The BBC ME editor’s response to criticism of his recent reporting

The February 11th edition of the BBC Radio 5 live programme hosted by Peter Allen and Caroline Barker included an interview (from 01:37:07 here) with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Following stories about Bowen’s experiences in Bosnia and Bangladesh, Peter Allen turned the conversation (at 01:45:27) to an incident which will be familiar to long-time readers because Bowen has recounted it on various platforms on numerous occasions in the past.

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

Allen: “The turning point for you, I guess, came with the death of your driver, your friend, your producer Abed Abu [unintelligible] in Lebanon.”

Bowen: “Yeah…in 2000 when the Israelis were pulling out.”

Allen: “You thought you’d set up for a piece to camera, wasn’t it?”

Bowen: “I was gonna stop…the Israelis were leaving Lebanon after an occupation in the south that had lasted more than 20 years. And there was this guy Abed Takkhoush who had worked with the BBC for many years and he was very experienced and he loved doing what he was doing and we had…I was working as well with a Lebanese cameraman – a guy called Malek. And Malek and I we stopped to do a piece to camera by the border wire – you could see into Israel. And we didn’t want to get anywhere close to the retreating troops because, you know, a retreating army leaving is always dangerous. But I didn’t enough think…I didn’t think enough about the fact that they could shoot at us from the other side of the border wire. I thought because we were a long way back from the troops they wouldn’t.

But a couple of minutes after I got out with Malek there was a bright – you know, early summer day – there was a huge explosion and I turned round. And it was filmed because we were trying to do the piece to camera at the time it was…and there was a big explosion behind me and then I could see…he leapt out through the window – not leapt: he managed to force his body out –I mean he was on fire. And I said to Malek ‘come on, let’s get up there’ and he said ‘no, no; don’t go up there Jeremy because believe you me he’s dead. He may have had the strength to get out  but he’ll be dead now and if you move up there they’ll kill you too’. And eventually I did try and move up there, they opened up in our direction with a heavy machine gun from the tank and a colleague from the Times, his driver had heard the radio traffic in Hebrew and they had said ‘we’ve got one, we’ll get the other two with a heavy machine gun’. So I know that if I’d gone up there I’d have been killed or badly hurt but I still feel bad that, you know, I didn’t have a Hollywood ending, you know, or rather he couldn’t.”

Allen: “You had to shelter under a rock while you made…”

Bowen: “Yeah, yeah we were stuck there, we were shouting to him. I was under cover trying to keep out of trouble myself and shouting out to him and he didn’t answer. In fact in the end…the Lebanese Red Crescent take the bodies off the road in these situations and they couldn’t get up there for hours and hours and hours until they…I think they…through the UN. They coordinated a, you know, a mission to pick up the body between the UN and the Israelis. But the Israelis claimed that we were terrorists. I don’t believe that there was any sign that we were terrorists. I think that they were just trigger happy. And I even went to see a…a general in Tel Aviv when I got back to Israel – I was living in Israel at the time – and he said ‘look, look you’ve got to imagine what it’s like. There were three young boys in that tank. They were terrified. They’d had warnings there’d be…there’d be…ah…terrorists in the area’. And you know I thought where do you start with all of that? You know the fact is that my colleague, my friend, got killed. I think that they…we did a big investigation and we showed that they were shooting quite a lot at civilian vehicles. I think maybe what they were trying to do is to keep people back from the army as it went back. But you know we shouldn’t have stopped. I mean that was my fault for stopping.”

Allen: “At the time you thought it was safe. I mean…”

Bowen: “I thought it was safe.”

Allen: “You felt you were indestructible in those years; you thought it won’t happen to me.”

Bowen: “Yeah and I was wrong.”

Allen: “And that changed it. That changed everything.”

Israel did not of course ‘claim’ that Bowen and his crew “were terrorists”. As the IDF’s investigation into the incident at the time showed:

“…in the early morning hours of that day an intelligence alert was passed to the tank crew regarding the possibility of the firing of rockets by terrorists at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. The tank crew identified a vehicle and in it people in civilian clothing and suspected that they were a terror cell with equipment to fire anti-tank missiles. In line with the protocol the tank crew passed on the information to the appropriate bodies and was given permission to open fire. Later, said the IDF spokesperson, it transpired that a tragic mistake had been made and that a BBC film crew had been mistakenly identified as a terrorist cell.”

The interview included questions from listeners and later on (at 01:51:58) Caroline Barker read one of them.

Barker: “…Jeff says ‘how hard is it to stay impartial in your reporting after you’ve seen your friend killed?'”

Allen: “And of course you’ve had accusations, haven’t you? Plenty of accusations from the Israelis.”

Bowen: “Well the last few weeks, after a story – the most recent story I did over there which was about a young woman who’s been accused of all sorts of things and is in prison awaiting trial after she slapped a soldier. Ahm…so yeah; I’m very used to that. Actually I think it’s remarkably easy.”

The “recent story” to which Bowen refers is of course that told in his filmed and audio reports concerning Ahed Tamimi (see ‘related articles’ below) in which he concealed an actual charge of incitement against her while disingenuously leading BBC audiences to believe that Israel is charging her with terrorism offences because of “a slap”.

And yet, Mr Bowen still claims that keeping to professed BBC standards of impartiality is, for him, “remarkably easy”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen diverts Ahed Tamimi story with a disingenuous red herring

Jeremy Bowen’s Tamimi PR continues on BBC World Service radio

BBC’s Peter Allen: “Israel always wreaks its revenge”

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Jeremy Bowen’s Tamimi PR continues on BBC World Service radio

When two different BBC platforms promoted filmed reports by the BBC’s Middle East editor last week on the topic of Ahed Tamimi and her upcoming trial, many called out the bias and manipulation evident in Jeremy Bowen’s reports and in particular the fact that, while concealing from audiences the fact that the charges against Tamimi include incitement, he disingenuously promoted the false notion that she has been charged with terrorism offences because of a “slap”.

Jeremy Bowen is of course well-known for being impervious to any criticism – which he takes very grudgingly – and so it did not come as much of a surprise to see that, despite the flaws in his report having been called out, five days later an audio version that is very similar to the filmed reports was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme Newshour.  

Presenter Razia Iqbal began (from 45:06 here) by promoting Bowen’s ‘terrorism’ red herring once again. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now, is a slap an act of terrorism? A 16 year-old Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, is soon to go on trial in an Israeli military court after she tried to eject two Israeli combat soldiers from her family’s property during a demonstration last month. She slapped one of the men when he wouldn’t go. Her mother, Nariman, videoed what happened. When that went viral, amid a storm of anger in Israel at what Ahed Tamimi had done, soldiers raided their home and took mother and daughter to jail.”

In fact Nariman Tamimi was arrested later and not at her home. Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “Now they’ve both been charged with offences that usually carry stiff custodial sentences. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports now from the Tamimis’ home village Nabi Saleh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

Bowen: “I’m on a hill in Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian village on the occupied West Bank about 45 minutes north of Jerusalem. From this hill I can see a microcosm of the conflict: neighbouring Palestinian village where clouds of tear gas arising from a minor clash. Then, across the valley, an Israeli military base and a Jewish settlement – illegal under international law.”

Bowen refrained from informing his listeners that alternative interpretations of ‘international law’ exist. Predictably, his “microcosm of the conflict” does not include Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state or Palestinian terrorism – even though three members of one family were murdered just last summer in that same “Jewish settlement” seen from his vantage point. He went on:

Bowen: “And behind me is the home of Ahed Tamimi who’s become a symbol of the conflict for both sides. Her mother Nariman filmed her slapping the Israeli soldier and Ahed’s father Bassem – a leading Palestinian activist here – is contemplating the fact that his wife and daughter are facing charges that carry years of jail time.”

Tamimi: “It’s hard for me as a father, as a husband, that my wife, my daughter, in the hands of my enemy. I am scared, worried, proud. It’s like knives in my heart, in my body. Err…”

Bowen: “You know a lot of Israelis have said in any country if you attack a soldier you face the consequences, you’re gonna end up in jail. They’re saying that she shouldn’t have done this.”

Tamimi: “What should she done under the occupation? To give them a rose and welcoming them? I think our responsibility included to resist. She should do what she done. The worst issue that the occupation is continue and she will go out of jail to continue the struggle and maybe she will [be] killed.”

Bowen: “This village Nabi Saleh is steeped in protest against the occupation. They have regular demonstrations here which often end up in stone-throwing, tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammo too. Everybody in the village has been affected by the occupation.”

Bowen had no place in his report for any mention of the victims – and their families – of terrorists from that village or the fact that Bassem Tamimi is one of the main instigators of those “regular demonstrations”. The report continued:

Unidentified voice: “There is no occupation. There is no Palestinian nation. There will never be Palestinian state and we didn’t conquered nothing. We don’t occupied nothing.”

Misrepresenting the charges against Tamimi once again, Bowen introduced that voice:

Bowen: “Some Israelis are horrified about the prospect of jailing a 16 year-old girl for a slap. But many more support the soldiers, who could be their sons or brothers. In Jerusalem, here at Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – a leading right-wing MP Oren Hazan goes much further.”

Oren Hazan is number 30 on his party’s list – hardly a “leading” slot – and is considered a highly controversial figure even within his own party. Despite Hazan having been suspended from Knesset activity on the same day that Bowen’s previous reports were aired, he was still portrayed in this audio report as “a leading right-wing MP”.

Bowen: “Let’s talk specifically about Ahed Tamimi and her case. She’s going to go to court very soon. Potentially she faces time in prison.”

Hazan: “I hope so. We need to send her to rehab: to rehab from terror. You talk about her like she’s some innocent girl that just slapped a soldier. She do it for many years.”

Bowen: “When you saw that video of her slapping the soldier, what went through your mind?”

Hazan: “If I was there she would finish in the hospital for sure. Nobody could stop me. I would kick…kick her face. Believe me.”

Bowen: “She’s a 16 year-old girl.”

Hazan: “No, I don’t look at it like this because today as a 16 year-old girl she punched a soldier. Tomorrow she will stuck a knife in his throat. It’s what she do. Today it’s a slap, tomorrow it’s a knife.”

As was the case in one of his previous filmed reports, Bowen implied to BBC World Service listeners that Israeli military courts lack due process.

Bowen: “The chances are that Ahed Tamimi and her mother will end up with jail sentences. The Israeli military courts usually convict. The occupation has been going on for 50 years and it shows no sign of ending. Incidents like this indicate the level of tension and anger that’s often just below the surface. The question is how long before, once again, it erupts into much more serious violence.”

The BBC and Jeremy Bowen knew very well even before his January 31st reports were aired that the twelve charges against Ahed Tamimi include a count of incitement that relates to a video put out by her mother on social media in which Ahed Tamimi’s “message to the world” – as it was described by Nariman Tamimi – was:

“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine”

After his reports appeared numerous people reminded Bowen of that fact on social media. The fact that five days later the BBC chose to broadcast yet another report in which that crucial context was not provided to audiences indicates once again that the corporation and its Middle East editor have self-conscripted to a political campaign that has now included no fewer than ten separate reports on Ahed Tamimi since December 19th.  

 Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen diverts Ahed Tamimi story with a disingenuous red herring

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years

BBC’s Bowen revives five year-old grudge in Indy interview

BBC News website promotes the Tamimi clan again

BBC News omits a relevant part of the Tamimi charges story

BBC radio’s inconsistent coverage of charges against Ahed Tamimi

BBC’s Knell reports on the Tamimi case again – and raises a question

BBC’s Bowen diverts Ahed Tamimi story with a disingenuous red herring

Between December 19th 2017 and January 17th 2018 the BBC promoted at least three written reports, one filmed report and three radio reports (see ‘related articles’ below) on the topic of the arrest of Ahed Tamimi.

On January 31st two more filmed reports on the same story – produced by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen – were aired on BBC platforms.

Viewers of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ (also aired on the BBC News Channel) saw a report that has also been promoted on the programme’s webpage and on social media under the title “Is a slap an act of terror?” using the following description:

“16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi is facing trial after she was filmed hitting an Israeli soldier. Jeremy Bowen reports from her home village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank”

The BBC News website promoted a filmed report titled “Ahed Tamimi: Was Palestinian teenager’s ‘slap’ terrorism?” on its main home page, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page, the synopsis to which reads:

“Teenage Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, are due to go on trial, charged with security offences.

They were arrested after a video Nariman Tamimi filmed of her daughter slapping an Israeli soldier went viral.

Why is their village, Nabi Saleh, a ‘microcosm of the conflict’? The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen explains.”

Clearly both those headlines and presentations suggest to BBC audiences that Ahed Tamimi has been charged with terrorism following her assault of a soldier – but that disingenuous implication is false.

The twelve charges against Ahed Tamimi do however include one count of incitement that relates to a video put out by her mother on social media in which Ahed Tamimi’s “message to the world” – as it was described by her mother – was:

“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine”

The BBC knows about that charge and has mentioned it in two previously aired radio reports.

“Now there are 12 charges against Ahed Tamimi. She’s appeared before a military court. These relate to six different incidents. She’s charged with 5 counts of assaulting soldiers, also with throwing rocks, incitement to violence…” Yolande Knell, BBC World Service radio, 1/1/18

“Maurice Hirsch used to be the IDF chief prosecutor for the West Bank. He says the more serious charges against Ahed involved her alleged online call for more action to support the Palestinian cause – from protests to what she calls martyrdom operations. […]  

[Hirsch]: One of the main counts of the indictment is really incitement – publicly calling for others to commit other terrorist attacks.” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4, 8/1/18

Jeremy Bowen, however, chose to conceal Tamimi’s statement calling for violence – and the resulting charge – from viewers of both his filmed reports.

In the ‘News at Ten’ report, Bowen further promoted the red herring falsehood that Ahed Tamimi’s story is one about terrorism charges in his introduction.

Bowen: “Any peace in Nabi Saleh on a cold winter day is an illusion. It’s a small Palestinian village on the West Bank: a sharp thorn in the side of its occupier – Israel. The people here refuse to give in to Israel’s overwhelming power. For some Israelis that makes them terrorists.”

In the BBC News website report viewers are likewise told that Nabi Saleh is an “occupied village” by Ahed Tamimi’s father. BBC audiences were not told in either report that the village is in Area B and therefore under Palestinian Authority administration while Israel is responsible for security. Neither are they told that the soldier assaulted by Tamimi was located at the entrance to her family home at the time because villagers had been throwing rocks at soldiers and at a nearby road.

While that relevant context is omitted from both reports, Bowen did tell ‘News at Ten’ viewers that Ahed Tamimi:

“…told two Israeli soldiers to get off her family’s property. She’d just heard – wrongly – that [her cousin] Mohammed had died.”

Failing to explain why Palestinians are tried in military courts (and that such a situation is in fact a requirement of the Geneva Conventions) Bowen also inaccurately implied to ‘News at Ten’ audiences that those courts lack due process.

“Like all West Bank Palestinians, Ahed Tamimi is being tried in a military court which usually convicts.”

In both his reports the BBC’s Middle East editor chose to showcase one of Israel’s most controversial Knesset members, Oren Hazan, who unfortunately played right into his seasoned interviewer’s hands by claiming that “a slap is terrorism” in response to a question from Bowen.

And thus Jeremy Bowen managed to produce two widely promoted reports that not only divert audience attention away from the core issue in the story of Ahed Tamimi’s arrest and indictment by disingenuously concealing its real background but also intentionally diminish – and indeed trivialise – the terror threat with which Israel deals on a day-to-day basis.

Related Articles:

BBC News website promotes the Tamimi clan again

BBC News omits a relevant part of the Tamimi charges story

BBC radio’s inconsistent coverage of charges against Ahed Tamimi

BBC’s Knell reports on the Tamimi case again – and raises a question

 

How did BBC radio frame the US announcement on Jerusalem?

Last week we looked at the way in which the story of the US president’s statement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city was framed in reports on the BBC News website even before that announcement had been made.

BBC radio stations likewise devoted coverage to that story prior to the actual announcement. BBC World Service radio, for example, aired items about that story in four different programmes in the twenty-four hours before the statement was issued.

December 5th:

1) ‘Newshour’ presented by Tim Franks (from 00:34 here).

In that item listeners heard from the BBC’s Yolande Knell who did note the existence of the US’s ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’, its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the waivers signed by US presidents since then. In addition listeners heard negative reactions to the anticipated announcement from the PA’s Nabil Shaath and from Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal who misrepresented the 2004 ICJ advisory opinion on the “legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian Territory” as a “legal ruling” with no challenge from Franks. A negative opinion was also heard from the former advisor to US administrations Aaron David Miller. No Israeli voices were present in that programme.

December 6th:

2) ‘Newsday’ presented by Lawrence Pollard and Andrew Peach.

The early edition of that programme included a re-broadcasting of the statement from Nabil Shaath, an interview with Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer and an interview with Mustafa Barghouti which was discussed here.

A later edition included interviews with American human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein and Saree Makdisi which was discussed here and a still later edition of the programme recycled a version of Barghouti’s comments and reporting from Yolande Knell.

3) ‘The Newsroom’ presented by Claire MacDonald.

In that programme (from 00:05 here) listeners heard reporting from the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus and recorded statements from the PLO’s Manuel Hassassian and Israeli minister Naftali Bennett.

4) ‘Newshour’ presented by James Coomarasamy.

In addition to reporting from the BBC’s Barbara Plett-Usher (from 00:05 here) listeners heard interviews with Mustafa Barghouti, Israeli MK Yoav Kish and a Jerusalem bookseller called Mahmoud Muna. Later on in the same programme listeners heard a problematic portrayal of Jerusalem’s history from British academic Mick Dumper which was discussed here.

In all, listeners to those four BBC World Service programmes heard two from two American interviewees (one presenting the announcement as negative and one as positive), two Israeli politicians and one Israeli journalist. They also heard negative views from one Jordanian and one British academic as well as in interviews with Palestinian commentators that were promoted (including repeats) a total of eight times.

In other words, negative views of the anticipated announcement got nearly three times as much exposure as positive ones on the BBC World Service in the twenty-four hours preceding the US president’s statement.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the topic discussed in three programmes on the same day.

December 6th:  

1) ‘Today’ presented by Mishal Husain and John Humphrys

That programme included reporting from the BBC’s Yolande Knell, Barbara Plett Usher and Jon Sopel as well as interviews with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat (discussed here) and the PLO’s Manuel Hassassian (discussed here).

2) ‘World at One’ presented by Martha Kearney

In that programme listeners heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen (from 34:24 here) who made no mention of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, preferring to ‘explain’ the anticipated announcement as follows:

“It was an election promise. As well as people who are Jews who are pro-Israel who may have voted for him – and in fact most Jews in America vote for the Democratic party – he’s also got a lot of support from evangelical Christians who are very, very strong supporters of Israel. So it could be that.”

3) ‘PM’ presented by Eddie Mair

In that programme too Radio 4 listeners heard from Jeremy Bowen (from 18:09 here) who, while once again failing to mention the context of existing US legislation, gave a negative view of the anticipated statement.

“It adds another potential incendiary bomb in what’s already a tense city in a tense and chaotic region. And I think that if you are interested in peace, that isn’t the right thing to do.”

While BBC Radio 4’s guest list was more balanced than that of the BBC World Service, with the exception of Nir Barkat, listeners heard a very monochrome presentation of the story.

Like the BBC News website’s coverage, these two BBC radio stations failed for the most part to provide audiences with the story’s essential context and refrained from providing the relevant – and accurate – historical background necessary for understanding of the story. Instead, their coverage was overwhelmingly focused on framing the issue according to a partisan political narrative.

Related Articles:

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

 

 

PA glorification of terrorism once again ignored by the BBC

In late May the BBC’s Middle East editor wrote an article summing up the US president’s visit to Israel in which he told BBC audiences that:

“One pointer to a potential difference with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu came at the museum. In his opening remarks, Mr Netanyahu said that if the bomber in Manchester was Palestinian, and his victims were Israelis, the Palestinian Authority would be paying a stipend to his family.

He was referring to a Palestinian Martyrs’ fund. It pays pensions to people it regards as victims of the occupation, including the families of individuals who have been killed attacking Israelis. There is also a fund to support Palestinians who have been imprisoned by Israel. The Palestinians have compared the payments to the salaries Israel pays to soldiers.

President Trump, in his speech, did not pick up the cue.

After making many warm remarks about Israel, which earned him standing ovations, he said he believed that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, was serious about making peace.

Senior Israeli politicians and officials in the room disagree. Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier this year that President Abbas lied to Donald Trump when they met in the White House.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“The BBC’s Middle East editor does not of course bother to inform the corporation’s audiences that Mahmoud Abbas did indeed lie when he stated during that Washington visit that:

“Mr. President, I affirm to you that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”

Of course the BBC’s long-standing editorial policy of avoidance of meaningful reporting on the issue of the PA’s incitement and glorification of terrorism – including among children – means that audiences would be unable to fill in Bowen’s deliberate blanks.”

Another recent example of Palestinian Authority glorification of terrorism that has been completely ignored by the BBC came to light last month when the PA dedicated a square in the town of Jenin to the planner of the infamous Ma’alot massacre in 1974 in which 22 children and 4 adults were killed.

After protests, the mayor of Jenin decided to remove the monument but stated that the square would continue to be named after the terrorist. However, after pressure from Fatah and others, the monument was restored, only to be dismantled again by the IDF two days later. A street in another town was subsequently named after the same terrorist.

As PMW reported, not only did the DFLP (the faction to which the terrorist belonged) and Mahmoud Abbas’ own party Fatah continue to protest the removal of the monument but official PA TV also joined the glorification of that terror attack.

The BBC, however, continues to fail its audiences by refraining from providing the readily available information which would enhance their understanding of the involvement of the Palestinian Authority and its ruling party Fatah in promoting violence, incitement and glorification of terrorism.

 

 

Comparing two BBC journalists’ conversations with British and Israeli pilots

Just two weeks ago listeners to BBC Radio 4 were once again given an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the meaning of proportionality in war by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians. […] The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

In other words, Bowen is claiming that ‘proportionate’ means not killing civilians and that the use of “heavy weapons in densely populated areas” means automatic transgression of “the laws of war” because there are resulting civilian casualties.

In fact, proportionality has a different meaning altogether.

“Even when there is a chance that citizens will be injured as a result of military action, there is no absolute prohibition against taking such action, as long as the target being attacked is a legitimate military target. The prohibition against such an attack applies only when the collateral damage to civilians is likely to be excessive in relation to the anticipated direct military advantage of destroying the military objective.”

And, as explained here:

“In everyday usage, the word “proportional” implies numerical comparability, and that seems to be what most of Israel’s critics have in mind: the ethics of war, they suggest, requires something like a tit-for-tat response. So if the number of losses suffered by Hezbollah or Hamas greatly exceeds the number of casualties among the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), then Israel is morally and perhaps legally culpable for the “disproportionate” casualties.

But these critics seemed largely unaware that “proportionality” has a technical meaning connected to the ethics of war. The long tradition of just war theory distinguishes between the principles governing the justice of going to war (jus ad bellum) and those governing just conduct in warfare (jus in bello). There are two main jus in bello criteria. The criterion of discrimination prohibits direct and intentional attacks on noncombatants, although neither international law nor the just war tradition that has morally informed it requires that a legitimate military target must be spared from attack simply because its destruction may unintentionally injure or kill noncombatants or damage civilian property and infrastructure. International law and just war theory only insist that the anticipated collateral damage — the “merely foreseen” secondary effects — must be “proportionate” to the military advantage sought in attacking the legitimate military target. This sense of proportionality is the second jus in bello criterion; it has to do almost entirely with the foreseen but unintended harm done to noncombatants and to noncombatant infrastructure.”

Recently the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Beale produced two reports concerning the use of “heavy weapons in densely populated areas” in another part of the world and the potential resulting civilian casualties.

War against IS: Have RAF air strikes killed civilians? June 29th 2017

Can civilian deaths be avoided in RAF strikes on IS? July 2nd 2017

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that – in contrast to his colleague – Beale did not attempt to provide his viewers and readers with amateur interpretations of “the laws of war” in either those two reports or in a similar one he produced last September titled “Have RAF air strikes against IS killed no civilians?“.

In all three of those reports Beale did clarify to BBC audiences that civilian casualties are most likely unavoidable.

“But ultimately, as one pilot told me, however hard you try to avoid civilian casualties “you still can’t see through walls and rubble”.

Major General James Poss, a former Director of Intelligence in the US Air Force, says there is always doubt: “In the fog of war you can never know everything.””

“The US-led coalition is trying to dislodge the extremists from their strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul – cities with tightly packed streets where they are hiding among the local population and using them as human shields. The risk of civilian casualties is extremely high.

I put it to Air Commodore Johnny Stringer, who is overseeing the UK’s contribution, that avoiding civilian casualties is simply not possible. He acknowledges that assessment might change over time. “We are human and not perfect,” he says, “but we are doing our damnedest” to get it right.”

“Even the RAF admits it is now more difficult to avoid civilian casualties with the fight against IS focused on Raqqa and the old city of Mosul: dense, tightly packed urban areas with large civilian populations.”

Speaking to RAF pilots, Beale also clarified the lengths to which members of the British armed forces go to try to avoid unintended harm to civilians.

“It’s fair to say the US-led coalition is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties. Unlike Russia, coalition warplanes only use precision-guided weapons – often directed by GPS or laser.

Air Commodore Dai Wittingham, who ran the RAF’s air campaign in Afghanistan, says there’s “excruciating” care taken to avoid the loss of innocent life. Intelligence analysts examine each target carefully before and after each strike using detailed aerial photos and video.

Like other coalition pilots they’ve also redirected bombs and missiles at the last minute. In every case when they are about to hit a “hot target” pilots look for an area nearby where they can “shift cold” to avoid civilians who might suddenly appear.”

“For its part, the RAF says it is going out of its way to address worries about mistakes which might result in civilian casualties. The BBC has been told that in the second half of 2016 – when the offensive on Mosul began – the RAF either turned down, or asked for more intelligence about, half the targets it was given. […]

I ask “Dave” whether he can guarantee there will be zero civilian casualties. Even infrared sensors can’t see through walls. After a brief pause he admits its [sic] not possible to give that assurance. But, he says, they are doing everything in their power, including watching an area for hours, to protect civilian life.”

And at the end of this article Beale told BBC audiences that

“They [the RAF] are fighting a brutal enemy, who unlike them, has no worries about killing civilians.”

Of course Israel also goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, similarly using video analysis and aborting missions when civilians suddenly appear on the scene and even providing advance warning by leaflet or phone.

It is therefore interesting to compare Jonathan Beale’s conversations with British pilots in those three reports to an interview by Orla Guerin with an Israeli pilot in 2014.

Guerin: “This is footage Israel is keen to share. An airstrike in Gaza being aborted because children are spotted. But the UN says most of those killed by Israel are innocent civilians.”

Guerin: “Captain Omri shows us in a simulator his bird’s-eye view of the terrain.”

Guerin: “This is a crowded area. People have nowhere to go. In many cases they have no transport, they have no means of escape. And you’re attacking hospitals [sic] where the wounded are being treated.”

Omri: “Well at the moment we’re doing everything possible to ensure the security and safety of both our civilians and as much as possible the Palestinian civilians. We have offered medical aid and we’ve offered a field hospital…”

Guerin [interrupts] “Well wouldn’t it be better if you stopped bombing the civilians rather than offering them medical aid later?” [emphasis added]

Omri: “Well Israel has always opted for a diplomatic solution.”

Guerin: “I mean some people might say, you know, how do you sleep at night?” [emphasis added]

Omri: “Well I sleep very well at night because I know that what we’re doing is saving lives the way I see it because whenever….”

Guerin [interrupts] “Saving Israeli lives.”

Omri: “No, no. I know how many attacks I have already called off and I’m talking about numerous attacks so I know as a fact that I’ve saved dozens of lives.”

The contrasts between those conversations with British pilots engaged in military action in which no British civilians are at risk and an Israeli pilot during a war in which Israeli civilians were under constant attack are of course blatantly obvious – as are the double standards in BBC reporting on the subject of unintended civilian casualties during warfare.

 

In which the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen repeats his ‘no human shields in Gaza’ claims

BBC Radio 4’s series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ continued on June 16th with episode 15 – titled “Missiles and the Ballot Box” – which was devoted to Jeremy Bowen’s view of the Gaza Strip.

“Jeremy Bowen explores Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. It’s not a place you would chose [sic] for a Mediterranean holiday, though the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry, he says. “Israel could recapture Gaza in days if it wanted to. But then it would be responsible for around a million children and about the same number of angry adults. Palestinians can’t destroy a state as strong as Israel. But Israel can’t bludgeon Palestinians into submission either.””

Refraining from informing audiences that hopes of economic development in the Gaza Strip were killed off by, among other things, the Islamist take-over of the territory, Bowen opens the programme with the theme promoted in that synopsis. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Gaza is not a place you’d choose for a Mediterranean holiday although the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry. The beaches are sandy and run for 25 miles along the Mediterranean from the top right-hand corner of Egypt. It’s no wider than 7 miles and, apart from the short Egyptian border, it’s entirely surrounded by Israel. Since 2006 [sic] the Palestinian group Hamas – the Islamic resistance movement has controlled it.”

Bowen then goes on to describe the Erez crossing – but without providing listeners with any explanation of why the stringent security measures he portrays in such detail are necessary. He continues:

“Palestinians often call Gaza the world’s biggest jail and it’s hard to argue. Many spend whole lives there without being able to leave. I’ve met thirty-something men who’ve never left.”

Bowen’s portrayal does not clarify to listeners that on average around a thousand people exit Gaza via the Erez crossing every day for medical treatment, commercial, academic or sporting activities or religious trips. He refrains from making any mention of the existence of the crossing into Egypt at Rafah, or why that crossing is so frequently closed by Egypt.

Bowen then gives some historical background but refrains from clarifying that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory allotted for the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people by the League of Nations.

“Gaza was one of the historic towns of Palestine; a small place surrounded by fields and sand dunes when it was captured by Egypt in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled there to escape the Israeli advance or because they were forced out of their homes at the point of a gun.”

The siege – and subsequent evacuation – of Kibbutz Kfar Darom in 1948 is of course not included in Bowen’s account. He goes on:

“Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in 1967 and finally pulled out its soldiers and settlers in 2005, though it still controls who goes in and out by land, sea and air.”

Bowen makes no mention of the fact that agreements on movement and access from and to Gaza were signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip in 2005.  Failing to clarify to listeners why residents of a territory that has been under PA and then Hamas rule for the last twelve years are still classified as refugees or why refugee status is inherited, Bowen goes on:

“These days almost two million people live in the Gaza Strip. About two-thirds of them are descendants of the original refugees. Refugee children are taught at schools run by the UN. Their future is bleak. The UN predicts that Gaza might become uninhabitable by 2020 if there’s no end to the conflict with Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that Egypt saw fit to adopt similar counter-terrorism measures to those introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in 2007 and failing to mention the rise in terrorism that was the cause of those measures, Bowen continues:

“Israel put Gaza under a severe blockade in 2007 after Hamas took over. To overcome it, Palestinians built a network of smuggling tunnels into Egypt. […] For years after Hamas took over Gaza and the Israeli blockade bit hard, almost everything except the most basic commodities was smuggled in from Egypt through the tunnels.”

In fact, smuggling tunnels existed in the Rafah area long before 2007. Bowen’s portrayal of that issue does not include any information concerning the taxes and tariffs levied by Hamas on smuggled goods. Ignoring Egyptian actions against the tunnels, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Israel used to bomb the tunnels to uphold their blockade and because weapons were also smuggled through them. The blockade, the bombing and Israeli fears about Hamas weaponry all ramped up the tension.”

Having told listeners that the Hamas-Fatah split is rooted in “the death of Yasser Arafat”, Bowen goes on to refer to the Hamas Charter in the past tense.

“Hamas had a charter calling for its [Israel’s] destruction and was designated by Israel and the West as a terrorist group. The crunch came after Hamas unexpectedly won the elections in 2006. The Americans, proselytising hard for democracy, had pushed for the vote. But it didn’t produce the result they wanted. A few months later I was in the office of one of the top diplomats at the State Department in Washington DC. He sat back in his chair. ‘Of course’ he said ‘ it’s the wrong result. We’re going to have to overturn it’. The Americans gave full backing to Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza to put pressure on Hamas.”

Once again, Hamas terrorism is absent from Bowen’s tale. After a long account of his personal recollections of pre-Hamas coup inter-factional fighting in Gaza and a conversation with Mohammad Dahlan, Bowen tells listeners:

“After I left Gaza that time the feud between Fatah and Hamas became a mini civil war. Hamas won and Fatah officials including Dahlan rushed to the Israeli checkpoints to escape with their lives.”

According to reports from the time, Dahlan was not in the Gaza Strip during those days in June 2007: he had been abroad for several weeks for medical treatment.

Listeners hear a brief reference to missile attacks against Israelis without the groups that execute the attacks being named and without mention of any of the victims of such attacks.

“Living either side of the border wire – in Gaza or Israel – can be difficult and dangerous. Going through even one rocket attack on the Israeli side, let alone dozens in a day, is terrifying – as I found out.”

However, Bowen soon returns to form:

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians.”

Bowen then revisits a report he produced in 2009 concerning Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.

“An Israeli tank had shelled his home and killed three of his daughters.”

Bowen fails to tell listeners of the background to that the tragic incident but goes on to promote one of his usual pseudo-legal misinterpretations of the Law of Armed Combat and the term ‘disproportionate‘.

“The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

Bowen then revisits another of his previously promoted claims concerning Hamas’ use of human shields, while steering listeners towards an incomplete understanding of that term.

“I’ve never seen any evidence of Hamas forcing civilians in Gaza to stay in the firing line. But Israelis repeat time and again that Hamas hides behind human shields.”

The programme closes with Bowen opining that the terror organisation whose activities and abuses he has downplayed throughout the whole report should be party to negotiations.

“Until matters change in Gaza there will be more wars between Hamas and Israel. Change means a new attempt at peace with the participation and consent of all sides. Right now, there is no chance of that happening.”

Perhaps one of the more disturbing points emerging from this series of programmes by the BBC’s Middle East editor is the fact that the passage of time has done nothing to alter his opinions and analysis.

Having publicly claimed that he did not come across human shields in the few days he was in Gaza in the summer of 2014, three years later he cannot accommodate the ample evidence that shows otherwise. Having promoted his own pseudo-legal interpretations of the Law of Armed Combat in his 2014 reporting from Gaza, he is incapable of subsequently adjusting that view in line with the facts.

That, of course, is what happens when the agenda takes precedence over the actual story.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

 

BBC’s Bowen resurrects the ‘Arafat was poisoned’ canard on Radio 4

Episode 14 of the ongoing BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was devoted entirely to Jeremy Bowen’s portrayal of Yasser Arafat.

“The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen looks back over the life of Yasser Arafat. Thousands of his supporters turned out when the Palestinian’s body was flown back into Ramallah on the West Bank. “Love him or hate him, he was Mr Palestine,” says Bowen. “In death as well as in life he was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence – much more than a politician.” The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s view was that Arafat was ‘ a murderer and a pathological liar’.”

Originally broadcast on June 15th under the title “Guns and Olive Branches“, the programme now opens with notification that “this programme has been edited since broadcast” – but BBC audiences are not informed what that editing entailed and the BBC’s ‘corrections and clarifications‘ page does not include any related information.

The programme begins with Bowen’s recollections from November 2004 and an interpretation of Arafat’s sartorial propaganda that unquestioningly endorses the notion that the State of Israel is actually “Palestine”. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

“Even his keffiyeh – his black and white headscarf – carried a message. Arafat always wore it pushed back behind his left shoulder and down the front of his chest on the right, broad at the top, tapering down to the south: the shape of Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Listeners repeatedly hear Bowen refer to a Palestinian “struggle for independence” with just one brief and inadequately explained reference to the fact that the said “struggle” was actually intended to wipe Israel off the map and with no mention made of the absence of any claim to “independence” during the nineteen years that Palestinians lived under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation.

“Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinians since the 1960s, was one of the world’s most famous or notorious people – depending on you view of Palestinian nationalism. Love him or hate him, Yasser Arafat was Mr Palestine.”

“In death as well as life, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence; much more than just a politician.”

“Yasser Arafat’s position as the human embodiment of Palestinian hopes for independence were [sic] sealed in 1974 when he was invited to address the United Nations.”

“Yasser Arafat was born in 1929 and spent most of his childhood in Cairo. He fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and went on to found Fatah – a group that wanted to destroy what it called the colonialist, Zionist occupation of Palestine.”

“His [Arafat’s] last three years, spent under siege by Israel in the wrecked Muqata in Ramallah, made him even more of a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom. Palestinians still don’t have a state.”

Listeners also hear repeated references to an ‘unequal’ conflict – with no explanation of the fact that the Palestinians were junior players in a wider conflict between the Arab states and Israel.

“Other, more cautious Palestinians called Arafat a madman at first because of his desire to take on the much stronger Israelis.”

“His critics said a wiser leader might have finished the job. But a wiser man might not have started such an unequal fight.”

Bowen erases the Arab League’s role in the creation of the PLO.

“Egypt’s president Nasser had founded the PLO to control Palestinian nationalists. Arafat used it to unite Palestinian factions, to campaign for international recognition and most of all, to fight Israel.”

Throughout the item Bowen refrains from describing Palestinian attacks against Israelis as terrorism in his own words and promotes the ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ myth.

“Many Israelis regarded Arafat as an unreformed terrorist. They blamed him for decades of attacks, including the suicide bombs that had killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last few years.”

“Arafat was a prime mover behind many attacks. Fatah and other Palestinian factions shot, bombed and hijacked their way into the headlines. In 1972 Fatah gunmen calling themselves Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the Munich Olympic games.”

“Some Palestinians believed they were winning the argument that their cause was just. Other Palestinians said the armed struggle – terrorism in Israeli eyes – meant they could no longer be ignored.”

Listeners hear context-free references to the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war and the first Lebanon war.

“His [Arafat’s] first attacks in the mid-1960s weren’t more than pin-pricks. But his moment came in 1967 in the months after Israel inflicted a crushing defeat in only six days on the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.”

“The Middle East was boiling. The Palestinian-Israel conflict was at a new pitch and there was a full-scale war in 1973. Israel narrowly came out ahead.”

“They [Israel] invaded Lebanon in 1982 where the Palestinians had established what amounted to a mini-state.”

Bowen misrepresents the first Intifada as ‘non-violent’, erasing from audience view the Israelis murdered during that period of PLO orchestrated violence as well as some 1,000 Palestinians executed by their fellow Palestinians – with Arafat’s approval.

“What changed everything was entirely unexpected. In December 1987 an Israeli truck collided with a car, killing 4 Palestinians. Protests exploded into a full-blown uprising: the Intifada. Images of Palestinian children taking on tanks with stones went around the world and became a symbol of the oppression inherent in the occupation.”

“Palestinian rage and frustration exploded again in 2000 but this time there were armed clashes and unlike the first Intifada, the Palestinians lost the propaganda battle when suicide bombers killed many Israeli civilians.”

Bowen’s portrayal of the Oslo Accords era erases the Palestinian terrorism that immediately followed the signing of the agreement and fails to inform listeners of Arafat’s role in the pre-planned second Intifada terror war.

“But Israel and the Palestinians signed an historic peace deal and Arafat was allowed to live in the occupied territories.”

“The peace process was flawed for both sides but for a few years there was a lot of hope. Then the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who wanted to kill the chance of peace as well.”

A recording of Saeb Erekat speaking in 2004 which further gives listeners an inaccurate impression of Arafat’s role in the campaign of terrorism that surged in the autumn of 2000 was selected by Bowen for inclusion in this programme..

Erekat: “I’m afraid if Mother Theresa were to be our president, Nelson Mandela were to be our prime minister, Martin Luther King to be our speaker and Mahatma Gandhi would be our chief negotiator, the Israelis would find a way to link them to terrorism and some voices in Washington would echo that. The question wasn’t Arafat.”

Throughout the item Bowen repeatedly promotes a romantic image of Arafat as a charismatic “revolutionary”.

“As Israelis settled into their occupation of the West Bank, Arafat took the fight to them, moving around in disguise and organising hundreds of attacks. Israel hit back in 1968 with a major military operation at the Karameh refugee camp in Jordan which had become a big Fatah base. […] The battle established Arafat’s legend. He was on the cover of Time magazine and the young revolutionary gave countless interviews.”

“For the first time posters of Arafat started appearing wherever there were Palestinians. They’d never had a leader with his charisma. By the summer of 1969 Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”

“Arafat swaggered into the General Assembly in New York wearing combat fatigues and sunglasses. He delivered his most famous lines: ‘I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand and a freedom-fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand’. Arafat repeated that last warning three times. He was offering Israel a choice: peace or war.”

“The General Assembly gave him a standing ovation though among Arab leaders Arafat had plenty of enemies. He’d wanted to carry a pistol into the hall to make his point and had to be persuaded that an empty holster would do just as well. I remember the outrage among Jewish friends at my school in Cardiff that he’d even been allowed to speak. For Israelis, Arafat was an arch-terrorist and his olive branch was a joke.”

“Arafat was caught between his obligations under the peace process – satisfying the Israelis and the Americans – and his self-image as a revolutionary focusing the frustration and anger of his people.”

“It was always strange being in the same room as one of the most famous faces in the world. His legend was always there with him to be deployed at all times for his dream of Palestine. If being the human form of so many people’s’ hopes was a burden – and it must have been – he didn’t show it.”

Bowen’s own view of Arafat is further clarified at the end of the item.

“Back in 2004 outside the hospital in Paris where Arafat was dying, I felt that for all his weaknesses, his unique position as the father of his nation gave him a strength that genuine peace-makers would miss.

Recording Bowen: Yasser Arafat may have been part of the problem over the years but he’s also been part of the solution as well. And when he finally goes, his enemies – the Israelis and the Americans who’ve tried to isolate him – may find that far from it being easier to reach some kind of stability in the Middle East, it may even be more difficult.”

Bowen completely whitewashes Arafat’s cultivation of the culture of personal and organisational corruption that hallmarked the Palestinian Authority under his rule, as well as his funding of terrorism.

“Arafat preferred yes-men to straight talkers, tolerated corruption and he wasn’t much interested in the nitty-gritty of building a state. But for most Palestinians he was a national icon.”

Similarly, Bowen whitewashes Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and glorification of terrorism.

“Abbas has never had Arafat’s charisma and even though he’s condemned Palestinian violence many times, the current Israeli government says he’s not a partner for peace.”

One of the more egregious parts of this programme comes towards its end when Bowen resuscitates an old canard:

“Some say Arafat was poisoned by Israel. His body was exhumed and tests found high levels of radioactive Polonium in his remains. The results were not conclusive but most Palestinians are convinced.”

As Bowen knows full well, those “high levels” of Polonium were pronounced by experts who tested them to be “of an environmental nature”. Both the French and Russian investigating teams ruled out foul play and the investigation closed two years ago, with the French prosecutor saying “there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. 

Nevertheless, the man whose job description is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” dishonestly promotes the notion that “the results were not conclusive”, thereby suggesting to BBC audiences that long-standing but entirely unproven Palestinian messaging on that topic may not, after all, be baseless propaganda.

Once again, Jeremy Bowen’s standards of adherence to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are on full view in this programme – together with some revealing insights into his own views of a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.

Related Articles:

BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

BBC News report whitewashes Arafat’s terrorism

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory

 

 

 

BBC’s Bowen tells his annual Lebanon story on Radio 4

Episode 10 of Jeremy Bowen’s BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on May 26th. Titled “The Nearness of Death“, the programme is described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jeremy Bowen describes the incident as the worse [sic] day of his working life – the day he and his colleagues came under fire from the Israeli Defence Force. Bowen’s driver Abed Takkhoush was hit when the crew of an Israeli tank fired a shell across the border wire into Lebanon. It hit the back of his Mercedes taxi while he was sitting in the driver’s seat phoning his son.”

Bowen has of course publicly revisited that incident on numerous occasions in the past (see ‘related articles’ below) but this programme once again provides insight into the approach taken by the man the BBC chose to be responsible for all its Middle East coverage twelve years ago.

In this report, Bowen’s scene-setting fails to provide listeners with any background information or context concerning the reason why the Israeli army was in Lebanon in the first place and he fails to clarify that Hizballah did not only act against – or because of – Israeli forces.

“We were looking forward to the day ahead down south on the border with Israel. It was a big story. The Israelis were ending an occupation of a broad swathe of South Lebanon that had lasted 18 years. They’d been driven out by an insurgency mounted by Hizballah – the Shia Muslim militia that head become a highly effective guerilla force with the help of Iran and Syria.”

Later on Bowen tells listeners that:

“By the mid-90s the main fight was in south Lebanon between the Israeli occupiers and Hizballah. Israel claimed self-defence and called Hizballah terrorists. Hizballah regarded themselves as a legitimate resistance to occupation and so did most Lebanese.”

Bowen refrains from explaining why there was no Hizballah ‘resistance’ to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon or to inform listeners of the 1989 Taif Agreement and the fact that under that agreement, all militias – including Hizballah – were supposed to have been disarmed and disbanded.

Although in previous accounts Bowen has said “I’d been talking to my literary agent on the phone” at the time of the incident in which his driver was killed, in this programme his version is slightly different.

“The big mistake I made was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera overlooking an Israeli village. I discovered later that journalists and Israeli civilians were watching from a picnic spot as I got out of the car with Malik. I thought we were safe where we were but I didn’t realise that an Israeli battle tank had us in its sights.” […]

“I said to Malik ‘let’s get up there to help him’. Malik’s face was contorted. ‘No’, he said, ‘don’t do it. Abed is dead; he can’t have survived that and if you go up there too, they’ll kill you’. When cautiously I moved towards Abed’s body I heard bullets fizzing over my head and ducked back into cover. A team from the Times later said they heard the tank crew saying on the radio that they’d get the other two with the heavy machine gun. I’ll feel guilty till my last day that we stopped to film there.”

Bowen adds further context-free anecdotes of Israeli actions, telling listeners that in 1996:

“We joined a UN convoy that was trying to reach besieged civilians. The Israelis turned it back with some heavy shelling.”

And:

“Once, the Israelis were shelling the coastal highway from a war ship to stop people getting to southern Lebanon.”

And – while failing to clarify that the two-week Israeli operation in Lebanon in 1996 came after Hizballah shelled Israeli communities, injuring dozens of civilians:

“106 civilians were killed in a single incident in 1996 by Israeli shelling. They’d been sheltering in a UN peace-keeping base in a village called Qana in south Lebanon. Hundreds more were wounded. The UN didn’t accept Israel’s explanation that Hizballah had fired Katyusha rockets at them from close to the base. I’d been in a briefing in the Israeli Defence Ministry that claimed they knew everything that went on in south Lebanon but that day they said they didn’t know they were killing civilians even when UN liaison officers begged them to stop.”

Bowen goes on to use language that does not adhere to BBC editorial standards of impartiality.

“Qana’s dead were buried together. At the funeral I met Hassan Balhas; a young man who’d been left paraplegic by a stray Israeli bullet. 35 members of his family were killed in the massacre.” [emphasis added]

Listeners are also told by Bowen that:

“I’ve been to the homes of Israelis killed by Lebanese and their families’ grief is tragic to see. But there’s been just so much more of it in Lebanon where civilians have suffered disproportionately at the hands of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Going back to the May 2000 incident, Bowen tells listeners that his driver:

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

“…did stop four years later on the day the Israeli army killed him. The Israeli military said the tank fired at us because they thought we were terrorists. That wasn’t the first assumption of Israeli civilians who were watching from their side of the border whose reaction was caught in video collected by a BBC investigation into Abed’s death.”

Listeners then hear an unidentified voice explaining that video.

“People are now saying in Hebrew this car was shot, it was shot from here. Some civilian is saying ‘they hit a civilian car – we’re going to have Katyushas now’. ‘This is very bad’, he’s saying.”

In fact, the Hebrew speaker is not heard using the term “civilian car” but the word “vehicle”. Bowen goes on:

“I went to see a general in the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. He asked for some understanding. ‘Look’, he said, ‘there were young boys in that tank and they’d been warned they might be attacked by terrorists. They were scared’. I wasn’t very sympathetic. They were in a tank and we were civilians.”

Bowen has of course told that part of the story before too and is on record as refusing to accept the results of the IDF investigation into – and apology for – the tragic incident. Hence, seventeen years on the BBC’s Middle East editor is still using his position to promote the notion that it was impossible for Israeli soldiers to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing. 

He then closes the item with an oblique, but clear, insinuation:

“Fighters in every war, on every side, dehumanise their enemies. They regard them as something less that living and breathing people who can feel love and fear and happiness. That way, it’s much easier to kill.”

Jeremy Bowen will no doubt continue his efforts to promote his version of this story for as long as the BBC and additional media outlets continue to provide him with the platform to do so. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that the man who repeatedly tells that story from that particular angle is also the person who for the last twelve years has been entrusted with ensuring that what BBC audiences are told about Israel meets editorial standards of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years 

Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

The centrepiece of the BBC News website’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War was published in the ‘Features’ section of its Middle East page on June 5th. That article by the corporation’s Middle East editor is titled “1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East” and it runs to a remarkably lengthy 6,181 words and – as Jeremy Bowen’s Twitter followers later learned – is based on a book he originally had published 14 years ago.

The article includes numerous factual inaccuracies or inadequately clarified statements. For example, the person named by Bowen as “Ray Rothberg” was actually Roi Rotberg from Nahal Oz. What Bowen repeatedly describes as “disputed territory” along Israel’s border with Syria was in fact the demilitarised zones defined as such in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between the two countries, while his reference to “Syria’s attempts to divert the River Jordan away from Israel’s national water grid” fails to adequately clarify that the Headwater Diversion Plan was actually conceived by the Arab League in 1964. The article also makes use of B’tselem’s inaccurate and partisan map that has been seen in numerous other BBC reports.

Interestingly, readers of this article discover that the BBC’s Middle East editor is entirely aware of factors such as Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s demand to expel UN peacekeepers from Sinai and his closure of the Straits of Tiran that were crucial in causing the war but yet curiously are so often omitted from BBC portrayals of the topic.

However, the most important aspect of Bowen’s tome is its promotion of a narrative composed of two parts.

As he has done in the past, Bowen suggests to audiences that the Six Day War was not a war of survival for Israel. [emphasis added]

“Western powers had no doubt which side in the Middle East was stronger on the eve of war in 1967. The US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff judged “that Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years.”

In a report on the Israeli army in January 1967, the British defence attaché in Tel Aviv assessed that “in command, training, equipment and services the Israel army is more prepared for war than ever before. Well-trained, tough, self-reliant, the Israeli soldier has a strong fighting spirit and would willingly go to war in defence of his country.””

“The pressure was crushing General Rabin. Against all the military evidence, he had convinced himself that he was leading Israel to catastrophe.”

“If they could fight on their own terms, Israel’s generals were confident they would score an overwhelming victory. But strict military censorship kept those conclusions private.”

The second part of Bowen’s narrative is designed to steer audiences towards the belief that the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of those six days in June 1967. [emphasis added]

“Fifty years ago, war broke out between Israel and its neighbours. The conflict lasted just six days but its effect would last to the present day.”

“All the issues that are now depressingly familiar to anyone who follows the news – violence, occupation, settlements, the future of Jerusalem – took their current form as a result of the war. The shape of the occupation emerged very quickly. Predictions of the dangers that lay ahead were ignored.”

“The 1967 war made Israel into an occupier, which is why more than anything else it matters. The experience has been a disaster for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel built settlements for Jews, in defiance of international law that says occupiers cannot settle their people on the land they capture. Israel, though, sees it differently.”

“Military occupation is by definition oppressive. The occupation has created a culture of violence that cheapens life and brutalises the people who impose and enforce the occupation and those who fight it.”

“Fifty years on from 1967, President Trump – like many new American presidents – is hoping to help Israelis and Palestinians make peace.

If his dreams become substantive talks, they will have to be about the future of the land that was captured in six days of war. […]Ignoring the legacy of 1967 is not an option.”

However, the urge to promote that selective narrative means that Bowen has to erase from audience view the fact that – as Michael Oren recently explained – the Six Day War was just one chapter in a conflict that began long before.

“Far beyond 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is in fact about 1917, 1937 and 1947. Those anniversaries can teach us much about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and why peace has proved so elusive. […]

What began as a clash between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews changed overnight into the Arab-Israel conflict. The two-state solution twice turned down by the Palestinians, in 1937 and 1947, would be forgotten as Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Yet the Palestinians showed no interest in establishing sovereignty in those areas. Instead, they rejected Israel within any borders. “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants” swore Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the eve of the Six-Day War. […]

The conflict is not about the territory Israel captured in 1967. It is about whether a Jewish state has a right to exist in the Middle East in the first place. As Mr. Abbas has publicly stated, “I will never accept a Jewish state.””

Jeremy Bowen’s promotion of his preferred narrative (which, notably, has not altered at all over the years despite repeated Palestinian rejections of peace proposals) has long been on view. However, while his exclusive focus on “the occupation” and his related concealment of the most basic factor underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict – the refusal to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist – may well serve the advancement of that political narrative, it does not serve the BBC’s funding public: the people for whom he is supposed to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible”.

Related Articles:

BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

Six Day War Anniversary resources

Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short