BBC’s Bowen resurrects the ‘Arafat was poisoned’ canard on Radio 4

Episode 14 of the ongoing BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was devoted entirely to Jeremy Bowen’s portrayal of Yasser Arafat.

“The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen looks back over the life of Yasser Arafat. Thousands of his supporters turned out when the Palestinian’s body was flown back into Ramallah on the West Bank. “Love him or hate him, he was Mr Palestine,” says Bowen. “In death as well as in life he was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence – much more than a politician.” The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s view was that Arafat was ‘ a murderer and a pathological liar’.”

Originally broadcast on June 15th under the title “Guns and Olive Branches“, the programme now opens with notification that “this programme has been edited since broadcast” – but BBC audiences are not informed what that editing entailed and the BBC’s ‘corrections and clarifications‘ page does not include any related information.

The programme begins with Bowen’s recollections from November 2004 and an interpretation of Arafat’s sartorial propaganda that unquestioningly endorses the notion that the State of Israel is actually “Palestine”. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

“Even his keffiyeh – his black and white headscarf – carried a message. Arafat always wore it pushed back behind his left shoulder and down the front of his chest on the right, broad at the top, tapering down to the south: the shape of Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Listeners repeatedly hear Bowen refer to a Palestinian “struggle for independence” with just one brief and inadequately explained reference to the fact that the said “struggle” was actually intended to wipe Israel off the map and with no mention made of the absence of any claim to “independence” during the nineteen years that Palestinians lived under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation.

“Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinians since the 1960s, was one of the world’s most famous or notorious people – depending on you view of Palestinian nationalism. Love him or hate him, Yasser Arafat was Mr Palestine.”

“In death as well as life, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence; much more than just a politician.”

“Yasser Arafat’s position as the human embodiment of Palestinian hopes for independence were [sic] sealed in 1974 when he was invited to address the United Nations.”

“Yasser Arafat was born in 1929 and spent most of his childhood in Cairo. He fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and went on to found Fatah – a group that wanted to destroy what it called the colonialist, Zionist occupation of Palestine.”

“His [Arafat’s] last three years, spent under siege by Israel in the wrecked Muqata in Ramallah, made him even more of a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom. Palestinians still don’t have a state.”

Listeners also hear repeated references to an ‘unequal’ conflict – with no explanation of the fact that the Palestinians were junior players in a wider conflict between the Arab states and Israel.

“Other, more cautious Palestinians called Arafat a madman at first because of his desire to take on the much stronger Israelis.”

“His critics said a wiser leader might have finished the job. But a wiser man might not have started such an unequal fight.”

Bowen erases the Arab League’s role in the creation of the PLO.

“Egypt’s president Nasser had founded the PLO to control Palestinian nationalists. Arafat used it to unite Palestinian factions, to campaign for international recognition and most of all, to fight Israel.”

Throughout the item Bowen refrains from describing Palestinian attacks against Israelis as terrorism in his own words and promotes the ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ myth.

“Many Israelis regarded Arafat as an unreformed terrorist. They blamed him for decades of attacks, including the suicide bombs that had killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last few years.”

“Arafat was a prime mover behind many attacks. Fatah and other Palestinian factions shot, bombed and hijacked their way into the headlines. In 1972 Fatah gunmen calling themselves Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the Munich Olympic games.”

“Some Palestinians believed they were winning the argument that their cause was just. Other Palestinians said the armed struggle – terrorism in Israeli eyes – meant they could no longer be ignored.”

Listeners hear context-free references to the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war and the first Lebanon war.

“His [Arafat’s] first attacks in the mid-1960s weren’t more than pin-pricks. But his moment came in 1967 in the months after Israel inflicted a crushing defeat in only six days on the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.”

“The Middle East was boiling. The Palestinian-Israel conflict was at a new pitch and there was a full-scale war in 1973. Israel narrowly came out ahead.”

“They [Israel] invaded Lebanon in 1982 where the Palestinians had established what amounted to a mini-state.”

Bowen misrepresents the first Intifada as ‘non-violent’, erasing from audience view the Israelis murdered during that period of PLO orchestrated violence as well as some 1,000 Palestinians executed by their fellow Palestinians – with Arafat’s approval.

“What changed everything was entirely unexpected. In December 1987 an Israeli truck collided with a car, killing 4 Palestinians. Protests exploded into a full-blown uprising: the Intifada. Images of Palestinian children taking on tanks with stones went around the world and became a symbol of the oppression inherent in the occupation.”

“Palestinian rage and frustration exploded again in 2000 but this time there were armed clashes and unlike the first Intifada, the Palestinians lost the propaganda battle when suicide bombers killed many Israeli civilians.”

Bowen’s portrayal of the Oslo Accords era erases the Palestinian terrorism that immediately followed the signing of the agreement and fails to inform listeners of Arafat’s role in the pre-planned second Intifada terror war.

“But Israel and the Palestinians signed an historic peace deal and Arafat was allowed to live in the occupied territories.”

“The peace process was flawed for both sides but for a few years there was a lot of hope. Then the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who wanted to kill the chance of peace as well.”

A recording of Saeb Erekat speaking in 2004 which further gives listeners an inaccurate impression of Arafat’s role in the campaign of terrorism that surged in the autumn of 2000 was selected by Bowen for inclusion in this programme..

Erekat: “I’m afraid if Mother Theresa were to be our president, Nelson Mandela were to be our prime minister, Martin Luther King to be our speaker and Mahatma Gandhi would be our chief negotiator, the Israelis would find a way to link them to terrorism and some voices in Washington would echo that. The question wasn’t Arafat.”

Throughout the item Bowen repeatedly promotes a romantic image of Arafat as a charismatic “revolutionary”.

“As Israelis settled into their occupation of the West Bank, Arafat took the fight to them, moving around in disguise and organising hundreds of attacks. Israel hit back in 1968 with a major military operation at the Karameh refugee camp in Jordan which had become a big Fatah base. […] The battle established Arafat’s legend. He was on the cover of Time magazine and the young revolutionary gave countless interviews.”

“For the first time posters of Arafat started appearing wherever there were Palestinians. They’d never had a leader with his charisma. By the summer of 1969 Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”

“Arafat swaggered into the General Assembly in New York wearing combat fatigues and sunglasses. He delivered his most famous lines: ‘I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand and a freedom-fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand’. Arafat repeated that last warning three times. He was offering Israel a choice: peace or war.”

“The General Assembly gave him a standing ovation though among Arab leaders Arafat had plenty of enemies. He’d wanted to carry a pistol into the hall to make his point and had to be persuaded that an empty holster would do just as well. I remember the outrage among Jewish friends at my school in Cardiff that he’d even been allowed to speak. For Israelis, Arafat was an arch-terrorist and his olive branch was a joke.”

“Arafat was caught between his obligations under the peace process – satisfying the Israelis and the Americans – and his self-image as a revolutionary focusing the frustration and anger of his people.”

“It was always strange being in the same room as one of the most famous faces in the world. His legend was always there with him to be deployed at all times for his dream of Palestine. If being the human form of so many people’s’ hopes was a burden – and it must have been – he didn’t show it.”

Bowen’s own view of Arafat is further clarified at the end of the item.

“Back in 2004 outside the hospital in Paris where Arafat was dying, I felt that for all his weaknesses, his unique position as the father of his nation gave him a strength that genuine peace-makers would miss.

Recording Bowen: Yasser Arafat may have been part of the problem over the years but he’s also been part of the solution as well. And when he finally goes, his enemies – the Israelis and the Americans who’ve tried to isolate him – may find that far from it being easier to reach some kind of stability in the Middle East, it may even be more difficult.”

Bowen completely whitewashes Arafat’s cultivation of the culture of personal and organisational corruption that hallmarked the Palestinian Authority under his rule, as well as his funding of terrorism.

“Arafat preferred yes-men to straight talkers, tolerated corruption and he wasn’t much interested in the nitty-gritty of building a state. But for most Palestinians he was a national icon.”

Similarly, Bowen whitewashes Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and glorification of terrorism.

“Abbas has never had Arafat’s charisma and even though he’s condemned Palestinian violence many times, the current Israeli government says he’s not a partner for peace.”

One of the more egregious parts of this programme comes towards its end when Bowen resuscitates an old canard:

“Some say Arafat was poisoned by Israel. His body was exhumed and tests found high levels of radioactive Polonium in his remains. The results were not conclusive but most Palestinians are convinced.”

As Bowen knows full well, those “high levels” of Polonium were pronounced by experts who tested them to be “of an environmental nature”. Both the French and Russian investigating teams ruled out foul play and the investigation closed two years ago, with the French prosecutor saying “there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. 

Nevertheless, the man whose job description is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” dishonestly promotes the notion that “the results were not conclusive”, thereby suggesting to BBC audiences that long-standing but entirely unproven Palestinian messaging on that topic may not, after all, be baseless propaganda.

Once again, Jeremy Bowen’s standards of adherence to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are on full view in this programme – together with some revealing insights into his own views of a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.

Related Articles:

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BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part two

The second part of an account of the Six Day War on the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was broadcast on June 8th (and repeated in the World Service programme ‘The History Hour’ on June 12th).

Titled “The Six Day War – A Jordanian View“, the programme’s synopsis reads as follows:

“In 1967 East Jerusalem was under the control of Jordan and Captain Nabih El Suhaimat was stationed there. In early June he and his soldiers fought in vain against Israeli paratroopers. But they lost control of the Old City and he was forced to flee Jerusalem in disguise. He has spoken to Zeinab Dabaa about the Six Day War.” [all emphasis in bold added]

That inadequate and evasive portrayal of course fails to inform listeners that the reason Jordan ‘controlled’ parts of Jerusalem on the eve of the Six Day War was because 19 years earlier it had invaded – and subsequently occupied and illegally annexed – territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920.

Zeinab Dabaa’s introduction to the programme was similarly uninformative:

“Today we are going back to June 1967 and the Six Day War in the Middle East. In the second of two programmes about the conflict, I’ve been speaking to a former Jordanian army officer who tried to defend East Jerusalem which at that time Jordan controlled.”

Likewise her subsequent reference to that topic:

“Ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, East Jerusalem – including the Old City which contains some of Islam and Judaism’s most holy sites – had been under the control of Jordan.”

Dabaa’s presentation of the background to the Six Day War included a vague and unexplained reference to “escalating tension”.

“It was on the 5th of June 1967 after months of escalating tension that the Six Day War began. The Israelis effectively wiped out the Egyptian air force on the first day of fighting. It was the beginning of a series of bitter defeats for Egypt, Syria and Jordan.”

A rare reference to the actions of terror groups was presented in partial terminology and without any explanation of what those groups were supposedly ‘resisting’ at a time when ‘occupation’ did not exist:

“By the mid-60s Palestinian resistance groups supported by Egypt and Syria were carrying out regular attacks on the Israeli border. This was followed by Israeli reprisals and a gradual build-up of Arab military forces around the border. Then, on the 30th of May 1967, King Hussein of Jordan and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt signed a joint defence agreement. During the signing ceremony, Nasser said ‘our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel’.”

However, completely absent from this programme’s presentation of the factors that caused the Six Day War were Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s expulsion of UN peacekeepers from Sinai, the subsequent massing of Egyptian troops in the peninsula and Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran.  

Moreover, not only was the Israeli prime minister’s appeal to Jordan not to join the conflict erased from the picture given to World Service listeners but the fighting in Jerusalem was inaccurately portrayed as having been initiated by Israel.

Dabaa: “On the day the war started Captain Suhaimat and his company did their best to defend the Mandelbaum Gate into all Jerusalem.”

Suhaimat: “The fighting began at 11:25 am. The Israelis attacked us with light weapons.”

Dabaa: “But on Tuesday the Israelis started to intensify their attack.”

In fact, as Jordan’s King Hussein documented himself in his 1969 book, the Jordanians had been attacking Israel for several hours before any Israeli response came.

“It was now 9 A.M. on Monday, June 5, and we were at war.

Riad [the Egyptian general who commanded Jordanian forces] increased our fire power against the Israeli air bases by directing our heavy artillery – long-range 155’s – on the Israeli air force installations within our line of fire. Our field artillery also went into action, and our Hawker Hunters [British-supplied fighter jets] were ready to take part in the combined operation with the Iraqi and Syrians. […]

… we received a telephone call at Air Force Headquarters from U.N. General Odd Bull. It was a little after 11 A.M.

The Norwegian General informed me that the Israeli Prime Minister had addressed an appeal to Jordan. Mr. Eshkol had summarily announced that the Israeli offensive had started that morning, Monday June 5, with operations directed against the United Arab Republic, and then he added: “If you don’t intervene, you will suffer no consequences.”

By that time we were already fighting in Jerusalem and our planes had just taken off to bomb Israeli airbases. So I answered Odd Bull:

“They started the battle. Well they are receiving our reply by air.”

Three times our Hawker Hunters attacked the bases at Natanya in Israel without a loss. And our pilots reported that they destroyed four enemy planes on the ground, the only ones they had seen. […]

At 12:30 on that 5th of June came the first Israeli response to the combined bombing by the Jordanians, Iraqis and Syrians.”

Listeners also heard of displaced Palestinians – but not of the fact that the Arabs living in the areas occupied by Jordan in 1948 and illegally annexed in 1950 had been given Jordanian citizenship.

“On the 10th of June 1967 the war ended. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either displaced from their homes or found themselves living under Israeli control. Israel now controlled much more territory including the Golan Heights, the Sinai desert, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Both these BBC World Service history programmes supposedly provide audiences with information intended to enhance their understanding of historic events. Clearly the many omissions of important background in both these episodes, together with the second programme’s presentation of an inaccurate account of the timeline of fighting in Jerusalem, severely hinder listener understanding of the Six Day War.

Related Articles:

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BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

 

 

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

The edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ that was broadcast on June 7th 2017 (and repeated in the same station’s programme ‘The History Hour’ on June 12th) is titled “The Six Day War – An Israeli View” and is described as follows in its synopsis:

“On 7 June 1967, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, including its most holy site, the Temple Mount that is revered by both Jews and Muslims. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to Arik Achmon, one of the first Israeli paratroopers to enter the old city that day and reach the Western Wall.”

In among her conversation with Arik Achmon, presenter Louise Hidalgo provided listeners with background to the story, some of which – to the programme’s credit – BBC audiences rarely hear. However, other parts of that background information were incomplete and unhelpful.

Hidalgo opened the programme thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“Today we go back to the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours: a war that reshaped the Middle East. During those six days, Jordan, Egypt and Syria lost control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. But perhaps the Israelis’ most symbolic victory came in Jerusalem: the city revered equally by Jews, Muslims and Christians. “

While one can question the use of the word ‘equally’ in that portrayal, Hidalgo’s subsequent presentation of the significance of Temple Mount was accurate.

“The old walled city contains one of the world’s most holy sites, the Temple Mount. Haram al Sharif in Arabic, Har Habayit in Hebrew.”

“…this [the Old City of Jerusalem] was home to this hugely revered site the Temple Mount; the Jews’ holiest site – the site of the first and second temples – and the Western Wall where, until then, Jews hadn’t been able to pray. And also so important to Muslims: the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.”

Hidalgo’s presentation of the causes of the Six Day War included an important – yet rare – reference to the underlying Arab refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

“By 1967 Israel had existed for almost 20 years but its Arab neighbours refused to accept it. The rhetoric was becoming more and more bellicose.”

While the Egyptian-Jordanian defence pact was mentioned by Hidalgo and Arik Achmon spoke of the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai, no mention was made of Nasser’s expulsion of UN forces from Sinai or of the casus belli – Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran. Also absent from Hidalgo’s portrayal was Levi Eshkol’s appeal to Jordan not to join the hostilities which, had it not been rejected, would have meant that Jerusalem would not have been included in the fighting.

“On the 30th of May President [sic] Hussein of Jordan and the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser signed a defence agreement.”

“Early on Monday the 5th of June Israeli jets attacked the Egyptian airforce.”

Commendably, Hidalgo made a rare reference to Israel’s actions after the war ended:

“Those six days gave Israel not just control of the whole of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for the first time, they also gave it control of territory many times larger than its own size. After the war the Israelis gave administrative control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Islamic Trust – or Waqf. Years later they’d also give back Sinai to the Egyptians.”

However, presentation of the relevant background information concerning the 1948 Jordanian invasion of territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920 and the subsequent 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem was – as is usually the case in BBC content – decidedly evasive and unhelpful to audiences.

“Since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 it [the Old City of Jerusalem] had been controlled by Jordan but on Wednesday the 7th of June 1967, Israel captured it.”

“This city line since 1948 had divided Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem – which included the Old City with its maze of narrow alleyways and its holiest site Temple Mount – from the west of Jerusalem which the Israelis controlled.”

“No Israeli soldier had set foot in the Old City, had they? Israel had lost its only foothold there, the Jewish Quarter, in the 1948 war…”

The following day’s edition of ‘Witness’ – which also told the story of the fighting in Jerusalem during the Six Day War but from the point of view of a Jordanian soldier – will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC’s Six Day War messaging continues on R4’s ‘Today’

The June 8th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme included an item (from 47:53 here) by Tom Bateman which is very similar to the written report he had published on the BBC News website four days earlier.

Listeners first heard presenter Sarah Montague give the following context-free account of the Six Day War: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Montague: “President Trump’s recent visit to the Middle East may have revived some hope, however fragile, of a renewed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It comes at a significant moment. This week, from the 5th of June, this week marks 50 years since Israel launched an overwhelming strike against three of its neighbours: Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It believed those countries were planning an invasion. The Six Day War, as it became known, reshaped the region. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman’s been speaking to some of those who remember it.”

To the tune of an Israeli song, Bateman begins his report with a highly airbrushed portrayal of the nineteen-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem.

Bateman: “In the summer of 1967 ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ sang of Jewish longing for the city then divided between Israeli and Jordanian control.”

Listeners then hear part of Bateman’s previously promoted interview with Meir Shalev.

Shalev: “Before 1967, when I was eight and nine and ten, my father used to take me along the border line inside the divided Jerusalem and used to tell me ‘you will grow up, you will become a soldier and you will fight over this city’.”

Bateman: “Israeli author Meir Shalev was almost 19 – the same age as his country – when war broke out. He found himself in the north fighting Syrian troops.”

Shalev: “Most of the country felt threatened. Some were even panicked by the possible prospects of this war. People were talking about the possibility of Israel being destroyed and us being exiled or killed.”

After an archive recording of a news bulletin, listeners hear from another of the interviewees that appeared in Bateman’s written report – Jordanian pilot Mahmoud Erdisat.

Erdisat: “We were very, you know, excited that finally we get our chance to fight the Israelis and get Palestine back.”

Refraining from clarifying to listeners that Erdisat’s reference to getting “Palestine back” in fact means invading Israel and taking land which never belonged to Jordan but was designated for a homeland for the Jewish people by the League of Nations, Bateman introduces the speaker.

Bateman: “Mahmoud Erdisat – a now retired general – was training to be a fighter pilot in the Jordanian airforce.”

Erdisat: “But from the second day we came to know that the situation is not exactly what we have in mind.”

Bateman: “And how did you feel at that point?”

Erdisat: “Very bad, very bad. The consequences were so hard that it was the beginning of the end of the Arab secular state. It was a blow to the Arab nationalism.”

Listeners then hear an unidentified archive recording relating to “Arab refugees…displaced from their homes in what is now Israel” before Bateman’s next interviewee is introduced.

Bateman: “Hello, nice to meet you. At her home in East Jerusalem I met Fatima Khadir, surrounded by the ornaments she makes calling for Palestinian statehood. She was 8 when the war broke out and escaped Jerusalem’s Old City with her family, who she says were already displaced after the first Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Listeners hear a voiceover which erroneously implies that a country called ‘Palestine’ was involved in the Six Day War.

“It felt like Palestine fell in six hours, not six days. We were transferred to a camp on the border between Jordan and Saudi. We were living in terrible conditions. Harsh winters, floods and hot summers. I still feel the hurt, pain, and intolerable struggle. We lost our homes back then and we were never able to go back. I’m still hurting. We are still suffering.”

Explaining a clip from another archive recording, Bateman continues.

Bateman: “A radio reporter with Israeli troops told listeners ‘we are inside the Old City of Jerusalem’. ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands’ said a commander before prayers at this return to Judaism’s holiest sites. Yoel Bin Nun was among those fighting.”

Voiceover Bin Nun: “When we were at the Temple Mount my commander asked me ‘Yoel, what do you say now?’. I told him 2,000 years have passed. The meaning is that 2,000 years that the people of Israel were in the diaspora – persecuted, tortured, antisemitism – those 2,000 years were over.”

Bateman: “He believed victory came from heaven and still feels the same way, he says. He went on to become a rabbi and a significant figure in the movement to build Jewish settlements on the West Bank after its capture in 1967. The war’s legacy is different though for the writer Meir Shalev who describes returning from the conflict and confronting his father.”

Shalev: “We started arguing about the results of the war and I told my father ‘we took a bite we will suffocate on’. He was very angry with me. Now 50 years later I think Israel didn’t do much except dealing with the results of the occupation.”

Bateman closes with his take-away message:

Bateman: “The war of 1967 lasted six days. It left consequences still unresolved fifty years later.”

Like Bateman’s written report, this one also clearly aims to steer BBC audiences towards the inaccurate view that the contemporary Palestinian-Israeli conflict is entirely the product of events that began fifty years ago when – according to Sarah Montague’s context-free version of events – Israel woke up one sunny morning and “launched an overwhelming strike” that a week later turned into “occupation”. And like the BBC’s additional reports on the Six Day War, this one too is a lot more concerned with promoting a politicised narrative than it is with enhancing audience understanding of that event in history.

Related Articles:

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A third feature promotes the BBC’s chosen Six Day War narrative 

 

 

 

BBC’s Hugh Sykes tells R4 listeners that Jews rejected the Partition Plan

As noted here previously, on June 8th Hugh Sykes produced two reports for BBC Radio 4. The second of those reports was broadcast in the programme ‘PM‘ (from 45:16 here) and presenter Eddie Mair introduces it as follows: [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “In Israel there’s a triple anniversary this year, as our correspondent Hugh Sykes explains from Jerusalem, which itself has experienced numerous car rammings and knife attacks recently. On Radio 4’s the World at One Hugh heard from Jewish Israelis who want to end the occupation. Here’s Hugh’s report for PM.”

As was the case in that earlier report, Sykes’ portrayal of attacks against Israelis (rather than the city of Jerusalem, as Mair bizarrely claims) does not include any use of the term terror. Once more, Radio 4 listeners do not hear any background information explaining why the Six Day War happened and the 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem until 1967 is again erased from audience view.

Sykes: “Since September 2015 there’ve been 58 vehicle ramming attacks here in Israel and 177 stabbing attacks on people presumed to be Jewish, killing 50 – most of the dead; Israeli Jews. 250 of the Palestinian attackers were killed by Israeli security forces – figures from the Israeli government. And these anniversaries? It’s 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel fought against Syria, Jordan and Egypt and Israel won. 2017 is also the 50th anniversary of the occupation which ensued.”

Sykes then presents listeners with an inaccurate claim relating to the 1947 Partition Plan.

Sykes: “And 70 years ago in 1947, the UN General Assembly passed the partition resolution, recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states with economic union and an international regime for a shared Jerusalem. The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations.”

The non-binding recommendation known as UN GA resolution 181 of course limited ‘corpus separatum’ status of Jerusalem to a period of ten years, after which “the whole scheme shall be subject to examination by the Trusteeship Council in the light of experience acquired with its functioning” and “the residents the City shall be then free to express by means of a referendum their wishes as to possible modifications of regime of the City”.

The Palestinians – in the form of the Arab Higher Committee – did indeed reject the Partition Plan outright – but so did the Arab states; unmentioned by Sykes. While some groups such as Etzel and Lehi expressed opposition to the Partition Plan, the organisation officially representing Jews in Palestine – the Jewish Agency – both lobbied for and accepted it. Sykes’ attempt to portray the plan as having been rejected by both Arabs and Jews is egregiously inaccurate, although unfortunately not unprecedented in BBC content.

Sykes then goes on:

Sykes: “Civil war broke out between Jews and Palestinians, the State of Israel was declared in 1948 immediately followed by the first Arab-Israeli war which Israel won. Many Israelis are celebrating this year as the 50th anniversary of salvation because they won the Six Day War. Palestinians are marking 50 years of occupation – a word that many Israeli Jews reject. Here are two settlers voicing views that I’ve heard here many times.”

The edited and unidentified voices that listeners then hear are of a genre the BBC so often finds fit to amplify. Sykes commences by suggesting to listeners that individuals – rather than states – are ‘occupiers’.

Sykes: “Do you feel you’re an occupier?”

Woman 1: “Hmm…I don’t know that I’d use that word. I just live here. I’m not familiar with…I don’t use that word. I do not like the word occupying. I am not.”

Sykes: “You’re 20 kilometers inside the West Bank; inside what most of the world describes as illegally occupied Palestinian territory.”

Woman 1: “Let’s just say I don’t agree with the world. Just because the whole world thinks something is right doesn’t make it right.”

Woman 2: “The solution between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is in the Bible. The land of Israel was promised to the sons of Jacob and Israel and this is why the name of the state is Israel and not Palestine. Palestine is Philistines. The Philistines have disappeared from the map of the world. In Israel, Israel is the boss.”

Having inserted the BBC’s standard portrayal of ‘international law’ (which endorses one narrative concerning what is actually an unresolved dispute), Sykes goes on to present a conversation with a shopkeeper in Jerusalem that is remarkable for his own prompting and numerous closed questions.

Sykes: “A conversation in a book shop in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is annexed and governed by Israel and there are now more than half a million Israeli settlers living in what international law regards as the occupied West Bank, though Israel disputes that. The bookshop owner is Imad Muna [phonetic].

Muna: “I was born in 1964 so on 1967 I was 3 years old. So all my life was under occupation. So I don’t know what is the difference between occupation and freedom.”

Sykes: “Do you think the occupation is permanent now?”

Muna: “I think what they call it the national project – the Palestinian national project – I think it’s fall down.”

Sykes: “It’s finished?”

Muna: “I think it’s fini…almost. Some of the people they say that it’s OK to be under occupation, under the Israeli law. So we are not united any more against the occupation. We are used to the occupation, which is dangerous. But this is our situation.”

Sykes: “Dangerous to accept it?”

Muna: “Dangerous to accept because then it will be normal; part of life.”

Sykes: “So if occupation goes on forever, which you’re suggesting, does something happen to stop it or does it just go on and on?”

Muna: “Nothing to stop it because also we are weak. As a Palestinian we are weak. We cannot do anything. The Palestinians – most of them – they’re against fighting and stabbing and bombing. Against that. “

Failing to inform listeners of the relevant issue of Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and its quotidian incitement and glorification of terrorism, Sykes goes on:

Sykes: “Do you blame your parents’ generation for rejecting the United Nations resolution which offered partition between Jews and Palestine?”

Muna: “Yes.”

Sykes: “A two-state solution in 1947 – should that have happened?”

Muna: “Yes. Yes – completely right.”

Sykes: “Do you also blame the violent Palestinians – mostly of Hamas but also of Islamic Jihad and also Fatah – for mounting that sustained suicide bombing campaign in which more than 800 people in Israel were murdered? Did that give Israel permission to remain occupiers forever?”

Muna: “It was wrong. The wall, the isolation – all the things happen because of the bombing that we did.”

Sykes: “So violent Palestinian organisations like Hamas wounded Palestinians?”

Muna:”That’s right – exactly, exactly. Every time we do it it’s come back to us.”

Sykes: “Imad Muna. In 2011 the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that the 1947 Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan had been a mistake and if the occupation does never end,  intense Palestinian anger may return, like that expressed by a farmer I met during the second Intifada – uprising – 15 years ago.”

Listeners then hear a voiceover of an unidentified man saying:

“Three days ago the Israelis came with their bulldozers. They were uprooting olive trees and beans which we used to plant in this area. This is like cancer in the Palestinian body.”

Sykes: “A farmer in the West Bank shortly before the so-called security barrier was erected across his land.”

If a section of the anti-terrorist fence really was erected on the man’s land, he would of course have received compensation but Sykes does not trouble his listeners with such details. He closes:

Sykes: “And this year’s third Israel anniversary? It’s a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration. In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild in which he declared ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment of a national home for Jewish people’.”

Sykes of course misquotes that part of the short text which actually reads:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” [emphasis added]

He continues:

“His letter goes on ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’.”

With the suggestion obviously being that those rights have been prejudiced, the item closes there:

Eddie Mair: “Hugh Sykes reporting.”

Yet again we see in this item promotion of the politicised and inaccurate narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is rooted entirely in the outcome of the Six Day War – in particular ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’. Sykes’ inaccurate portrayal of Jewish acceptance of the Partition Plan obviously needs rapid and prominent correction and one can only hope that misrepresentation does not signal a taste of things to come when that anniversary is marked later this year.

Related Articles:

BBC claims Ben Gurion “opposed” the Partition Plan

The BBC and the 1947 Partition Plan

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

 

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

On June 8th BBC Radio 4 listeners heard two reports from the latest BBC correspondent on a flying visit to Israel – Hugh Sykes.

The first of those reports was broadcast on the “World at One’ programme (from 14:30 here). Presenter Mark Mardell gave an introduction devoid of any context concerning the reasons for the outbreak of the Six Day War.

Mardell: “Now it’s…in Israel it’s 50 years since two major events which changed the history of the region. On the 5th of June 1967 a war began between Israel and Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Six days later Israel emerged victorious. At the end of that war a half a century ago, Israel’s occupation and settlement of Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank began.”

The 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of what Mardell terms “the Palestinian West Bank” is clearly not deemed relevant to the story. Mardell continues:

“The Gaza settlers were evacuated in 2005. Those in the West Bank – more than half a million now – are still there. Our correspondent Hugh Sykes is in Jerusalem for the World at One.”

After a recording of music playing, Hugh Sykes begins his item. Curiously (but, given BBC editorial policy, predictably) Sykes’ descriptions of the second Intifada do not include any mention of the word ‘terror’. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Sykes: “A saxophone player on Jaffa Street [sic – Jaffa Road]. People sitting at café tables under parasols on a sunny spring day here in Jerusalem. The first time I walked here 15 years ago the shops had security guards with automatic rifles checking your bags. There was a wave of almost routine suicide bombings, many of them killing dozens of people on buses here in Jerusalem. Between 1989 and 2008 across Israel altogether 800 people were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Sykes’ information – apparently gleaned from Wikipedia – of course does not tell the whole story. In just five of the 19 years cited by Sykes – 2000 to 2005 – 1,100 Israelis were murdered in terror attacks that included – but were not limited to – the suicide bombings on which he has chosen to focus. He continues:

“Since then the security barrier – the walls and the fences and the extensive checkpoints –have been put up, cutting off the West Bank; the main source of the suicide bombings. Though the counter argument is that the bombings have stopped because the Palestinians have largely stopped trying to send suicide bombers here, partly because it led to the security barrier being put up and their lives being made much more difficult. So, it’s calm here now. But this is an illusion Daniel Seidemann tells me. He’s an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem.”

Of course BBC regular Daniel Seidemann is not just a “lawyer”: he is also the founder of two politicised campaigning groups – ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’ – both of which receive foreign funding including, in the case of the latter, from the UK tax payers listening to this programme. Despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear in advance to audiences, Hugh Sykes makes no effort to clarify Seidemann’s political agenda and links to politicised campaigning NGOs to listeners before they go on to hear that contributor’s cliché-ridden statements.

Seidemann: “I consider the greatest threat to the Jewish people in this generation to be perpetual occupation and Israelis are in a state of clinical denial.”

Sykes: “Why is occupation a threat to Israel?”

Seidemann: “We are sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano. Go to my friends in Tel Aviv and ask them about occupation. They’ll say ‘occupation – what occupation?’ We live in a bubble and bubbles burst. Israel has no future if we continue to occupy. It may take 50 years, it may take a hundred years.”

Sykes: “What’s the mechanism that brings Israel to an end if you don’t disengage from occupation?”

Seidemann: “Decay, isolation, ahm…”

Sykes: “That’s all psychological.”

Seidemann: “No, no it’s not.”

Sykes: “The rest of the world doesn’t care anymore. Sympathy for the Palestinians was pretty much lost when they mounted the second Intifada and started blowing up children with suicide bombers on buses here in Jerusalem. And the rest of the Arab world doesn’t care about the Palestinians, do they? So Israel is secure, isn’t it?”

Seidemann: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traumatised people and we’re living something on an emotional overdraft. I am not telling you what will happen tomorrow morning. Look out the window, OK? In that city there are 850,000 people. 37% of them are Palestinians. This is a bi-national city and in this bi-national city one national collective has all the power and the other is politically disempowered.”

Of course even those Arab residents of Jerusalem who chose not to exercise their right to apply for Israeli citizenship (and hence the right to vote in legislative elections) are entitled to both run and vote in municipal elections in the city. Hugh Sykes however does not bother to clarify those facts relating to people who have just been inaccurately described as “politically disempowered” before continuing:

Sykes: “And more than half a million settlers now live in the West Bank. If there’s ever going to be any progress towards agreeing two nations here, a plan that’s often been discussed is land swaps, allowing more than 400,000 Jewish settlers to remain in what are now substantial high-density suburbs of Jerusalem. But this would leave 156,000 settlers in settlements which would have to be evacuated, as all the settlements in Gaza were 12 years ago but that was just 8,000 people.”

Seidemann: “It can be done. If Israel has the will and the capability to relocate 156,000 settlers, the two-state solution is alive. If we don’t – it’s dead. Israel needs and deserves recognition in order to assume our rightful place among the family of nations. And that will happen when a Palestinian embassy opens down the street here in West Jerusalem and an Israeli embassy opens in East Jerusalem. That provides as much security as another brigade of tanks.”

Obviously any serious examination of this topic would at this point go on to address the issue of what happened after those 8,000 Israelis were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip (along with residents of four communities in northern Shomron which Sykes and his guest appear to have forgotten) twelve years ago. Such a discussion would have to address the fact that the move did not advance peace and in fact the number of terrorist missile attacks on Israeli civilians increased. It would also have to address the fact that international bodies and nations which lauded the Gaza disengagement, promising understanding should Israel subsequently have to act against terrorism in Gaza, quickly swapped that pledge with condemnation.

Sykes, however, chooses to ignore those inconvenient facts, opting instead to reinforce his messaging.

Sykes: “Daniel Seidemann. And the recent retired director of the Mossad – Israel’s equivalent of MI6 and the CIA – Tamir Pardo, said last month that the occupation and conflict with the Palestinians was – as he put it – Israel’s one existential threat; a ticking time-bomb. But there are non-negotiable absolutists on both sides here. Palestine is Palestine from the River Jordan to the sea. And this is Jewish land: God gave it to us.”

Remarkably, only the Jewish “absolutists” in Sykes’ portrayal are religiously motivated.

Sykes’ last contributor is Jerusalem Post journalist Amotz Asa-El. During their conversation listeners hear the following:

Sykes: “Does the compromise include having Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and of Israel?”

Asa-El: “I can envisage splitting it, which I’m told is simpler to do than to share.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the item Sykes inaccurately sums up that response as follows:

Sykes: “Amotz Asa-El raising the possibility that Jerusalem could be the shared capital of Israel and of a new state of Palestine.”

Obviously this report is yet another contribution to the campaign of opportunistic politicised messaging already seen on the BBC News website. It too advances a narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of the inadequately explained Six Day War – in particular the ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ – while erasing from audience view the underlying and far older refusal of Arab states and Palestinian leaders to accept and recognise the existence of the Jewish state.

Sykes’ second report of the day will be discussed in a future post.

 

Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

The centrepiece of the BBC News website’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War was published in the ‘Features’ section of its Middle East page on June 5th. That article by the corporation’s Middle East editor is titled “1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East” and it runs to a remarkably lengthy 6,181 words and – as Jeremy Bowen’s Twitter followers later learned – is based on a book he originally had published 14 years ago.

The article includes numerous factual inaccuracies or inadequately clarified statements. For example, the person named by Bowen as “Ray Rothberg” was actually Roi Rotberg from Nahal Oz. What Bowen repeatedly describes as “disputed territory” along Israel’s border with Syria was in fact the demilitarised zones defined as such in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between the two countries, while his reference to “Syria’s attempts to divert the River Jordan away from Israel’s national water grid” fails to adequately clarify that the Headwater Diversion Plan was actually conceived by the Arab League in 1964. The article also makes use of B’tselem’s inaccurate and partisan map that has been seen in numerous other BBC reports.

Interestingly, readers of this article discover that the BBC’s Middle East editor is entirely aware of factors such as Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s demand to expel UN peacekeepers from Sinai and his closure of the Straits of Tiran that were crucial in causing the war but yet curiously are so often omitted from BBC portrayals of the topic.

However, the most important aspect of Bowen’s tome is its promotion of a narrative composed of two parts.

As he has done in the past, Bowen suggests to audiences that the Six Day War was not a war of survival for Israel. [emphasis added]

“Western powers had no doubt which side in the Middle East was stronger on the eve of war in 1967. The US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff judged “that Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years.”

In a report on the Israeli army in January 1967, the British defence attaché in Tel Aviv assessed that “in command, training, equipment and services the Israel army is more prepared for war than ever before. Well-trained, tough, self-reliant, the Israeli soldier has a strong fighting spirit and would willingly go to war in defence of his country.””

“The pressure was crushing General Rabin. Against all the military evidence, he had convinced himself that he was leading Israel to catastrophe.”

“If they could fight on their own terms, Israel’s generals were confident they would score an overwhelming victory. But strict military censorship kept those conclusions private.”

The second part of Bowen’s narrative is designed to steer audiences towards the belief that the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of those six days in June 1967. [emphasis added]

“Fifty years ago, war broke out between Israel and its neighbours. The conflict lasted just six days but its effect would last to the present day.”

“All the issues that are now depressingly familiar to anyone who follows the news – violence, occupation, settlements, the future of Jerusalem – took their current form as a result of the war. The shape of the occupation emerged very quickly. Predictions of the dangers that lay ahead were ignored.”

“The 1967 war made Israel into an occupier, which is why more than anything else it matters. The experience has been a disaster for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel built settlements for Jews, in defiance of international law that says occupiers cannot settle their people on the land they capture. Israel, though, sees it differently.”

“Military occupation is by definition oppressive. The occupation has created a culture of violence that cheapens life and brutalises the people who impose and enforce the occupation and those who fight it.”

“Fifty years on from 1967, President Trump – like many new American presidents – is hoping to help Israelis and Palestinians make peace.

If his dreams become substantive talks, they will have to be about the future of the land that was captured in six days of war. […]Ignoring the legacy of 1967 is not an option.”

However, the urge to promote that selective narrative means that Bowen has to erase from audience view the fact that – as Michael Oren recently explained – the Six Day War was just one chapter in a conflict that began long before.

“Far beyond 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is in fact about 1917, 1937 and 1947. Those anniversaries can teach us much about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and why peace has proved so elusive. […]

What began as a clash between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews changed overnight into the Arab-Israel conflict. The two-state solution twice turned down by the Palestinians, in 1937 and 1947, would be forgotten as Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Yet the Palestinians showed no interest in establishing sovereignty in those areas. Instead, they rejected Israel within any borders. “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants” swore Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the eve of the Six-Day War. […]

The conflict is not about the territory Israel captured in 1967. It is about whether a Jewish state has a right to exist in the Middle East in the first place. As Mr. Abbas has publicly stated, “I will never accept a Jewish state.””

Jeremy Bowen’s promotion of his preferred narrative (which, notably, has not altered at all over the years despite repeated Palestinian rejections of peace proposals) has long been on view. However, while his exclusive focus on “the occupation” and his related concealment of the most basic factor underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict – the refusal to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist – may well serve the advancement of that political narrative, it does not serve the BBC’s funding public: the people for whom he is supposed to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible”.

Related Articles:

BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

Six Day War Anniversary resources

Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC ME editor gives context-free, omission rich potted history of Israel’s creation

Episode six of Jeremy Bowen’s 25-part BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on May 22nd. Titled ‘Crossing the Divide’, the programme begins with a tale highlighting Bowen’s unfamiliarity with the subject of gas fittings before moving on to broader subject matter.

Bowen: “It felt like every part of life was touched by the conflict; it was exhausting. It might have been more fun to live in Tel Aviv, which feels like another country. It’s a hedonistic, mainly secular city on a Mediterranean beach. In the winter I’ve scraped the ice off the car in Jerusalem to find an hour later in Tel Aviv that people are strolling in shirt sleeves in the sun. Sometimes Israelis who live there say they’re in a bubble that lets them forget the conflict. Jerusalem was the opposite: everything was infected by the conflict. And, whenever I drove past Ben Gurion airport I fantasized about catching a plane home.” [emphasis added]

Tel Aviv is of course far from immune to terror attacks and that was also the case immediately before and during the period of time in which Bowen was stationed in Israel (1995–2000). He goes on:

Bowen: “The peace process was collapsing after the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. It was all bad news – but that’s what journalists like.”

Listeners then hear undated, context-free snippets from some of Bowen’s past reports, including the claim that in Hebron, “Jewish settlement still takes up one fifth of the town” without any clarification regarding the relevant Hebron Protocol. Bowen continues:

Bowen: “I read more, spoke to more people and started to understand why life could be so difficult. As for Jerusalem – my adopted home – the city had been desired and venerated for 3,000 years by a procession of dynasties and peoples. Struggle and conflict were normal. It took two or three years but to my surprise Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Jerusalem – especially Jerusalem – started pulling me in. […]

Even the food tasted of the ethnic tangle. Not just the old Israeli and Palestinian argument about who invented falafel and hummus. I learned about the heritage of Jews who’d emigrated to Israel from North Africa, Yemen and Iraq by eating their food, usually in the raucous streets around West Jerusalem’s main market; Mahane Yehuda. These days its edges have been blurred by gentrification and the fact that food has become fashionable.”

Mahane Yehuda market

As he did with Tel Aviv, Bowen erases the topic of the terror attacks on Mahane Yehuda market during that time period from his account. His rare mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands (which he fails to identify as such) continues:

Bowen: “[…] But in the 1990s Mahane Yehuda was a noisy, teeming symbol of the ethnic divide between Israeli Jews. Brown-skinned Mizrahis from the Middle East and North Africa who felt excluded by European Jews – the pale-faced Ashkenazis from Poland, Russia and Germany who created the Israeli state and often behaved as if they owned it.”

Bowen then gives a potted history rife with deliberate omission of relevant context. Failing to tell listeners of the pogroms that prompted the First Aliyah, erasing the arrival of Jews from Yemen in the same period and refraining from clarifying the significance of the particular area to the Jewish people, he says:

Bowen: “European Jews started emigrating from Russia in 1882. An Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl pioneered the idea of Zionism – creating a state for the Jews – and organized the first Zionist congress in 1897. The Zionists wanted Palestine but Arabs already lived there. In the end, Jewish immigrants from Europe outmanoeuvred and out-fought Palestinian Arabs and built a state in waiting.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Bowen recycles his long promoted theme of ‘European’ Jews taking over ‘Arab land’, erasing from audience view the existing Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tsfat and elsewhere. Failing to explain why the British were in Palestine and with no mention of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine he goes on:

Bowen: “At the end of the Second World War the bankrupt and exhausted British were reduced to holding the ring as Arabs and Jews fought a civil war.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s use of the phrase ‘holding the ring’ inaccurately implies to listeners that the British Mandate authorities were not involved in the conflict despite actions such as restrictions on Jewish immigration both before and after the war. As the BBC’s own profile of the Arab League states, the creation of that body was “mooted in 1942 by the British” and its agenda was primarily devoted to “preventing the Jewish community in Palestine from creating a Jewish state”.

After a BBC archive recording from March 1948, Bowen continues:

Bowen: “Britain turned the problem over to the United Nations. The UN voted to partition Palestine into two states with Jerusalem under international control. The Jews agreed, the Arabs did not. As the British left in the summer of 1948, David Ben Gurion read Israel’s declaration of independence.”

He fails to clarify that the Partition Plan limited the period of international control over Jerusalem to ten years, why the Arab nations rejected it or that the Arab refusal to accept the recommendations of UN GA resolution 181 meant that it became irrelevant. The latter omission enables him to go on to inaccurately tell BBC audiences that Israel acquired land to which it was not entitled.

Bowen: “Ben Gurion became Israel’s first prime minister. The neighbouring Arab states invaded to try to strangle the new Israel at birth. They failed. Israel, victorious, took much more territory than the UN had given it. Palestinians use the Arabic word ‘naqba’ which means catastrophe to describe what happened to them in 1948. Up to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled. Their descendants are still refugees.” [emphasis added]

Bowen of course does not tell listeners that Palestinians pass on refugee status to their descendants or that the Arab nations have for 69 years deliberately ensured that they are “still refugees”.

Failing to explain why the Six Day War happened or to mention subsequent Israeli withdrawals from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, he continues:

Bowen: “Another war came in 1967 which created the current shape of the conflict. In six days Israel added the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. From the beginning Israelis set about building a new country and made sure every part of government did its bit, including the town planners.”

Listeners then hear a recording of undated archive report by Bowen:

Bowen: “It’s very hard for Palestinians in Jerusalem to get permission to build. A lot of their houses have been demolished recently. Most building permits here are issued to Jews. Yasser Arafat believes that Israel is trying to squeeze Palestinians out of Jerusalem. At the Palestinian legislature today he said that he’d lost patience with Israel. Palestinians, he said, had to defend their rights in Jerusalem with all means. Building more homes for Jews in the desert to the east is part of Israel’s latest scheme to strengthen its grip on Jerusalem. This is land captured by Israel in 1967. Its future was supposed to be negotiated with the Palestinians.”

Bowen fails to clarify to listeners that the final status negotiations stipulated in the Oslo Accords never came about because Arafat chose instead to launch the Second Intifada terror war.

Bowen: “Meron Benvenisti was the Israeli deputy mayor and chief planning officer of Jerusalem during much of the 1970s. Twenty years later he stood with me on the Mount of Olives; the hill that overlooks the Old City.”

Benvenisti: “Each housing project fits into a strategic plan. It’s not the planners who are planning Jerusalem; it’s the politicians who are planning Jerusalem. The politicians are planning Jerusalem as generals who are planning a battlefield.”

Bowen: “Benvenisti explained how roads could be as much about nation building as traffic. That extended to the occupied territories, he said. Israel girded Jerusalem with roads as it sliced up the West Bank which Palestinians want for a state. Many are political highways, aimed at controlling Palestinians, safeguarding Jewish settlers and strengthening the occupation. ‘You know’, Benvenisti said, ‘we’ve spent millions and used all the energy of the state to try to make this city more Jewish. But despite all that, the ratio of Jews to Arabs in Jerusalem is the same as it was in 1967. They make more babies than we do’. Demography is politics here too.”

While that information concerning birth rates has been out of date for several years, Bowen of course does not question his politically motivated interviewee’s use of it to support his questionable claims.

Using the Arabic pronunciation of the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood Ein Kerem and with a context-free reference to Dir Yassin, Bowen continues:

Ein Kerem

Bowen: “Ayn Karem where we lived is a desirable Israeli suburb. But until 1948 it was a Palestinian village. The Palestinians in the village fled after Jewish forces carried out their most notorious massacre of the 1948 war in a neighbouring village called Dir Yassin. For the new Israeli state to be Jewish, the Palestinians could not be allowed back. Laws were passed that permitted the state to seize property that landlords had – in Israeli legal terms – abandoned. The reality was that they weren’t allowed back to reclaim it and that applied to Ayn Karem too. Most of the Palestinian villages that were captured by the new Israeli state in 1948 were blown up or bulldozed. Ayn Karem survived. Its traditional stone houses were given to new Jewish immigrants from North Africa.

Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews who no longer wanted or were permitted to live in Arab countries. A Moroccan synagogue still exists in Ayn Karem but most of the elegant Arab houses have been bought up and modernized by well-off secular Israelis.” [emphasis added]

Significantly, Bowen’s sketchy portrayal of Jewish refugees from Arab lands sanitises the widespread government-led persecution and violence against them and refrains from informing listeners of the property and lands they left behind. He closes the programme as follows:

Bowen: “I used to like running in Jerusalem forest, just up the hill from Ayn Karem. It’s a beautiful spot and I puffed my way round it. The forest tells part of the story of the conflict too. It was planted in the 1950s, covering terraced hillsides that were once worked by Palestinian farmers who lost their lands in 1948. On my jogging route a German wagon from the Second World War projected out of the trees on a fragment of railway line leading back to the past. It’s part of Yad Vashem; Israel’s centre for remembrance of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis.

We’re all made by our history. The Holocaust is one reason why Israel often feels vulnerable despite its armed forces, its nuclear weapons, hi-tech economy and its alliance with the United States. It also made absolute the moral case for the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine. I learnt a lot about the conflict running through the forest and looking down the valley at Ayn Karem. For Palestinians the forest and the village are symbols of dispossession – among many others. For Israelis they’re part of their hard-won independence and their remarkable success and a reminder of their survival. If the two sides can’t make peace with history, they’ll never make peace with each other.”

Bowen’s basic story is, as ever, a very simple one: according to him, white “pale-faced” Europeans took over a land inhabited by passive ‘indigenous’ Arabs. In order to promote that politically motivated version of events, he has to omit context and relevant background information which would enhance BBC audiences’ understanding of the story as it stands today. As we once again see, Jeremy Bowen has no problem at all doing that.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen

BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory

BBC Bowen still misleads about Jewish refugees (‘Point of No Return’) 

 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Last month we noted here that a BBC backgrounder on the Six Day War which is still available to audiences online tells audiences that:

“In May 1967, President Nasser demanded the removal of Unef troops from the Sinai, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and signed a defence pact with Jordan. Some historians question whether Nasser planned to go to war, but all three factors, and Egyptian troop deployment in the Sinai, led to a pre-emptive strike by Israel.” [emphasis added]

Writing at Ynet, Ben Dror Yemini addresses that issue.

“More than anything else, the Six-Day War has turned into a rewritten war. A sea of publications deal with what happened at the time. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, the revisionists assert, had no ability to fight Israel, and anyway, he had no intention to do so.

It’s true that he made threats. It’s true that he sent more and more divisions to Sinai. It’s true that he expelled the United Nations observers. It’s true that he incited the masses in Arab countries. It’s true that the Arab regimes rattled their sabers and prepared for war. It’s true that he closed the Straits of Tiran. It’s true that Israel was besieged from its southern side. It’s true that this was a serious violation of international law. It’s true that it was a “casus belli” (a case of war).

All that doesn’t matter, however, because there is a mega-narrative that obligates the forces of progress to exempt the Arabs from responsibility and point the accusing finger at Israel. And when there is a narrative, who needs facts? After all, according to the mega-narrative, Israel had expansionist plans, so it seized the opportunity. Different scholars are distorting the facts in a bid to turn the Arabs into victims and Israel into an aggressor.”

2) The same topic is also discussed (along with additional points relevant to BBC portrayal of the war, especially by its Middle East editor) in an essay by Gabriel Glickman published at the Middle East Forum under the title “This Time, the Loser Writes History“.

“It is a general law that every war is fought twice—first on the battlefield, then in the historiographical arena—and so it has been with the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war (or the Six-Day War as it is commonly known). No sooner had the dust settled on the battlefield than the Arabs and their Western partisans began rewriting the conflict’s narrative with aggressors turned into hapless victims and defenders turned into aggressors. Jerusalem’s weeks-long attempt to prevent the outbreak of hostilities in the face of a rapidly tightening Arab noose is completely ignored or dismissed as a disingenuous ploy; by contrast, the extensive Arab war preparations with the explicit aim of destroying the Jewish state is whitewashed as a demonstrative show of force to deter an imminent Israeli attack on Syria. It has even been suggested that Jerusalem lured the Arab states into war in order to expand its territory at their expense. So successful has this historiographical rewriting been that, fifty years after the war, these “alternative facts” have effectively become the received dogma, echoed by some of the most widely used college textbooks about the Middle East.

The first step to absolving the Arab leaders of culpability for the conflict—especially Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who set in motion the course of events that led to war—was to present them as victims of their fully understandable, if highly unfortunate, overreaction to a Soviet warning of an imminent Israeli attack on Syria. Taking at face value Nasser’s postwar denial of any intention to attack Israel, educated Westerners—intellectuals, Middle East experts, and journalists—excused his dogged drive to war as an inescapable grandstanding aimed at shoring up his position in the face of relentless criticism by the conservative Arab states and the more militant elements within his administration.”

3) BBC audiences regularly hear or see the Arab-Israeli conflict and its offshoot, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, described as the Middle East conflict with the overt or covert suggestion being that if only that were solved, peace and harmony would descend on the region. Writing at the Telegraph, Charles Krauthammer unravels that myth.

“Unfortunately, Trump muddied the waters a bit in Israel by at times reverting to the opposite strategy – the inside-out – by saying that an Israeli-Palestinian deal would “begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.”

That is well-worn nonsense. Imagine if Israel disappeared tomorrow in an earthquake. Does that end the civil war in Syria? The instability in Iraq? The fighting in Yemen? Does it change anything of consequence amid the intra-Arab chaos? Of course not.

And apart from being delusional, the inside-out strategy is at present impossible. Palestinian leadership is both hopelessly weak and irredeemably rejectionist. Until it is prepared to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state – which it has never done in the 100 years since the Balfour Declaration committed Britain to a Jewish homeland in Palestine – there will be no peace.”

4) At the JCPA, Dr Jaques Neriah documents the under-reported phenomenon of foreign fighters deployed by Iran in Syria.

“Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and especially since the advent of the Islamic State (ISIS) and its franchises in the Arab Middle East and Africa, world attention has been focused on the foreign volunteers who flocked by the thousands to boost the ranks of the jihadist militias, mainly the ranks of the Islamic State and Al-Qaida.

The attacks perpetrated in Europe, the United States, and throughout the world, by terrorists who were trained and inspired by the jihadist organizations, emphasizes the need to understand the phenomena to combat it better. Many analysts concentrated on the hordes of jihadi volunteers from more than 80 nations and warned about the dangers of those fighters returning home to become sleeper operatives.

By contrast, while there is considerable media coverage about the foreign jihadists and while the Western coalition tries to contain the flow of new recruits to ISIS, under the radar and almost unnoticed, Iran managed to deploy in Syria its own fighters and proxy armies to fight for the Assad regime’s survival in Syria. While the jihadist organizations recruited their volunteers from the Sunni Muslim world, Iran turned to the Shiite populations to supply the needed manpower for Iran’s Syrian front.”

 

BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory

Part five of Jeremy Bowen’s series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on May 19th. Titled “Recipe for Disaster“, the programme’s subject matter is described as follows in the synopsis:

‘How the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin changed the region’s history, as remembered by BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. “No political killing in the twentieth century was more successful,” he argues, observing the dramatic effects on the Oslo peace process. “Perhaps there was a moment for peace, and it came, and went.”‘

Like additional episodes in the series, this programme revisits a topic that Bowen has addressed before: in this case in November 2015 when he produced an article headlined with what is for him a rhetorical question – “Did Rabin assassination kill the best chance for peace?”. Nothing in Bowen’s approach has changed since then and his take away messaging once again leaves audiences in no doubt as to which side in the Arab-Israeli conflict killed off “hope” and “peace”.

Remarkably, Bowen’s 25 years in the Middle East have not done anything to improve his Hebrew pronunciation skills and listeners hear the former Israeli prime minister’s surname presented as ‘Ra-bean‘ throughout the programme.

The episode begins with Bowen’s personal recollections of reporting Rabin’s assassination on November 3rd 1995. From 03:58 he turns to the event itself.

“He [Rabin] was shot in the back by a Jewish extremist; a religious ideologue called Yigal Amir. […] Amir believed that Rabin was putting Jews in danger by turning land over to the Palestinians that he and the rest of the Israeli religious right believed had been given by God to the Jewish people. The prime minister had been getting a lot of flack from right-wingers in Israel, where being right-wing means opposing concessions to the Palestinians. He’d faced daily abuse, was accused of treachery and was even portrayed on posters in a Nazi uniform. Rabin’s supporters believed the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, was inciting and rabble-rousing against him.” [emphasis added]

Here is what Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter had to say on that topic two years ago:

“I don’t think Bibi sent Yigal Amir. And I don’t think Bibi thought that someone would murder the prime minister.

He understood one thing: that Yitzhak Rabin was standing in his way to becoming prime minister. But I don’t think it ever entered his mind that there could be a murder. This “pulsa denura” (death curse) comes from the darkest realms of religion – where Bibi has not been. I don’t think he ever connected to them. That is where it came from — from those rabbis that preached, preached openly, that Yitzhak Rabin had to be killed because he was going to bring upon us annihilation and disaster.” 

Bowen’s remarkably trite portrayal of the Israeli political map does not include any explanation of the fact that the land to which he refers was designated by the League of Nations as part of the Jewish homeland or that it was subsequently occupied by invading Arab armies in 1948. Likewise, completely absent from Bowen’s recollections of the atmosphere prior to Rabin’s assassination is the surge in Palestinian terror attacks that took place after the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993.

Referring to the Oslo II agreement, Bowen tells listeners that:

“People on both sides opposed what was happening. The peace rally in Tel Aviv [at which Rabin was assassinated] came as Israel was preparing to hand over the main cities and towns in the West Bank to Palestinian control. The prospect of giving occupied land to the Palestinians sent the Israeli Right into a fury.”

He then gives a highly debatable cameo of the atmosphere at the time:

“Some on the Israeli Left had worried the rally would be a flop. The Right had been making the most noise, shouting the rest of the country down.” [emphasis added]

Listeners are told that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“If Rabin had lived the Oslo process might still have failed. It had serious flaws for both sides. Some Israelis, especially on the Right, argue that plenty of Palestinians would never accept a Jewish state. They didn’t trust Arafat and looked with loathing on Hamas and Islamic Jihad; two groups that wanted to destroy Israel – not make peace.”

BBC audiences are, as regular readers know, serially deprived of information which would enable them to understand that the Palestinians themselves make it quite clear to this day that they refuse to accept a Jewish state. Bowen again refrains from providing listeners with the essential context of the intense campaign of devastating terror attacks that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were running against Israelis at the time and – as David Horowitz has documented – the effects those attacks were having on public support for the Oslo process.

“…the terrorism that had accompanied the efforts at peacemaking had eaten away at his [Rabin’s] popularity, and he was up against a potent political rival in Benjamin Netanyahu — so potent that mere months after the assassination, even as Israel reeled in horror at itself for the killing, the Likud leader was able to defeat Peres, the interim prime minister and natural heir. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Netanyahu was politically toxic, the leader of the camp from whose most radical fringe an assassin had sprung. But Netanyahu was carried to victory, by a nailbiting 29,457 votes, by those very same waves of terrorism — specifically four suicide bombings in February and March 1996 that persuaded a narrow majority of Israelis, however much they mourned for Rabin and for a country that could produce his killer, that the Oslo path, the Arafat path, was a bloody disaster.”

Bowen goes on:

“But many Palestinians accepted Israel’s existence while rejecting Oslo as a bad deal. They argued that Israel was deceiving them while it tightened its grip on the occupied territories, hugely expanding the number of Jewish settlers. Oslo was flawed but it was all they had and until Rabin was killed, it was working – just about. […] Without Rabin the Oslo peace process slowly collapsed. […] No political killing in the 20th century was more successful. Amir set out to kill the prime minister and the peace process.”

In fact, the building of new Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria had ceased with the signing of the Oslo Accords and people who went to live in the existing communities did so of their own accord; not because of any government policy. The Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the Palestinian leaders – of course do not place any limitations on construction in Israeli communities in Area C. 

Bowen tells listeners that:

“The Oslo peace process staggered on for a few years mainly thanks to the energy of American negotiators.”

He fails to inform listeners that additional agreements were signed throughout the five years following Rabin’s assassination, including (paradoxically, as far as Bowen’s theory on the Israeli Right-wing and “opposing concessions to Palestinians” goes) the 1997 Hebron Protocol and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum under the government of Netanyahu.

Conveniently and crucially erasing from the picture Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip – including the evacuation of all communities there – and with only a token, tepid reference to the second Intifada, Bowen goes on to promote the ‘settlements destroy peace’ illusion and the usual partisan BBC presentation of ‘international law’.

“A generation on, Palestinians and Israelis have changed. Palestinians are disunited. Israelis are more Right-wing. Attempts to revive the peace process have failed. Trust and hope were sucked out by escalating Palestinian violence, the built-in violence of the Israeli occupation and the growth of Jewish settlements that are illegal under international law. It’s become commonplace to argue that the chance for a two-state solution has gone because Israel has settled so many of its Jewish citizens in the occupied territories. I think that if the will was there, with clever diplomacy it could still be done. But the will doesn’t exist. On both sides the most dynamic forces are inspired by religious certainty rather than the art of the deal. Religious Zionists drive the Jewish settlement movement forward. They believe that the West Bank and Jerusalem were a miraculous gift from God and cannot be given up. Palestinians do not have good political choices. They’re desperately in need of a political reboot. Fatah, the dominant faction in the PLO is moribund. Its Islamist rivals in Hamas are badly tarnished.”

Bowen’s subsequent and closing portrayal of the Camp David summit in 2000 is equally superficial and predictably he refrains from informing listeners that Arafat’s decision to launch the pre-planned second Intifada did no less damage to the ‘peace process’ than Rabin’s assassination.

“The problems were too big, distance between them too wide. Jerusalem and the land they both wanted could not, in the end, be bargained away. The summit in 2000 ended in a disastrous failure and ushered in years of violence in the second Intifada. Perhaps there was a moment for peace and it came and went.”

Bowen’s story ends there, with no mention of the Clinton peace plan, the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, the fact that Israelis elected Ehud Olmert – who ran on a platform of disengagement from Judea & Samaria – in 2006 or Olmert’s 2008 offer to the Palestinians.

Such inconvenient facts would of course detract from Bowen’s very transparent aim to steer BBC audiences towards the simplistic and inaccurate view that the Israeli Right-wing murdered the peace process, while propagating the illusion of passive Palestinians devoid of all agency or responsibility.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen