Political messaging eclipses context in BBC WS Fourth of July report

Listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on July 4th heard a report from Yolande Knell in which information and context were side lined in favour of political messaging.

The introduction given by programme host Dan Damon (from 18:08 here) included the claim that there is such a thing as “international policy”.

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

Damon: “As the United States celebrates Independence Day, in Israel local officials and American diplomats are marking what they say are their closest ever ties. For the first time the US embassy to Israel has held its 4th of July party in Jerusalem; this of course after President Trump recognised that city as Israel’s capital – a controversial departure from long-time international policy. Palestinians and Left-wing Israelis have criticised recent actions by US Ambassador David Friedman in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their hoped-for future state. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Listeners heard the sound of fireworks before Knell began with an incomplete and context-free portrayal of part of a speech made by Israel’s prime minister. While listeners could be forgiven for assuming that Netanyahu had compared “relations with this White House” to those with previous US administrations, he did not. 

Knell: “Off with a bang. The US embassy held its first ever Independence Day party in Jerusalem this week. Watching the fireworks with their wives: the ambassador and Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He celebrated his close relations with this White House.”

Recording Netanyahu: “…and it’s wonderful to have the greatest power on earth not opposing the Jewish state but supporting the Jewish state. What a twist.”

Listeners then heard that archaeology is “an Israeli Right-wing nationalist agenda”, although it is doubtful that they would be aware of the background to Knell’s reference to the opening of an archaeological site seeing as the BBC has failed to produce any reporting on that story.

Knell: “And breaking past conventions, there’ve also been some unusual shows of US support for an Israeli Right-wing nationalist agenda. Wielding a hammer, Ambassador David Friedman smashed through an underground wall to open a controversial Jewish archaeology centre in East Jerusalem.”

Recording Friedman: “Why would an American ambassador come to this event and speak at this event? Some people – not necessarily friends of ours – are obsessing about my being here.”

Listeners heard the unexplained sound of some sort of machinery working before Knell continued:

Knell: “Above the site in Silwan, tunneling has badly damaged some Palestinian homes. And the action of the top diplomat was seen as confirmation that the US is recognising Israeli control over East Jerusalem and supports the presence of Jewish settlers here on land the Palestinians want for their own state.”

Knell’s promotion of the claim made by local activists that houses in Silwan have been “badly damaged” by the archaeological dig is not supported by an interview with a local resident which appeared in the Jerusalem Post:

“There are cracks in some walls. But this is not new. This has been going on for years. Some residents have hired lawyers to ask for financial compensation to renovate their homes. I heard that some people did receive compensation.”

Knell refrained from informing audiences that the people she dubbed “Jewish settlers” reside in legally purchased properties. Interestingly, the BBC’s own definition of ‘settlements’ is as follows:

“Settlements are residential areas built by the Israeli government in the territories occupied by Israel following the June 1967 war.” [emphasis added] 

That is not the case in Silwan, where some Israelis live in previously existing housing. However Knell steered listeners towards a narrative which characterises the purchase of property in certain areas of a city by people of a specific faith and ethnicity as “illegal” and undesirable. One of course doubts very much that the BBC would encourage its audiences to view neighbourhoods of mixed religion, ethnicity (and perhaps colour or sexual orientation) in any other city in such a light.

Knell also failed to inform listeners that Silwan was also previously known as Kfar Shiloach, that its Jewish residents were expelled by British Mandate forces after waves of Arab rioting and that, like the rest of the area conquered by Jordan in 1948, its subsequent annexation by Jordan was not recognised by the international community.

Knell next inadequately introduced her first interviewee:

Knell: “Jawad Siam lives locally.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, she did not bother to inform listeners that the professional political activist Siam (who has previously appeared in BBC content) has been campaigning against the archaeological dig for years.

Siam: “We are used that the USA supporting Israel but even it didn’t reach this level. He behaved like any other settlers in Palestine. He behaved like the Right wings in the Israeli parliament, in the Knesset. He does not see Palestinians have any right neither in Jerusalem nor Palestine.”

Knell continued with a reference to another inadequately presented event.

Knell: “Nearby, a musician plays the oud as the call to prayer rings out from the Al Aqsa Mosque. This gathering was at a sensitive spot by the Western Wall – the holiest site where Jews can pray. It was hosted by a pro-Netanyahu newspaper owned by a US billionaire who’s also a donor to President Trump and the discussion was about Washington’s latest peace efforts.”

That “sensitive spot” is the Davidson Center and the “gathering” was the ‘Israel Hayom Forum on US-Israel Relations’. Listeners then heard an edited recording of part of a speech made by US special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt at that event.

Recording Greenblatt: “We might get there if people recognise that vague terms such as ‘international law’, ‘UN resolutions’ and ‘internationally recognised parameters’ are not always clear-cut…”

Knell: “The president’s advisor, Jason Greenblatt – just back from a workshop in Bahrain.”

Greenblatt: “We might get there if people stop pretending settlements – or what I like to call neighbourhoods and cities – are the reason for the lack of peace.”

Knell then made sure that listeners did not forget the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘settlements’.

Knell: “Jewish settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israeli authorities disagree. As Left-wing Israelis worry about changes in US language and long-held policy in East Jerusalem, I meet Hagit Ofran from the NGO ‘Peace Now’.”

Listeners were told nothing of the political agenda of ‘Peace Now – not least the fact that it organised a demonstration against the opening of the ‘Pilgrimage Road’ archaeological site – again despite BBC editorial guidelines stipulating that the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees should be clarified.

Ofran: “This is the most delicate place of our conflict – the volcanic core – a few meters from the Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif, al Aqsa mosque. You cannot come with sledgehammers and say this is Israel sovereignty. You should come with tweezers and settle this place in a way that respects everybody.”

Knell closed her report with more promotion of a specific narrative:

Knell: “Back at the embassy’s Independence Day party, most Israelis are delighted about this White House’s strong backing for their country. But there are warnings too: that by losing credibility as a peace broker with the Palestinians, it could make it harder to resolve the conflict here and that would ultimately go against Israel’s interests.”

While Knell was apparently not interested in reporting on the Second Temple era archaeological discoveries that she portrayed as “controversial”, she clearly was interested in using them to advance an overtly political and completely one-sided narrative on Jerusalem – and the Israelis living in one of its neighbourhoods.

Related Articles:

Excavating the Washington Post’s narrative on the Israel-Islamist conflict  (CAMERA)

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

BBC presents property purchased by Jews as ‘settlements’

 

 

Advertisements

BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

On June 30th the Jerusalem Post published an article which included statements issued by the Palestinian Authority concerning the opening of an archaeological site taking place on the same day.

“The PA Foreign Ministry strongly condemned plans by US Ambassador David Friedman and US special envoy Jason Greenblatt to attend the inaugural ceremony of the discovery of “Pilgrim’s Road” in Jerusalem’s Old City. The expected presence of the American officials at the event will be the first time the US will recognize Israeli sovereignty within areas of the Old City Basin.

The PA ministry said their participation underscores the US administration’s support for the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

“This is a new image of American aggression,” the ministry said. “The American presence [in the ceremony] and celebrating Judaization activities in occupied east Jerusalem are an act of hostility against the Palestinians.”

Greenblatt responded to the claims on Twitter, saying that the PA should recognize history and archaeology and “stop pretending it isn’t true.””

Shortly after Mr Greenblatt had sent that Tweet the BBC’s Middle East editor put out one of his own.

The BBC has of course been promoting the PA approved notion that “The Judaisation of Arab East Jerusalem proceeds apace” for over two decades and when Jeremy Bowen visited the City of David in 2014 he came up with the historically challenged idea that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15-minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention.”

The BBC’s record “says a lot about the attitudes” at the ‘impartial’ BBC – as does this latest Tweet from its Middle East editor. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

BBC promotion of PA narrative on Jewish heritage sites

 

Selective BBC reporting on terrorists destroying archaeological treasures

Over the past three years the BBC has produced a lot of commendable reporting on the subject of the destruction of archaeological treasures by the ISIS terror group – for example:

IS are ‘demolishing’ ancient sites in Iraq

Islamic State ‘destroys ancient Iraq statues in Mosul’

Palmyra: Islamic State’s demolition in the desert

History destroyed: The ruins of Mosul Museum

Museum of Lost Objects: The Winged Bull of Nineveh

Museum of Lost Objects: The Lion of al-Lat

The archaeological treasures IS failed to destroy

Earlier this month the destruction of another important Middle Eastern archaeological site made headlines.

“Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago, unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement.

But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, allowing the flattening of this hill on the southern tip of Gaza City to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. In its newest project, Hamas-supported bulldozers are flattening the last remnants of excavation. […]

Tel Es-Sakan (hill of ash) was the largest Canaanite city between Palestine and Egypt […]

“Today the complete southern facade of the Tel is erased,” said [archaeologist] Humbert. In previous years, faces and ramparts on other sides were also destroyed. “Now it is destroyed all around,” he said. […]

In 2009 and 2012, the expansion of universities destroyed the western and northern facades of Tel El-Sakan. People displaced during three wars between Hamas and Israel set up temporary dwellings on the eastern side.

The southern front remained, but Hamas says it needs the land to compensate some of its senior employees, who have only received partial salaries from the cash-strapped group.”

Calling on UNESCO for help, local professionals and members of the public in the Gaza Strip have held protests to try to prevent the destruction.

As was the case in 2013 when Hamas bulldozed a 3,000 year old harbour in Gaza, the BBC has to date not found this particular story about a terror group destroying archaeological treasures newsworthy.

Related Articles:

Limits to BBC interest in Middle East historical sites

Erasing Gaza’s Jewish history with the help of the BBC

BBC’s Alkashif slips gratuitous Israel mentions into Gaza Greek god story

BBC promotion of PA narrative on Jewish heritage sites

The statement “history is written by the victors” is often attributed to Winston Churchill – although he may well have changed his mind about that had he lived to see some of the modern-day inversions and distortions of Middle East history which are becoming increasingly commonplace. 

We previously addressed here the subject of archaeological excavations in Area C when Yolande Knell conscripted herself to the Palestinian Authority’s publicity campaign on the subject of Herodion, but it is necessary to now revisit that subject  in light of an April 15th article by Raffi Berg entitled “Israel heritage plan exposes discord over West Bank history“. 

Berg heritage

First, the facts. In February 2010 the Government of Israel announced a much-needed long-term plan to invest in the conservation of hundreds of archaeological and heritage sites all over Israel.

“Today, we are due to approve a comprehensive plan, the largest ever, to strengthen the national heritage infrastructures of the State of Israel. We will do four things:

We will rehabilitate archaeological and Zionist heritage sites. We will build and enrich archives and museums. We are talking about approximately 150 sites.

We are due to invest almost NIS 400 million, with the assistance of 16 Government ministries. We will create two trails: An historical trail of archaeological sites from the Biblical, Second Temple and other eras in the history of the Land of Israel and a trail of the Israeli experience that joins the main sites which relate the history of a people’s return to its land.”

Among the sites and projects selected for investment, a handful are located in Area C which, according to the Oslo Accords signed willingly by the representatives of the Palestinian people, remains under Israeli control until the outcome of negotiations stipulates otherwise. Most of those sites are located in areas which according to any reasonable appraisal of the possible outcome of final status negotiations (if and when they ever come about) would remain under Israeli control. 

In his article about this comprehensive conservation project, Raffi Berg chose to ignore well over 90% of the projects, focusing only upon those considered ‘controversial’ by the Palestinian Authority and a politically motivated NGO. The core of Berg’s article bears eerie resemblance to a publication put out in June 2012 by that NGO – ‘Emek Shaveh’ – which was written by Yonatan (Yoni) Mizrachi.

Mizrachi is also featured extensively in Berg’s report, where his organization is given the brief anodyne description of being one which “opposes the “politicisation” of archaeology”.  Perusal of Mizrachi’s above-mentioned publication will quickly bring readers to the understanding that any opposition by ‘Emek Shaveh‘ to the “politicization” of archaeology is, to put it mildly, very selective. In fact, that NGO’s entire raison d’etre is to promote a particular political standpoint through the use of archaeology, as can be seen on its campaigning website and in its contributions to politically motivated campaigns on the subject of Jerusalem

Berg’s failure to accurately inform BBC audiences of the political motivations of ‘Emek Shaveh’ represents yet another in the growing collection of instances in which the BBC advances the agenda of a political NGO, thus compromising its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which clearly state: [emphasis added]

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Berg’s article also includes quotes from the PA Ministry of Tourism’s Hamdan Taha.

“The West Bank is an integral part of the history of Palestine,” says Hamdan Taha, director of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. “Netanyahu’s heritage plan is an aggression against the cultural right of Palestinian people in their own state,” as the West Bank’s status is considered to be by many Palestinians.

Mr Taha says the Israeli government’s emphasis on the Jewish historical aspect of some sites is “an ideological misuse of archaeological evidence”.

“Jewish heritage in the West Bank – like Christian or Islamic – is part of Palestinian heritage and we reject categorically any ethnic division of culture.”

Raffi Berg chooses to ignore some of Mr Taha’s more colourful past statements on the subject of archaeology, including his belief that “archaeology can put Palestine on the map, literally and figuratively” and his concurrent and presumably not unrelated denial of Jewish history in Judea and Samaria which is often expressed in less than ministerial terms.

“In Shiloh the settlers pretended to have found the tabernacles,” he [Taha] proclaimed. “They can find the chicken bone my grandfather ate 50 years ago and say it was a young calf for ancient sacrifice.”

Whilst it is not made clear in the article whether or not Raffi Berg is also responsible for the interactive graphic featured under the heading “Israeli national heritage sites in the West Bank”, that graphic includes two historic sites which even the ‘Emek Shaveh’ document from June 2012 does not pretend are included in the project, although they were among the hundreds of additional sites originally proposed. Of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb, ‘Emek Shaveh’ states:

 “However, after reevaluation it was decided not to include the two sites on the list.”

Despite that, the BBC’s graphic inaccurately informs readers otherwise.

Rachel's Tomb

Cave of the Patriarchs

Whilst Berg’s article does nod to the required impartiality by including quotes from a resident of Shiloh, a representative of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the head of the archaeology department of the Civil Administration, the very choice of subject matter and the presentation of heritage projects as having political motivations indicates that the intent of the article is to advance a specific political narrative, ironically by seemingly highlighting an opposing one and by promoting the idea of moral – and historic – equivalence. 

By lending oxygen to the long-existing Palestinian Authority campaign to distort history and deny Jewish connections to what objectively (whatever one’s opinions of the desired form a negotiated settlement to the conflict should take) cannot be seen as anything other than a geographical area steeped in Jewish heritage, Berg is severely compromising the BBC’s reputation for impartiality.