BBC News: yellow vests yes, blue gloves no

BBC audiences have seen plenty of coverage of the ‘gilets jaunes’ protests that began in France in November 2018 and the BBC News website even has a dedicated tab and webpage called “France yellow vest protests” which provides news reports and backgrounders.

Those getting their news from the BBC have however seen no coverage whatsoever of the near-weekly ‘blue glove protests which have been going on since mid-October.

“On a sunny, cold morning in mid-December, more than a thousand Palestinians left their workplaces and gathered in a small square adjacent to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s office in the West Bank.

The group, largely clad in formal attire, started chanting against the newly established Palestinian Social Security Institution and impending tax hikes required to fund it, as members of the PA security forces stood nearby, blocking the road leading to Hamdallah’s office in central Ramallah.

“The people want the fall of the Social Security Institution,” the demonstrators shouted in unison, while also calling for the ouster of Hamdallah and PA Labor Minister Mamoun Abu Shahala. […]

“Everyone here wants a social security system, but with rampant corruption in our government we cannot trust an institution created by it,” 30-year-old Nidal Quran, a teacher, said on the sidelines of the protest in Ramallah. “What if the government one day takes our money we give to the institution to deal with what it says is a financial crisis?”

An overwhelming majority of Palestinians view PA institutions as corrupt, according to polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR).

The protests against the social security institution have taken place in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and other parts of the West Bank, with several Palestinians demonstrating for the first time in their lives.

At the demonstrations, most protesters have worn blue surgical gloves and some have waved blue flags.”

Analysis published by the Washington Institute explains the background to the story:

“The law was created in 2016 by PA president Mahmoud Abbas’s decree, as has been the case with all legislation since the suspension of the Palestinian Legislative Council following Hamas’s 2007 violent takeover of Gaza. It stipulates mandatory contributions by private-sector employers and workers to the Palestinian Social Security Corporation (PSSC): 9% for employers, 7% for employees. Upon reaching age sixty, workers become eligible for a pension.

In light of the dire economic situation in the West Bank, opponents claim the deductions are excessive. They also object to discriminatory provisions in the law, such as one depriving a widow of her deceased husband’s pension if she gains employment, while widowers are not subject to a similar restriction. As for procedure, protestors have decried the lack of consultation during the drafting and enactment of this law since trade unions, private-sector representatives, and civil society organizations were not engaged. They also voice concern that the PA is too unstable and corrupt to reliably manage the funds collected by the PSSC.”

That analysis also explains the significance of the protests.

“…around 61% of West Bankers and 50% of Gaza Strip residents believe they cannot criticize the authority without fear, helping explain their past reluctance to engage in domestic protests.

…the very fact that Palestinians took to the streets to protest, and that these protests were sustained, is a worrying indicator of volatility levels in the West Bank. As already implied, public frustration against the PA can easily shift—or be directed—against Israel. Despite the improved professionalism and effectiveness of the PA security forces, the PA’s eroding political legitimacy complicates the exercise of security control. And in an extreme case, continued lack of legitimacy could even lead to PA collapse, creating a security and political vacuum. Coupled with the tense overall security situation, and with Hamas’s ongoing efforts to foment instability in the West Bank, this could be an explosive mix with impacts not only on the Palestinians but also Israel’s security. The PA’s domestic political woes—as exemplified by the protests against the social security law—are not only a Palestinian problem.”

As has often been observed here in the past, only very occasionally do BBC audiences see stand-alone reports about Palestinian affairs which are not framed within the context of ‘the conflict’ and do not have an Israel-related component.

“Insight into internal Palestinian politics which would enhance audiences’ comprehension of Palestinian society (as well as the conflict) is relatively rare in BBC coverage. Reporting on social and human rights issues within Palestinian society is even more scarce and thus BBC audiences see a blinkered and largely one-dimensional view of Palestinian life.”

That editorial policy continues and so while the BBC has produced dozens of reports on the yellow vest protests in recent weeks, audiences have not seen even one report about the protests in Palestinian Authority controlled towns.

Related Articles:

The Palestinian protests the BBC preferred to ignore

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BBC WS radio report on Palestinian culture exploited for one-sided political messaging

BBC World Service radio has a programme called ‘The Compass’ which describes itself as providing listeners with “the essential take on big ideas, issues and trends from the 21st century”.

Recently that programme ran a four-part series called “A Young World” that was presented to audiences as follows:

“What’s it like living in a country where most people are young? We look at four aspects in four countries across the world.”

That series included episodes from Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Philippines and – on June 4ththe Palestinian Territories.

“The Palestinian territories have the youngest population in the Middle East with a median age under 21. How do these young people express themselves culturally? Nida Ibrahim, the BBC’s Ramallah producer, finds the challenges of conservatism and poverty mean that artists and performers find they have to struggle to be recognised – with many only able to find an audience via new media.”

However, that report by Nida Ibrahim did not only relate to culture and society within areas currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Ibrahim made a clear political statement by also including parts of Jerusalem under her ‘Palestinian Territories’ umbrella, despite the fact that the standing of those areas is still subject to final status negotiations. Ibrahim also repeatedly strayed away from the topic of how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” in order to promote a blatantly political narrative peppered with references to “the occupation”.

From 4:50 minutes into the programme Ibrahim visits a hip-hop artist in Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem.

“So we’re here at the Shuafat refugee camp that was initially built 50 years ago to host 500 refugees but now it has around 12,500 refugees registered at the United Nations but some say the real number is double that.”

In fact, as a visit to UNRWA’s website shows, the claim is not – as Ibrahim implies – that the “real number” of refugees in Shuafat is “double” but that the number of residents, not all of whom are refugees, is around 24,000. She continues:

“There is no proper garbage collection system. People have to put their garbage in…collect their garbage in skips awaiting for the UN to come and pick it up. There’s no police presence. The Israelis do not usually come here; they think it’s dangerous and there might be clashes with the Palestinians. And the Palestinian police is not allowed in because this is considered the Jerusalem area that they don’t have control over.”

Her interviewee gives a similarly context-free portrayal.

“Everything is hard over here, from walking in the street to wanting to go out at night, crossing checkpoint every time, being controlled by the situation. Sometimes I get depressed […] Young kids in my neighbourhood got shot and killed last year and it was terrible. It’s a very violent place. You have to show others that you’re tough enough so they don’t mess with you because there’s no police, there’s no ambulance.”

In fact, a police station was opened in Shuafat a month before Ibrahim’s report was broadcast. Listeners hear nothing of the violence regularly instigated by Shuafat residents or of the presence of Hamas in the camp.

Nida Ibrahim then goes to meet another musician in another part of Jerusalem and listeners hear an entire section of the report that has nothing whatsoever to do with cultural expression of Palestinian youth.

“While it’s very easy for Mohammed to go to that part [of Jerusalem], I as a West Banker – although I have a permit – I have to go through a checkpoint that involved long wait. Let’s see how that goes. Here we go. So it happened that I had to queue a little bit and then I was allowed in through a high turnstile. Only three people are allowed in at a time and then I put all of my belongings including my shoes in the metal detector and then I turned up at the window, showed my permit. They took my finger prints and they said I’m free to go. Had to go through a few other turnstiles.”

After speaking to that interviewee Nida Ibrahim goes to meet a woman who presents herself as Sireen Sawafteh – a volunteer with the ‘Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign’ – from a small village in the north of the Jordan Valley”. That village is Tubas, which is located in Area A.

Listeners hear the following conversation between Nida Ibrahim and Sireen Khudiri Sawafteh after the latter states that she joined a theatre group after she was arrested in 2013.

Ibrahim: “Who arrested you and how long have you been arrested?”

Sawafteh: “I was arrested by Israeli forces for six month; four months in jail and two months home jail [house arrest]. Also it was two months isolation; that was the most horrible moment.”

Ibrahim: “Could you give us a little bit of an idea why you were arrested? Is it related to your activism work?”

Sawafteh: “After two months of being in isolation I hear the reason in the court and I just laughed. They said you are arrested because you a threatening the security of Israel through ideas which you are sharing on Facebook. Could you imagine how many people they could arrest for that reason?”

Ibrahim: “Was it a specific sentence?”

Sawafteh: “No, no, no. They have nothing. Even there is no proof…nothing to say in the court.”

Listeners do not hear any official Israeli response to the allegations put forward by Sawafteh and of course they are not told that even according to Palestinian sources, her Facebook posts included a picture of her with a gun and contact with entities in Syria and Gaza.

The programme continues with Sawafteh telling a context-free story about a child she happened to meet that likewise has nothing at all to do with the topic of ‘cultural expression’.

Sawafteh: “He was working for four hours collecting stones. He did a line of stones. And I went closely to him and I asked him what are you doing? He said to me something I think you will not understand it. And then he said ‘OK, come follow me but if I will teach you why I do that you have to help me’. I said OK. Then he said ‘look at the thing which is under the stones’. I looked; it was an electricity cable. I said ‘OK it’s an electricity cable’ but I didn’t understand what I’m doing. He said ‘OK, listen; two days ago we received a demolition order and I am worried if the Israeli bulldozer will come and they destroy our house they will confiscate the electricity cable. So I wanted to hide these electricity cable to make it safe because I would like to watch TV’.

Ibrahim’s next interviewee is a graduate of the Academy of Arts in Ramallah who, despite presented as being “back on a break from studying his Master’s degree in France”, tells listeners that Palestinians cannot travel.

“Me working as an artist is a part of fighting, of resistance. Because you’re really controlled not just by the state also by the Israeli occupation because they all the time want to control your thoughts. They don’t want anyone to know there’s a life happening in Palestine…and this is one of the way we resist. You always scared of what they going to do with you. They don’t let you travel for example or they’re questioning you all the time.”

Clearly Nida Ibrahim went far beyond her remit of providing BBC World Service audiences with an insight into how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” and instead exploited the platform to promote copious amounts of politicised messaging and delegitimisation of Israel without any right of reply being given.

The BBC cannot possibly claim that this report meets its supposed standards of accurate and impartial journalism.