BBC Culture promotes Palestinian pop and a political narrative

h/t AS

On September 17th BBC Culture published an article by freelancer William Ralston titled “The rise of Palestinian pop”. In among Ralston’s long portrayal of the Palestinian (and not Palestinian) music scene readers were served context-free political framing. The article opened by telling readers that: [emphasis added]

“Growing up in East Jerusalem, Bashar Murad turned to music for comfort in a life blighted by fractious political realities and the emotional pressures of being a gay man battling the conservative elements of his society. It also became a way of transcending the borders imposed on his life by the Israeli occupation; a medium to connect with the world outside.” 

As noted when he was previously featured in BBC content, despite those alleged “borders imposed on his life” Murad:

“…was educated in an American school in Jerusalem, attended Bridgewater College in Virginia [USA], and had his work sponsored by the United Nations’ Men and Women for Gender Equality program.”

None of that was however mentioned by Ralston, who went on to promote the notion of “Palestinians with an Israeli passport” even though the majority of Israeli Arabs do not self-identify as Palestinians.

“Since its launch four years ago, the spot has become a second home for Palestinians with an Israeli passport or those with documents allowing them to travel through Israel.”

Readers were told that:

“In cash-stripped [sic] Gaza, the smaller Palestinian territory, there are even fewer opportunities. Recording studios are scarce, and any equipment must be sourced from Egypt or Israel at an extraordinary premium. Hamada Nasrallah, vocalist for Sol, a seven-piece folk outfit from Gaza, explains that he had to sell off his possessions just to afford a guitar, only for it to be destroyed in the August 2018 Israeli bomb attacks on the Said al-Mishal Centre.”

Not only does that promoted link lead to a politicised and partisan report from the Guardian but readers were not informed that the ‘cultural centre’ was located in a building also used by Hamas’ interior security unit or that the strike came in response to over 180 missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians.

The article failed to inform audiences that the reason why the population of the Gaza Strip suffers from a lack of electricity and clean water is internal feuding between Palestinian factions.

“The electricity shortages and lack of drinking water make it “hard to focus on music” because “we don’t have the basics to live”, MC Gaza, a local rapper, says. “

The writer’s failure to mention the decades of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas – which he euphemistically described as “the Islamist organization that governs the territory” – means that readers are unable to put his subsequent descriptions of restrictions on movement into their correct and full context – including the fact that in the week before this article was published 8,673 people used the Erez crossing.

“Exacerbating the problem are the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face, which means that many cannot travel abroad for gigs, or, significantly, meet with industry professionals. Special permits are required to enter Israel, which are rarely granted, especially not quickly. Palestinians have long had no access to airports in the Palestinian territories: those in Jerusalem and Gaza ceased operations around the turn of the millennium, so most Palestinians must travel to Jordan in order to fly anywhere, which costs around US$500 (£400) one-way.

Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively. […] Erez, meanwhile, is also tricky, and, for reasons of security, only Israeli-defined categories of people, mainly those requiring urgent medical attention, are eligible for a permit. Permits are also granted to businessmen, students, and artists, but they are far from guaranteed…”

As is usually the case in BBC content, history in this article began in June 1967, with no mention of the fact that parts of Jerusalem were illegally occupied by Jordan in the 19 years that preceded the Six Day War or that Jordan chose to attack Israel in that conflict.  

“The position of those born in Jerusalem is uniquely complicated. After occupying and annexing East Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel offered Palestinian residents Israeli citizenship but many refused, and instead took permanent residency, allowing them to live, work, and receive benefits in Israel. They have what’s called a ‘laissez-passer’, a travel document that allows them to pass through Israel, but they cannot pass into another country without a visa, which is hard to obtain because they don’t have any citizenship.”

The same lack of historical context appeared in a section in which Druze residents of the Golan Heights were described as ‘Syrian’ and the relevant factor of the closure of the Quneitra crossing because of the civil war in Syria was erased.

“Musicians in the Golan Heights face similar difficulties for the same reasons: Israel annexed the land, seized from Syria, after the Six-Day War. Although Syrian, the local musicians are considered part of the Palestinian scene because they’re subject to similar restrictions: they are not even allowed to travel to Syria, so they can pass through Israel and the West Bank only.”

Yet again Ralston failed to adequately clarify that if some of his featured musicians from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights do not have passports, that is because they have chosen to pass up the opportunity to apply for Israeli citizenship.

“All four members of TootArd, whom promoters regularly label as Palestinian, grew up in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan area, and have permanent residency in Israel, but their official nationality is also ‘undefined’, and they have no passport.”

As we see what could have been an interesting article is seriously marred by the writer’s uncritical promotion of a politically motivated narrative which he advances by failing to provide the relevant background information and key context which would facilitate proper audience understanding of the topic. 

BBC Culture joins the drip feed of narrative

Readers of reports appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 8th were also offered a feature titled “Startling images of the Middle East”.

That item by Fiona Macdonald of BBC Culture in fact relates to very specific areas of “the Middle East” and showcases a book first published in 2015 by photographer Tanya Habjouqa. The ten-page feature includes images and videos of the photographer talking about her work.

“Tanya Habjouqa’s Occupied Pleasures project reveals moments of black humour in Gaza and the West Bank. She describes finding a unique entry point into a hyper-narrated place.”

“Habjouqa started on the project Occupied Pleasures in 2009. Her images reveal the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank in a nuanced way, offering glimpses of everyday resilience.”

That ‘nuance’ however does not include any background information whatsoever and so the images and narrative are presented to BBC audiences in an entirely context-free manner.

On the second page audiences find a video in which Habjouqa states:

“…Palestine was home. And I was the one sitting at checkpoints and experiencing this Kafkaesque reality…”

In the video appearing on the fifth page Habjouqa tells the story behind some of her photographs concerning a story from 2013.  

“There had been a wedding and I’d missed it. There was a woman who had come in, in a wedding dress and had the wedding party because she hadn’t been given permission to access Gaza because of the blockade. […] And then he paused and he said the most sobering sombre thing, he said ‘you know no matter what they do to us, we will always find a way to live, to love, to laugh.”

BBC audiences are not told that the Egyptian girl had been denied entry to the Gaza Strip by the Egyptian authorities or of the Palestinian terrorism that made the blockade necessary.

On page nine audiences find a video in which an image of “Furniture makers in the West Bank, with Israel’s separation barrier behind them” with no explanation of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

The narrative advanced in this feature is glaringly obvious: Habjouqa states in the last video that her work relates to people who “refuse to let suffering be the definition of their existence”.

How that suffering is related to their leaders’ choices and how those choices brought about the “checkpoints”, “blockade” and “separation barrier” of course goes completely unexplained in this latest chapter in the BBC’s drip fed narrative of Palestinian victims completely devoid of agency and responsibility.  

 

 

At BBC Culture website, audiences told Palestinians built Jerusalem

h/t FA

As British readers may know, for the past three years the BBC has been in “global partnership” with the Hay Festival. That means that BBC audiences see and hear coverage of that literary event across a variety of platforms and this year that included an episode of the programme ‘Talking Books’ which was broadcast on both the BBC News Channel and BBC World News on various dates during June.

“George Alagiah meets renowned writer and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif at Hay Festival.”

“George Alagiah meets renowned writer and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif at Hay Festival. Her latest book, ‘This Is Not A Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature’ is an anthology celebrating the tenth anniversary of her own extraordinary literary festival.”

The Palestine Festival of Literature – more commonly known as ‘PalFest’ – is of course an annual exercise in delegitimisation of Israel and promotion of the BDS campaign.

The ‘Talking Books’ programme is only available to UK-based audiences via BBC iPlayer but a clip from Alagiah’s conversation with Palestine Solidarity Campaign patron Ahdaf Soueif was posted earlier in the month on the BBC’s ‘Culture‘ website.

“Soueif is also a founding chair of the Palestinian [sic] Festival of Literature (Palfest). Her latest book, This Is Not a Border is a collection of writings from people who have appeared on the festival’s programme.

In this clip, Soueif reads from her own essay in the book, on the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Watch the video above to see more of Ahdaf Soueif’s interview from the Hay Festival 2017.”

Those viewing that clip – which of course was specifically chosen to be promoted on the BBC’s ‘Culture’ website – hear the following from Soueif: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“…and I chose to write about Jerusalem because for the last four or five years we’ve really seen the push against and into Jerusalem becoming stronger and stronger. And at the heart of Jerusalem is of course the Dome of the Rock within el Haram al Sharif which is the sanctuary – Al Aqsa.

And it’s always…ever since I started doing this…the first time I went to Palestine in 2000 there was a moment when I walked into the sanctuary and I really, really felt…felt such a peace. I mean it’s such a beautiful space and throughout the festival I have really tried…wanted to give the visitors that sense…to give them that moment when you walk in and the world folds away. So I chose to describe the sanctuary and what it means and its history. And here is just the second paragraph in that piece which says –

A sanctuary on a hilltop. Around it the earth fell away. Palestinians are masters of terracing. They built Jerusalem on a hill and the Old City slopes gently towards the south-east; towards the sanctuary. And there, the central and biggest of 26 terraces is for the Dome of the Rock. From the south, 20 steps lead up to it. From the north, just nine.”

It is of course not in the least bit surprising to find veteran anti-Israel activist Ahdaf Soueif exploiting the wrapping of a literary festival for political ends. Predictable erasing all Jewish history from her portrayal of Temple Mount and using partisan terminology to describe the location, she promotes to Hay Festival goers and BBC audiences alike ridiculous ahistorical notions such as the idea that Palestinians built Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock is situated on specially constructed ‘Palestinian terracing’.

However, the text accompanying this specifically selected clip does not include any factual information that would relieve audiences of those inaccurate impressions created by Soueif and it fails to adhere to existing BBC guidance on the use of terminology when describing Temple Mount and ‘Palestine‘.

Related Articles:

The Guardian, PalFest and the ‘culture’ of anti-Israel activism (UK Media Watch)

BDS-promoting Palestine Festival of Literature supported by British public funding (UK Media Watch)

Anti-peace BDS campaigner on judging panel of BBC Arabic competition

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount