Weekend long read

1) The ITIC takes a look at Hezbollah’s media empire.

“The “resistance society,” created by Hezbollah with massive Iranian support, is based on three legs: The first leg is Hezbollah’s military system. This system is designed to operate against Israel but also supports Hezbollah’s hold of the Shiite population. The military system places Hezbollah in a political power position in the internal Lebanese scene and provides it with major influence on the decision-making process in Lebanon; the second leg is a large-scale network of institutions contributing to the improvement of the socioeconomic situation of the Shiite population and strengthening its support of Hezbollah; and the third leg is a media empire which plays an important role in disseminating the ideology and political messages of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world. Such an extensive media empire in the possession of a terrorist organization is unprecedented among terrorist organizations operating around the world.”

2) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran proposes that Any Way You Slice it, Hezbollah Had a Very Bad Month.

“The dust is still clearing, but what’s clear is that Israel’s operation reflects a new security footing towards Hezbollah that is being put into effect at the same time the U.S. increases pressure on the group on other fronts. All told, it’s plain that August did not end auspiciously for Hezbollah. First, Israel seemingly resumed operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Iranian missile capabilities. Then shortly after, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank, which it described as Hezbollah’s “bank of choice.” These actions mark an important shift in both Israeli and U.S. policies, which is likely to deepen Hezbollah’s strategic dilemma.”

3) At the BESA Center, Professor Hillel Frisch explains how The EU Is Battling Israel in Area C.

“Ever since a decision in January 2012, the EU has been expressly committed to the expansion of illegal Palestinian settlement in Area C in conjunction with the PA. This is in blatant disregard of the Oslo accords, which the EU purports to uphold. The object is to create continuous Palestinian settlement throughout the West Bank and thereby isolate and strangle Israeli communities.”

4) Yoram Schweitzer and Orna Mizrahi discuss The Complexity behind Hezbollah’s Response to Israel’s Attacks at the INSS.

“Hezbollah’s limited and calculated response so far points to its desire to avoid, at this stage, a widening of the confrontation with Israel, both out of considerations linked to the situation facing its patron Iran and due to its interest in preventing a calamitous war in Lebanon. Compounding these considerations are also independent reasons. Hezbollah is currently under political pressure: additional countries have designated it as a terrorist group, and Arab countries, responding to the attack on IDF vehicles in Avivim, even accused it of irresponsible behavior. In addition, Hezbollah is in economic distress due to the direct sanctions imposed on it by the United States.”

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The BBC’s double standards on annexation

Back in April the BBC got rather excited about a pre-election statement made by the Israeli prime minister concerning the possibility of annexing Israeli communities in Area C.

An article headlined “Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected” informed audiences that “Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat” referred to such a move as a violation of international law and the BBC’s Arab affairs editor described Netanyahu’s comments as “potentially explosive” and bound to rouse “Palestinian fury” and “international condemnation”.

A commentator brought in by BBC Radio 4 described any such move as “another severe blow for the Palestinians” which “would cause massive riots across the West Bank”. The BBC’s Tom Bateman told visitors to the BBC News website that “the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank” indicate that Israel has undergone “a marked shift to the right”.

BBC World Service radio audiences were informed by Bateman that the idea of annexing Israeli communities means that “the prospect of the internationally held formula – a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians – really moved even further to the margins”. Listeners to a business programme on the same station heard about “an aggressive move…in the West Bank”.

That “vow” has of course not materialised in the five months since it was made but in recent days another regional leader decided to take unilateral steps concerning Area C.

“The Palestinian Authority announced over the weekend that it has decided to cancel the division of the West Bank into Area A, B and C according to the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Liberation Organization had signed with Israel in 1993 and 1995. 

From now on, the PA will treat all West Bank territories as Palestinian territories under its sovereignty. […]

Palestinian Minister of Local Government Majdi al-Saleh, who is backed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, asked the district leaders and branch heads in Shtayyeh’s office to broaden the master plan for Palestinian towns at the expense of open and green spaces bordering them, without regard to the existing divisions. Saleh explained that the directive was received following instruction from the PA to cancel the division of Areas A, B and C.”

Not only have BBC audiences not been told that the PA’s Oslo Accords breaching annexation (the addition of an area or region to a country, state, etc.) of Area C is a ‘violation of international law’ or “potentially explosive” or detrimental to the two-state solution – they have not been informed of it at all.

Omission in BBC reporting on Israel and the EU

Using the Eurovision Song Contest as a hook (and tag) another BBC reporter apparently in Tel Aviv for that event – diplomatic correspondent James Landale – published an article titled “Why Israel eyes the EU with distrust” on the BBC News website on May 20th.

Landale also produced an audio version of that report which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on May 18th (from 01:48:35 here) and the central messaging of both reports is the same.

“…Israel’s love of Eurovision the competition has also illustrated its more ambiguous attitude to Europe the continent.

If you speak to Israelis, some will tell you how Europe is their biggest trading partner, how they love going on holiday there and of their many ancestral family connections.

Yet many also say they see Europe as a source of anti-Semitism, a place where the Holocaust is becoming less prominent in the minds of a new generation of young people.

And many also see Europe as a source of what they see as unfair criticism for their government’s policies towards Gaza and the West Bank, coupled with a failure to understand Israel’s existential security threat. […]

Many see it as an organisation that has taken sides in their conflict with the Palestinians, others condemn it for providing aid that sometimes ends up in the hands of groups like Hamas, which the EU regards as a terrorist organisation. […]

This sentiment is fanned by Israel’s recently re-elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who before Christmas described the EU as “hostile and hypocritical”.”

Among Israelis, readers were told, “[t]here is little attempt…to understand a European political culture that favours liberal democracy and emphasises human and civil rights”.

Landale also informed BBC audiences that:

“European diplomats take some of this criticism with a pinch of salt and say the EU is a “useful whipping boy” for Israel at a time when it is so close to the Trump administration.”

However Landale made no attempt to delve further into how the generalised opinions he presented may have come about. Had he done so, he could have told BBC audiences about an issue that the corporation has long avoided: the fact that the EU has for years carried out illegal construction at sites in Area C.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Area C is of course under Israeli control and that includes planning permission. The status of the area is, according to that EU backed agreement, subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Nevertheless, a European Commission report from September 2014 openly stated that “the European Union and Palestinian Authority are actively promoting planning and construction in Area C, which, if successful, will pave the way for development and expansion of the Palestinian Authority’s control over Area C.”

Another example of such EU activity has come to light in Gush Etzion.

““Over the course of the past two years, activists from the Arab town of Al Khader, backed by P.A. and European Union funding, occupied the ruins of two ancient shomerot  (watchman’s huts) – primitive stone structures used by passing shepherds or farmers as shelter from the elements—that dot the landscape in the Jerusalem and Sataf areas. They renovated these abandoned structures and turned them into homes – and from that point, in very short order, totally new structures have been added in the surrounding area.”

The signs posted on the refurbished buildings, proudly bearing the European Union emblem, explain that the site is an ancient village – Shoshkhalah – despite the fact that aerial photos paint a completely different picture. In the past two years, more than 15 homes have been built in this “village,” each connected to solar power infrastructure and water tanks paid for by the Europeans.

Analysis of aerial photos from 1967, as well as historic maps dating back to 1880, prove that there was never any settlement of any kind at the site.”

Interestingly, while BBC audiences can by now probably recite the corporation’s mantra on Israeli ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ by heart, the repeated appearance of Palestinian/EU constructed outposts under the guise of ‘humanitarian assistance’ is not considered newsworthy – even by a senior BBC correspondent purporting to cast light on Israeli attitudes towards Europe.

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BBC’s Knell relegates impartiality to the bench in campaigning football report

On October 13th a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Fifa urged to give red card to Israeli settlement clubs“.knell-fifa-art

Knell opens her piece with an account of some pre-planned agitprop which took place on the eve of Yom Kippur.

“A dozen Palestinian boys dressed in football kit and carrying balls, march towards a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli police and soldiers come to block the way as they approach the gates of Maale Adumim, where some 40,000 Israelis live, to the east of Jerusalem.

Surrounded by journalists, protest organiser, Fadi Quran, tells a senior officer that the children want to play a game in the local football stadium.

“You know exactly why they can’t come in,” says the officer.

“Is it because they’re Palestinian?” Mr Quran asks.

“No, no, because you need a permit,” the officer replies.

“Well, people in the world are watching and I think it’s important to know you have segregation,” says Mr Quran.”

Were it not for reports like this one from a member of the pre-conscripted press pack, “people in the world” would of course know nothing about the exploitation of a dozen boys for a campaign which has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with the political campaign of delegitimisation of Israel.

But despite the BBC’s decision to use its world-wide reach to put wind in the sails of this particular political campaign, its editorial standards concerning accuracy and impartiality should at least ensure that audiences would be told the whole story. That, however, is not the case in Knell’s report.

The ‘star’ of Knell’s account of the event is the man she tepidly describes as “protest organiser” Fadi Quran. BBC audiences receive no information concerning Quran’s affiliations and are not told, for example, which organisation – if any – he represents, who funded the boys’ transport to Ma’ale Adumim or who paid for the identical T-shirts they and Quran are seen wearing in the photographs which accompany the article.avaaz-logo

A closer look at those T-shirts and the accompanying placards shows that they bear the Avaaz logo and that would come as no surprise had BBC audiences been informed that American citizen Fadi Quran is a “senior campaigner” for Avaaz. A former employee of Al Haq, Quran is also a “policy member” at Al Shabaka and a “Popular Struggle community organizer”.

Obviously that information is critical to audience understanding of the wider story behind the agitprop she describes, but Yolande Knell refrains from providing it to her audience. She goes on to ostensibly provide readers with the background to that “small protest” but similarly fails to inform them that the meeting to which she refers is the fruit of a long-standing Palestinian campaign to use FIFA to delegitimise Israel.

“The small protest is soon over but it has symbolic significance ahead of this week’s meeting of the council of world football’s governing body, Fifa, in Switzerland.

It is due to discuss whether teams from settlements, including Maale Adumim, should be barred from the Israeli Football Association (IFA).”

Knell’s reporting once again falls short of editorial standards of impartiality when she presents a one-sided portrayal of ‘settlements’ while failing to inform readers that all those communities are located in Area C which – according to the Oslo Accords, to which the Palestinians were willing signatories – is to have its final status determined through negotiations.

“Settlements are built on land captured and occupied by Israel in 1967, which the Palestinians want for a future, independent state. The international community sees them as “illegal” and “an obstacle to peace”, but Israel strongly disagrees.”

As readers are no doubt aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality require clarification of the “particular viewpoint” of outside contributors but Knell makes do with the inadequate term “advocacy group” when describing the political NGO Human Rights Watch which has long been involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel.

“The advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) suggests the IFA should be made to move all Fifa-sanctioned matches inside the internationally-recognised boundaries of Israel.

“By holding games on stolen land, Fifa is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,” says Sari Bashi, HRW’s country director for Israel and Palestine.

report by the group notes that some settlement playing fields are built on privately-owned Palestinian land, and that West Bank Palestinians, apart from labourers with permits, are not allowed to enter settlements and use their services.”

The HRW report to which Knell provides readers with a link was already given context-free and partial promotion on the BBC World Service last month.  Significantly, the HRW country director quoted by Knell has also found it appropriate to give an interview on the same topic to the BDS campaign’s South Africa branch.

Knell goes on to promote an old but unsupported claim:

“To underscore the inequalities, the Palestinian boys leaving the demonstration at Maale Adumim continue to chant: “Infantino, let us play.”

Some come from nearby Bedouin communities, which have lost access to their land due to settlement expansion, and have pending demolition orders against their homes.” [emphasis added]

As has previously been documented here, the Jahalin tribe’s claims of ownership of the said land have been examined – and rejected – in courts of law.

Knell similarly amplifies a specific political narrative when she promotes – as fact – the notion of “Israeli restrictions” on Palestinian footballers without any mention of the very relevant context of the links of some of those players to terrorist organisations.

“…a monitoring committee was set up, headed by the Fifa official Tokyo Sexwale, a South African politician and former anti-apartheid activist.

It was asked to address Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players and visiting teams, alleged racism and discrimination, and the clubs based in settlements, all of which play in Israel’s lower leagues.”football-terrorist

And of course Knell’s portrayal of the topic of Palestinian football does not extend to telling her audiences that one team saw fit to ‘honour’ a terrorist who murdered two Israelis in Jerusalem only this week.

BBC audiences are of course no strangers to Yolande Knell’s signature blend of journalism and activism and this latest report provides yet another example of her serial amplification of political narratives and campaigns in the guise of ‘news’. And yet, the BBC remains silent on the issue of Knell’s repeated compromise of its supposed editorial standards of impartiality.

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Final status negotiations on Area C passé for BBC’s Kevin Connolly

On June 17th an article appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Dead Sea drying: A new low-point for Earth“. Towards the end of Kevin Connolly’s long and at times rambling and repetitive piece, readers found the following:Connolly Dead Sea

“If the waters of the River Jordan are not to be restored, the likeliest scheme to revitalise the Dead Sea involves constructing a huge pipeline that would bring water across the desert from the Red Sea, far to the south. […]

Water would have to be desalinated first at the Red Sea (salty water would pollute the Dead Sea’s unique chemistry). It would then have to be pumped up to a great height and fed into enormous pipes that would channel the water across the desert to its destination.

The extra fresh water would benefit not just Jordan and Israel but the Palestinians too, so the World Bank is keen and the US is likely to provide at least some of the start-up capital.

But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

In fact a conference on the project was held in Jordan just last month.

“Israel and Jordan presented the planned Red Sea-Dead Sea canal to potential investors at an international conference in Aqaba, Jordan on Monday. […]

At the conference, project representatives presented a tentative timetable and listed its benefits. These include stabilizing the dropping water level in the Dead Sea, providing a source of desalinized water for Israel’s Arava desert and for Jordan, and strengthening cooperation between Israel and Jordan.

The U.S. government has already stated that it will be contributing $100 million to fund the project.

A tender to fund the project was recently published. Some 94 major international corporations have paid a fee to receive the tender paperwork.”

Connolly’s article is also remarkable for the crucial omissions in its portrayal of irrigation related issues, as shown for example in this particular passage:

“Israel has a dam across the southern section of the Sea of Galilee which gives it control of the amount of water flowing into the Jordan – it regards the Galilee as a vital strategic water asset, even though it’s been steadily increasing the amount of fresh water it creates through desalination plants in the Mediterranean.

The Israeli government began taking water out of the Jordan Valley system in the 1950s, the decade before it completed the dam.

And this creates problems for farmers in both Jordan and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank – all of whom need water to irrigate their farms and feed their people.

But Israel has problems too – although it has enough money and enough technical resources to ensure its own people have enough water.”

Any objective portrayal of that topic would necessarily inform readers of the existing water related agreements between Israel and Jordan and Israel and the Palestinians. It would also inform them on the topic of water use efficiency. In contrast to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Israel recycles waste water for agricultural irrigation, produces water for domestic consumption in desalination plants and uses water conserving irrigation methods

“The Palestinians absolutely refuse to irrigate their agricultural fields with treated sewage effluents. By comparison, more than half the agricultural fields in Israel are irrigated with treated waste water. Irrigating Palestinian agricultural fields with recycled water instead of fresh water would free up large amounts of water for home usage. This would greatly reduce the water shortage in many places.

Some Palestinian farmers irrigate their fields by flooding, rather than with drip irrigation technology. Drip irrigation, as practiced in Israel, brings water directly to the root of each plant, thereby reducing water consumption by more than 50 percent. Flooding fields causes huge water evaporation and leads to great waste.”

In other words, Connolly’s portrayal of a ‘rich’ Israel with “enough water” and – by inference – ‘poor’ Palestinians and Jordanians lacking water for crop irrigation is a very partial (although in no way unusual) picture of the real situation.

An additional notable feature of Connolly’s article is its use of politicised terminology – for example:

“Part of the [Dead Sea] shoreline is in the Palestinian West Bank under Israeli occupation so it’s possible that in future Palestinians too will reap the economic benefits of the sea’s unique properties.” (emphasis added)

Not only does that framing do nothing to enhance audience understanding of the history of the region, but it also conceals the fact that, like all other parts of Area C, the future of the area concerned is to be determined in final status negotiations according to the terms of the Oslo Accords, to which the Palestinians are of course party. 

Do BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy permit the misleading of audiences by means of an unqualified and preemptive claim about the end result of a process which has yet to take place?  

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BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ misrepresents the status of Area C in report on PA economy

Twenty years ago the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people signed an agreement according to which land west of the River Jordan that was originally part of the territory designated by the League of Nations for the Jewish National Home but which had been conquered and occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967, would be divided into three zones. The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip defines those zones as Areas A, B and C with the latter being left under Israeli control pending permanent status negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

Those negotiations on topics including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and borders began in 1996 but ran past their target date of May 4th 1999. Following the unsuccessful Camp David Summit in July 2000, the Palestinian Authority chose to initiate the war of terrorism known as the second Intifada. Although negotiations did continue for a time despite the extreme violence, the process was frozen in September 2003 following a major terror attack. In August 2005 Israel implemented its plan of disengagement from the Gaza Strip and areas in northern Samaria.

Throughout the twenty years since that interim agreement was signed, numerous attempts have been made to restart negotiations and several plans have been proposed including the Clinton Parameters and the 2008 Olmert Plan. In other words, had the Palestinian Authority wished to do so, it could have acquired control over the vast majority of Area C on several occasions over the last decade and a half by engaging in the negotiations to which the PLO originally committed itself in 1993.

However, members of the BBC World Service’s audience listening to the May 20th edition of ‘Business Matters’ – titled “Doing Business In The West Bank” – heard none of that very relevant context in the segment of the programme (from 26:39 in the link above) described in the synopsis as follows:WS WB

“In our second special report from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we go to the West Bank to see how companies operate when investment and trade is inhibited by occupation. We hear from firms in Bethlehem and a tour guide in Jericho, as well as a representative from the Israeli authorities, and a World Bank official.”

In the final part of that segment (also available separately here) Roger Hearing interviewed Steen Lau Jorgensen – Country Director of the West Bank and Gaza for the World Bank – and listeners heard that ostensibly impartial source say:

“The closest we have to one number would be that if you look at Area C which is part of the West Bank – the 61% of the West Bank that’s still completely under Israeli control – by very conservative estimates, if Palestinians were given access to this and the private sector could flourish there, that would add a third to the Palestinian economy. And it would lower the Palestinian budget deficit by half. It’s very clear when you ask – and I’m sure, you know, we’ve heard from businessmen, from all sorts of people – that restrictions is the major constraint and that is – I mean restrictions not only on movement of people – restrictions on movement of goods.”

Roger Hearing later commented:

“The Israelis say that they are trying hard to work around this; they understand the problem but still they have major security fears which is the reason for the restrictions that they have. Does that ring true? Do you think that’s the way it is working?”

Listeners then hear the World Bank representative promote a dubious and evidence-free connection between unemployment and terrorism – although that word is of course not used here or anywhere else in this programme.

“It’s clear that what we’re seeing is that the Israeli restrictions are restricting economic activity and – you know – causing unemployment, causing – you know – underemployment. And we know from all the rest of the world that high unemployment is not good for peace and stability. I would think – and you hear voices on the Israeli side saying this as well – that the best thing for Israel’s long-term security, as well as a common interest, is a vibrant neighbour next door – right? […] It’s very rare that wealthy countries go to war with each other, right?”

As a look at unemployment rates and the GDP per capita in PA controlled areas over the last two decades clearly shows, the economy there was actually steadily improving and unemployment was falling when Arafat decided to launch the second Intifada in September 2000. 

GDP per capita

 

unemployment

Passing up on the opportunity to properly inform listeners of, for example, the PA’s use of 6% of its budget for payments to convicted terrorists or the connections between rampant PA corruption, the rise of Hamas and the subsequent need for Israeli counter-terrorism measures, Roger Hearing makes do with the following bland tick of the impartiality box.

“But is it fair to blame the Israelis for what is in many areas a Palestinian homegrown problem? The Palestinian Authority – as most people admit – is not terribly efficient. There is corruption, there is misuse of funds. Is it any surprise really that they don’t have a more vibrant economy?”

Jorgensen’s reply again misleads listeners with regard to the status of Area C.

“Well first of all, the West Bank – in spite of not having access to more than half of their territory etcetera, etcetera, etcetera – has actually grown over the last 20 years pretty close to what middle-income countries have done. So they haven’t done too badly. They’re much better than their image outside.” [emphasis added]

Those familiar with the reports frequently produced by the World Bank will not have been in the least surprised by Jorgensen’s misrepresentation of the standing of Area C and his failure to note the fact that its status has yet to be determined and is currently pending the results of negotiations. In October 2013, just as Jorgensen took on his position, the World Bank published a paper titled “Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy” which – like many of the World Bank’s other reports – is based to no small extent on material provided by a plethora of political NGOs including Yesh Din, Gisha, ARIJ, B’Tselem, Bimkom and the Land Research Centre.  

Unfortunately, Roger Hearing failed to correct the inaccurate impression given by his interviewee regarding the legal status of Area C just as he failed to relieve them of the misleading impression that terrorism is caused by unemployment. Moreover, whilst attributing the state of the economy in Palestinian Authority controlled areas to Israeli “restrictions”, Hearing made no attempt to accurately inform listeners what the phrase “major security fears” actually means.

Bearing in mind that BBC audiences suffer from consistent under-reporting on the subject of Palestinian terrorism and that stories such as the rise of Hamas in PA administered areas or the seizure of 5 million shekels worth of money intended to fund terrorism in 2014 alone are rarely covered by the BBC, it is imperative for any accurate and impartial report on the Palestinian economy to include such essential background information. This BBC World Service report failed to deliver, instead sticking to a well-trodden but misleading political narrative in which Palestinians are portrayed as passive victims devoid of all responsibility for their choices.

The rest of this programme will be discussed in a future post.

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