BBC World Service history show recycles one inaccuracy and adds more

As readers may recall, on June 5th listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ heard that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.

The day after that programme was aired BBC Watch submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue but to date has received neither acknowledgement nor a response to the request to correct that obvious inaccuracy.

Moreover, on June 11th that same report by Simon Watts was recycled in its entirety (from 10:09 here) in another BBC World Service radio history programme – ‘The History Hour’ – where the item was described as being about “an assassination attempt that sparked Lebanon’s war”.

Once again, after Watts asked had the son of the former Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father in London in June 1982 by a Palestinian faction and Gideon Argov had gone on to say “and then the war broke out”, listeners heard Simon Watts interject:

[14:55] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”

As in the previous programme, listeners heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.

“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]

After which Watts told listeners that:

Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”

As was noted here previously, remarkably BBC audiences did not hear a single word about the additional – and highly relevant – background to those plans and Operation Peace for Galilee.

However listeners to ‘The History Hour’ did hear an addition to Watts’ report from an interviewee he was keen to present as “respected” and having “accolades”.

Watts: “So just how far did that shooting, that attempted assassination in London in 1982, mark a watershed moment for the Middle East? Well joining me now is Rami Khouri – professor at the American University in Beirut – who’s covered the region as a respected journalist for many decades. So from the Israeli perspective, was the attempt to kill Shlomo Argov the catalyst or the excuse for that move into Lebanon?”

Khouri: “It was certainly both but the evidence from historical reports by both Israelis and others is that the defence minister then – Ariel Sharon – had been planning for years probably to do a major attack on Lebanon and his aim was to get the PLO out of there, destroy the PLO’s facilities, get the Syrians out of Lebanon and force a peace treaty with the Christian-led government that the Israelis hoped to install in Lebanon and the assassination attempt was basically the excuse that gave the government the ability to say go ahead with this.”

Once again BBC World Service audiences were not informed why Sharon would have needed plans to “get the PLO out” of Lebanon. They were told nothing of the fact that the PLO had thousands of terrorists – including foreign mercenaries – based in Lebanon at the time and that Palestinian terrorists had committed hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilians in which 29 Israelis had been murdered and over 300 wounded in the eleven months before June 1982 alone.

Watts: “So Lebanon was a tinder box anyway which was ready to blow.”

Despite earlier having told listeners himself that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, Watts did not appear to notice that American-born Rami G Khouri contradicted his claim – or that he whitewashed Palestinian terror attacks such as those in Ma’alot and Misgav Am by describing them as “clashes”.

Khouri: “Lebanon had been experiencing internal civil war for some years and the civil war in Lebanon coincided with the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict between Zionism and Arabism and that was just the latest episode at that moment. But there was also a continuous legacy of a decade or two at least of clashes between the Israelis and Palestinian groups, Syrian groups, other Leftist nationalist groups in Lebanon who were against Israel and this fighting had been going on for years and years but this incident happened in the midst of an intense war that was getting worse, not better.”

Watts: “But from ’82 onwards things ratcheted up. As we heard in the piece just now, Gideon says that his father…eh…would not have been pleased by what the war did to Israel’s image abroad. So how would you characterise what it did to Israel’s image?”

Listeners next heard Khouri misrepresent the circumstances of the founding of Hizballah while using the term ‘Palestine’ contrary to BBC guidelines and seeming to claim that Lebanon is “part of Palestine”.

Khouri: “Really 1982 was a pivotal year. You had the birth of Hizballah in Lebanon to fight the Israeli occupation and the birth of Hamas in Palestine. So unilateral Israeli military action in any part of Palestine has tended to generate a reaction that has made conditions for Israelis worse in security terms.”

Watts: “And from your point of view, the move by Israel into Lebanon in ’82 – what were your memories of what happened and how has it affected your life?”

Listeners then heard a monologue which went completely unchallenged by Watts despite its blatantly partisan and often inaccurate portrayal of the first Lebanon war.

Khouri: “Well there was a very powerful moment. I had left Lebanon just before that in the late ’70s when I was in Lebanon working as a journalist. When the war broke out it became very dangerous so I moved to Jordan and I followed there events of course intensely with day-to-day news reports. And I remember at one point feeling so bad, so weak, so repulsed by the fact that the Israelis and others – sometimes it was the Syrians, sometimes it was some Lebanese forces, different people – but mostly the Israelis attacking helpless Palestinians in most cases and then various massacres like the Sabra and Shatila one that happened later in 1982. And then at one point I remember driving home from the newspaper late at night saying I can’t just sit here and see my fellow Palestinians being massacred like this. I’m not a fighter but maybe I can go there and write press releases or do what I do which is writing and journalism. And so there was a sense that I wanted to figure out how can I help and this is what every Palestinian in the world feels. And of course this is what most Jews in the world have felt over the years about their vulnerability around the world.”

Israeli forces of course fought armed Palestinian terrorist militias in southern Lebanon – not “helpless Palestinians”. While Khouri carefully avoided stating directly that Israel was responsible for Sabra and Shatila, he certainly steered listeners in that inaccurate direction.

Khouri continued – deliberately failing to distinguish between the armed Palestinian terrorists expelled from Jordan in 1970/71 and from Lebanon in 1982 and the ordinary Palestinians who were not “driven out” of either country. In Khouri’s one-sided narrative there is of course no place for the thousands of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists and no mention of Hizballah’s endless violations of UN resolutions.

Khouri: “But there was a sense that the Palestinians in 1982 had a pivotal moment because they had previously been driven out of Jordan and now they were being driven out of Lebanon and their political situation was increasingly vulnerable and weak. So the feelings since 1982 continue I think with every Palestinian and with many Israelis – as we heard from Gideon Argov. You know there is a decent side to Israeli sentiment that we understand but there’s also a bloody side that has killed thousands of Palestinians and we saw the bloody side affirmed in 1982 in a very dramatic way but also in a way that I think we have to register as a failure. It did not bring peace to Galilee because what happened was Hizballah came out of this and Hizballah is the only force in the Arab world that has twice forced Israel to accept a ceasefire at the UN and end military fighting. So the ironies I think are plenty for everybody to consider.”

Watts: “That’s the writer and academic Rami Khouri who, among other accolades, is a fellow of Harvard’s Kennedy School.”

Despite this extended version of Watts’ report including ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ points of view, it by no means gave BBC audiences a balanced account. While Gideon Argov was asked primarily about the attack on his father’s life, Rami Khoury was given free rein to promote inaccuracies and falsehoods to enhance his partisan narrative. That would have been bad enough in any BBC show but in one that purports to provide audiences with “historical reporting” it is obviously unacceptable.

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BBC WS history show yet again promotes political narrative

The subject matter of programmes in the BBC World Service radio history series ‘Witness‘ is often tied to an anniversary on or around the time of broadcast. That, however, was not the case in the programme’s October 4th edition – titled “Israel Withdraws From Gaza“.

Unusually, presenter Mike Lanchin travelled to the Gaza Strip to make a programme less than nine minutes long and also produced a filmed version which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 4th under the title “‘My house was occupied by Israeli soldiers’“.

In the audio version listeners heard a substantial amount of commentary from Lanchin himself, much of which was inaccurate and failed to provide them with the full story. In his opening words, Lanchin described the Gaza Strip as “Palestinian territory” without providing any explanation of the area’s history – and not least the fact that it was included in the territory designated by the League of Nations for the creation of the Jewish homeland.

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

Lanchin: “Today we’re going back to 2005 when Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after nearly 40 years of occupation. Around 8,000 Jewish settlers were evicted and all Israeli military personnel were withdrawn from the tiny Palestinian territory. I’ve been hearing from one young Gazan woman who was there when the Israelis left.”

Listeners then heard archive recordings from the time of the 2005 disengagement followed by the programme’s sole interviewee, Maisoon Bashir.

Bashir: “The people in the settlement they are very upset and angry because they don’t like to leave Gaza. And we hear the sound of the people in the settlement shouting ‘no; we don’t leave’.”

After a similar archive recording, Lanchin went on to present an editorialised account of the disengagement.

Lanchin: “There’d been weeks of violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Jewish policemen and women and soldiers; a cause of anguish and shame for many Israelis. But now Israel’s 38 year occupation of Gaza was at an end. For 12 year-old Gazan Maisoon Bashir it was a moment of celebration.”

Bashir: “I was so happy because the simple thing that I am Palestinian, this is my land and you have to leave. And yes; they did.”

Following a recording of some sort of military confrontation, Lanchin purported to provide some historical background but could not even get the date of the Six Day War right – and that inaccuracy also appeared in the programme’s synopsis.   

Revealingly, Lanchin described that war as ‘Israel’s’ war and failed to clarify to listeners that the Gaza Strip had been belligerently occupied by Egypt in 1948 and that Jordan had belligerently occupied Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem during the same conflict.

Absurdly describing an area which is between 30 to 55 kilometres wide as being “on the west bank of the River Jordan”, Lanchin inaccurately suggested that the people who chose to go to live there and in the Gaza Strip were ‘moved in’ by Israel. That inaccuracy also appeared in the filmed version in archive material from Jeremy Bowen and of course the accuracy of terminology is important because it is that false account of events which is used as the basis for the claim that Israeli communities in those areas are (or were) ‘illegal’.

Lanchin: “Israel had first captured the 40 kilometre long and 10 kilometre wide Gaza Strip during its Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October 1967. It then began moving its own people in – both to Gaza and to the newly occupied territories on the west bank of the River Jordan.  Over the next three decades, thousands of Jewish settlers set up home in heavily populated Gaza. One of the settlements – Kfar Darom – was built opposite Maisoon Bashir’s family home.”

Lanchin made no effort to inform listeners that the community of Kfar Darom was first established as a kibbutz in 1946 on land purchased in 1930 by a Jew from Rehovot called Tuvia Miller or that a Jewish community had existed in Gaza until 1929, when it was evacuated by the British mandate administration due to Arab rioting.

Bashir: “I remember just opening the windows of my room. I see the soldier in the settlement. When I ask my father who is here in this place? They are Jewish people.”

Lanchin: “It was a sight that Maisoon grew up with just across the dusty road from her home. Jewish settlers – many of them with young families – living in large, well-built compounds with schools, synagogues and shops, protected by Israeli soldiers. Maisoon’s family had lived in that part of central Gaza for several generations and had tomato and date plantations there. Her father was an English teacher and the principal at the local school.”

Bashir: “I remember that we go to the sea with my father in vacation, play in the garden, go with my grandfather to the greenhouses – the tomato greenhouses – and I remember that my aunts they visit us, my friends. So you feel like you are a normal person.”

Nowhere in his report did Lanchin make use of the words terrorists or terrorism. Instead terrorists were described as ‘militants’ and listeners heard practically nothing about the scores of fatal and debilitating attacks (including rocket and mortar fire) against Israeli civilians living in communities in the Gaza Strip.  

Lanchin: “But for Maisoon and her family such moments of normality were rare. Militant attacks on the settlements were becoming increasingly common. In 2000 there was an upsurge in the violence both in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank.”

Following an archive recording from the time of the second Intifada, Lanchin went on to repeat an inaccurate narrative frequently promoted in BBC content.

Lanchin: “The second Intifada – or uprising – against the Israeli occupation was sparked by a visit by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the holy site of Haram al Sharif – or Temple Mount – in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

After another archive recording, Lanchin allowed Bashir to promote memories of unsupported speculation.

Lanchin: “Maisoon was at home when she first heard gunfire close by.”

Bashir: “The first thing that we hear that shooting from the Israelien [sic] soldiers – very heavy – and we feel like they would kill us. We were in this room. My father was in a school and my mother ask all of my brother and sister to enter this room because it’s the most safe one.”

Lanchin: “The next day more Israeli soldiers arrived and they proceeded to tell the family that they had orders to occupy their home, claiming that it had a strategic position as the tallest building in the neighbourhood.”

Bashir: They put all my family in one room and the rest of home was the things of the soldier. And they told my father that this place is like a military place. You have to understand that no-one allowed to enter your home and you cannot use the rest of your home. Soldiers live here and there so I feel like this is not my home. I ask my mother what’s that?”

Lanchin: “Friends and relatives begged Maisoon’s father to leave.”

Bashir: “My father say no. This is my place of my grandfather and I will die here.”

Lanchin: And so for the next five years Israeli soldiers occupied the top floors of the house, using it as a look-out post, while Maisoon and her brothers, sisters, mother and father were confined to the rooms down below. The family was allowed out in the day time but had a strict night-time curfew and strict controls on who could come and go. Their land round the house was destroyed.”

Lanchin failed to clarify why a plantation of trees would likely be seen as a security risk in a location in which terrorists repeatedly attacked a nearby civilian community. He then allowed Bashir to suggest that she did not have free access to school despite bringing no evidence to support that allegation.

Bashir: “I keeping all the night dreaming the day that the Israeli soldier will leave my home, my house, so I can go freely to school and do whatever I want.”

Lanchin: “But for Israel Gaza was proving a difficult occupation to maintain. Palestinian militant attacks inside Israel – many planned from within Gaza – were on the increase. Israeli military operations in response only served to strengthen the Gazans’ hatred of the occupiers. And so, by now prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled plans to leave Gaza and to build a wall and a fence to separate the Palestinian territories from Israel as a way of defending against further militant attacks. By September 2005 the last of the 3,000 Israeli soldiers and the 8,000 Jewish settlers had left Gaza. As they pulled out, they destroyed their former homes, schools and synagogues.”

In fact the synagogue in Kfar Darom, along with several others, was not “destroyed” by Israel but was burned down by Palestinians shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a conversation between Lanchin and Bashir that took place in Gaza.

Bashir: “The whole thing that we see right now here is completely change.”

Lanchin: “Yeah, there’s no sign of the settlement now. There’s some rubble in the back.”

Bashir: “I trying to remember.”

Lanchin: “Trying to remember.”

Bashir: “Yeah.”

Lanchin: “More than a decade on, I’m with Maisoon on the flat rooftop of her home which once served as a military look-out for the Israeli soldiers.”

Bashir: “And here was like the road for the Israelien [sic] jeep and the bulldozer and this place for the soldiers here.”

Lanchin’s closing remarks failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip did not bring an end to Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians – or why. While describing the territory as “largely closed off to the outside world” he failed to explain the role of Hamas’ policies in creating that situation and refrained from explaining that under the terms of the Oslo Accords the Gaza Strip’s coastal waters and airspace remained under Israel’s control and that no changes were made to those terms in subsequent agreements between Israel and the PA signed after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. 

Lanchin: “On this scorching sunny morning in central Gaza it’s hard to imagine the tension and fear that dominated the lives of people like Maisoon and her family. Yet all you have to do is look around at the half-standing buildings damaged in the repeated military confrontations that have taken place since withdrawal between Hamas militants who now rule Gaza and the Israelis and you’ll understand how little has been achieved in the intervening years. Today Gaza remains largely closed off to the outside world with its borders, airspace and waters controlled by Israel and Egypt. Hamas still threatens more attacks on Israel. Maisoon – who’s now 25 – longs to go abroad to study and although she comes across as a confident young woman brimming with energy, when she speaks there’s a sadness and a resignation underlying her words.”

Bashir: “I used to be a positive – as my father told me – but you have to look to the reality and the reality right now is a very difficult. I wish that in the future it will be like Palestinian, Jewish together to speak and doing. OK but before that, give me my rights.”

Lanchin: “Maisoon Bashir was speaking to me, Mike Lanchin, in Gaza for this edition of ‘Witness’.

This report by Mike Lanchin is not, as noted above, timed to coincide with an anniversary and its featured interviewee does not have a particularly historically important story to tell. One might therefore wonder why Lanchin travelled all the way to the Gaza Strip to interview a specific person who was a child at the time of the disengagement.

Maisoon Bashir describes herself as follows:

“I have been asked to introduce myself. I am wondering how I should, as an activist or a journalist, who tries to raise the voice of Palestine? Both are true, but I prefer to introduce myself just as a Palestinian girl, because my nationality is a testament to the authenticity of my homeland and the injustices borne by my people.”

Her activism is given a platform at a site called ‘We Are Not Numbers’ that is linked to a political NGO currently called ‘Euro Med Rights’ (which has Richard Falk as chair of its board of trustees) and which was founded by a self-described “social justice activist” called Pam Bailey who is also associated with Code Pink. Bashir’s writings have also been posted at the Hamas linked outlet MEMO.

BBC audiences, however, were not informed that they were in fact listening to a political activist (in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) and neither were they given any insight into how Mike Lanchin was introduced to her story or why he visited the Gaza Strip (where the BBC has a staffed local office) to interview her.

Once again we see that the radio show touted by the BBC World Service as a ‘history’ programme is in fact used as a vehicle for the advancement of one-sided political narrative.

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BBC WS history programme dumbs down the story of a border dispute

The June 29th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was titled “The Disputed Resort of Taba” and it was presented as follows in the synopsis.

“A dispute between Israel and Egypt over a tiny strip of beach on the Red Sea soured relations between the two countries for years. Israel captured Taba on the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War, but refused to return it until 1989 when the Egyptians bought the luxury hotel and beach-hut village that Israeli developers had built on it. Louise Hidalgo talks to former US judge Abraham Sofaer who helped negotiate the deal.”

Somewhat bizarrely given its focus on a political/geographical dispute, presenter Louise Hidalgo introduced the programme as “part of our series looking at the history of tourism” before explaining the story.

“It was 1985 and Judge Abraham Sofaer’s first experience of trying to mediate an agreement in a part of the world known for some of the most intractable disagreements on earth. This one was over a small spit of beach 750 yards long called Taba, in the top-most corner of the Sinai Peninsula and in the southern-most tip of Israel. The Egyptians said Taba was part of Sinai and theirs. The Israelis disagreed.”

Later on listeners were told that:

“Egypt and Israel had signed their historic peace treaty in 1979 and under the Camp David Accord Egypt recognised Israel in return for Israel handing back the Sinai Peninsula which it had captured during the 1967 Six Day War. The Israelis kept their promise and three years later withdrew from all of Sinai except for Taba. And in the years that followed the tiny enclave on the Israeli border had become a running sore in the peace between these two adversaries.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified recording – presumably from the BBC’s archive.

“The Israelis built their frontier post just north of the hotel. The Egyptians put up their post just to the south. And in between sits the hotel; run by the Israelis, lusted after by the Egyptians. To the Israelis it’s a matter of simple economics: Taba is a great draw for tourists. For the Egyptians it’s a matter of principle.”

All well and good, but then the programme got to the subject of the Sinai Peninsula’s old boundary, with Hidalgo saying to Sofaer:

“And something else that you found out during those negotiations was that the formidable Israeli politician and soldier the late Ariel Sharon who’d played a big part in capturing the Sinai Peninsula in 1967, after the war Sharon had had these pillars or posts marking the border around Taba moved, hadn’t he? This was the border that had been set decades earlier by the…by the British. What happened?”

Sofaer: “It was a feeling on Sharon’s part that the British had been deliberately unfair in determining the border and the border where the pillars were was not an advantageous border for Israel. And then he essentially ordered his people after the ’67 war to knock down the border pillars […] and the Egyptians said we’re sure they knocked down the border pillars deliberately. And the Israelis would tell me ‘yes; I was there’ said this general. ‘I was there and I saw him order that the pillars be knocked down’. So there was this sense among the Egyptians that the Israelis were just being willful.”

Whether or not that story is accurate is unclear but certainly BBC audiences are not given the full background to the story. No attempt is made to explain why or on what authority the British – who at the time had occupied Egypt since 1882 without any legal basis – set that boundary in 1906. In his book “The Boundaries of Modern Palestine 1840-1947”, Professor Gideon Biger explains:

In other words, the pillars that may or may not have been “knocked down” did not necessarily reflect the boundary defined in the agreement between the British and the Ottomans.

As the New York Times reported at the time of the dispute:

“The Israeli claim is based on the fact that when the Egyptians and the Turks marked the Sinai border, they said each border pillar could be seen from the one before it.

Israel contends that the border runs either through the ”granite knob” overlooking Nelson Village or through the cluster of palm trees at the end of the public beach – both of which afford a clear view of the previous pillar, even though today there are no border pillars at either place.

The Egyptians assert that the border is a few hundreds to the east of the Sonesta Hotel, where one can find atop a hill the remains of a supposed border pillar.

The only problem is that from the Egyptian spot it is impossible to see the penultimate pillar, which means no inter-visibility as the history books said.”

Towards the end of the programme Hidalgo told listeners that:

“An international panel was set up to arbitrate on the border, eventually ruling in favour of Egypt.”

The details of that panel’s deliberations and conclusions – including a copy of the original Anglo-Ottoman agreement and Professor Ruth Lapidoth’s dissenting opinion – can be found here.

Sadly for audiences, that complex story with its British colonial roots has been dumbed down by the BBC into a tale of an Israeli moving some posts. 



BBC regular Atwan shatters 14 year old BBC myth on second Intifada

h/t EoZ

Here is a clip from an interview given by that old BBC favourite Abdel Bari Atwan to the Lebanese TV station Al Mayadeen on July 29th.

Apparently Abdel Bari Atwan has not told his friends at the BBC that Yasser Arafat “decided to ignite the second Intifada” or of Arafat’s “period of preparation for the second Intifada”. If he had shared that personal knowledge with them, they surely would not still be running all those embarrassingly inaccurate articles and backgrounders on their website which claim that the second Intifada began because Ariel Sharon went for a pre-coordinated thirty-four minute visit to Temple Mount.

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Revealed: BBC’s Kevin Connolly knows how to use Wikipedia

Our colleague Gidon Shaviv over at Presspectiva has been investigating the claim made by several Western journalists recently that Ariel Sharon was nicknamed ‘Lion of God’. Among those who made that claim – in an article titled “Ariel Sharon’s mark on history” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 11th – is the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Such was his [Sharon’s] reputation as a military commander that some accounts of his army career say he was nicknamed the Lion of God after a particularly daring tactical parachute operation against Egypt in 1967 in the Sinai desert.” [emphasis added]

Lion of God

As Gidon notes:

“Lion of God is an unlikely nickname for a man whose Hebrew first name is Ariel. The name Ariel could and has been interpreted as meaning lion of God, (Ari=Lion El=God) though it is more commonly associated with Jerusalem. In other words, in Hebrew, Sharon’s given name is indistinguishable from the supposed “Lion of God” nickname.

Moreover, comprehensive searches for historic references to Sharon as “Lion of God” did not turn up any results prior to 2012. Exhaustive online searches in Hebrew and English and in various biographies did not yield a single example of anyone ever having referred to him as the “Lion of God.” Likewise, the head of Israel’s state archives, a historian in his own right, had never heard of this moniker for Sharon.”

So where did that claim made by Connolly and others come from?

“The earliest known reference to “Lion of God” as a nickname for the late prime minister is Wikipedia’s entry for “Ariel Sharon“.”

Lion of God Wiki

Oops! And where did Wikipedia source that information? Read more on that in Gidon Shaviv’s post here.

 “BBC News aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism“, its funding public is reassured by the BBC Trust. One of course rather doubts that those obliged to pay £145.50 a year to fund the BBC would expect the use of dubious, unverified information sourced from Wikipedia to be part of that “standard”.

Adding more second Intifada falsehoods to the BBC’s ‘permanently accessible archive’

On January 12th we noted here that just hours after the death of Ariel Sharon, the BBC News website continued to promote the myth that his September 28th 2000 visit to Temple Mount was the cause of the second Intifada. After that article was written, three additional items appeared on the website promoting the same falsehood.

In an item titled “In quotes: Ariel Sharon” a note was added to one of several Sharon quotes selected by BBC staff for that feature.

Sharon in quotes article

Also appearing on the website on January 12th was a filmed report dedicated to a telephone interview with Mustafa Barghouti in which – with his inaccuracies unchallenged by the BBC – he claimed:

“The worst memory is that he [Sharon] practically undermined and destroyed the peace process – the Oslo process – when he visited the Al Aqsa mosque and launched a campaign against the implementation of the peace process…”

In an article dated January 13th Yolande Knell wrote:

“…his [Sharon’s] controversial visit in 2000 to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount. The walkabout on the contested site infuriated Palestinians, who launched the second intifada (or uprising).”

To sum up, we see that on January 1st the BBC News website had produced a new profile of Sharon which included the second intifada myth and that in the subsequent ten days no fewer than fourteen links to that profile were promoted in five separate articles. In addition, over the following three days, the same myth appeared in the BBC News website’s obituary, in an “In Pictures” feature, in an article by Kevin Connolly and in another by Yolande Knell, in the above-mentioned “In Quotes” feature, in a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen and in the interview with Barghouti.

In other words, BBC audiences were provided with versions of the same inaccurate and misleading information on at least eight separate occasions on the website alone. With Bowen’s report also having appeared on BBC television news programmes and the interview with Barghouti having been broadcast on BBC radio stations, clearly the extent of the promotion of this falsehood is considerably wider.

But why? Why should the BBC have adopted hook, line and sinker a narrative which has been shown to be incorrect on countless occasions – ironically primarily by Palestinian leaders and personalities? And why does an organization which claims to aspire to be the “standard-setter for international journalism” and is supposedly committed to rigorous standards of accuracy continue to widely and deliberately promote a clear falsehood?

We can of course only guess the answers to those questions, but certainly the embalming of this simplistic myth is the easy option for journalists. The alternative would involve detailing for audiences the long list of terror attacks against Israeli citizens which took place between the signing of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and the start of the second Intifada seven years later and in which some 269 Israelis were killed and many hundreds more injured. Significantly, that turbulent period – which remains etched in the memories of Israelis – does not even appear on the BBC News website’s timeline of Israeli history,which jumps straight from the Oslo Accords of Timeline1993 to the second Intifada of 2000 as though nothing of importance happened in between. 

Likewise, any honest appraisal of the factors which brought about the second Intifada would have to include Yasser Arafat’s failure to rein in the terror activities of rejectionist factions and to prepare the Palestinian leadership and people for peace with their neighbours during those seven years, as well as a frank account of his performance at Camp David in July 2000.

“Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him [Arafat] in Paris upon his return…. Camp David had failed, and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.” Suha Arafat speaking to Dubai TV, December 2012.

All that, however, is completely erased from the BBC’s narrative, according to which hitherto peace-loving Palestinians were simply unable to resist being provoked into starting a campaign of violence and terror when the leader of an opposition party in Israel paid a thirty-four minute visit to the most important Jewish holy site during normal visitor opening hours which was pre-coordinated days beforehand with the PA security forces.

Whilst the promotion of that simplistic narrative might save a lot of writing hours, it does nothing for the BBC’s reputation as an organisation committed to accuracy. Neither does it indicate that BBC journalists regard the Palestinian people and their leadership as having any sort of agency or responsibility and such an obvious display of the bigotry of low expectations may well be seen as compromising the BBC’s impartiality.

Unlike most BBC radio or television broadcasts, material published on its website remains in the public domain for many years to come. That website already includes significant amounts of inaccurate and misleading information on the subject of the second Intifada. Now, over a decade on, instead of rectifying that situation the BBC is adding yet more of the same to what it describes as its “permanently accessible archive“.  

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Eleven links in four BBC articles promote baseless second Intifada myth

With Ariel Sharon’s Death, Expect the Usual Falsehoods  (CAMERA)

Bowen on Sharon: what did BBC audiences learn?

We previously noted on these pages that, on January 12th in an item concerning the death of Ariel Sharon which was aired on the Bowen filmed 11 1 aBBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’, the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen inaccurately represented the findings of the Kahan Commission on Sabra and Shatila and inserted into his report a recording of an interviewee from Lebanon making the false claim that Sharon had both entered the camps and carried out the massacre. 

With Jeremy Bowen’s post having been created in 2005 as one of several BBC responses to criticism of its Middle East coverage which led to the commissioning of the unpublished Balen Report, it is worth taking a look at some of his additional broadcasts throughout the three days in which the BBC covered the death of Ariel Sharon and examining whether or not his role does in fact contribute to more accurate and impartial coverage of a major event and whether it actually provides “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” as the BBC claims

On January 11th – within hours of Sharon’s death – two filmed reports by Bowen – which were also aired on BBC television news programmes – appeared on the BBC News website. In the earlier of those two reports, which Bowen Bowen filmed 11 1 bliberally garnishes with words such as ‘butcher’, ‘villain’, ‘killer’ and ‘criminal’, supposedly whilst reflecting the opinions of others, he again misrepresents the Kahan Commission findings and misleads audiences by inaccurately stating that the second Intifada was the result of Sharon’s September 2000 visit to Temple Mount.

“As he pushed to become leader of the Israeli Right in 2000, he made a highly publicized, heavily guarded visit to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, providing the spark for the second Palestinian uprising.”

In the second report viewers were informed by Bowen that:

“…and of course from the Palestinian perspective he is seen absolutely without any shadow of doubt as a butcher with lakes of blood on his hands…”

That description also found its way to the BBC News website’s live page.

Live page Sharon Bowen comments

On January 12th, as Ariel Sharon lay in state, a further two reports by Jeremy Bowen were aired on BBC television news and appeared on the BBC News website, with the first headlined “Ariel Sharon death: Israelis pay respects at parliament“. Despite that title, it Bowen 12 1 atook just forty-five seconds of the report before Bowen was once again promoting more paraphrased Palestinian opinions of Sharon in his own highly charged and hyperbolic words.

“But Palestinians especially are not shedding tears for Ariel Sharon. They say he spent his life shedding their blood and taking land they want for a state for Jewish settlements.”

Bowen closes that report:

“It’s a sign though of his place in modern Middle Eastern history that there are still so many people here in Israel who venerate him and so many – especially Palestinians – who get very angry about what he did.”

The second report of that day is an interview by Bowen with Ehud Olmert in which he again uses the ‘butcher’ description.

“Now what about those episodes which Sharon’s name is also associated with abroad? Sabra and Shatila, the killings in the camp, the subsequent inquiry, personal responsibility that he took for that – he had to resign – and the other things as well; the raids into Gaza and the West Bank in the 1950s which mean that Palestinians of course looked on him very differently and saw him as a butcher with blood on his hands.” Bowen 12 1 b

His next question is:

“Now what about the fact that those episodes in Mr Sharon’s political career – many people believe – brought Israel into disrepute around the world, were a black mark on its record?”

Viewers are of course not informed who or how many are “many people”, but it is notable that Bowen uses the opportunity to advance the concept of the massacre of Palestinian Arabs by Lebanese Arabs (of course one of many carried out around that time in Lebanon by numerous parties including Palestinians) as a “black mark” on Israel’s record rather than on that of the people who perpetrated it.

On January 13th a fifth filmed report by Bowen appeared on BBC television news programmes and on the BBC News website. Titled “Ariel Sharon funeral: Tributes paid at memorial service“, that report too soon moves from reporting events to political commentary. 

At 1:26 into the two minute and forty second-long report, viewers see footage of the Old City of Jerusalem with Bowen saying:

“Ariel Sharon owned a house in the Old City of Jerusalem where most of the residents are Palestinians. For many years he led the drive to settle Jews in the occupied territories. Jewish settlers who live here in the Muslim Quarter have armed security guards.”

It is difficult to imagine three more context-free sentences. Bowen fails to inform viewers that Jews – some of whom had lived there for generations – were expelled from the Old City by the Jordanians in 1948 and hence he is able to describe those living there nowBowen 13 1 as “settlers”. He also neglects to mention that, despite being situated in the Muslim Quarter, the Wittenberg House in which Sharon indeed bought an apartment in the 1980s (and sold some years later) is named after Moshe Wittenberg who bought what was once a hotel from its former Christian owners roughly one hundred years before that. And of course Bowen provides no explanation as to why Jews living in the Old City might be in need of “armed security guards”, but at least this time he has actually got the name of one of the quarters of Jerusalem right. 

Bowen then interviews Mustafa Barghouti (who also featured widely in other BBC coverage of Sharon’s death with assorted unchallenged defamations and conspiracy theories), describing him as “a prominent Palestinian who believes in non-violent resistance to Israel”. Readers will no doubt however be aware of Barghouti’s participation in the riots in Qalandiya during the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ agitprop of March 2012 and his periodic appearance at the weekly violent riots in Bil’in. Unchallenged by Bowen, Barghouti says:

“He [Sharon] thought he can deal with Palestinians and Arabs and the rest of the world only through force. What Israel needs is a different kind of political generation: people who understand that they themselves will not be free as Israelis from the system of apartheid and occupation unless we the Palestinians are free.”

Bowen ends that report by saying:

“Many Palestinians and some human rights campaigners think he [Sharon] should have been put on trial as a war criminal but he goes to his grave mourned by Israelis who felt safer when he was around.”

So what have BBC audiences gained from watching these five reports by Jeremy Bowen spread over three days? They have been misled with regard to the findings of the Kahan Commission and the cause of the second Intifada. They have been presented with numerous examples of Bowen’s interpretations of what Palestinians think of Sharon, together with the views of selected interviewees, and they have repeatedly been exposed to Bowen’s use of hyperbolic language such as “butcher”, “villain”, “killer”, “criminal”, “war criminal”, “apartheid”, “lakes of blood on his hands” and “shedding their blood”.

Beyond the fact that much of this coverage cannot be said to meet BBC Editorial Guidelines of accuracy and impartiality, its overtly political nature means that, above all, in no way can it be said to meet Bowen’s job description of providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”. Given that Jeremy Bowen is not just one individual reporter, but the person in charge of setting the overall tone of the BBC’s Middle East reporting, his performance in this instance must raise questions as to the efficacy of the post of Middle East editor in producing accurate and impartial coverage of Israel. 

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Arafat death conspiracy theory featured in BBC WS ‘Newshour’ live coverage of Sharon funeral

On January 13th the 13:06 GMT edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ included live coverage of what its synopsis describes as the “State funeral ceremony for former Isrsali [sic] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”. 

News hour 13 1 Sharon funeral

Whilst the programme itself was hosted by Razia Iqbal, the section of it covering the funeral of Ariel Sharon (starting from about 01:14 in the link above) was presented by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet from the Sharon family’s HaShikmim Farm near Sderot and throughout the live broadcast listeners could hear announcements relating to the ongoing funeral in the background.

Against that backdrop, Doucet chose to describe Sharon as:

“War hero to some, war criminal to others: revered and reviled.”

Later, she described Sharon as having:

“…bulldozed the land as housing minister to make way for settlements.”

As noted here earlier this week, that is another clearly all too prevalent BBC myth which does not stand up to scrutiny.

The most notable part of this programme, however, was the editorial decision to provide a platform for the head of the Fatah political committee Abdullah Abdullah during a live broadcast meters away from an ongoing funeral.

When asked by Doucet why the Palestinians do not give Sharon credit for the Gaza Strip disengagement, Abdullah said:

“Credit for what? Credit for the massacre of Qibya in 1953? Credit of the Sabra and Shatilla in 19…eh…82? Credit for ….eh…the continued…probably he is one of the top accused of the assassination of President Arafat. Credit for…” [emphasis added]

With no clarification for listeners that two separate reports recently determined that Arafat died of natural causes, Doucet then changed the subject to the disengagement from Gaza, which gave Abdullah the opportunity to say:

“Excuse me, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip was not a sign of peace because he refused to discuss this with any party concerned. This was a design to get rid of 1.7 million Palestinians from the demographic threat that Sharon was afraid of. So it was – and look now what’s going on in the negotiations. Gaza is not brought into these negotiations. They thought that it is outside the Palestinian territory and not only that but Israel continued to control the lives of the people in the Gaza Strip, be it in land…the sea, from the land and from the air. And so I don’t think there is a credit for that but rather it’s a design that meant to concentrate his atrocities in the West Bank.”

In response to a later question, Abdullah added:

“Well I think peace to Sharon meant unilateral peace: peace only for the Israelis at the expense of the Palestinians. That’s not peace. That’s segregation.”

There are of course no BBC Editorial Guidelines or Style Guides on the issue of bad taste. If there were, then the on-site broadcasting of a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ defamation of a statesman in the process of being buried as a “war criminal”, along with the on-air propagation of crackpot conspiracy theories about his alleged involvement in an unproven “assassination” of Arafat, would surely go down as a prime example of how not to manage a live broadcast. There are, however, editorial guidelines on the subject of live output and parts of this one at the very least fall into the category of ‘offensive comments’.

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we should make an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity.”

But of course Lyse Doucet had been building up to this for days. Her previous two ‘Newshour’ programmes on the subject of Sharon included numerous breaches of editorial guidelines and it seems that no-one on that programme’s production team is capable of controlling the damage.

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Continuing serious breaches of editorial guidelines in ‘Newshour’ with Lyse Doucet

The BBC World Service’s flagship international news and current affairs radio programme ‘Newshour’ is broadcast in two daily editions – one at 13:06 GMT and one at 21:06 GMT every day. The January 11th 13:06 edition of that programme, which went on air just an hour after the official announcement of Ariel Sharon’s death, has already been addressed here. The same day’s later 21:06 edition of that programme purported to discuss “Sharon’s impact on the region”.

Newshour 11 1 14 ed 2

Again presented by Lyse Doucet, this edition begins with a version of the item by World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge which also opened the previous programme and which repeats the promotion of the myth that the second Intifada began because Ariel Sharon went to visit Temple Mount in September 2000 and once again has the geographically challenged Ahmad Tibi claiming that:

“He [Sharon] came here in order to burn up the area. Al Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic place. Al Aqsa is in the Palestinian territory.”

That is followed by a recording of Shimon Peres talking about Sharon and then one of Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri saying:

“The death of Sharon after eight years in a coma is a sign from God and a lesson for tyrants. The Palestinian people live in a historic moment due to the departure of this criminal who killed our people and our leaders.”

Next, a section of the defamatory rant by Mustafa Barghouti which was featured heavily in the prior edition of the programme is aired and that is followed by short interviews with former deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon and Ha’aretz journalist Amir Oren

At around twenty-five minutes into the programme a news bulletin is read in which the news reader gives audiences what we can understand to be the official ‘in a nutshell’ BBC view of Ariel Sharon and the one it intends millions of listeners worldwide to take away.

“One of the most senior figures from Israel’s founding generation, the former prime minister Ariel Sharon, has died at the age of 85 after eight years in a coma. Mr Sharon played a major and controversial role; first guerilla fighter and soldier known for both bravery and occasional recklessness and later as a politician. When he ordered the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, his Lebanese Christian allies massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. An Israeli commission of inquiry found he bore personal responsibility and he stood down as Defence Minister. His visit to Islam’s holiest mosque in Jerusalem in 2000 sparked Palestinian uprising but Israelis voted him into power the following year. He defied domestic opposition by pulling Israel out of Gaza in 2005 but promoted West Bank settlements and commissioned a barrier to keep Palestinians out of Israel. President Obama said Mr Sharon had dedicated his life to Israel but Palestinians in Gaza celebrated by handing out sweets.” [emphasis added]

And that, ladies and gentlemen, comes from an organization supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, so please bear with us as we point out to the BBC World Service that:

1) Ariel Sharon did not ‘order’ the 1982 invasion of Lebanon – the Israeli government did as a result of Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians which the BBC elects to airbrush from the picture.

2) All Lebanese Christian allies were allies of Israel – not of Sharon personally as suggested in this news bulletin.

3) The Kahan Commission found that Sharon and others bore indirect responsibility for failing to anticipate violence on the part of the Phalangists.

4) Sharon’s pre-coordinated visit to Temple Mount – not the Al Aqsa Mosque as erroneously stated – did not spark the second Intifada. That terror war was pre-planned by the Palestinians in advance of his visit, as numerous Palestinian officials have stated over the years.

4) The purpose of the anti-terrorist fence is – as the BBC might better appreciate were it to employ the correct terminology – to curb attacks by terrorists of the kind which resulted in the deaths, maiming and injury of thousands of Israelis before its construction. Its aim is not to keep out “Palestinians”, as is evidenced by the fact that over four million crossings were made by Palestinians in the first half of 2013 alone.

That news bulletin is followed by Doucet misrepresenting the Phalangists as being “under the control” of Sharon: 

“Today Palestinians as well as most Arabs remember Ariel Sharon as an Israeli who, in the words of many, left no good memories. His legacy can be perhaps found most vividly in the memories of those living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. A little more than thirty years ago, the brutal actions of a pro-Israeli militia acting under the control of the then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon have left deep scars. Jim Muir has been to one of the refugee camps today to gauge reaction to his death.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Doucet is telling listeners that the massacres in Sabra and Shatila were perpetrated by a militia which Sharon controlled, with the implication of course being that he also controlled the actions of that militia in the refugee camps.

What follows that is an audio version of a report by Jim Muir, which was also broadcast on BBC television news programmes and featured on the BBC News website. In the filmed version Muir tells audiences:

“It was here in September 1982 that Israel’s Christian militia allies carried out a massacre in these narrow alleys and streets that was to carry the name of Sabra and Shatila – Sabra is just next door – all around the world. The Israelis themselves didn’t come into the camp. They were controlling the perimeter all around and were over beyond there and they basically held the ring as the massacre took place. But, the following year the Kahan Commission report concluded that as Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for what happened.”

In the audio version broadcast in this ‘Newshour’ programme he says:

“Well this is the Palestinian camp of Shatila on the southern edge of Beirut. It’s a teeming, very densely packed neighbourhood, crowded with little streets and alleyways; very busy, very bustling here now, thirty years on. But back in September 1982 it was a very different story. Christian militia men allied to Israel came in here and perpetrated a massacre of hundreds of defenceless civilians. The Israelis themselves of course were not directly involved. They were controlling the surrounding area and holding the ring as their Christian militia allies went in. The following year the Kahan Commission in Israel concluded that the Defence Minister Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for what happened.” 

Beyond this additional misrepresentation of the findings of the Kahan Commission, Muir is clearly suggesting to audiences that Israel knew what was going on in the camp at the time of the massacre and even collaborating. The British idiom “held the ring” may be unfamiliar to some of Muir’s audience, but its definition is “to oversee a situation while attempting to remain uninvolved in it”.

Muir interviews a ‘man in the Shatila street’ whom he names as Abu Majahed and who very predictably says:

“Well here for everybody Ariel Sharon is the name of the war criminal who is responsible about the tragedy of the Sabra and Shatila massacre and he was the leader of the invasion to Lebanon in 1982. […]

What is make us sad really, we don’t expect that he should die normal or by sickness without any punishment. He should be at the court. Of course they feel that he’s as criminal or as one of the cause of the tragedy for the people and make them lose so many people in the camp during Sabra and Shatila massacre and during the war in general, so his death doesn’t bring sadness to them.”

Following Muir’s report, Doucet speaks to Rami Khouri whom she describes as the Director of the Issam Fares Public Policy Institute at the American University of Beirut and “a syndicated columnist”. Readers can get some idea of American-born Rami G Khouri’s writing from this recent column. Answering Doucet’s request for his “first thoughts”, Khouri says:

“My first thought was that this is a man who spent all of his life in an antagonistic, military, confrontational and violent relationship with all of the Arabs around him – in Palestine, in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria. He was constantly at war, killing, occupying, and annexing or laying siege to Arabs or imprisoning tens of thousands of them and in his death his legacy that was the result of his life’s action is perpetuating all of this confrontation, suffering, anger. So this is a very, very negative man in terms of his political actions. The consequences which continue to plague us today because of the settlements, because of the siege of Gaza, the rise of Hamas, the rise of Hizballah, all of the different things that he has done I think will be seen probably much more negative in regional and global terms than any positive way that he is viewed by some Israelis or Zionists.”

Doucet then asks if there should be recognition of Sharon’s pragmatism because of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Khouri continues:

“I think the only thing that we can say about that that would be acknowledging something positive was that you can uproot Israeli settlers, but that was done before: Begin did it in Yamit in the Sinai. But that one symbolic move was, I think, way overshadowed by all of the other negative things that were associated with that, which were a vast expansion of settlement in the West Bank, building the wall, mass imprisonment and laying siege to Gaza. So all he did is redeploy some soldiers on the surface of the ground of Gaza but this led to the wars in consequent years. So I would give him one mark for a positive move to redeploy settlers and get them out of Gaza and I would give him nine negative marks for all the other bad things that were associated with that.”

Doucet asks Khouri if Sharon might also have carried out disengagement in Judea & Samaria had he not been taken ill. His response is as follows:

“I think he might have been thinking about another unilateral disengagement from some parts of the West Bank and he probably would have done what Netanyahu is talking about now: trying to keep the whole Jordan Valley, annex about 20% of the West Bank where the wall runs and maintain control of the underground water resources, maintain control of the air-space above it. So again this is not a serious engagement for peace. This is a unilateral security-minded way to engage with the Palestinians as inferior people who do not have the same rights to statehood and sovereignty and security and human dignity that Jews and Israelis and Zionists do.

This is the problem with Sharon: that he would make these bold, dramatic gestures which would catch the attention of the world and the media and many Israelis, but when you disaggregate his actions and you look at them one by one, they’re essentially colonial in spirit and even, I would say, semi-racist and apartheid-like in their motivation. And this is the real problem with him. He was a man of great complexity, of great drama, but I think also of great criminality at one level because the actions he did – the settlements, the wall, the killings, the siege – were all basically against international law.”

Not a peep is heard from Doucet in response to that polemic. Not even a reminder to listeners that the partial blockade on Gaza came about – almost two years after the disengagement and 18 months after Sharon fell ill – as a result of the increased terror attacks from the Gaza Strip which Khouri of course completely airbrushes from the picture. One actually has to wonder what was the point of having Doucet in the studio at all – other than as scenery for Khouri’s diatribe. 

But she is not quite finished yet. After the final guest – former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk who gives a very interesting account of his impressions of Sharon – parts of the ‘interview’ with Rami Khouri are rebroadcast.

Not only was no attempt made in this programme to conform to editorial standards of accuracy, but inaccurate information was actively promoted – including in the news bulletin. In addition, whilst listeners heard three positive or neutral opinions (Peres, Ayalon and Indyk), they heard negative or even demonizing ones from a Hamas spokesman, Mustafa Barghouti, Amir Oren, Jim Muir’s interviewee and twice from Rami Khouri, not to mention Doucet herself and Wooldridge. Clearly, as far as editorial guidelines on impartiality are concerned, no genuine attempt to give a balanced view was made.

This programme was broadcast just eight hours after the previous – and no less problematic – edition also presented by Doucet in which the balance was also tipped in favour of negative and even defamatory commentary. It is abundantly clear what the producers and presenter of both programmes were trying to convey to BBC audiences around the world and it is also very obvious that they were not going to let BBC editorial guidelines get in their way.

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Jeremy Bowen promotes Sabra & Shatila lies on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’

The January 12th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’, hosted by Paddy O’Connell and available here, includes (from around 28:00) a contribution by the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on the subject of Ariel Sharon who had died the previous day.

Broadcasting House 12 1

O’Connell introduces the item thus:

“The convoy with Ariel Sharon’s coffin has in fact just arrived at the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – where his body is now being moved to a podium. Israelis will be able to pass by to pay their last respects. The funeral of Areil Sharon takes place tomorrow in his family farm close to Gaza as we’ve been hearing in the news. World leaders will attend a ceremony although President Obama is not going; his vice president will represent the USA.”

Before informing listeners of any Israeli reactions to the news of Sharon’s death, O’Connell – in line with much of the rest of the BBC’s coverage of the subject – then finds it necessary to tell them what the Palestinians think of the death of somebody else’s former prime minister. 

“Palestinians see Ariel Sharon as a criminal and have condemned his record. As for Israelis, they will have their chance to pay their respects as his body lies in state in Jerusalem. Well I’ve discussed this with the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen begins:

“Now he hasn’t been a political factor of course in eight years. Israelis are very good at absorbing shocks and they did that in 2006 when he had his stroke and went into a coma. But he’s a very symbolic character as far as Israelis are concerned. He goes right back to their independence war in 1948; he fought in that and was wounded. Shimon Peres the former prime minister, now the president, who was a politician right back in 1948 himself, gave this tribute.”

Listeners then hear a recording of Shimon Peres speaking in English, after which O’Connell says:

“It’s notable when you look at the tributes that have come in – if you compare this to what happened when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, when Yasser Arafat paid tribute and himself went to a commemoration for the assassinated prime minister – this is not the case at all this time round.”

Bowen: “Yeah. Rabin was seen as a tough guy, a military commander who had – from the Palestinians’ point of view – certainly from Arafat’s point of view – who had changed. Ariel Sharon – as far as the Palestinians were concerned – was never going to change. 1982 Sharon as Defence Minister presided over an invasion of Lebanon. During the siege of Beirut there was a terrible massacre of Palestinians in a refugee camp. Hundreds dead – maybe thousands dead. Now they were killed by Lebanese Christian militiamen who were in alliance at the time with the Israelis and there was an official inquiry into all this afterwards in Israel itself. That commission of inquiry found that Sharon was personally responsible and he was forced to resign as Minister of Defence.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s account – and his implication that Sharon was found to be responsible for the massacres themselves – is of course not accurate. The Kahan Commission in fact found that Sharon (and others) bore indirect personal responsibility for not anticipating the possibility of Phalangist violence.

“On 7 February 1983 the Kahan Commission published its recommendations: Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut. The report attributed direct responsibility for the massacre to the Phalangists. However, the commission determined that indirect personal responsibility fell on several Israeli office holders. It stated that: “in our view, everyone who had anything to do with events in Lebanon should have felt apprehension about a massacre in the camps, if armed Phalangist forces were to be moved into them without the IDF exercising concrete and effective supervision and scrutiny of them “.”

Not content with misleading listeners on the findings of the Kahan Commission, Bowen goes on to present a recording which he has clearly selected in order to advance the impression he wishes to create. 

Bowen: “From the Palestinian point of view it made the man [Sharon] absolutely beyond the pale as far as they were concerned. And they are still very angry about what happened there. There are memorials there to the people who died and one of the survivors of the massacre – a man called Mohammed Srour spoke about that and he said that he wished Mr Sharon had been punished for his actions.”

Listeners then hear a recording of Mohammed Srour speaking in Arabic, with a BBC translation overlaid.

Srour: “Sharon has passed away but we didn’t wish him to die in such a way. I am one of the victims whose parents died in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. I was hoping he would be killed by the hand of a Palestinian child or a Palestinian woman because when he entered Sabra and Shatila and carried out the massacre, he killed the children and the women.”

Of course Sharon did not enter Sabra and Shatila and did not carry out the massacre, but  neither Bowen nor O’Connell make any subsequent effort throughout the whole of the rest of the item to correct the misleading impression created by the interviewee Jeremy Bowen deliberately chose to showcase.

Notably, given Bowen’s introduction to the interview with Srour, we can apparently conclude that the latter’s call for the murder of Ariel Sharon “by the hand of a Palestinian child or a Palestinian woman” is what Bowen regards as ‘punishment’. 

The BBC’s coverage of Ariel Sharon’s death has included considerable quantities of misleading, inaccurate and defamatory statements by assorted interviewees. The BBC cannot, however, hide behind the claim that these are not the words of its own employees as all BBC produced content is subject to its editorial guidelines.   

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