A post by CAMERA Arabic.
The October 24th episode of BBC Arabic’s radio show “Dardasha Layliya” (‘Nightly Chat’) included an interview with an Israeli Arab environmental engineer called Omar Asi who identified himself as being a resident of “the interior of Palestine” and who was described by the BBC presenter as calling from “Palestine”.
In that interview – presented by BBC Arabic’s Heba Abd al-Baqi – listeners were acquainted with Asi’s project: a child-friendly map of “Palestine” from the river to the sea. The map and a link to the programme were also promoted on the BBC News Arabic Facebook page.
(all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic):
“(26:55) What distinguishes this map is that we see a lot of diversity, a lot of colours in it, and the colours […], indeed, aren’t coincidental, I mean, Palestine is always characterized by [this], it is said that during certain times [of the year], it has four seasons on the same day, in the Negev you’d see summer, in the North you’d see winter, and there’s a lot of diversity in Palestine, in terms of climate, even in terms of biodiversity, I mean, if we look at the map we’ll see that in Jaffa there are oranges, in Hebron there are grapes, in Nablus there’s kenafeh [a type of dessert], and in Jerusalem there are bagels, all of this diversity, it would be impossible for the child to get it from maps he sees in schools, the traditional maps. That is if he [even] sees maps of Palestine, I mean, many children like me, who went to schools which are called ‘Arab-Israeli schools’, children from the interior of Palestine, they don’t see maps of Palestine, they see maps of Israel…”.
The map promoted by BBC Arabic is devoid of anything Israeli or Jewish including population (all the people portrayed are visibly Arab and/or Muslim), landmarks (the sole Jewish landmark shown is the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron – see below), or cities (Jaffa is surrounded by orchards with no indication that Tel Aviv ever existed or that Jews make up a majority in the mixed cities such as Haifa and Acre which appear on the map). This is obviously intentional since Asi himself mentioned later in the interview (30:27) that he lived and studied in Tel Aviv and came in contact with Jewish students at the beginning of his adult life.
In response to further questions by Abd al-Baqi, Asi elaborated on the role of the map in shaping young Palestinian minds and educating them about what both he (30:06) and his interviewer (32:48) referred to as “the Palestinian cause” (Arabic: al-Qadiya al-Filastiniya). The activist expressed his conviction (32:59) that the illustrations of places on the map would prompt children to find out more about stories behind them which relate to the Palestinian national struggle.
“(33:43) If he goes and visits Hebron, he will see that the Abrahamic Compound [i.e. Cave of the Patriarchs] today is divided between Jews and Muslims, I mean, they [the Jews] took control over a large portion of it. He will also see the military barriers”
Providing another example, Asi also revealed (32:17) that the seemingly innocent illustration of “Jerusalem bagels” is actually a reference to “the Prince of Shadows” – an autobiography of Hamas’ mass-murderer Abdullah Barghouthi in which he expressed his love of this local food. Barghouthi is a bomb-maker who was given 67 consecutive life sentences for his part in the murder of 66 Israelis in numerous suicide bombings during the early 2000s. Notably, in an blogpost that Asi wrote in 2017 for Hamas-related Gaza news agency “Shehab” he admitted that the arch-terrorist’s book had “impressed” him.
The interview concluded with Abd al-‘Baqi wishing (36:35) Asi and his team of illustrators “good luck to you all”. This was after she already heard him make the following statement in the introduction to the item:
“(0:40) My dream is that every Palestinian child would hang the map [in] his bedroom, so that he will be able to view at the characteristics of the Land of Palestine and love them the same way they love him”.
Asi’s project is of the “greater Palestine” genre that Israelis have become accustomed to see from some radical activists, including (as in this case) fellow citizens of their own country. However, this form of hate speech is rarely amplified by media outlets in the West; certainly not in such an unreserved manner.
Nevertheless, at no point during the interview did the BBC’s Abd al-Baqi challenge, criticize or even contextualize Asi’s ideas about indoctrinating young children using a map of an imagined “Palestine” which erases Israel. Nor did the BBC Arabic journalist ask him how “the Palestinian cause” which he promotes relates to the millions of Israeli Jews who are native to the land no less than him. Rather, she herself described the item as coming from “Palestine” (0:38), as did the BBC News Arabic facebook page.
By promoting this item BBC Arabic normalises the negation of Israel’s right to exist within any borders and the denial of the right of Israeli Jews to live peacefully in their homeland. Asi’s mention of Abdullah Barghouthi also mainstreams implied support for terrorism against Israeli civilians.
The BBC Academy’s ‘style guide’ states that BBC journalists “should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” but apparently its writers had not taken into consideration that BBC content might promote the use of the term ‘Palestine’ instead of Israel.
Similarly, neither BBC nor OFCOM guidelines on ‘harm and offence’ relate to content promoting the negation of a sovereign country’s existence and the right to self-determination for people of a specific ethnicity – presumably because their authors did not consider such a scenario likely in ‘enlightened’ 21st century Britain.
BBC editorial guidelines on ‘controversial subjects’ (4.3.6) state that:
“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”
Obviously no alternative perspective was given to this item’s negation of the State of Israel and the BBC Arabic journalist clearly disregarded the editorial guideline (4.3.11) stating that:
“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”
Once again we see that the BBC’s Arabic language content fails to meet the standards of journalism which the publicly-funded corporation claims to embrace.