Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

As noted in a recent post, the April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included a monologue from a person described as “the mother of a Palestinian inmate”. The monologue was also promoted to the BBC World Service Twitter account’s 303,000 followers and those who listened to the clip heard the following in a voice-over:

“I haven’t seen or visited my son for around maybe ten months. Israeli security won’t let me see him. When I used to visit Diya I felt as if I owned the world. Every visit request I put in only comes back with rejection, rejection, rejection. I’m 67 years old. What risk am I to Israel’s security? I am of no danger. All I want is to see my son, to check on him and he can check on me. This is all I want but they deprive even a mother from seeing her son and a son from seeing his mother.”

While BBC audiences are no strangers to the promotion of pathos-rich stories from the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists, the fact that listeners were not told who the speaker is or why her son is in prison and did not hear any response to her allegations from the Israeli authorities obviously does not inspire confidence in the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting of this story.

So who is this “mother of a Palestinian inmate”? A clue to that question comes in a video that appears on the BBC Arabic website and is also embedded in an Arabic language article titled “More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails begin hunger strike” that, like its English language equivalent, promotes the notion that Palestinian “detainees” might be seen as “political prisoners”.

The woman extensively profiled in that BBC Arabic video is called Najat al Agha and she lives in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Mrs al Agha is by no means publicity shy: she recently told a very similar story to the one promoted by ‘Newsday’ to ‘Amnesty International’ which, predictably, is supplying publicity for the current Fatah hunger strike.

“Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, told Amnesty International that her son, Dia al-Agha, 43, has been imprisoned in Israel for the past 25 years. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on murder charges.  He is being held in Nafha prison in Mitzpe Ramon in the south.

“I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him,” his mother said.

“Every time I apply for a permit I get rejected. It is almost a year that I haven’t seen my son, it is devastating. They are punishing us, they are trying to break us.””

Moreover, Najat al Agha – who actually has had two sons serve time in prison in Israel – appears to come forward to tell her story quite frequently and – perhaps not unrelatedly – has been the recipient of ‘honorary gifts’ from the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

The son she names in the ‘Newsday’ clip is Diya Zakariya Shaker Al-Agha “Al-Faluji”. He was convicted of the murder of Amatzia Ben Haim from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in a greenhouse in Ganei Tal in October 1992.

“…Amatzia worked as an engineer in the fledgling electronics factory of the kibbutz. The final product was a computer controlled irrigation and liquid fertilization system sold to farmers who owned greenhouses, small plots of land, who grew tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and flowers.

Amatzia would go to these farms, install the systems, and often go back to maintain them or to troubleshoot them if needed.  Some of these farms were in the Gaza Strip, prior to the Israeli evacuation of all farms and settlements in Gaza.

It was on one of these trips that Amatzia was helping one such farmer in the Gaza strip, focused entirely on an irrigation line that may have been clogged, or a computer lead that may have malfunctioned. He did not pay attention to the young teen working nearby with a hoe, weeding the furrows. It was to be Amatzia’s last day on earth, as the teen brought the hoe down on Amatzia’s head, killing him instantly, widowing Amatzia’s wife, and orphaning his children.”

A media organisation truly committed to accurate and impartial journalism would of course have provided its audiences with information concerning the “Palestinian inmate” and the act of terror he committed. The BBC World Service, however, chose to give completely context-free amplification to his mother’s claim that Israel is ‘depriving’ her of seeing her son, without any mention of the fact that her son deprived three children – the youngest of whom was only five years old at the time – from ever seeing their father again.

That, of course, is not accurate and impartial journalism but self-conscription to a political campaign.

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BBC News ignores another missile attack by ISIS Sinai – in English

On the morning of April 10th residents of the Eshkol district in the Western Negev had to scramble for cover as the ‘code red’ siren warned of an incoming missile.  

“A rocket fired from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula struck a greenhouse in southern Israel on Monday morning, the police said.

Though no one was struck by the rocket, a 50-year-old man who was nearby when it landed suffered an anxiety attack as a result of the attack, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said. […]

Just after 11:30 a.m., the incoming missile alarm known as a “Code Red” sounded in the Eshkol region, near Israel’s westernmost edge, at the border with Egypt and the Gaza Strip.”

The attack was later claimed by the ISIS affiliate in Sinai.

While the BBC chose not to report that attack to its English-speaking audiences, a brief mention of the incident did appear at the end of an article on the BBC Arabic website.

Since the beginning of the year eight missile attacks against Israel have taken place – five from Gaza and three from Sinai – none of which have been reported by the BBC’s English language services. Israel’s response to three of the attacks launched from the Gaza Strip has however been the subject of coverage on the corporation’s Arabic language website.

The pattern of reporting whereby the majority of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip are not covered in the English language but Israel’s response to those attacks is reported in Arabic has been in evidence since the end of the summer 2014 conflict. Throughout 2016 just one of the ten attacks that took place received BBC coverage in the English language.

A similar policy of omission appears to have been adopted regarding missile attacks perpetrated by a terrorist group located in a neighbouring country, with all three of the attacks by ‘Wilayat Sinai’ that have taken place since the beginning of 2017 having been ignored by the BBC’s English language services.

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BBC Arabic inaccurately portrays 2002 terror attack victims

On the morning of August 4th 2002 a terror attack took place on a bus travelling to Tsfat. Nine people died and some 40 were wounded in that suicide bombing near Meron Junction. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, which was reported by the BBC at the time.

Among those murdered in that attack were two foreign nationals from the Philippines, two members of the Galilee Druze communities of Sajur and Maghar, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh and residents of the Galilee towns and villages Karmiel, Safsufa, Mitzpe Adi and Mitzpe Aviv.

Following the attack Israeli forces arrested Hamas commander Mazen Fuqaha, who was responsible for dispatching the suicide bomber, in his home town of Tubas in Area A. In 2003 Fukha was sentenced to nine life sentences for his role in the attack. He was released from prison in 2011 as part of the Shalit deal prisoner exchange and deported to the Gaza Strip.

On March 24th 2017 Fuqaha was assassinated outside his home in Gaza City by unidentified gunmen.

While that story did not receive any coverage on the BBC’s English language services, on March 25th a report about Fuqaha’s funeral did appear on the BBC Arabic website. In paragraph 15 of that report the victims of the 2002 Meron Junction terror attack are described as “nine Jewish settlers”.

Four of the nine people murdered in the attack were not Jewish. None of them lived in what the BBC would term ‘settlements’.

This is not the first time that BBC Arabic has portrayed Israeli victims of terror attacks to its audiences as “Jewish settlers” regardless of their ethnicity and place of residence. Clearly that description is neither accurate nor impartial.

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BBC ignores Gaza missile in English but reports response in Arabic

Late on the evening of March 15th a missile launched from the Gaza Strip exploded in the Western Negev district.

“A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed late Wednesday in an empty field in the Sdot Negev Regional Council near Netivot.

The rocket exploded on impact. No one was hurt and no damage was reported from the explosion.”

Hours later the IDF responded with strikes on two Hamas installations in the Gaza Strip.

No coverage of the attack appeared on the BBC’s English language website despite the fact that a member of staff at the BBC’s Gaza bureau knew it had taken place. However, the BBC Arabic website did publish a report concerning the Israeli response to the attack.

Since the beginning of the year six missile attacks against Israel have taken place – four from Gaza and two from Sinai – none of which have been reported by the BBC’s English language services. Israel’s response to three of the attacks launched from the Gaza Strip has however been the subject of coverage on the corporation’s Arabic language website.

The pattern of reporting whereby the majority of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip are not covered in the English language but Israel’s response to those attacks is reported in Arabic has been in evidence since the end of the summer 2014 conflict. Throughout 2016 just one of ten attacks received BBC coverage in English.

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Contrasting BBC portrayals of the Gaza Strip in English and in Arabic

At the beginning of February Tim Franks produced a report from the Gaza Strip (see here and here) which was part of a special feature for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’.

Citing “stifling border closures […] the people here say are for collective punishment”, Franks painted a monochrome picture of dire poverty and deprivation:

“Gaza’s everyday problems don’t stop though with unreliable electricity; the rest of the infrastructure is shot. A lot of recent war damage lies unreconstructed. The economy is lifeless, unemployment sky-high.”

“But there’s a more immediate point I think…ahm…which is that, you know, the people here have far more direct concerns. It’s about the next meal, when is the power going to go off, how do you make money, what’s the water supply like – answer: not terribly good. So it’s those sort of much more quotidian dreary concerns that are driving people rather than any grand thoughts about a solution to all of this.”

Franks’ did not, however, clarify to audiences that his portrayal does not represent the whole picture.memri-gaza-restaurants

MEMRI has translated a filmed report (available here) produced by BBC Arabic in December 2016 on the topic of Gaza restaurants.

“BBC Arabic recently broadcast a TV report on restaurants in Gaza, in which it showed “an aspect of luxury, vibrancy, and riches” to life in Gaza. Restaurant owners and patrons talked to the reporter about eating out, describing the menus and the prices. A group of women sitting at a restaurant said that they would often come for “a coffee and a chat,” and that dinner would come to 250-300 dollars. The report aired on December 20, 2016.”

Notably, we have found no evidence of that report having been shown to English-speaking BBC audiences. 

Fourth missile attack against Israel in three weeks ignored by BBC News

In the early hours of the morning of February 27th a missile was fired into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

“A rocket fired from Gaza struck an open field in southern Israel early Monday morning, causing neither damage nor injury, the army said.

The rocket hit the Sha’ar Hanegev region, northeast of the Gaza Strip, the military said.

It was launched shortly before 4:15 a.m., according to the Israel Defense Forces.”bbc-arabic-missile-27-2

Several hours later Israel responded with strikes on Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip.

There was no coverage of the missile attack whatsoever on the BBC News English language website but – in line with the pattern of reporting seen regularly over the last two years – later on the afternoon of February 27th, Israel’s response was reported in an article titled “Israeli fighter jets bombed positions of the militants in the Gaza Strip” on the BBC Arabic website.

Since the beginning of the year – and this month – four missile attacks against Israel have taken place – two from Gaza and two from Sinai – none of which have been reported by the BBC’s English language services. Throughout 2016 just one of ten attacks received BBC coverage in English.

It is of course difficult to believe that had four separate missile attacks on British territory taken place in a three-week period, the BBC would have ignored the story.

table-missiles-2017-b

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BBC and Sky News promote different headlines to English and Arabic speakers

Last October we documented a case in which the same story was presented with differing headlines on the BBC’s English language and Arabic language websites.

The practice reappeared on February 21st in reports concerning the sentencing of the Israeli soldier Elor Azaria.

Visitors to the BBC’s English language website found an article titled “Israeli soldier gets 18 months for killing wounded Palestinian attacker” and while the word terrorism was absent from the report, the opening paragraph also used the term “attacker”.

“An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in a high-profile case that split opinion across the country has been jailed for 18 months.”

In contrast, the word “attacker” did not appear in the headline of the Arabic language version of same story which was published on the BBC Arabic website under the title “Israeli soldier sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for killing wounded Palestinian”.

azaria-english-arabic-bbc

Sky News also produces content in both English and Arabic and it too presented the story with differing headlines for different target audiences.  The headline of the English language version of the story read “Israeli soldier jailed for 18 months for killing wounded Palestinian attacker” while the article in Arabic was titled “Lenient sentence for the Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian.”

azaria-sky-english-and-arabic

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Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

Readers may recall that on January 2nd the BBC Arabic website published a report on the death of Hilarion Capucci which included less than impartial terminology.bbc-arabic-capucci-art

“In the article’s second paragraph Jerusalem as a whole is described as “the occupied city of Jerusalem” and readers are told that Capucci “was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces on charges of supporting the Palestinian resistance…”. [emphasis added]”

BBC Watch wrote to BBC Arabic on the subject but did not receive a reply. We therefore submitted a complaint which has been upheld.

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint about an article published on the BBC Arabic Service website. I forwarded your comments to one of the editors in the Service, Mohamed Yehia. Below is his reply…   […] 

Thank you for your message. After looking into your complaint and reviewing the piece it referred to on our website, the BBC Arabic Service has decided to uphold all three points mentioned in the complaint regarding the language used to describe Jerusalem, the Israeli military and the PLO. We have made the necessary changes to bring the text in line with our editorial guidelines. We apologise for this editorial mistake which we take very seriously and will be addressing it formally with the journalist responsible for publishing the article.

Mohamed Yehia

Editor, BBC Arabic Service

I hope the above apology and correction of the article allays the concerns you have raised.”

The corrected article now reads:

“Capucci was born in the Syrian city of Aleppo in 1922 and was appointed bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the city of Jerusalem in 1965, and in 1974 he was arrested by Israeli security forces on charges of smuggling weapons from Beirut to the benefit of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in his own car.”

However, no footnote has been added to inform readers of the correction and it does not appear on the BBC’s page of “significant corrections“.

BBC News continues to ignore Gaza missile attacks – in English

On the morning of February 6th sirens sent residents of the Hof Ashkelon district in the western Negev running for cover as a missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit Israeli territory south of Ashkelon.

Israel responded with strikes on Hamas installations in the Gaza Strip and the missile fire was later claimed by a Salafist group. Later in the day shots were fired at Israeli troops working on the fence in another area along the border with the Gaza Strip.bbc-arabic-missile-6-2

While the BBC did not produce any coverage of that missile fire in the English language, the BBC Arabic website did publish an article reporting the Israeli response.

Throughout the whole of 2016, only one of the ten barrages of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip which took place received (belated) English language coverage, while reporting in Arabic on Israeli responses to those attacks was seen in the majority of cases.

The pattern of reporting whereby missile attacks from the Gaza Strip are not covered in the English language but Israel’s response to those attacks is reported in Arabic has been predominant since the end of the summer 2014 conflict and – as we now see – continues into 2017.

BBC Arabic reports death of gun-running priest in partisan terminology

On January 2nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an English language report titled “Hilarion Capucci: Arms-smuggling archbishop dies aged 94“.

“A former Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem who was convicted of smuggling arms for Palestinian militants has died aged 94.

Monsignor Hilarion Capucci served two years of a 12-year sentence in Israel before the Vatican helped secure his release.

He had a history of activism linked to Middle East conflicts.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered his condolences and described him as a great “freedom fighter”.”

The death of Capucci was also reported the previous day on the BBC Arabic website. In that report readers were told that Capucci had been imprisoned for four years rather than two.bbc-arabic-capucci-art

A review of the article by a professional translator shows that – not for the first time – BBC Arabic reported the story using terminology which does not meet the BBC’s supposed standards of impartiality: the politicised language employed is of the type promoted by terror organisations and anti-Israel campaigners.  

In the article’s second paragraph Jerusalem as a whole is described as “the occupied city of Jerusalem” and readers are told that Capucci “was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces on charges of supporting the Palestinian resistance…”. [emphasis added]

The BBC Academy’s ‘style guide’ clearly states:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.[…]

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

In paragraph three of this article, however, readers are told that Capucci was “expelled from Palestine in 1978…”. [emphasis added]

Last month we noted here that the BBC World Service’s upcoming expansion once again raises “the longstanding issue of the accuracy and impartiality of content produced by the BBC’s foreign language services”.

Arabic speaking audiences can find plenty of Arabic language media outlets which will report news using non-neutral terminology.  It goes without saying that BBC Arabic should not be one of them.

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