Revisiting the BBC News website’s PFLP profile

Following the terror attack at the Kehilat Ya’akov Synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem on November 18th 2014, the BBC News website produced a profile of the organisation with which the two terrorists were affiliated.Pigua Har Nof PFLP art

Two years later, that profile remains online with its inaccurate main illustrative photograph. The article’s presentation of the number of Israelis murdered in the Har Nof attack is also inaccurate: [emphasis added]

“It was also not clear how involved the PFLP leadership had been in the attack in November 2014 that saw two members of the group armed with axes storm a synagogue complex in West Jerusalem and kill four rabbis in the middle of their morning prayers.

A statement by the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades praised the “heroic operation” by Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, but did not specify whether the cousins had been instructed to carry out the attack.”

In fact, five people (four worshippers and a policeman) were killed during the attack and one additional victim succumbed to his wounds a year later but the BBC’s article has not been updated accordingly.

The article refrains from describing the PFLP as a terrorist organisation in the BBC’s own words, with that definition attributed to Israeli authorities in quotation marks:

“The PFLP leader was subsequently sentenced to 30 years in an Israeli prison for heading an “illegal terrorist organisation”…” 

Readers of the profile are not informed that the PFLP is defined as a proscribed terror organisation by the United States, Canada, Israel and the EU.

NGO Monitor recently produced a report concerning the financial support provided to various NGOs linked to the PFLP.

“Many European countries fund a network of organizations, some of which are directly affiliated with the PFLP, and others with a substantial presence of employees and officials linked to the PFLP. The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) include Addameer, Al-Haq, Alternative Information Center (AIC), Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), Health Work Committee (HWC), Stop the Wall, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). […]

Donors to the NGOs include the EU, the governments of Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Ireland, UK, Netherland, Germany, Belgium, France, and Switzerland, and the United Nations. Continued funding raises serious questions about due diligence and evaluation on the part of the governments and the UN, as well as compliance with domestic and international laws.”

Some of those NGOs have been directly or indirectly quoted and promoted by the BBC in its Middle East coverage – for example Addameer, Al Haq, Defence for Children International – Palestine and of course the PCHR, which received particularly extensive exposure during the 2014 conflict between Israel and terror organisations in the Gaza Strip and which was one of the sources behind the casualty figures amplified by the BBC at the time.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”  


BBC reveals the ‘secret’ detention which wasn’t

On November 18th 2013 the Middle East page of the BBC News website ran an article with the sensational headline “Israel secretly detained al-Qaeda suspect Baraq“. 

al Barak

The report’s opening lines are no less dramatic:

“Israel has secretly held a suspected al-Qaeda biological weapons expert since 2010, it has been revealed.” […]

“His detention was revealed on Monday when lawyers petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court for his release.”

Whilst Samer Abed a-Latif al-Barak’s (also Baraq or Barq) detention may indeed have been a “secret” only recently “revealed” to the BBC, it certainly was not to members of his family who visited him in prison, to the NGOs Addameer (which visited him in June 2012) and Amnesty International (which has been campaigning on his behalf for well over a year) or to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club which, according to AI, provided him with a lawyer.

Clearly then, the BBC’s implication of some sort of covert, shadowy goings-on is entirely redundant and inaccurate.

The BBC report goes on to give some biographical background on al-Barak:

“According to court documents disclosed on Monday, Mr Baraq was born in Kuwait in 1974 and moved to Pakistan in 1997 to study microbiology.

The following year, he attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan, and in 2001 was recruited by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, the documents say.

He then allegedly acquired “knowledge and experience” in non-conventional weaponry.

Israeli prosecutors said Mr Baraq spent three months at the US military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in 2003, and was imprisoned in Jordan between 2003 and 2008 for “terrorist activity” and involvement in an al-Qaeda biological weapon project.

He was expelled from Jordan on 11 July 2010 and was subsequently arrested by Israeli troops at the Allenby Bridge border crossing while trying to enter the West Bank.”

In addition to neglecting to point out that al-Barak’s time in Guantanamo Bay was preceded by his arrest in Pakistan by the US authorities due to his Al Qaeda affiliations, the BBC’s account of al-Barak’s activities in Jordan – which resulted in his arrest and imprisonment there – is vague, with the use of scare quotes around the phrase terrorist activity implying that BBC audiences should be sceptical of that description of his activities. The same court documents quoted by the BBC actually include further information:

“According to the report, al-Barq was involved in planning attacks on Jews and Israelis in Jordan and also planned to teach Palestinian terrorists how to manufacture poisons.”

A report from Channel 10 includes some details from al-Barak’s questioning. [translation: BBC Watch]

“Al-Barak was born in Kuwait and in his youth travelled to Pakistan in order to study biology. From there he continued to Afghanistan and there, according to the version he gave to investigators, was trained in biological warfare. “I practiced the manufacture of explosives and poisons, such as cyanide and nerve gas”, he recalled.

During the questioning he told them about an experiment he carried out on a dog, which he put into a crate into which he introduced nerve gas which he had made. “The dog died within minutes”, he recounted coldly. “I discussed with friends the possibility that we would return to the [West] Bank and carry out terror attacks against Israel.”

The terror activist also told of his recruitment to Al Qaeda by the organisation’s leader, Ayman a-Zawahiri. “I met him in Afghanistan and he said I must be in touch with him and learn about anthrax”, he said to the investigators. According to him, a-Zawahiri “spoke of the possibility that a suicide bomber would spread the poison using a sprayer in a public place”. 

The BBC’s account also neglects to mention the fact that efforts have been made by Israel to find a country willing to take al-Barak – as noted in a document from the Ministry of Justice.

“It should be noted that several attempts were made to transfer Mr. Al Barq to several Arab countries, however up to date no Arab country has agreed to accept him.”

The remainder of the BBC’s report largely focuses on a partial view of the subject of administrative detention – one which the BBC has often visited before – and includes the quotation of mostly later added figures from B’Tselem.

Thus, BBC audiences are shepherded towards focusing their attentions on specific aspects of the subject of administrative detention (also known as preventative detention in some of the other democratic countries in which it is employed as a counter-terrorism measure or for other reasons – as in the EU) rather than on the issues of public safety presented by a previously imprisoned, Al Qaeda-affiliated, unconventional weapons expert in a region in which Salafist violence has dramatically spiked in recent years. 

Donnison’s ‘woman in the Ramallah street’: professional anti-Israel campaigner

Among the BBC’s Obama visit coverage we find a filmed report from March 21st by Jon Donnison entitled “Palestinian views on President Obama’s visit“, which appeared on BBC television news as well as being featured on the BBC News website. 

Palestinian views Obama

The report begins in the Friends School in Ramallah, with the footage edited so that viewers hear a teacher saying “so Israel triples its size” as the BBC film crew enters a classroom. Two pupils are interviewed, with the second one stating:

“It’s been more than four years and nothing has changed and you saw massacres happening, especially the one in Gaza, and there was no reaction. I mean, we’re still dying here and there’s no reaction from the president of the free world.”

The Friends School in Ramallah is of course associated with the Ramallah Quakers: significant players in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and other operations designed to delegitimize Israel, and with close connections to Sabeel and PACBI among others. Predictably, Jon Donnison does not trouble his viewers with that information, just as he does not bother to correct or edit the hyperbolic claims made by his interviewee.

At 01:30 minutes into the two-minute and thirty-six second report, the BBC hauls out its old and much-used footage of Gaza in order to show seven seconds of one-sided images of explosions, with Donnison saying in the voice-over:

“They [the Palestinians] were unhappy at US support for Israel in the war in Gaza last year.”

Interestingly, whenever the BBC refers back to Operation Pillar of Cloud, it almost inevitably seems to use that same footage, without balancing it with images from the other side of the border. Donnison goes on to say:

“Palestinians say President Obama has failed to stop Israel expanding Jewish settlements. At the same time Israel has continued to demolish Palestinian property. Israel’s occupation looks no closer to ending.”

That particular parroting of undiluted PA propaganda is done against a background of context-free footage of unidentified bulldozers demolishing unidentified buildings. In a clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, there is no mention of illegal construction; no explanation of the significance of Areas A, B and C. 

Randa Wahbe promoting BDS, 2011

Donnison then goes to sit in a Ramallah café with Randa Wahbe, who he describes as being “part of a group that’s been organising protests against President Obama’s visit”. The text on the screen under Wahbe’s name says “Palestinians for Dignity”, but Donnison makes no effort to explain to viewers that the organisation, which came into existence at the beginning of last year, is composed of groups which reject the idea of the Palestinian Authority negotiating with Israel and call for a boycott of Israel.  

Neither does Donnison bother to disclose to BBC audiences that Randa Wahbe works for the highly politicised NGO Addameer as its advocacy officer and that her organisation is a major player in the ongoing campaign to use the subject of Palestinian prisoners for the leverage of international pressure upon Israel.

Donnison also neglects to inform viewers that Wahbe was a founding member of Students for Justice for Palestine at UCLA and Colombia and that she was involved with Adalah-NY before moving to Ramallah. Full disclosure of Ms Wahbe’s various contributions to ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ and her articles describing Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state may of course have detracted from the impression Donnison seeks to create with this interview, but nevertheless, the BBC Editorial Guidelines do stipulate that audiences must be made aware of a contributor’s affiliations. 

“.. we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

There is also a written version of Donnison’s report on the BBC News website. There, he quotes Randa Wahbe at further length, but yet again no mention is made of her political and professional affiliations.

BBC audiences are entitled to be made aware of the kind of ideologies which lie behind the opinions presented to them by the BBC in the wrapping of ‘the Palestinian street’ – not least when those opinions come from professional anti-Israel campaigners.


Face value: the BBC and Palestinian NGOs

On December 12th 2012 the BBC News website’s Middle East section featured a report entitled Israeli military raids offices of Palestinian NGOs

ME hp 12 12

The article quotes an IDF spokesperson:

“The Israeli military said the NGOs were linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel considers a terrorist group.

“Soldiers searched several offices in Ramallah which were affiliated with the Popular Front organisation,” a spokeswoman told the AFP news agency.

“We don’t know that they were Popular Front offices, but they were affiliated with a terror organisation.” “

Israel, however, is not the only country which classifies the PFLP as a terrorist organization: so do the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada. 

Nablus (---), 08/12/2012.- Palestinian supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) carry Palestine National flags and the party flag during a rally to mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the PFLP in the West Bank City of Nablus 08 December 2012.

A rally to mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the PFLP in Nablus (Schem) December 8th 2012.

The report then goes on to offer several Palestinian viewpoints:

“Addameer said the raids were an “attempt to cripple solidarity with the prisoners’ movement”, while the Palestinian NGO Network connected them to the decision by the Palestinians to seek UN non-member observer state status at the UN, which Israel had strongly opposed.

Nour Odeh, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, told AFP that the raids were part of an Israeli policy of “pursuing human rights activists and defenders of the law who expose… systematic and continued Israeli violations”.”

The statement by the PA spokeswoman is interesting if only due to the fact that it is difficult to imagine that such a raid could have taken place in Ramallah without the prior knowledge of the PA security forces. 

Of course the term “human rights activists” has – tragically – become something of an ‘invisibility cloak’ for all manner of anti-Israel political activism and these three NGOs are just some of many who exploit that title, as even a superficial look at them shows. 

Addameer aspires to have prisoners in Israeli jails categorized as ‘political prisoners’ – even if their imprisonment is the result of involvement in terrorism. Its ‘solidarity campaigns’ include support for members of proscribed terror organisations and the 2011 initiative to which it lent its voice was begun by PFLP prisoners.  

Yousef Habash

Addameer’s Board of Directors includes Yousef Habash – reportedly the nephew of the PFLP’s founder George Habash. He has also represented PNGO (the Palestinian NGO Network) and the Health Work Committees. Until 2007 at least, he was a member of the steering committee of the ‘Palestinian Grassroots Anti Apartheid Wall Campaign’. 

Addameer’s Chairperson, Abdullatif Ghaith, was described by the Palestinian NGO ‘Miftah’ in 2004 as representing the PFLP at a sit-in organized by Azmi Bishara.

Sumoud Sa’adat

Addameer’s Director, Sahar Francis, was formerly also a board member of ‘Defence of Children International – Palestine’: a title also formerly held by Al Haq’s Shawan Jabarin who was denied entry by Jordan in 2003 due to PFLP ties

Addameer’s Documentation Officer is Sumoud Sa’adat – daughter of the PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat. Here she is featured on the PFLP website.   

The Director of the Cultural Committee of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committeesis Myassar Atyani – described by the PFLP as a “leader” of that terror organization when she was arrested and imprisoned for one month in 2009.  Ms Atyani’s Facebook wall would suggest that her ties to the PFLP still stand.

FB M atyani

The PFLP’s website offers links in its sidebar to (among others) Addameer, Health Work Committees West Bank, Defence of Children International -Palestine and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.  

Some thorough investigative reporting on the part of the BBC into the subject of Palestinian NGOs would do much to advance its audience’s  (and its own) understanding of the fact that in the Middle East, “human rights defenders” are not always all they claim to be.