BBC WS programme on anti-terrorist fence promotes inaccurate information

The April 16th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Documentary’ was titled “Walls and Peace“. In that programme, Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan of Ulster University visited locations in her native Northern Ireland, in the USA and in Israel asking “do walls built for political purposes create bigger problems than they solve?”.

Gormley-Heenan’s own position on the topic (she is not in favour) is very much apparent in the programme’s conclusion but along the way to that summing up, she ostensibly presents both sides of the debate.

The synopsis to the online version of the programme includes the following:

“Professor Gormley-Heenan is a specialist in barrier walls, which she has witnessed and studied in her native Belfast, where “peace walls” still separate Nationalist and Unionist communities. […]

There have been fewer militant attacks in Israel since the barrier with the West Bank was built there, yet many Palestinians are cut off from, for example, their olive groves on the Israeli side. And even Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who are now on the Israeli side of the barrier, and feel safer, are adversely affected by the barrier.”

The photograph used to illustrate the programme is described by the BBC World Service as follows:

‘Photo: man climbs a wall on a ladder. Credit to Heidi Levine, with kind permission’

That photograph – from 2002 – was in fact taken in Israel. Why the BBC chose to change the original caption is unclear.

The section of the programme relating to the anti-terrorist fence constructed by Israel during and after the second Intifada commences at 13:20 and goes on for over 17 minutes.

Gormley-Heenan’s introduction to that section includes generalised speculations about the socio-economic status of the residents of neighbourhoods near the structure which are absent from the sections of the programme relating to Northern Ireland or the USA.

“Here’s another one [wall]. It’s made of concrete slabs 9 meters high in the middle of a major city and there’s a big contrast between the housing on the two sides. This is the separation barrier in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian side is very densely populated with high-rise blocks of housing packed close together. The western, Israeli side is more spacious with more beds of grass and a population – judging by the style and quality of the housing – seems considerably better off. The barrier isn’t a wall everywhere; only in cities. It was put there by popular demand from the Israeli side.”

BBC coverage of the anti-terrorist fence has never been notable for its balance and impartiality and so the fact that listeners to this programme got to hear from the man who planned it is remarkable.

“My name is Colonel (retired) Danny Tirza. In March 2002 in one month we lost 128 people that were murdered by terror attacks. And people said to the government ‘enough is enough; we cannot live with such level of terror. Do something. Build something’. And the government took the first decision to let the army design and build a security fence. And that was the moment when I got the mission to be the head of this project. From 2000 till the end of 2006 we had in Israel more than four thousand terror attacks. We lost in this period 1,562 people that were murdered by terror attacks. We’re a very small country.”

Unfortunately, nowhere in the item are listeners provided with statistics concerning the reduction in the number of terror attacks following construction of the anti-terrorist fence.

Gormley-Heenan then goes to meet a resident of the community of Tzofim in Samaria – Hagai Mayer. Her introduction to that interview includes standard BBC messaging concerning ‘international law’ but does not clarify to listeners that, like all Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria, Tzofim is located in Area C and under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status is to be determined in negotiations.

CGH: “Away from the cities, in the more rural areas, things look different. The concrete wall turns into a high metal fence with sensors and cameras. So let’s go meet residents to find out what it’s like to live close to these barriers. This is Tzofim; a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. The international community considers these settlements illegal but Israel disputes this. In places the separation barrier runs right on the ‘green line’; the 1949 Armistice Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Elsewhere the barrier diverges into the West Bank to surround settlements like Tzofim which now finds itself on the western, Israeli side of the barrier along with 9.4% of the West Bank.”

After her interviewee has told her about his feelings and experiences before and after the fence’s construction and explained the procedures put in place to provide access to Palestinians with agricultural land on the western side of the fence, listeners again hear from Col. Danny Tirza.

CGH: “Despite the inconvenience in places like Tzofim, the barrier is popular in Israel. But why was it built in the particular way that it was? Colonel Tirza remembers why he designed it the way he did.”

DT: “I tried to construct only wire fences. But when we came to urban areas I had to construct concrete walls. In some areas like along road number 6 cross-Israel highway, there are two Palestinian towns – Tulkarem and Qalqilya – and they were shooting from their towns to where the traffic that runs on the main highway of Israel. So I had to construct there concrete wall. Another reason: in urban areas I wanted to reduce the friction between the soldiers and the people that lives on the ground. I didn’t want that some Palestinian children will throw stones on the fence. The fence is very sensitive so the fence will react, the soldiers will run and it will start something between the soldiers and the people on the ground. There is another reason; the fence costs a lot of money and I didn’t want the Palestinians to harm the fence. Therefore, in urban areas – concrete walls. So a lot of people says to me OK, we can understand that but why so high? Mostly it’s 9 meters high. Can you make it some shorter? Well really at first I tried to construct only 6 meters high but six meters, if you climb it, some people can jump. Nine meters; nobody jumps.”

Gormley-Heenan then introduces her own agenda into the story by promoting a specific theory in the form of a ‘question’ and finding an interviewee who will give her the desired answer [from 21:43].

CGH: “I wonder though, could the separation barrier make Israelis less safe in the long-run? Might it be counter-productive by further escalating tensions and anger in the Palestinian areas? Here’s what Barbara Opall-Rome says. She’s the Israel bureau chief of Defense News – a US publication.

BOR: “Absolutely. There’s a fine line between deterrence and provocation. And these physical barriers are deterring but – as you noted – the other side can see it as a source of oppression; something to rebel at, something to gain their courage and act upon. When assessing threats you always have to take two things into consideration; capabilities and intent. So the fact that Israel has built these barriers, whether it’s all along the Gaza border – where they’re reinforcing and fortifying even more – or along all of its borders, with these barriers the ability is diminished but the intent; that could have expanded, that could have been accentuated. So it’s always a fine balance and it’s an interesting question that you pose. I would assume that along with deterrence comes a perception of provocation on the other side.”

Remarkably, that lengthy response to a deliberately posed question completely erases the political and religious ideology behind the terrorism that has necessitated the building of fences in Israel.

Gormley-Heenan than goes to visit Palestinians “on the other side” – beginning in Nazlet-Isa near Baka al Garbiya. There, the head of the village council recounts how the construction of the anti-terrorist fence “affected directly on the local economy of the village because it affected on the income that they were having before through the open road and the open market and shops on the main road of the village”.

It is of course true that the terrorism of the second Intifada – which included several cases of murders of Israeli shoppers in Palestinian villages – and the later construction of the fence caused Israelis to cease shopping in Palestinian areas, as used to be the case. However, without providing the relevant background information, the BBC found it appropriate to include the following statement from that interviewee:

“I have no logical idea about why did they construct such a barrier inside the village. […] they say that it’s for security issues but we don’t understand what are the security concerns.”

Ignoring the Oslo Accords, the fact that Area C is subject to final status negotiations and the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically and purposely defined the ‘green line’ as not marking a border, Gormley-Heenan goes on to promote the notion of “Palestinian territory”.

“In Nazlet-Isa the wall is exactly on the ‘green line’ – the 1949 Armistice Line that divides Israel from the occupied West Bank. But elsewhere the barrier diverges from the ‘green line’ and cuts into Palestinian territory; sometimes by several kilometers. As a result, 9.4% of the West Bank is now on the Israeli side of the barrier. Some see this as an Israeli land-grab but Israel says it’s for security, including that of the Jewish settlers.”

That is the second time that listeners to this programme heard the figure “9.4%” together with the word “now”. However, even political organisations that tout that figure – eg UN OCHA and CAABU – clarify that it does not relate to the current situation and that it includes areas such as Ma’ale Adumim where the fence has not yet been constructed.

“Some 85% of the Barrier’s route runs inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line; if completed as planned, the Barrier will isolate 9.4% of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Gormley-Heenan then visits Jayus to interview a man – identified as Abu Azzam – who challenged the route of the fence in court and won his case. Once again erasing the Oslo Accords and final status negotiations from her story, she again promotes the term “occupied Palestinian land”.

CGH: “Just on the other side of the barrier, across from Abu Azzam’s village, is the Jewish settlement of Tzofim that we visited earlier. It’s the one that’s now on the Israeli side of the barrier despite being situated on occupied Palestinian land.”

Gormley-Heenan also facilitates her interviewee’s promotion of patently false claims concerning water and land.

AA: “If it [the fence] is for security they have on the ‘green line’ two fences. No dog, no cat can pass through it. If it is about security, those two fences are enough. And if it is a matter of security, why go 22 kilometers inside West Bank land? So why?

CGH: “So why do you think?”

AA: “It’s clear. It is to steal as much as possible from our main waters in addition to the fertilized areas. We are not allowed to pump water as much as we need.” […]

CGH: “The barrier has given Israel control over more land and resources.”

That, of course, is untrue. It is, however, consistent with the ‘land-grab’ falsehood that has been promoted by the BBC consistently over the years.

Returning to previous interviewee Barbara Opell Rome, Gormley-Heenan chooses to close the part of the programme relating to Israel in a truly bizarre manner [from 30:00].

CGH: “Let’s talk now a little bit about the technology that has underpinned the construction of these barriers. Has it given a boost to the defence industry in Israel?”

BOR: “In a word, yes. Big time yes. This is a multi-million dollar global business. And Israeli industries view themselves as the forefront in this industry. They have proven operationally deployed barriers and technologies that are…and when we talk about a barrier it’s not just a barbed wire fence and ditches and patrol paths. These are sensor-fused border protection elements where they have every 150 to 200 meters there are stationary cameras and radars that are all fused together and they filter in to command centres. It’s fortress Israel and I can tell you that it is big business: billions of dollars. A major company in Israel that is at the forefront is Elbit Systems and Elbit has been selected by the US government some years ago to protect and render some type of similar programme along the border with Mexico.”

Beyond the convenience of creating a smooth transition to Gormley-Heenan’s next port of call – the US-Mexico border – it is difficult to understand why those statements from Opall-Rome were deemed relevant to the programme’s supposed subject matter.

While this programme did go somewhat against the grain of usual BBC reporting on the anti-terrorist fence in that it presented a more accurate picture of actual structure and included rarely heard information from Col. Danny Tirza, it nevertheless stuck to the usual BBC mantras on ‘international law’ and promoted to audiences information that is inaccurate and misleading.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

CAMERA Corrects Defense News on ‘Breaking the Silence’ (CAMERA) 

 

 

 

Inaccuracies unchallenged in BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview on UN ‘apartheid’ report

The April 17th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Rima Khalaf – the former head of UN ESCWA.

The programme was broadcast on BBC television channels (available to UK-based readers on iPlayer here) and a clip from the filmed version was promoted on the BBC World News website under the title “Non-Jewish Israelis ‘cannot challenge’ their status”.

“The former head of a UN agency has said that under current laws, non-Jewish citizens of Israel “cannot challenge their subordinate status”.

Rima Khalaf was the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) until March 2017.

She resigned in March 2017, after the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked her to withdraw a report categorising Israel as an apartheid regime.”

An audio version of the interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio.

“Why did a UN agency publish a report that categorised Israel as an apartheid state? Rima Khalaf was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia until March 2017. She commissioned a report which accused Israel of systematically implementing apartheid policies and promptly resigned from her UN post when the Secretary General refused to accept the work. What were her motives?”

Audiences certainly did not hear an honest account from Khalaf of her own motives or those of the member states of the UN agency she headed. They did however hear presenter Stephen Sackur challenge her robustly on that topic as well as on the issue of the controversial choice of authors for the report and on the use of the term ‘apartheid’ in connection with Israel.

However, Sackur was apparently less able or willing to challenge the numerous falsehoods promoted by Khalaf throughout the interview, with the result that audiences were highly likely to go away with numerous inaccurate impressions.

On more than one occasion Khalaf brought up the subject of the legal system in Judea & Samaria.

“I mean in the West Bank you have a dual legal system; one that applies to Jewish settlers and one that applies to the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territory.”

“When Richard Falk said that there is a dual legal system applied in the West Bank, there is a dual legal system.”

“…the apartheid problem emerges not from the occupation but from the fact that you have two populations on the same land and you have two different laws applying to the two populations.”

Audiences were not informed that the legal system that exists does so because Israel has not annexed the area and that certain elements of that legal system – e.g. Ottoman law (1517-1917), which regulates property and lands; British law (1917-1948), which regulates defense; Jordanian law (1948-1967), which regulates planning, construction and parts of the penal code – pre-date Israeli control over the territory. Neither were they informed that the vast majority of Palestinians – who reside in Areas A and B – are subject to the legal system of the Palestinian National Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

Khalaf’s false claim that Israel “sends” civilians to live in Judea & Samaria was not challenged.

“…this is a case where Israel sends its population to settle in the West Bank, to colonise the West Bank…”

Khalaf’s false claims concerning the rights of Israeli citizens were not challenged at all.

“… in Israel there is a differentiation between nationality and citizenship – and this is very strange by the way – and that you have to be a Jew in order to be a national. And there are lots of rights that are associated with nationality. So you can be a citizen but you cannot have those other rights. And this is extremely important. You cannot discriminate between your citizens.”

Likewise, her misrepresentation of land related issues – further amplified in the promoted clip – went unchallenged.

“In Israel, I’m sure you know that 93% of the land is owned by the state. And land laws allow agencies to develop and sell land to Jews only. So you talked about 20% of the population who are non-Jewish; fine. But they’re not allowed to buy land in Israel except the lands that stayed with them after Israel was established…”

While it is true that the Israel Land Administration does administer around 93% of the land, it is not true that land is only sold to Jews – as explained in this backgrounder produced by CAMERA.

“In 1960 under Basic Law: Israel Lands, JNF-owned land and government-owned land were together defined as “Israel lands,” and the principle was laid down that such land would be leased rather than sold. The JNF retained ownership of its land, but administrative responsibility for the JNF land, and also for government-owned land, passed to a newly created agency called the Israel Land Administration or ILA.

Today, of the total land in Israel, 79.5% is owned by the government, 14% is privately owned by the JNF, and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Thus, the ILA administers 93.5% of the land in Israel.

Statements that Israel refuses to sell state-owned land to Israeli Arabs are extremely misleading, since, as stated above, such land is not sold to Israeli Jews either, but is instead leased out by the ILA and is equally available to all citizens of Israel.”

Khalaf also misled audiences – unhindered – on the topic of political parties and that misinformation was further amplified in the promoted clip from the programme.

“But you mentioned also political parties. Do you know that it is unlawful in Israel to establish a political party that questions the nature of the state as a Jewish state. So basically you’re telling the non-Jewish citizens of Israel you can vote but once you’re elected you cannot…you cannot question your subordinate status. OK; you can lobby for better budgets, for municipal services, for better health and better education. But the basic laws that discriminate against you and that establishes [sic] inequality are beyond your reach because if you do, you’re illegal as a party.”

In fact, the establishment of such a party is not illegal as Khalaf claims but it might be prevented from running in elections as explained here:

“According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, the Central Elections Committee may prevent a candidates’ list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:

  • negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
  • negation of the democratic character of the State;
  • incitement to racism.”

That clause was applied in 1988 in the case of the ‘Kach’ party. In contrast to the impression given by Khalaf, the anti-Zionist party Balad has been continuously represented in the Knesset since 1996 and one would of course expect a seasoned interviewer such as Stephen Sackur to know that and to ensure that audiences were provided with that information.  

Khalaf invoked UN GA resolution 181 but the fact that the Arab states rejected that recommendation was not clarified to BBC audiences.

“I suggest you and probably the audience they go back to the UN resolution that establishes Israel: the Partition resolution. That resolution was very clear: there is a Jewish state and there is an Arab state. But neither of the two states – neither the Jewish state nor the Arab state – can have laws that discriminate between people based on religion, sex or race. So that was the condition for establishing the state. Actually the declaration of independence for Israel does not discriminate based on any of those factors. But then later on, laws that discriminate based on religion and ethnic origin crept into the legal structure of Israel.”

Khalaf’s suggestion that peace in the Middle East depends on Israel was not questioned and her deliberate misrepresentation of the words of the Israeli prime minister was not challenged or clarified.

“What I am saying is, if we want peace in the region, we really need to address those laws, particularly now that we’re talking about recognising Israel as a Jewish state. My reference is the prime minister of Israel. When asked what do you mean by a Jewish state, his response was a state for the Jewish people and for the Jewish people only.”

In fact, while referring in 2014 to a proposed bill, Netanyahu said:

“The State of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation-state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status. The new law will be formulated in dialogue with all components of the coalition so that the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state are preserved.”

Sackur made no comment when Khalaf invoked the Livingstone Formulation.

“Look, and I know that there are lots of laws where criticising Israel will lead to defamation and to labelling you as an antisemite….”

Moreover, Sackur himself contributed to the misinformation relayed to audiences in this interview by referring to “roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers”.

Sackur [13:21]: “Of course the Israelis say that so many of the conditions they impose on Palestinians in the occupied territories in the West Bank are connected to security. It is security, they say, that led them to build that barrier fence or wall – whatever you choose to call it. It is security that leads them to have roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers to get them safely to their settlements. And that is not about a racial theory; that is about the practicalities of security.” [emphasis added]

Such roads of course do not exist: while vehicles with PA plates have been restricted from travelling on a small number of roads (a total of 40.22 kms according to B’Tselem) in Judea & Samaria for security reasons, non-Jewish Israelis and tourists were always free to use them. CAMERA has secured numerous corrections in the past from media outlets that have promoted the same falsehood.

Stephen Sackur’s robust questioning on the topic of the intentions behind the ESCWA report, its author and the use of the ‘apartheid’ smear was a refreshing novelty on ‘Hardtalk’ and particularly important seeing as previous BBC coverage of the story (see ‘related articles’ below) refrained from addressing those issues. Unfortunately, his failure to challenge Rima Khalaf’s misleading claims equally robustly and his own promotion of inaccurate information detracted from the interview and made it highly likely that uninformed members of the public would go away with multiple misconceptions.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

As regular readers are aware, despite having offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza the BBC does not devote much coverage to the topic of internal Palestinian politics. In particular, the story of internal Fatah power struggles is one that has been serially under-reported in recent months.

BBC’s Knell omits back stories in portrayal of PA succession

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics

Abbas’ Fatah reelection ignored by the BBC – in English

BBC News passes up coverage of recent Fatah congress 

BBC News ignores the story of the new Fatah vice-chair

That chronic lack of coverage means that BBC audiences are not well placed to understand the developing story of a pre-planned hunger strike by Fatah prisoners serving time in Israeli prisons.

As analyst Avi Issacharoff pointed out when it was announced earlier this month, while ostensibly about prison conditions, the hunger strike – led by convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti – is actually rooted in the Fatah power struggle.

“Officially, the Barghouti-led prisoners’ move is in protest of what they see as the Israel Prison Service’s failure to meet their demands regarding an improvement of conditions in the detention centers.

The strike will be Barghouti’s most significant test since he entered prison some 15 years ago. […]

In the Fatah Central Committee’s leadership elections (the party’s most senior institution) in December, he won first place. His wife, Fadwa, took the top place in the movement’s Revolutionary Council elections (the party’s second most senior institution). He is ostensibly the movement’s undisputed leader, despite being behind bars.

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his loyalists in the Fatah leadership have carried a series of steps to isolate and weaken him. Abbas did not appoint him as deputy chairman of Fatah, as Barghouti had expected, and other senior positions were divided between rivals Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud al-Mottak.

Barghouti’s backers also failed to be elected to other spots in the Central Committee, and he’s realized that he has been slowly pushed out of the picture.

Forced from the halls of power, Barghouti is using the strike to signal to the PA with that he can still wield considerable power in the Palestinian street.”

The strike commenced on April 17th and at the time of writing is limited to just over a thousand of the Fatah-linked prisoners.

“The hunger strike initiated by jailed Fatah official Marwan Barghouti is expected to start Monday – to coincide with Palestinian “Prisoners Day,” an annual event held in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences for his role in murderous terror attacks during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

With the annual event comes the concern of increased tensions in the prisons, and in the West Bank with Israeli security forces. Hamas, Fatah’s main rival, announced Sunday that its members will also join the strike, as did the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), another Palestinian faction. […]

Barghouti began to call for a strike after talks between prisoners’ representatives and the Israel Prison Service on improving prison conditions reached an impasse. Those talks began more than a year and a half ago. […]

Among the demands from Barghouti and the prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and cell phones in security wings.

According to sources close to Barghouti, the gradual increase in prisoners joining the strike is a planned step intended to prevent it from breaking early. But some have said that the fact that only about half of the Fatah prisoners announced that they would join points to a disagreement over Barghouti’s measure.

Barghouti supporters are also planning parades and demonstrations in the West Bank in support of the strike.”

On April 17th the BBC produced coverage of the strike on various platforms.

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ heard from the anonymous mother of an anonymous prisoner. A context-free clip from that programme was circulated on BBC social media accounts under the title “A mother’s plea for prison visitations” with the following synopsis:

“More than a thousand Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions. Rallies in support of the prisoners have been held in the occupied West Bank, and led to clashes with the Israeli security forces in the city of Bethlehem. The BBC spoke to the mother of a Palestinian inmate.”

Viewers of BBC television news programmes saw a short filmed report which was also posted on the BBC News website under the title “Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in support of prisoners“. The background to the story was described as follows in that report:

“Palestinian youths are clashing with Israeli forces in the West Bank. They are out in support of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who are on mass hunger strike against their detention conditions. There are fears that the protests could fuel tensions in the region.”

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page found an article titled “Palestinians in Israeli jails hold mass hunger strike” which informs them that:

“More than 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions.”

The report does clarify that the hunger strike is led by Marwan Barghouti:

“The action is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader jailed by Israel for life for five murders.

Barghouti has been touted as a possible future successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

However, like the other reports, the strike’s political background is entirely erased from this account of the story and instead audience attentions are focused on “detention conditions” without clarification of the specific demands.

Securing amplification from international media organisations is of course part of the strategy of the organisers behind this pre-planned action. If the BBC is going to collaborate with that strategy, it should at least be telling its audiences the whole story behind the motives for the strike.

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Opportunistic recycling of anti-Israel ‘apartheid’ slur on multiple BBC platforms

The death of South African anti-apartheid campaigner Ahmed Kathrada on March 28th was covered on a range of BBC platforms, including World Service radio programmes, television news and the BBC News website.

The BBC also saw fit to recycle its 2014 ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Kathrada on multiple platforms. The audio version of that programme was rebroadcast in full on World Service radio on March 29th and on the same day the filmed version of the interview was re-shown on BBC World News and the BBC News Channel and re-promoted on BBC iPlayer.

The BBC News website promoted clips from that 2014 ‘Hardtalk’ interview on March 28th, including one titled “Kathrada: I can never be anti-Jewish” which is described as follows in the synopsis:

“But he has never stopped campaigning for the ideals of freedom on which the anti-apartheid movement was based.

Speaking to Hardtalk in 2014 he gave his whole-hearted support to the Palestinians but made clear he was critical of Israel but not anti-Jewish.”

As was noted here when it was first aired almost three years ago, in that interview Kathrada expressed unequivocal support for the practice of indiscriminate killing of Israeli Jews by Palestinian terror groups. He also promoted the false notion of ‘apartheid’ in Israel.

Ahmed Kathrada: “My own view is I keep on supporting the Palestinian struggle once they have decided on the…Palestinian leaders have decided….this is the road we’ll take, I support them.”

Sarah Montague: “Even if that route involves violence?”

AK: “But I’m not going to prescribe to them what they should…”

SM: “Is their use…is their use of violence justified?”

AK: “If, under the circ…that’s not for me to say. But if they, in their wisdom, resort to violence as the only method, I’ll support them. I’ve been to Palestine. I have seen what is like. Is the only colony in the world today; a colony of Israel. We have seen – I have seen in Palestine what didn’t exist under apartheid in the worst days of apartheid.”

SM: “So your support is unconditional?”

AK: “My support is whole-hearted. I take my cue from what they do. I don’t prescribe to them. So far there is no reason for me to criticize the Palestinian leadership.”

SM: “But the South African Zionist Federation says [Marwan] Barghouti is not a political prisoner but a terrorist guilty of multiple crimes against humanity.”

AK: “I’m not surprised at them. And they have tried to turn…let me take it as an individual because I have been outspoken on Palestine. They’ve been trying to misinterpret us as being anti-Jewish; antisemitic. We’re not.  We are critical of Israel. That does not make us anti-Jewish.”

Interviewer Sarah Montague failed at the time to challenge BDS supporter Kathrada’s mendacious use of the ‘apartheid’ smear or his absurd claim that his support for the indiscriminate targeting and murder of Israeli Jews in acts of terror is not antisemitic, but mere ‘criticism’ of Israel.

Now, with Kathrada’s death, the BBC has chosen to opportunistically and widely re-amplify those falsehoods.

 

 

 

Updates on a Hamas story under-reported by the BBC

In June 2016 the BBC Gaza bureau’s Rushdi Abualouf produced an article for the BBC News website titled “Gazans squeezed by triple taxes as Hamas replaces lost income“.

As was noted here at the time, Abualouf’s portrayal of Hamas’ “financial crisis” skimmed over the fact that the terror organisation’s prioritisation of rearmament and tunnel building plays a key role in the creation of economic and social pressures on ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip. The BBC’s correspondent preferred to focus audience attentions elsewhere:

“It [Hamas] has also faced a crippling blockade by Israel and Egypt and financial sanctions from other countries since it won Palestinian elections in 2006.”

“And Hamas’s financial crisis is unlikely to be solved soon with Israel and Egypt continuing their border closures amid fear of attack by militants from Gaza.”

In early February of this year the BBC’s Tim Franks visited the Gaza Strip. Citing “stifling border closures […] the people here say are for collective punishment”, Franks likewise painted a monochrome picture of dire poverty and deprivation for his World Service listeners which did not include any serious reporting on the subject of the Hamas policies which exacerbate the difficult conditions for residents of the Gaza Strip.

In the nine months since Abualouf’s article was published the BBC has not revisited the topic of Hamas’ draconian taxation policies. COGAT recently published an article which includes more up to date information.

“In April 2015 Hamas promoted a new economic plan which was characterized by the imposition of a new tax called “The Solidarity Tax”. Hamas had claimed that this new tax will help the poor of the Gaza Strip, however, in practice, most of the profits from the taxes have been transferred directly to the salaries of Hamas workers. At the same time, Hamas has been imposing new taxes on the Strip’s residents, both directly and indirectly, in addition to improving and expanding old taxes as well.

The most recent burden that Hamas has imposed on the residents of Gaza, with the aim of gaining more money delivered to its own pocket, is forcing merchants to pay off their taxes and debts before being allowed to leave the Strip. In February of 2017, Hamas released a new directive regarding the exit of businessmen and merchants from the Gaza Strip through Erez and Rafah crossings. The new directive stated that it was incumbent upon these businessmen and merchants to provide official documentation stating that they had settled their payments and debts with relevant government and local authorities before leaving the Strip. In addition, Hamas recently attempted to impose new taxes on construction materials, but the move was thwarted after rising resentment by Gaza’s importers and Israel’s threat to completely halt the import of construction goods to the Gaza Strip.

These days, Hamas is in the midst of an economic plan to increase their profits from taxes with the sole intent of using the profits for salary payments. In 2016, Hamas’ average monthly earning from taxation stood at 60 Million NIS, yet in February 2017, the profits from taxes already stood at about 100 million NIS, with the vast majority of these monies going to Hamas’ pocket rather than taking care of Gaza’s people in need.”

While the BBC is clearly aware of the effects of Hamas’ policy of augmented taxation on local residents and the terror group’s priority of military rehabilitation over social and economic issues, those topics continue to be under-reported even in direct coverage from the Gaza Strip.  

Related Articles:

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

BBC’s sketchy reporting on Gaza power crisis highlighted

 

BBC failure to provide context in Hizballah weapons stories continues

On March 17th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system ‘in first hit’“. The article opens with a ‘last-first’ summary of the story:

“Israel has shot down a Syrian missile using its most advanced anti-missile system for the first time, Israeli media say.

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) was intercepted using the Arrow system, designed to stop long-range ballistic missiles, reports say.

The SAMs were fired at Israeli jets which had just raided sites in Syria.”

The article goes on:

“In a rare admission, the Israeli military said its aircraft had attacked several targets in Syria before Syria launched the missiles.”

However, only in the report’s seventh paragraph do BBC audiences find out what those “several targets” actually were.

An insert of analysis from the BBC’s defence correspondent tells readers that:

“It is rare for Israel to admit to air strikes in Syria though there have been reports of at least four similar raids against Hezbollah weapons shipments since the start of December last year. […]

It’s a signal perhaps to all concerned that if weapons supplies to Hezbollah continue, then Israel is ready to escalate its air campaign.”

In the body of the article readers find the following:

“Air strikes, said to have been carried out by Israel, have hit sites in Syria on numerous occasions, reportedly targeting weapons shipments for Lebanon’s Shia militant movement Hezbollah.” [emphasis added]

As is inevitably the case in content relating to such stories, the BBC refrains from giving an accurate description of Hizballah as a terror organisation and no background information concerning the suppliers of these “weapons shipments” is provided. Also as usual, this article fails to provide BBC audiences with the very relevant context concerning UN Security Council resolution 1701’s requirement of “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” and its ban on “sales or supply of arms and related material” to Hizballah or any other Lebanese militia.

The same omissions were evident in coverage of the story on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 30:04 here), with presenter Julian Marshall describing the terror organisation Hizballah as “militants in Lebanon”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s news from southern Syria front: for Arabic speakers only

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

BBC’s Bowen tells WS listeners Israel bombs Syria ‘regularly’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC WS ‘World Have Your Say’ misleads on Israeli buses

The February 23rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ – which claims to “host your conversations, experiences and perspectives on the big conversations of the moment” [emphasis added] – began (from 00:46 here) with an item loosely based on a story about a catalogue designed for the orthodox sector that was published by the Ikea franchise holder in Israel and which, like a catalogue published several years ago by the company’s franchise in Saudi Arabia, excluded images of women.whys-ikea-catalogue

The item – which left listeners with some inaccurate and misleading impressions – was introduced by presenter Chloe Tilley as follows:

Tilley: “But first we’ll begin by speaking to ultra-orthodox Jews and others to pick up on a conversation surrounding a magazine released in Israel by Ikea. In it there were no photographs of women. Ikea has apologised for upsetting people but said ‘due to requests we received, we decided to launch an alternative and special catalogue which allows the religious and Haredi communities to enjoy our products in accordance with their life-style’. Well let’s speak now to Jeremy Sharon who is religious affairs reporter for the Jerusalem Post. Ahm…Jeremy, just explain to us why this has become an issue in Israel.”

Sharon: “Well the truth is that this is something which has been going on for quite a long time – ehm…since the 1980s – and in some ultra-orthodox newspapers, before that as well. So I think it has jumped to the headlines because it was an international company like Ikea but in the ultra-orthodox newspapers they do not generally print pictures of women. Some in the past have even not published the names of women and referred to them by their initials. And in other publications it’s often very rare to see pictures of women published, which has changed slightly in recent years with the publication of some illustrations of women in women’s supplements in the ultra-orthodox newspapers.”

Tilley: “But this was just one supplement, wasn’t it? There was another catalogue which people may see in any other part of the world from Ikea that was distributed in Israel. This was just for the Haredi community so why are some people offended by that?”

Sharon: Well I mean I think that’s a good question. I think there is concern that Haredi norms – the norms of the ultra-orthodox society – might penetrate and move into general society. I’m not sure how well justified that is but one example has been in recent years the introduction of gender separate buses where women have to go to the back; ultra-orthodox women need to go to the back – or in fact any women travelling on those lines go to the back of the bus – and men stay on the front. Other examples also can include in certain neighbourhoods attempts to make gender segregation on pavements, on sidewalks. So I think maybe that’s the concern. Having said that, I’m not sure how justified that is but I think, I think there is a concern that this might spread or be forced on the wider public.”

The claim concerning “gender separation on pavements” relates specifically to Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Mea She’arim neighbourhood at a certain time of the year and that was ruled illegal by an Israeli court.

“Following several years of active opposition to gender-separate sidewalks on Mea She’arim Street during the Succot holiday, Jerusalem Police said this week that they are satisfied with the arrangements for the busy thoroughfare this year.

In recent years, haredi communal leaders and hassidic yeshivas along Mea She’arim arranged for stretches of the road to be divided into separate sections for men and women during Succot to prevent intermingling – particularly during the evening, when traditional Simhat Beit Hashoeva parties are staged and thousands of people throng the neighborhood. […]

However, the High Court of Justice previously ruled that such arrangements are illegal and last October insisted that the police prevent gender-separation from 2012 onwards.”

Chloe Tilley later repeated the theme of ‘segregation’ on buses while speaking to her interviewee Ruth Colian (08:23):

Tilley: “We heard Jeremy talk about women having to sit at the back of the bus and men at the front.”

And again (at 09:42) while speaking to interviewee Esti Shushan:

Tilley: “Explain in your everyday life, how do you feel like an erased woman? As I said before, Jeremy talked about women having to sit at the back of the bus. What other segregation is there? What other restrictions, if you like, are there on your life as a woman?”

Listeners would therefore be very likely to go away with the impression that buses in Israel are “gender separated” and that women have to “sit at the back” of those buses. That, of course, is not the case and when the New York Times published a similar claim in 2013, CAMERA secured a correction.

Over six years ago – in January 2011 – Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that forced segregation on the specific bus routes dubbed ‘mehadrin lines’, which had been brought in by some private and public bus companies several years earlier, is not legal and that harassment of women to sit in a certain area of a bus is a criminal offence. The court ruled that men and women could sit separately on buses only if they did so voluntarily. Moreover, the court ruled that the public bus company ‘Egged’ had to cancel its ‘mehadrin lines’ and that buses had to carry an announcement informing passengers that everyone is entitled to sit wherever they choose (with the exception of seats reserved for people with disabilities) and that harassment of fellow passengers on that issue is illegal.egged-announcement

In other words, in contrast to the false claims made in this programme, women – ultra-orthodox or not – can sit wherever they like on buses in Israel. Clearly the BBC World Service needs to clarify the inaccurate impression given to listeners.

Related Articles:

Why was a photo-shopped image ‘top story’ on the BBC News website ME page?

The BBC, an Ultra-Orthodox paper and the censorship of images

Resources:

BBC World Service e-mail: worldservice.letters@bbc.co.uk

BBC World Service on Twitter

‘World Have Your Say’ contact details

 

 

 

 

BBC WS continues promotion of two-state solution narrative

As has already been documented here, following last week’s visit by the Israeli prime minister to the White House both the BBC News website and BBC Radio 4 told their audiences of a “major policy shift” on the part of the US administration. [emphasis added]

“A White House official says a two-state solution may not be the only option to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, signalling a major policy shift.”

“US President Donald Trump has dropped decades of US policy insisting on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“…President Trump appeared to tear up what has been the US foreign policy objective under his three most recent predecessors – Democrat and Republican alike.”

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on February 15th heard similar messaging in the lead story (from 01:22 here) which was introduced by Paul Henley as follows:newshour-15-2-17

“First, President Trump has given a warm welcome to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is on a visit to the White House. The two leaders held a joint news conference full of mutual praise.”

Following a number of audio clips from the press conference, the item continued:

Henley: “Probably the most eagerly awaited question was whether President Trump would change the US’s long-standing policy of promoting a two-state solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is how he responded.”

Trump: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Henley: “So what is the reaction to what’s been interpreted by some as the ripping up of 30 years of US policy on Israel? Our correspondent in Jerusalem, Jonny Dymond, has been giving me his assessment.” [emphasis in bold added]

That messaging was then reinforced by Jonny Dymond. [emphasis in bold added]

Dymond: “I think it represents a pretty serious shift – albeit one which was perhaps clouded by Trump’s oratorical style. Before we’d heard from President Trump and from the unnamed White House official who trailed this policy shift, the policy was pretty clear. It was that there was a two-state solution and that’s what negotiations would drive towards. Ah…ah…the State of Israel and a Palestinian state emerging next to it and the Palestinians had signed up to that, the Israelis had signed up to that with some caveats.”

Like his colleagues from the BBC News website and BBC Radio 4, Dymond presented “the Palestinians” as a homogenous group, refraining from pointing out to audiences that the Palestinian faction which gained the most votes last time elections were held certainly has not “signed up” to the idea of a two-state solution or that Hamas’ rival faction Fatah refuses to countenance a crucial component of the two-state solution concept: recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. He went on:

Dymond: “It was US policy, it was the policy of the EU, it was the policy pretty much agreed upon by a number of Arab states as well. Ehm…now the president has said ‘well, take your pick; one-state solution, two-state solution’. He has effectively said the US no longer has an end point for negotiations. It will no longer drive negotiations towards any particular end point. And that is a pretty big shift in policy given that the two-state solution has been the policy for – what? – three decades or so.”

Once again BBC audiences were told that the two-state solution has been accepted policy for decades despite the fact that the Oslo Accords of the 90s make no reference to a two-state solution, leaving the issue of the final, permanent status of the territories to be negotiated between the parties.

The item continued with Dymond – in accordance with what is now standard BBC framing – describing Area C as “Palestinian land” despite the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status is to be resolved through negotiations.

Henley: “And we hear that many in the Israeli government are cheered by the presence of Donald Trump in the White House and his obviously warm stance towards Israel. Are they cheered because there’s any more prospect of a peaceful resolution to this long-running conflict or simply because they think that Donald Trump will fight their corner?”

Dymond: “Oh very much the latter; that they think that Donald Trump is a supporter of Israel and will not place what they see as undue pressure on Israel over issues such as building in Palestinian land – the settlements – and forcing Israel to make painful compromises towards an eventual deal. And I think we saw and heard in the news conference which the two men gave an extraordinary level of amity from Donald Trump towards both Mr Netanyahu as an individual and also towards Israel in general. The language was extraordinary and the one moment where he mentioned the possible compromise…ah…which was on the issue of building in Palestinian land known as settlements, he said I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit. It was hardly the kind of hard line with which Mr Netanyahu was greeted when he went to see Barack Obama and they made it very clear – the administration then made it clear that as far as they were concerned, settlements were a red line. There was nothing like this. This is a much, much more friendly administration for Israel in general and for Mr Netanyahu in particular.”

As we see in this item and others (see ‘related articles’ below), February 15th brought multi-platform BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion that the US administration had changed its policy regarding the two-state solution as well as inaccurate portrayal of the Oslo Accords as including the two-state solution and inaccurate claims of a Palestinian consensus regarding acceptance of the two-state solution.

Clearly the editorial policy behind all those reports was based on narrative rather than fact and clearly none of these reports contributed to meeting the BBC’s remit of providing its audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the topic of the two-state solution.  

Related Articles:

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution