Examining the rationale behind BBC policy on Israel’s capital

Over the years we have documented numerous examples of the BBC’s refusal to call Jerusalem Israel’s capital city.

“The BBC does not call Jerusalem the ‘capital’ of Israel, though of course BBC journalists can report that Israel claims it as such. If you need a phrase you can call it Israel’s ‘seat of government’, and you can also report that all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv. This position was endorsed by the findings of a BBC Trust complaints hearing published in February 2013.”

Those wishing to understand why the BBC imperiously refuses to call even the parts of Jerusalem which were not occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 the capital of Israel can find the background to that policy decision here.

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in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded.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

In other words the BBC erroneously claims that the 1947 UN Partition Plan – i.e. UN GA resolution 181 – has some sort of contemporary relevance or validity and on that basis dictates that all of Jerusalem “is not Israeli sovereign territory”.

Despite what the now defunct BBC Trust may have chosen to believe, like most UN General Assembly resolutions, 181 was non-binding and in fact it was no more than a recommendation – the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. As is well known the Arab nations rejected the Partition Plan outright and even threatened to use force to oppose it. The recommendation hence became a non-starter and its various clauses – including the corpus separatum proposal – irrelevant.

But let’s take a closer look at the BBC’s rationale. While the corporation claims that UN GA resolution 181 “calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum” it does not acknowledge that the proposed corpus separatum actually included other places too.

In other words, if the BBC cannot describe Jerusalem as Israeli territory because the city was included in a proposal which never got off the ground, then logically it should not be describing places such as Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Abu Dis and Bethlehem as ‘Palestinian’ because they too were included in that same proposal.

But is that the case in BBC reporting? Here are a few examples: [emphasis added]

In December 2018 listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard that St Nicholas Day “is still widely celebrated and nowhere more so than among the Christians of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala”.

In March 2018 Radio 4 listeners heard a drama called “The Bethlehem Murders” which they were told was “Crime fiction set in Palestine” and in which the narrator was introduced as “a teacher in the city of Bethlehem in Palestine”. Another character was portrayed as living in “Beit Jala – a Palestinian Christian town”.

In November 2015 the BBC’s Lyse Doucet reported from a location she described as “a Palestinian village…the city of Beit Jala – very close to Bethlehem”.

A May 2013 report from Abu Dis by Yolande Knell told BBC audiences of “Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem”. 

In December 2012 Kevin Conolly informed BBC audiences that “Christians are…even in a minority in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem”.

So as we see, not only is the ‘rationale’ behind the BBC editorial policy of not accurately informing its audiences where Israel’s capital is located totally misguided, it is not even applied uniformly and impartially. More double standards from the self-declared “provider of news that you can trust”.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC Trust’s ESC pretend that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing?

BBC News gets Israel’s capital city right – and then ‘corrects’

BBC WS misleads on Israel’s capital city yet again

 

 

 

Jerusalem explosives lab not newsworthy for the BBC

Had the British security services uncovered an explosives laboratory in the suburban apartment of a man recruited by a designated terrorist organisation, it is difficult to imagine that the BBC would have ignored the story.

The Times of Israel reports:

“The Shin Bet uncovered a large Hamas terror cell, among whose members were Israeli citizens, which planned to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks in Israel, the security service revealed on Wednesday.

The Shin Bet, alongside the IDF and Israel Police, have thus far arrested 25 Hamas operatives, the majority of them Al-Quds University in Abu Dis students, who they suspect were preparing to attack Israeli targets, the agency said in a statement. The arrests were carried out over the past few weeks.

The service also uncovered a makeshift laboratory in Abu Dis, in east Jerusalem, which was being used to create the explosives necessary for bombing attacks. It said the cell was controlled by Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.”

The Jerusalem Post adds:

“Had the attacks not been thwarted, they could have led to mass-casualty attacks and dangerously escalated the security situation, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) warned in a statement.”

Back in October, when BBC News was still making an effort to report major incidents in the ongoing wave of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, the theme of ‘lone wolf attacks’ was frequently seen in the corporation’s coverage. In cases in which the terrorists had known affiliations with terror groups such as Hamas or with the Palestinian Authority and/or Fatah, those connections have for the most part been downplayed or ignored in BBC reporting. The incitement and glorification of terrorism which have underpinned the current wave of violence have not been adequately covered by the BBC and the corporation has instead opted to promote the PLO approved narrative according to which the hundreds of stabbings, vehicular attacks and shootings perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists over the last three months stem from ‘frustration’ at the lack of a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This recent discovery of a Hamas-run terror cell in Jerusalem clearly does not fit into that narrative either and so – like the many previous stories concerning Hamas’ attempts to strengthen its infrastructure outside the Gaza Strip – it has not made BBC headlines.

Why is this Israeli planning decision different from others for the BBC?

Whenever an Israeli planning body makes an announcement concerning some stage or other of the construction of apartments and houses in certain neighbourhoods of Jerusalem or towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, the BBC is usually very quick off the mark in producing a report which typically includes condemnation from PA officials, comment from at least one political NGO and the standard BBC insert designed to impress upon audiences that “settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this”.

Last week, however, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 2,200 new apartments in a neighbourhood on the ‘wrong’ side of the 1949 Armistice Lines and yet not a word on that decision appeared on the BBC News website.SONY DSC

“The Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Building Committee on Monday invited the submission of a master plan for the construction of 2,200 new housing units for the Arab sector in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. As part of the plan, several hundreds of housing units built illegally will also be retroactively approved. […]

The plan allocates an area of some 1,500 dunman [sic- dunams] between Jabel Mukaber and Abu Dis for the construction of housing units. The project also includes areas allocated for commercial and employment centers, public buildings, schools, new roads and new parks. The “American road” will also be developed as part of the plan, a central traffic artery for east and south-east Jerusalem, along which commercial and employment centers will be developed.”

The BBC’s cognitive dissonance concerning Arab Jerusalemites who live in what it persistently describes as “settlements” has been noted here in the past. Now we see another example of the disturbing fact that the BBC’s issues with Israeli construction actually do not depend on the project’s location – or even on the topic of building itself – but upon the faith and ethnicity of the people it assumes will be moving into newly built apartments and houses in specific areas.

There’s a word for that. 

BBC’s Yolande Knell goes campaigning

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appears to have launched something of a campaign. On the Middle East page of the BBC News website we find two items by Knell relating to the same subject.

Knell Cliff Hotel

One item is a written article entitled “Israeli court considers landmark property law cases” dated May 22nd 2013, whilst the other is a filmed report with the same title from May 26th 2013 which was broadcast on BBC television news programmes.  

Knell Cliff Hotel 2

Both of Knell’s reports rely heavily upon the emotionally laden testimony of Mr Ali Ayyad. The filmed report opens with Knell saying to Ayyad:

“So this was all of your father’s building from 1954?”

The written report also stresses the same point:

“The large building, erected by his father in 1954, was originally for residential use. It was converted into a hotel in the 1960s, and for many years Mr Ayyad was the manager.

“This is where I met my wife and many of my long-time friends. My daughters came here after they were born. We lived on the third floor. It was not just a home, it was a way of life,” he recalls.”

But one very important factor is overlooked by Knell in her story and that is that history did not begin in 1954 – or indeed in 1948. 

Ali Ayyad’s father, Abdel Hadi Ayyad – did indeed build in 1954 the house in Abu Dis which became known as the Cliff Hotel after its extension in 1964. Mr Ayyad senior – who died in 1978 – held Jordanian citizenship (and according to one Palestinian source was an officer in the Jordanian army) and never registered as a resident of Jerusalem after 1967. He has around a dozen heirs, four of whom live in Jordan, three in Kuwait, three in Palestinian Authority controlled areas, one in Norway and one in the United Kingdom. 

In the protocol one of the many court cases over the years on the subject of the Cliff Hotel, it is stated that in 2008 the heirs accepted the fact that the building lies within Israeli territory. 

Knell Cliff Hotel 3

Hence, Knell’s claim that “[t]he Israeli authorities now say that his building – which is close to the 1949 armistice line – falls within the boundaries of Jerusalem” [emphasis added] is at best disingenuous. Equally problematic is the fact that Knell suggests to readers that the issue of absenteeism revolves around Ali Ayyad – rather than his deceased father, as is actually the case.

“Since 2003, the owners have faced several further attempts by Israeli authorities to seize the building. They are currently classed as “absentees” and the Custodian of Absentee Property controls the hotel.

“It’s absurd. It’s a subject I keep thinking about. How can the law find somebody absent when he or she very much exists? I have to keep pinching myself to show I’m present,” Mr Ayyad says.”

In this report Knell continues the BBC practice of quoting functionaries from political NGOs without making their affiliations and political motivations clear to audiences.

“There has not been systematic use of the Absentee Property Law but there is sporadic use and as a result there have been contradictory court verdicts. That’s why this is going to the Supreme Court,” says Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann.”

Daniel Seidemann is the founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem and Ir Amim

Knell devotes a considerable portion of her written article to the subject of the Israeli Absentee Property Law. Significantly – especially in this case – she makes no effort to inform readers of the fact that during the 19 year Jordanian occupation of Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem (the later annexation of which was not recognized by the international community), there existed a body called the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property which was established to handle property seized from Jews during the War of Independence.

“During the war of independence, the mandatory Jordanian legions conquered the area of Judea and Samaria, and in 1950 annexed the area. In the aftermath of the Jordanian occupation of the area, the appointed Jordanian governor published proclamation 55, declaring all residents of Israel as “enemies” of the state. This declaration enabled the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act, 1939, to the property of Israelis in the area.

According to the act, a Jordanian custodian was appointed to manage enemy property including all the “Jewish Lands”. In turn the authorities of the Jordanian Kingdom used the lands for various purposes, including leasing and renting the land to the citizens.”

After the Six Day War and the subsequent end of the Jordanian occupation, property previously administered by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property was transferred to the administration of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, but the fact that the Jordanian authorities had frequently leased or sold Jewish-owned land to Jordanian citizens further complicated the legal situation. 

In Abu Dis – as is acknowledged even by Palestinian organisations – some 598 dunams of land are actually Jewish-owned. 

During the years 1920-30 the ‘Agudat HaDayarim’ Jewish Cooperative Society was established in Jerusalem in order to establish Jewish neighborhoods outside of the Old City for its members. The Society had over 210 members, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds including Persians, Iraqis and Yemenites.  In 1928 the Aguda purchased 598 dunams of land in the area known today as Abu Dis – due to its proximity to the city centre – in order to build a ‘Garden Community’ (homes with agricultural plots). Although it acquired a legal title to the area, the Arab revolts of 1929 and 1936-9 prevented the Aguda from establishing the new community.  

The War of Independence resulted in the Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis coming under the control of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. After the Six Day War and the subsequent reunification of Jerusalem, most of the Jewish-owned land in Abu Dis (some 540 dunams) remained outside of the city’s municipal boundaries and part of modern Abu Dis is built upon that land. Some 60 dunams of the land originally owned by ‘Agudat HaDayarim’ in Abu Dis does fall within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. 

Of course the BBC (strangely, for an organisation committed to accuracy) does not make a practice of informing its audiences about the subject of Jewish-owned lands in what it terms “the West Bank”, but the Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis certainly should have been part of Yolande Knell’s research before she elected to co-opt the BBC to Ali Ayyad’s prolific media campaign.