peoples.”

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Background again absent in BBC’s Sinai terrorism story

The lead item on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 5th was a report titled “Abdul Fattah al-Sisi: Why did Egypt want CBS interview pulled?” which opened by telling readers that:

“The CBS television network says it has rejected a request by Egypt’s envoy to the US not to broadcast an interview with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

The 60 Minutes programme cited Mr Sisi as confirming the Egyptian military was working with Israel to combat jihadist militants in the Sinai peninsula.”

The latter part of the report stated:

“CBS said the president also “confirmed his military was working with Israel against terrorists in North Sinai”, where attacks by an affiliate of the jihadist group Islamic State has left hundreds of security personnel and civilians dead.

Asked if the co-operation with Israel was the “closest ever”, Mr Sisi reportedly responded: “That is correct… We have a wide range of co-operation with the Israelis.” […]

Mr Sisi’s reported confirmation of military co-operation with Israel over North Sinai might also be controversial in Egypt. The two countries fought four wars before signing a peace treaty in 1979.

In February, the New York Times reported that the president had approved a covert Israeli air campaign in North Sinai that had resulted in more than 100 strikes by unmarked drones, helicopters and jets.

However, Egypt’s military insisted at the time that only Egyptian security forces were confronting militants in the region and warned local media not to report “unreliable information”.

When asked about Mr Sisi’s interview with CBS on Friday, an Israeli military spokesperson told the BBC: “We do not comment on foreign reports.””

Those who rely on the BBC for their news of course lack the background information necessary to understand the topic of any cooperation between Israel and Egypt in efforts to contain the branch of ISIS operating in the Sinai Peninsula.

In 2017 the BBC News website completely ignored no fewer than five separate missile attacks carried out by that group against Israel and the topic of relations between Hamas and Wilayat Sinai has not been the subject of any serious BBC reporting. BBC Monitoring’s profile of the Sinai Province (Wilayat Sinai) group still includes inaccurate information.

Despite mentioning the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the BBC’s report fails to clarify to readers that what “might also be controversial in Egypt” includes the fact that Egypt’s campaign against the ISIS terrorists has repeatedly included securing Israel’s agreement to increases in troop numbers and weapons deployment in the Sinai Peninsula beyond those permitted under the terms of the 1979 treaty.

Once again the BBC has passed up on the opportunity to provide audiences with background necessary for full understanding of that story.

Related Articles:

Egyptian news site notices BBC’s terror terminology double standards

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS history programme dumbs down the story of a border dispute

The June 29th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was titled “The Disputed Resort of Taba” and it was presented as follows in the synopsis.

“A dispute between Israel and Egypt over a tiny strip of beach on the Red Sea soured relations between the two countries for years. Israel captured Taba on the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War, but refused to return it until 1989 when the Egyptians bought the luxury hotel and beach-hut village that Israeli developers had built on it. Louise Hidalgo talks to former US judge Abraham Sofaer who helped negotiate the deal.”

Somewhat bizarrely given its focus on a political/geographical dispute, presenter Louise Hidalgo introduced the programme as “part of our series looking at the history of tourism” before explaining the story.

“It was 1985 and Judge Abraham Sofaer’s first experience of trying to mediate an agreement in a part of the world known for some of the most intractable disagreements on earth. This one was over a small spit of beach 750 yards long called Taba, in the top-most corner of the Sinai Peninsula and in the southern-most tip of Israel. The Egyptians said Taba was part of Sinai and theirs. The Israelis disagreed.”

Later on listeners were told that:

“Egypt and Israel had signed their historic peace treaty in 1979 and under the Camp David Accord Egypt recognised Israel in return for Israel handing back the Sinai Peninsula which it had captured during the 1967 Six Day War. The Israelis kept their promise and three years later withdrew from all of Sinai except for Taba. And in the years that followed the tiny enclave on the Israeli border had become a running sore in the peace between these two adversaries.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified recording – presumably from the BBC’s archive.

“The Israelis built their frontier post just north of the hotel. The Egyptians put up their post just to the south. And in between sits the hotel; run by the Israelis, lusted after by the Egyptians. To the Israelis it’s a matter of simple economics: Taba is a great draw for tourists. For the Egyptians it’s a matter of principle.”

All well and good, but then the programme got to the subject of the Sinai Peninsula’s old boundary, with Hidalgo saying to Sofaer:

“And something else that you found out during those negotiations was that the formidable Israeli politician and soldier the late Ariel Sharon who’d played a big part in capturing the Sinai Peninsula in 1967, after the war Sharon had had these pillars or posts marking the border around Taba moved, hadn’t he? This was the border that had been set decades earlier by the…by the British. What happened?”

Sofaer: “It was a feeling on Sharon’s part that the British had been deliberately unfair in determining the border and the border where the pillars were was not an advantageous border for Israel. And then he essentially ordered his people after the ’67 war to knock down the border pillars […] and the Egyptians said we’re sure they knocked down the border pillars deliberately. And the Israelis would tell me ‘yes; I was there’ said this general. ‘I was there and I saw him order that the pillars be knocked down’. So there was this sense among the Egyptians that the Israelis were just being willful.”

Whether or not that story is accurate is unclear but certainly BBC audiences are not given the full background to the story. No attempt is made to explain why or on what authority the British – who at the time had occupied Egypt since 1882 without any legal basis – set that boundary in 1906. In his book “The Boundaries of Modern Palestine 1840-1947”, Professor Gideon Biger explains:

In other words, the pillars that may or may not have been “knocked down” did not necessarily reflect the boundary defined in the agreement between the British and the Ottomans.

As the New York Times reported at the time of the dispute:

“The Israeli claim is based on the fact that when the Egyptians and the Turks marked the Sinai border, they said each border pillar could be seen from the one before it.

Israel contends that the border runs either through the ”granite knob” overlooking Nelson Village or through the cluster of palm trees at the end of the public beach – both of which afford a clear view of the previous pillar, even though today there are no border pillars at either place.

The Egyptians assert that the border is a few hundreds to the east of the Sonesta Hotel, where one can find atop a hill the remains of a supposed border pillar.

The only problem is that from the Egyptian spot it is impossible to see the penultimate pillar, which means no inter-visibility as the history books said.”

Towards the end of the programme Hidalgo told listeners that:

“An international panel was set up to arbitrate on the border, eventually ruling in favour of Egypt.”

The details of that panel’s deliberations and conclusions – including a copy of the original Anglo-Ottoman agreement and Professor Ruth Lapidoth’s dissenting opinion – can be found here.

Sadly for audiences, that complex story with its British colonial roots has been dumbed down by the BBC into a tale of an Israeli moving some posts. 

 

 

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

The BBC’s coverage of the Egyptian move to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabian control has been rather superficial. Announced during a visit by the Saudi king to Egypt, the move was not mentioned in an April 8th BBC report on that visit.

On April 10th the BBC News website published an article devoted entirely to the topic of online reactions to the agreement – “Saudi-Egyptian deal on Red Sea islands sparks anger” – and that was followed on April 13th by an article titled “Egypt’s Sisi hits out at ‘evil conspirators’ amid islands furore“.

There, readers found unchallenged amplification of the following statement:

“Mr Sisi said that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect the two islands, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Israel.”

In fact, the two islands were occupied by Egypt in 1949 – with Saudi consent – in order to enable Egypt to impose a blockade on shipping bound for the Israeli port of Eilat.

Remarkably, in none of its coverage has the BBC informed its audiences that additional parties also have a stake in this story – as the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahern explains:map Tiran

According to article V of the peace treaty between Jerusalem and Cairo, the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba are considered international waterways “open to all nations for unimpeded and non-suspendable freedom of navigation and overflight.” Both countries pledged to “respect each other’s right to navigation and overflight for access to either country” through the strait and the gulf.”

So how did the handing over of the two islands to a third party not bound by the terms of that peace treaty go down in Israel? Ahern has some interesting answers to that question.

“Given that the islands are in a strategically crucial location for Israel, it was significant that officials in Jerusalem were quick to assert that they were unperturbed about the deal.

Riyadh gave Jerusalem written assurances that it intends to respect Israel’s rights to free passage through the Strait of Tiran, a crucial lifeline to Israel’s only Red Sea port in Eilat, officials said. Equally noteworthy is the fact that the deal was only struck after an agreement was reached between all four major stakeholders — Cairo, Riyadh, Washington, and Jerusalem.

“We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the [1979 Israel-Egypt] peace agreement,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told reporters Tuesday.”

The BBC, however, apparently found that significant development much less newsworthy than the Twitter and Facebook comments of anonymous Egyptians and Saudis. 

BBC blames torture of African migrants in Sinai on Egypt-Israel peace treaty

An article entitled “Sinai torture for Eritreans kidnapped by traffickers” by Mike Thomson appeared in both the Africa and Middle East sections of the BBC News website on March 6th 2013. An audio version of the same article was broadcast on the BBC World Service in the programme ‘Assignment’ on March 7th and can be heard here.

Assignment - Sinai

In the written version of the article, Thomson states:

“Hostage victims are often taken to the largely lawless, desert area of north Sinai, where their kidnappers can operate with near impunity.

In 2012, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that a “criminal network” of smugglers and traffickers was “taking profit of the desperate situation of many Eritreans”.

Egyptian security forces do operate in this region but only in limited numbers because of a long-standing peace agreement with neighbouring Israel.” [emphasis added]

In the audio version, at 16:52, Thomson informs listeners:

“What is clear though is that not enough is being done to combat the kidnap trade in Sinai. But I’m told this is at least partly because of a long-standing agreement with neighbouring Israel which limits the size of Egypt’s security forces in the region. And in one incident alone last year, sixteen Egyptian soldiers were shot dead by supposed Islamist militants there.” [emphasis added]

The agreement to which Thomson refers is of course the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, although he does not make that fact clear. Under the terms of that treaty, the Sinai Peninsula was divided into zones with varying degrees of demilitarization. File:Sinai MFO.PNG

In Zone A, Egypt is permitted to hold a mechanized infantry division with a total of 22,000 troops. In Zone B, Egypt is permitted four border security battalions to support the civilian police in the area. In Zone C the Egyptian police and the Multinational Force and Observers operate and MFO camps and outposts are situated in this zone. In Zone D, Israel is allowed to keep four infantry battalions. Thus, as we see, the Egyptian army does have a presence in the majority of the peninsula and the Egyptian police is present in the entire area. The treaty also provides for changes in troop numbers through coordination with both parties.  

It is left unclear in Thomson’s report who the person or persons are who “told” him that Egypt is unable to combat the kidnapping and human trafficking trade due to the restrictions in the peace treaty to which Egypt agreed, but it is clear that Thomson elected to include that misleading information in his reports without checking its accuracy. 

Obviously, with the migrants from Eritrea entering Egypt several hundred miles south of the Sinai from the border with Sudan, the Egyptian authorities have the ability to prevent them from arriving in Sinai at all. An Eritrean migrant I interviewed last year told me how he made the journey:

“He told me that he left Eritrea on foot and crossed into Ethiopia, despite the fact that continuing tensions between the two countries mean that had he been caught by the Eritrean authorities trying to leave, he would have been liable for one to two years of imprisonment. 

From Ethiopia, Ambesagir crossed into Sudan on foot. It was at that point that he abandoned the clothes and belongings he had brought with him, being unable to carry his luggage on the ten-day walk northwards. He and his group of 54 people then travelled by bus to the Nile, where they caught a boat which took them into Egypt. There the journey continued on foot, walking day and night without food or water. One member of the group died along the way. “

Thomson also fails to address the subject of Egypt’s long history of turning a blind eye to the various permutations of the smuggling activities (including weapons destined for Gaza and drugs destined for Israel) of the Sinai Bedouin over the years and the fact that until that August 2012 terror attack in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed, it consistently kept troop levels in Sinai lower than those permitted under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement. He also ignores the fact that when it has considered it to be in its interest to do so, Egypt has deployed troops in Sinai in excess of the agreed numbers without prior consultation as required under the terms of the peace treaty. 

“More than a year ago, Israel agreed to allow Egypt to maintain seven military battalions and six companies in Sinai, including tank units, in addition to the forces permitted by the peace treaty itself. Before the August 5 terrorist attack, Egypt had not stationed the full complement of troops in Sinai that it was permitted. “

In a January 2012 report on the Sinai published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Ehud Ya’ari explained (p 13):

“According to the signed Military Protocol between Egypt and Israel, the army is permitted to keep 22,000 soldiers in the Sinai, limited to Zone A, the westernmost portion of the peninsula. But during most periods, the Egyptian army has stationed only 70–80 percent of that number in the area. The military has never established a separate command headquarters for the Sinai forces. Each of the rotating four brigades remains under direct control of its divisional operations room west of the Suez. At all times, each brigade belongs to a different first-echelon division of either the Third or second Army. And during the revolution, some of these forces were withdrawn to the mainland and have yet to return. Moreover, when Israel consented to allowing Egyptian troops into Zones B and C in central and eastern Sinai, Cairo deployed the limited battalions already stationed in the peninsula instead of bringing in reinforcements from the mainland. Israel also agreed to allow twenty Egyptian tanks into Zones B and C, but Cairo abstained from sending them.

This attitude reflects the military’s limited interest in the Sinai, despite constant domestic criticism of treaty restrictions on Egypt’s ability to exercise sovereignty over the entire peninsula. Since the army was not prepared to oversee the Sinai, it had no incentive to commit even the number of units allowed by the Military Protocol. The army, in short, perceived its role to be purely defensive, occupying itself with routine training for crossing the Suez while keeping as much distance as possible from Bedouin affairs.” […]

“Regarding Bedouin smuggling activity into Israel, the general thrust of Cairo’s policy was—and remains—not to interfere. Even when caught, Bedouin drug smugglers headed for Israel have received much lighter sentences than those carrying drugs into Egypt.

This attitude may help explain Egypt’s relative tolerance of the latest Bedouin business endeavor: guiding massive numbers of illegal African immigrants into Israel.”

Rather than blindly repeating the inaccurate information he was “told” by an either uninformed or interested party, Thomson should have checked the accuracy of that claim before including it in his report. His obvious failure to do so means that his assertion that the failure to deal with the kidnapping and torture of African migrants in Sinai is related to the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty becomes nothing more than a gratuitous and misleading inaccuracy which prevents audiences from understanding the real factors at play.