BBC Radio 4 amplification of PA messaging on Israeli construction

As readers may recall, the BBC’s standard narrative on the topic of Israeli construction in Area C and the parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967 was contradicted by its own reporting in March of this year when it had to tell audiences that “Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades”.

Another stage in that particular building plan was reached on June 20th when work began on preparations for the laying of infrastructure at the site. Curiously, the production team at the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ decided that event justified a report over eight minutes long and the resulting item is particularly notable on several counts.

1) Although the item concerns Israeli construction, it did not include any response from Israeli officials: the two Israeli politicians heard in the report were not speaking to the BBC.

2) The item did however present the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the story and ostensibly neutral back-up was brought in to reinforce the PA’s messaging.

3) Presenter Ritula Shah repeatedly referred to an ‘announcement’ concerning the building of a new ‘settlement’ without clarifying to listeners that it is the same project that they already heard about in February and March of this year.

4) Listeners heard an inaccurate and partial representation of ‘international law’ concerning Israeli communities in disputed areas.

The item (from 23:45 here) was introduced by Ritula Shah as follows:

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

Shah: “When Donald Trump met the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February he had this to say about settlements and the crucial question of whether any peace deal should work towards separate Israeli and Palestinian states or just a single state.”

Listeners then heard an edited recording dating from February 2017:

Recording Trump: “As far as settlements; I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. I would like to see a deal being made. I think a deal will be made. [edit] That’s a possibility. So let’s see what we do. [edit] So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two.” 

Shah continued:

Shah: “Well this morning Mr Netanyahu tweeted a picture of a bulldozer and a digger breaking ground on a rocky hill. His message read ‘after dozens [actually ‘tens’ – Ed.] of years I have the privilege to be the prime minister building a new settlement in Judea and Samaria’ – that’s the Hebrew term for the West Bank. Known as Amichai, this will be the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than twenty years.”

That statement is of course accurate but that fact was soon forgotten as the item progressed. Shah then gave the BBC’s usual partial mantra on ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of the existence of alternative legal opinions. She continued with an ‘explanation’ of that ‘international law’ which is patently inaccurate: those who do claim that ‘settlements are illegal’ do so citing Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention – not because of any Palestinian claims to the disputed land.  

Shah: “Settlements are illegal under international law – although Israel disputes this – as they’re built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state. Amichai will accommodate some 40 families whose homes were cleared from the unauthorised settler post of Amona and its creation has been welcomed by the settler movement. Motti Yogev is a member of the Knesset for the far-right Jewish home party.”

A translated voice-over of a recording of MK Yogev speaking was then heard.

Recording Yogev voice-over: “Here the settlement of Amichai will be built and established for those evicted from Amona and will strengthen our hold in the very heart of the land of Israel.”

For reasons best known to the programme’s production team, Shah then went on to mention a completely unrelated meeting held by the Israeli prime minister on June 20th:

Shah: “Well somewhat incongruously Mr Netanyahu met a delegation of former American football players today. And although he chose not to speak about the settlement decision, he did draw some parallels between their game and leading Israel.”

Recording Netanyahu: “If you’re not strong you’ll never get peace and if you’re not strong you’ll be in war, in turmoil and the worst thing is you lose. So I’m sure when you prepare for your games you don’t say ‘well, do I need to be strong, fast, nimble’. Is that a question? No; your game is not different from ours. The only difference is, if we lose the consequences are immutable. And we’ve had enough of that in our history so we won’t let that happen again.”

Listeners next heard Palestinian Authority messaging on the topic of Netanyahu’s Tweet, with Shah neglecting to inform listeners that the PA spokesman concerned had been appointed to the Fatah Central Committee the previous day.

Shah: “Well today’s announcement comes as President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner is due in Israel tomorrow to take part in talks on restarting the peace process. Nabil Abu Rudeinah is a spokesman for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He called today’s move a grave escalation and questioned the timing.”

Recording Abu Rudeinah: “The resumption of these activities is a clear message to the American administration and to the efforts of President Trump. The American envoy is already in the area. Tomorrow President Abbas will be receiving him. This is an obstacle to the efforts of President Trump to resume the peace process.”

Shah then brought in her ostensibly ‘neutral’ back up – clearly intended to reinforce that PA messaging. She did not, however, bother to inform the audience that her interviewee was previously Algeria’s foreign minister and an Arab League envoy.  As Shah told listeners, on the same day as this report was broadcast Lakhdar Brahimi was at the UNSC. At that meeting, Brahimi quoted a woman from Gaza whom he said told him that “Israel has put us in a concentration camp” but of course Radio 4 listeners were not told of the use of that inaccurate and offensive terminology before they heard from the ‘neutral’ commentator.

Shah: “Lakhdar Brahimi is a former senior diplomat. He’s now a member of the Elders – the independent group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela. He was speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian question at the UN Security Council in New York today. I asked him what today’s announcement of a new settlement might mean for securing peace.”

Brahimi promoted the old canard – frequently heard by BBC audiences – whereby ‘settlements’ are the main obstacle to peace.

Brahimi: “I don’t think it’s very good news for Palestine [sic], for Israel, for the people who want settlement of this problem. The biggest hurdle to peace is the settlement activity and the international community – the United Nations – have called again and again for it to stop. Successive American administrations have done the same; evidently without raising their voice really.”

Shah then supposedly ticked the impartiality box but failed to clarify to audiences that until the Obama administration demanded a construction freeze in 2009, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians took place regardless of the rate of Israeli building, that during the first nine months of a ten month freeze on construction in 2009/10, the Palestinians failed to come to the negotiating table or that when every last Israeli community was removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the ‘peace process’ did not progress.

Shah: “But Israel suggests that building settlements is not an impediment to peace and indeed the idea has an awful lot of support in some sections of the Israeli population.”

Brahimi: “Yeah it has a lot of support in the section of the Israeli population who think that all Palestine belong to them from the river to the sea and that the Palestinians had better go somewhere else. This is clearly not the view of the international community. I think there is near unanimity there. Even their best supporters who are the Americans think that yes, settlement activity is an impediment to peace.”

Shah did not at that juncture bother to remind her listeners – or her interviewee – that the League of Nations assigned what Brahimi described as “all Palestine” to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people. She continued:

Shah: “Are you confident that the Americans’ position hasn’t changed? After all, today Jason Greenblatt – a Trump advisor on Israel – met Mr Netanyahu and Jared Kushner arrives in Israel tomorrow – a very senior Trump advisor. That doesn’t necessarily suggest an Israeli government that is worried about US reaction.”

Brahimi: “They probably are not because even with previous administrations, they have always managed to let, you know…maybe there is a little bit of anger or a statement here or there but at the end of the day the Americans let them do what they want. Lately Mr Trump has said very mildly that perhaps, you know, you should slow down settlement building it will be good, but not much more than that.”

Shah next gave Brahimi the cue for reinforcement of the previously heard PA messaging and further promotion of the notion that construction of homes for 40 families in Area C is intended to sabotage American diplomatic efforts.

Shah: “Well do you then support the Palestinian president’s spokesman when he suggested that today’s news – he called it a grave escalation and an effort…an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration to revive negotiations. Does it seem like that to you? Is it deliberate?”

Brahimi: “I’m sure it is deliberate. I’m sure that…”

Shah [interrupts]: “Because of the timing.”

Brahimi: “Yeah. You know it’s not the first time that they do that. You remember when the vice-president with Mr Obama…on the day of his visit they announced the building of 3,000 – or I don’t know how many – settlement units. I think it must be a message to the Americans that you speak about peace but then the peace is what we think it is – not what you or anybody else say it is.”

Shah refrained from clarifying to listeners that the 2010 announcement to which Brahimi referred related to construction of 1,600 housing units in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo that had already been in the pipeline for three years when VP Biden arrived in Israel or that the construction freeze which was in effect at the time did not include Jerusalem. Neither did she bother to tell listeners that the same Nabi Abu Rudeinah said at the time that the project was “a dangerous decision that will torpedo the negotiations and sentence the American efforts to complete failure” even as the PA continued to refuse to come to the negotiating table despite the settlement freeze. Shah continued with more impartiality box ticking:

Shah: “But if there is to be international pressure on the Israelis, surely there also has to be international pressure brought to bear on the Palestinians, on Hamas to recognise the State of Israel, to renounce violence and so on.”

Brahimi: “Yes absolutely. There is a minority amongst the Palestinians, including within Hamas, who, you know, saying that, you know, all Palestine is ours and that we don’t want to recognise Israel. Or some others who say we don’t want to recognise Israel until they recognise us. On the Israeli side there is a minority just as extremist as that.”

Failing to challenge that equivalence between Israelis and a terrorist organisation and refraining from reminding her listeners that “minority” Hamas – with its platform of destruction of Israel – won Palestinian elections the last time they were held, Shah closed the item.

Shah: “So just finally then, judging by what you’ve been saying, do you have any hope that there could be progress in the peace talks in the near future?”

Brahimi: “I think it would not be realistic to say that today, tomorrow and after tomorrow we are going to move towards the kind of peace that, once again, the international community wants, that a lot of Israelis want and of course the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians. I don’t think it would be realistic to say that we’re going that way anytime soon.”

Shah: “The diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.”

While this entire item was ostensibly built around one Tweet from the Israeli prime minister it is of course blatantly obvious that was merely a hook upon which to hang yet another chapter in the BBC’s long-standing politically motivated portrayal of Israeli construction as the prime factor preventing resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Related Articles:

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part one

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part two

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

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BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

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

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As noted in part one of this post, less than 24 hours after the publication of a superficial article concerning the first stage approval of a bill proposed by members of the Knesset aimed at reducing noise pollution from PA systems used by religious establishments, the BBC News website replaced that report with one headlined “Israeli bills draw Palestinian warning“.yogev-bill-art-2

The article’s main purpose appears to be amplification of Palestinian Authority officials’ statements concerning proposed legislation under early stage discussion in a neighbouring sovereign state’s parliament.

“A senior Palestinian official has said his government will go to the UN to stop what he called a series of “escalatory measures” by Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israeli plans to […] quieten calls to prayer, will “bring disasters to the region”.

On Sunday ministers backed two bills […]

The other bill would mainly impact on Muslims’ call to prayer from mosques. […]

The Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, said the plan threatened a “religious war”, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.”

The topic of hyperbolic PA officials seeking to intervene in internal legislation in a country in which they have no authority does not come under discussion in this BBC report. Neither does the fact that the PA is not on record as having described the proposal or introduction of similar measures to reduce noise disturbance from mosque loudspeakers in Western or Muslim countries (including neighbouring Jordan) as ‘bringing disaster’ or ‘threatening religious war’.

Instead the BBC elects to provide backwind for the latest opportunistic PA agitprop, presenting a portrayal of the proposed law on PA systems which is even more superficial than the one in its previous report and similarly naming only the Israeli prime minister despite the fact that the bill was submitted by other MKs.

“While the volume limitations it seeks to introduce would apply to all religions, mosques would have to curtail the five-times-daily calls to prayer.

Arabs account for almost 20% of the Israeli population, and the majority are Muslim.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure would address countless complaints about excessively loud calls to prayer from public address systems, but critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive.”

The second proposed legislation which has drawn comment from PA officials is described by the BBC as “Israeli plans to legitimise wildcat Jewish settlements” and “intended to stop the demolition of an unauthorised West Bank settlement.” Readers are told that:

“Separately, ministers approved draft legislation which would retroactively legalise unauthorised Jewish settlements, or outposts, in the occupied West Bank.

The move was intended to prevent the removal of an outpost known as Amona, which the Supreme Court says was built on private Palestinian land. […]

On Monday, the court rejected a government petition to delay the demolition, upholding a ruling that it must be evacuated by 25 December.

The issue has caused tension within Israel’s right-wing coalition government, with some members opposed to Amona’s removal.”

No further explanation of the politics behind the proposed legislation is provided and BBC audiences are not informed of the fact that it is opposed by the State Attorney General and hence highly unlikely to become law.

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday sent a stern warning to legislators seeking to circumvent a High Court ruling to evacuate the contested West Bank outpost of Amona, saying “We cannot accept legislation that hinders decisions of the High Court of Justice.””

The BBC’s article closes using language which endorses the political narrative promoted by the PLO. [emphasis added]

“According to the anti-settlement movement Peace Now, there are 97 outposts in the occupied West Bank, and over 130 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Unlike officially recognised settlements, the government regards outposts as illegal.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Palestinians want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

While promoting the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’, the article fails to inform readers that according to the Oslo Accords – to which the Palestinians are of course party – the final status of Area C is to be determined in negotiations. Likewise, readers are not informed that under any realistic scenario (such as those laid out in the Clinton plan or the Olmert plan) some parts of Area C would remain under Israeli control (in exchange for land swaps) in the event of a negotiated agreement.

It should of course be clear to the BBC that its remit of building “understanding of international issues” is not achieved by context-free amplification of the narrative and demands of one party in an unresolved dispute. Clearly that is not the case.

Related Articles:

BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’