BBC News website recycles previous Golan Heights inaccuracies

Hot on the heels of his audio report from the Golan Heights which was broadcast on June 15th on BBC Radio 4, Andrew Hosken produced a written article on the same subject for the BBC News website’s Middle East page’s ‘Features’ section on June 20th – “Syrian conflict: The view from Golan Heights” –  which suffers from many of the same factual inaccuracies.Hosken Golan written

Hosken’s report opens with a description of his visit to a chocolate factory. Seeing as that factory is located in Kibbutz Ein Zivan, it is reasonable to assume that he would have noticed the nearby border fence and, just beyond that, the town of Quneitra.

When the Six Day War ended with the ceasefire of June 10th 1967, Quneitra was left under Israeli control and remained so until the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Under the terms of the 1974 agreement between Israel and Syria, Israel evacuated territory it had captured during the Yom Kippur war as well as some 60 square kilometers in the Quneitra area, captured in 1967. Following the 1974 agreement, ITN reported that “Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad personally hoisted the Syrian flag over the ruined town of Kuneitra [Quneitra] on Wednesday (June 26) to mark the end of seven years of Israeli occupation”.

Nevertheless, readers of this report by Hosken were again told that the Israeli Golan is 54.5 square miles larger than is actually the case and that the border is “the 1967 ceasefire line” rather than the 1974 line.

“Territory encompassing most of the Golan Heights, approximately 500 square miles, was captured by Israel in the last stages of the so-called Six Day War of 1967.

Israel effectively annexed the land in December 1981 when it officially extended Israeli law and government to the Golan.

The “border” between Israeli-occupied land and Syria is now the 1967 ceasefire line that is enforced by the United Nations.”

The mandate of the UNDOF forces in the area is to “maintain” and “supervise” – rather than ‘enforce’ – the 1974 agreement.

The article portrays Hizballah as “Islamist militants” rather than an international terror organization.

“Assad has been heavily supported by Iran and, in particular, the Islamist militants funded and backed by Tehran, Hezbollah. Hezbollah has vowed to destroy the state of Israel.”

In common with the audio report, the population of the Golan Heights is inaccurately portrayed as being over a third smaller than is the case and the location of the Druze residents of the Golan is described in confusing terms.

“Of the 30,000 or so people in Israel-occupied Golan, fewer than half – about 14,000 – are Jews. The rest are mainly Druze Arabs, who straddle the 1967 ceasefire line.”

Visiting Moshav Yonatan, Hosken tells readers that:

“The village lies in south-eastern Golan just four miles from the ceasefire line. On the other side, so-called Islamic State is believed to be fighting Assad’s Hezbollah-backed forces.”

In fact, Yonatan is located in the central Golan and the ISIS affiliated groups (which have of late been fighting other rebel groups more than Assad and his allies) are positioned further to the south.

Despite the existence of documentation, Hosken once again tells BBC audiences that:

“…Israel believes a small number of Syrian Druze are being used in sporadic attacks against Israelis in the Golan Heights by Hezbollah” [emphasis added]

As noted here previously, the topic of Hizballah and Iranian activity on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights has been under-reported by the BBC in the past and so it is good to see a journalist finally giving some air-time and column space to that issue. It is however a pity that such long overdue reporting is marred by very basic factual inaccuracies.

Related Articles:

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Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

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BBC R4 reveals what ‘really’ threatens to reignite Hamas-Israel conflict

On June 9th – the day after the terror attack at Sarona Market in which four people were murdered and 17 wounded – BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘The World Tonight’ broadcast an item apparently intended to convey to audiences that any future outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas would be down to one prime factor.

As readers may be able to guess, that factor was not terrorism: the word did not appear even once throughout the report. Presenter Shaun Ley set the scene (from 18:13 here):R4 the world tonight 9 6

“Now, Israel’s newly appointed defence minister Avdor [sic] Lieberman has issued an order preventing the return of the bodies of any Palestinians who are killed in attacks there. The gunmen who shot dead four people and injured six [sic] others at a shopping centre in Tel Aviv last night were captured alive but this is a signal by Mr Lieberman – a political hardliner. In addition, permits for 83,000 Palestinians who were planning to come to Israel have been revoked and more troops are to be deployed in the occupied West Bank. Our reporter Andrew Hosken reports now from Jerusalem.”

Ley did not inform listeners that Lieberman’s order constitutes a return to previous policy or that the entry permits for Palestinians were frozen rather than “revoked”.

Hosken began his report with a description of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, going on to say:

“But in recent months Damascus Gate has also been the scene of a string of knife attacks, mainly by young Palestinians of both sexes, on Jewish Israeli policemen and women.”

Over a dozen attacks have taken place at Damascus Gate since October of last year. Contrary to the claims from Hosken, the attacks were not directed exclusively at members of the security forces and many Israeli police and border police officers are not Jewish. At least four civilians were wounded in attacks at that location. Neither were all the attacks at Damascus Gate “knife attacks” as inaccurately claimed: at least five shooting attacks took place, including the one on February 3rd in which Border Police officer Hadar Cohen was murdered.

Hosken continued:

“The attacks here have earned this wave of assault that began last October the not terribly subtle title ‘the Intifada of knives’. But the latest assault involved machine guns and at the heart of Jewish Israel – Tel Aviv – some fifty miles or so west of Jerusalem. The Israeli government, led by the Right-wing Likud party, has promised a severe reaction against any Palestinian entity – individuals, organisations, even families – it considers culpable.”

Listeners then heard some general statements from MK Dr Anat Berko before Hosken went on:

“Raids were conducted today by Israeli security forces in Yatta – a small town which is home to at least two of the attackers. It’s in the Palestinian West Bank area where so many Israeli Jews have created settlements in defiance of a number of United Nations resolutions.”

There were two terrorists involved in the Sarona Market attack and both came from Yatta which is in Area A and under full Palestinian Authority control. There are of course no ‘settlements’ in Areas A or B.

Hosken next went to Kibbutz Alumim in the Western Negev.

“Jeremy Maisel [phonetic] lives on the Alumim kibbutz in south-west Israel just two and a half miles from the Gaza Strip – home to 2 million Palestinians.”

As of July 2015 the population of the Gaza Strip was 1.87 million.

“In the summer of 2014 during the conflict between Israel and Hamas – the Islamist organization that controls Gaza – the Alumim kibbutz came under rocket attack. No fewer than 282 code red alerts were issued to the people here, giving them 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter. Jeremy Maisel remains pessimistic about any prospects of peace with the Palestinians.”

Maisel: “Hamas is a very extremist government there and they don’t hide their goals of destroying Israel, of killing Jews.”

Hosken continued:

“Most of the leaders of Hamas are based in Gaza and as far as the Israeli government is concerned, Hamas – which has often vowed to destroy Israel in the past – remains suspect number one when it comes to the attack in Tel Aviv.”

The Hamas movement in Yatta claimed that the two terrorists belonged to its organization soon after the attack.

Hosken then journeyed to Gaza.

“I’ve just crossed over from Israel into Gaza and the dysfunctionality of the place is clear on entry because after passing through Israeli passport control you have to negotiate two checkpoints on the Palestinians’ side operated by separate and differing organisations that have fought bitterly in the past for control of the Strip. The first is operated by Fatah and the second manned by Hamas.”

The checkpoint is actually Palestinian Authority – rather than “Fatah” – operated. Hosken then gave an inaccurate account of how the Gaza Strip came under Hamas control, completely erasing the terror organisation’s violent June 2007 coup from audience view.

“Hamas has controlled Gaza since winning elections here in 2006. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority which holds sway on the West Bank – home to two of the Tel Aviv attackers.”

Listeners heard entirely unchallenged statements from three interviewees in Gaza, the first being “a prominent Fatah leader” whom Hosken asked about “the so-called Intifada of knives”.

“It is a reaction more than Intifada. It is a reaction from the people. The humiliation they face on the borders and cross points of the Israelis. They are using a very, very bad way in dealing with the Palestinians. They keep them for long time on the cross points, on the entrances and they don’t allow them to go to Jerusalem. They touch the feelings of the people so it is not an organized act. It is just a reactionary act.”

Hosken did not bother to clarify to listeners that Palestinians can in fact travel to Jerusalem with the appropriate paper work or that the security measures at crossings into Israel are the direct result of Palestinian terrorism.

Listeners also heard from a similarly unchallenged porter whom Hosken asked “what he thought about the attack in Tel Aviv”.

“I feel happy because they have taken Jerusalem, they have taken our land and it’s right to defend ourself. The operation is a natural because they took our land and look what they are doing in Gaza: they cut the electricity, they close the border.”

Hosken did not explain to listeners that the electricity cuts in the Gaza Strip have nothing at all to do with Israel and are the result of a dispute between Hamas and the PA. He went on:

“…but could there be another war soon? Even before Tel Aviv there was concern at the appointment as Israeli defence minister of Avigdor Lieberman – a hawk when it comes to the Palestinians and a man who has supported the assassination of Hamas leaders in the past.”

Listeners then heard from an associate professor of politics at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.

“The Palestinian elite in Gaza are a little bit concerned that maybe the bringing of Lieberman as defence minister might mean another war is in the making between Israel and Hamas within the next six months or a year. Lieberman in the past year or so since the Israeli elections have asked Netanyahu to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and have pushed Netanyahu to assassinate the political leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip so it could mean military activity against Hamas and the Palestinians in the Gaza strip in the foreseeable future.”

Hosken then closed with the following trite statement:

“Tonight for many people here, recent attempts by both France and Egypt to broker peace talks have never felt more forlorn.”

Hamas – along with several other Palestinian factions – clearly has no interest in peace talks, as one presumes Hosken himself knows, and has spent the last two years rebuilding its terrorist infrastructure. Nevertheless, listeners to this item were led to believe that the main factor threatening to lead to a renewal of conflict is the recent appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Minister of Defence rather than Palestinian terrorism. Apparently that is what passes for ‘reporting’ at BBC Radio 4. 

 

BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

As regular readers will be aware, it is extremely rare for BBC audiences to be provided with the background information necessary for their understanding of the events which preceded Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.

All the more refreshing, therefore, was Andrew Hosken’s introduction of some context into the opening of his June 15th report for BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ (from 14:07 here), although the rest of his report was dogged by factual inaccuracies.

Reporting from a lookout point in the south Golan Heights, Hosken told listeners that:

“Before 1967 Syrian troops positioned their artillery here and used it to devastating effect to shell Israeli positions down below.”

Kibbutz Ha'on from the Golan Heights

Kibbutz Ha’on from the Golan Heights

Those “positions” were of course the civilian communities lying at the foot of the Golan Heights such as Tel Katzir, Ha’on and Ein Gev, as was noted in the recording from a tourist information point which followed Hosken’s introduction.

“Syria took advantage of its topographical superiority on the Golan Heights and for nineteen years relentlessly attacked the northern Israeli communities below.”

Hosken continued:

“So now tourists come to enjoy the view of the Sea of Galilee. The Israeli army captured most of the Golan Heights – some 500 square miles – from Syria in the last stages of the Six Day War and Israelis have occupied it ever since.”

The actual area of the Israeli Golan Heights is 1,154 square kilometers or 445.5 square miles. Listeners then heard the same tourist information recording again:

“An entire generation of children spent part of their childhood in bomb shelters and as a result was nicknamed ‘the bomb shelter children’.”

Hosken next proceeded to Moshav Yonatan which for some reason he described as being “not far from the shores of the Sea of Galilee” even though it is a 28 km drive away.

“But just four miles away from where we are, across the ceasefire lines of the 1967 Six Day War, there is the so-called Islamic State actually fighting the forces of President Bashar al Assad…”

The ceasefire lines are actually those which came into being in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War. After having asked a local resident the somewhat bizarre question of whether he prefers to have ISIS or Hizballah on his doorstep, Hosken continued:

“Of the thirty thousand or so people in the Israeli occupied Golan, less than half – around 14 thousand – are Jews. The rest are mainly Druze Arabs who straddle the 1967 ceasefire line.”

As of 2014 the population of the Golan Heights was actually 45.7 thousand – 19,900 of whom were Jews and 21,900 Druze. The claim that the Druze “straddle the 1967 ceasefire line” is presumably intended to mean that in addition to Druze residents of the Israeli Golan Heights, there are also Druze communities in Syria. Hoskens went on:

“But Israel believes that a small number of Syrian Druze are being used in sporadic attacks against Israelis in the Golan Heights by Hizballah – the militant Islamist group that is backed and funded by Iran.” [emphasis added]

The involvement of some Syrian Druze in attacks along the border is not a matter of ‘belief’ and it is of course notable that Hosken refrained from using the more accurate term ‘terrorist organisation’ when describing Hizballah.

An unidentified contributor then correctly told listeners that Hizballah’s activity along the Israel-Syria border “has nothing to do with the Syrian civil war – that’s part of Hizballah’s war against Israel” but – despite being serially under-reported by the BBC – that topic was not explored further.

After a contribution from an additional interviewee, Hosken closed his report as follows:

“For many IS remains the most immediate security threat but concern about the growing influence of Iran is now being felt across the region. But possibly with serious consequences for the world, it is being felt most acutely in Israel.”

One can of course reasonably assume that there are people in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere who are feeling “the growing influence of Iran” at least as acutely as Israelis. Apparently though, the BBC believes that their concerns will not have “serious consequences for the world”.

Related Articles:

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Airbrushing Hizballah: BBC News report on Nasrallah speech