Inaccuracy left unchallenged and unedited on BBC R4 ‘Any Questions?’

BBC Radio 4 describes its programme ‘Any Questions?’ thus: [emphasis added]

“Any Questions? is the flagship political panel programme that goes out live on Friday evenings at 8pm on BBC Radio 4 (repeated on Saturday afternoons at 1.10pm). It was first broadcast in October 1948 and its current chair is Jonathan Dimbleby. Each week Any Questions? visits a different part of the country with a diverse panel of four speakers who answer questions from the audience. The programme provides the opportunity for people to challenge leading politicians, policy makers, writers and thinkers.”

The programme’s web page offers audiences the possibility of listening to past episodes – currently 521 of them – going back over a decade.

One would hence assume that the BBC would ensure that any issues arising which were not taken care of by means of the live show’s broadcast delay would be ironed out before the repeat airing and certainly before the recording was added to the archive of past episodes.  

Such issues might include what the BBC’s editorial guidelines call “a Serious Incident in a Live Broadcast” such as “offensive comments” or “factual errors”.

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we may need to consider making an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity. Potentially offensive comments include remarks that may be interpreted as, for example, racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against a religious group, or reflecting an unflattering national stereotype. If offensive comments are made when, for example, football fans chant racist abuse we should consider making an on-air apology for broadcasting the comments.”

“If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. Where the inaccuracy is unfair, a timely correction may dissuade the aggrieved party from complaining. Any serious factual errors or potential defamation problems should be referred immediately to Programme Legal Advice.”

The edition of ‘Any Questions?’ which was broadcast on August 23rd and repeated on August 24th included the following question (from 34:28 here) from a member of the audience:

“Should we understand and learn the lessons of history rather than attempting to pay for them?”

Presenter Ritula Shah explained the background to that question:

Shah: “This of course follows the announcement that the University of Glasgow’s agreed to spend £20 million in reparations after finding out it benefited by tens of millions of pounds from the slave trade…”

The third of the programme’s panellists to respond to the question (from 37:24) was the Conservative MEP for South East England Daniel Hannan.

Hannan: “…I think it’s important to look at and learn from things but it’s also important to remember the basis of modernity, the basis of post-enlightenment civilisation, which is that every individual is responsible for himself and that we shouldn’t define people through membership of a group. We should all ultimately stand in defence of our own actions. It’s striking to me that when…very often the kind of people who say ‘well, you know, we need to have reparations or we need to have kind of collective identity on these things’, when the same argument is made in the case of…I dunno…eh…Israel flattening a Palestinian village as a collective punishment, they are quite rightly the first to say ‘well hang on; you don’t do collective guilt. It’s banned by the Geneva Conventions’. And they’re right the second time. So we should never lose sight of the fact that everyone is ultimately responsible for himself.” [emphasis added]

Neither Ritula Shah nor anyone else challenged that highlighted offensive and factually inaccurate statement at the time that it was made. The BBC allowed it to remain in situ in the repeat broadcast and it appears in the archived version of the programme which will be available on demand for a very long time to come, thus leading the BBC’s funding public to wrongly believe that Israel ‘flattens’ Palestinian villages “as a collective punishment”. 

Once again we see just how seriously the BBC takes its own editorial guidelines.  

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Revisiting a BBC journalist’s claim about ‘Palestinian land’

Back in April 2013 we documented some less than impartial Tweets from the then BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Wyre Davies.

As was noted here at the time:

“The site of the Al Mahrour (also spelt Al Makhrour) restaurant is situated in Area C where, according to the Oslo accords signed willingly by the representatives of the Palestinian people, Israel has administrative and security control.

The restaurant was constructed without planning permission or the appropriate building permits and hence was the subject of a demolition order issued in 2005 and carried out in May 2012. The restaurant was then rebuilt – also illegally without the necessary planning permission or building permits. The restaurant’s owner/constructor was given the opportunity to appear before the planning committee of the Civil Administration. A second demolition order was issued and that was carried out on April 18th 2013. The electricity line to which Davies refers was also illegally connected.”

The story did not however end there. In late July the High Court of Justice handed down a ruling which – as the Times of Israel reported – brought a long legal battle to a close.

“Israeli security forces demolished a family’s home and restaurant near Bethlehem on Monday, ending a nearly 15 year-long legal battle against the Palestinian locals led by a subsidiary organization of KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund.

The razing of the Cassia family’s compound followed a High Court of Justice ruling last month that rejected the Palestinians’ last ditch petition against the demolition orders.

 The property, located between the villages of Battir and Beit Jala south of Jerusalem, are located in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel exercises civilian and military control.

The Cassia family claims to have owned the property for generations. To prove ownership, they provided Israeli authorities with a so-called malia document, which shows property tax payment from when Jordan controlled the West Bank.

However, the Defense Ministry on several occasions over the past two decades rejected their requests for building permits, saying the tax paper was not enough to prove ownership under Israeli law.

Nonetheless, the family went ahead and built on what long had been agricultural lands in 2005, constructing a large home as well as a restaurant and a farm. The Civil Administration – the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in Israel-controlled Area C of the West Bank, issued demolition orders and razed several structures in the decade and a half that followed, but the home and restaurant had remained standing as the Cassias fought the orders in court.

In 2017, Himanuta, a KKL-JNF branch organization known for purchasing lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, joined the state’s legal efforts against the Cassias, coming forward with documents showing that they purchased the land in 1969, which the court accepted as legitimate.”

In other words, Wyre Davies’ claim that the restaurant was located “on Palestinian land” has been shown to be inaccurate. That, however, is what happens when BBC correspondents make blanket assumptions based on a politically motivated narrative which inaccurately portrays all locations beyond the 1949 Armistice lines as “occupied” and “Palestinian”.  

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BBC News whitewashes one terror group, uncritically quotes another

Hot on the heels of some superficial BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Beirut came another BBC News website report on August 26th with the headline “‘Israeli strikes’ target Palestinian group in Lebanon”.

That “Palestinian group” was no less euphemistically described as a “militant group” in the article’s opening lines.

“The Israeli military carried out air strikes on a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria’s government in eastern Lebanon overnight, Lebanese media say.

A position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near Qusaya was hit, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The group responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it added.”

The PFLP-GC is listed as a terrorist organisation by several countries including the UK.

The BBC’s new editorial guidelines state that:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Interestingly the article went on: [emphasis added]

“The National News Agency reported that Israel carried out three air strikes on the outskirts of Qusaya, a village in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, early on Monday.

A top official from the PFLP-GC told the BBC that a drone carried out the raid.

There were no reports of any casualties and the Israeli military did not comment.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“The PFLP-GC has been operating in Lebanon for decades and has close ties to the Syrian government, whose forces it has supported in the country’s eight-year civil war along with Hezbollah.”

In fact:

“During the Syrian civil war the PFLP-GC was operated by the Syrian army. Its fighters also enlisted in the ranks of the al-Quds Brigade. The organization’s main theater of operations was the al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, interviewed by Syrian TV, said his organization had fought in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp although it had limited means. He said more than 100 of his fighters had been killed in combat and about 300 had been wounded (Syrian TV, June 10, 2013). His organization, and other Palestinian organizations operated by the Syrian regime in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp, were unsuccessful and most of the camp fell into the hands of ISIS.”

The report went on to quote a PFLP-GC official speaking to a Hizballah-linked media outlet:

“This aggression is a continuation of what happened in Beirut and a provocative attempt that is a direct reaction to Nasrallah’s statements,” Khaled Jibril, a PFLP-GC official, told al-Mayadeen TV.”

“What happened in Beirut” refers to an alleged incident the previous day. As was the case in the BBC’s previous reporting on that story, this article too gave generous but completely uncritical amplification to some far-fetched claims from Hizballah.

“On Sunday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement accused Israel of trying to carry out a drone attack in Beirut.

After two drones came down in the capital, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said its fighters would shoot down any drones that entered Lebanese airspace. […]

Early on Sunday, two drones that the Lebanese army said were Israeli crashed in the southern Beirut district of Dahia, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

One of the drones hit a building that houses Hezbollah’s media office, while the other exploded and crashed nearby, causing material damage.

Again, no-one was injured and Israel declined to comment.

“What happened… was an attack with a suicide drone,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech later on Sunday. “This is the accurate description.”

The Hezbollah leader called it a “very, very, very dangerous development” and a “clear breach of the rules of engagement” established after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.”

The BBC of course did not bother to inform readers that under those so-called “rules of engagement” – i.e. UN SC resolution 1701 – there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” should have been implemented. Neither were readers told that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that same UN resolution) by a foreign power.

The article continued with more uncritical amplification of quotes from Nasrallah’s speech as well as from the Lebanese president and prime minister (who are of course well aware that their country is held to ransom by the Iranian backed terror group) before unquestioningly promoting what the BBC undoubtedly knows to be a blatant falsehood from Nasrallah:

“Hassan Nasrallah also said the Israeli air strikes south-west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday had hit a Hezbollah rest house and not a military facility.”

The article closed with the BBC’s usual unnecessarily qualified portrayal of Iranian activities and more amplification of claims from Iranian assets in Iraq.

“Israel has been so concerned by what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah that it has conducted hundreds of air strikes in an attempt to thwart them since 2011.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force again accused Israel of what it said was a drone attack near the Syrian border in Anbar province on Sunday that killed two of its members.”

In other words BBC audiences reading this article found a tepid and euphemistic portrayal of the PFLP-GC terror group along with uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated claims and utter falsehoods from the leader of another terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK government.

Quite how the BBC can claim that such coverage will “build people’s understanding” of the story is beyond belief.

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BBC editorial standards bypassed in Radio 4 framing of Iraq story

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy begin with a section titled ‘Gathering Material’.

“3.3.2 In news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed.

3.3.3 We should try to witness events and gather information first-hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first-hand sources and, where practicable, corroborate their evidence.

3.3.4 We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, it should be credible, and a named, on-the-record source is always preferable.”

A later section titled “Material from Third Parties” states:

“3.3.13 Material supplied by third parties, including news providers, needs to be treated with appropriate caution, taking account of the reputation of the source.

We should normally only rely on an agency report if it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or if it is attributed to a reputable news agency.

We should only use other material supplied by third parties if it is credible and reliable.”

A sub-section titles “Sources” flags up criteria indicating the need for a “Mandatory Referral”: [emphasis added]

“Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation […] must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice, who will consider whether or not:

    • the story is of significant public interest 
    • the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
    • a serious allegation was made or substantiated off the record
    • a response to serious allegations has been sought”

And:

“When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.”

On August 22nd the New York Times published a report which claimed that:

“Two senior American officials…said that Israel had carried out several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

The New York Times did not identify those “two senior American officials” or provide any information concerning their qualification to comment on the matter. It is therefore difficult to believe that the BBC could have ensured that “the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured” or that the corporation ensured that the allegations made were “independently corroborated”.

Nevertheless, on August 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ aired an item which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:36 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Reports from US officials in American news outlets say that Israel carried out an air strike on a weapons depot in Iraq, which officials say is being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria. It appears to be a significant escalation in Israel’s campaign against what it sees as Iranian military assets in Iraq and could destabilise the country.”

Note the framing there: Radio 4 listeners are told that it would be any Israeli action to counter the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq which “could destabilise” the latter country rather than the transfer of weapons itself or the presence of Iranian assets in Iraqi militias.

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – without clarifying that she is not a military correspondent – and while claiming that third hand statements – unverified by the BBC – from anonymous sources constitute “confirmation”.

Shah: “Let’s speak to Allison Kaplan Sommer who is a journalist at the Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haretz [sic]. Ahm, just what does…what does this tell us that the confirmation of these air strikes have come from US sources?”

Towards the end of the nearly four and a half minute-long item, Shah returned to her earlier framing.

Shah: “…this is believed to be the first Israeli bombing in Iraq in nearly four decades. Do you think that this is a dangerous opening up of a new front?”

When this story first broke the BBC News website promoted unsubstantiated claims concerning Israeli involvement from an inadequately identified senior Iranian asset. The following day those claims were slightly walked back in another report.

Now we see the BBC using anonymous and uncorroborated claims published by another media outlet to promote the framing of the story it obviously wishes to amplify – with blatant disregard for its own editorial standards.

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One month on, BBC silence on UNRWA allegations persists

A month has passed since AFP reported on “alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees”.

During that time three countries – Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium – have suspended their contributions to UNRWA pending the results of a UN investigation. The Czech government has called for the allegations to be “thoroughly investigated”.

Now a fourth country – New Zealand – says it will not make any further payments to UNRWA until that investigation is completed. The Jerusalem Post reports that New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT):

“…said New Zealand’s next payment to UNRWA is not scheduled until March 2020. Therefore, “the ministry will review the findings of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Service report once the investigation is complete and after that point provide advice to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on future funding.”

According to the Israel Institute of New Zealand MFAT committed in May to providing NZ$ 3 million over a period of three years.

One month on, the BBC – which last year put a considerable amount of effort into amplifying UNRWA talking points concerning its funding – has still not provided its funding public with any coverage of this story.

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Inaccurate and partial BBC Radio 4 report from Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the past two years listeners to BBC Radio 4 religious programming have heard a couple of inaccurate and misleading reports on the topic of property transactions carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

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Listeners to the August 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard another item in that genre which was introduced by presenter Justin Webb (from 43:46 here) as follows:

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

Webb: “Church leaders and Palestinians in Jerusalem are calling for international pressure on Israel to stop Jewish settlers taking over two historic properties at the main entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter. The Greek Orthodox Church has filed a new lawsuit to try to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on the sale of the hotels, saying it was clear proof of corruption. The development’s taking place amid a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Yolande Knell reports.”

Webb provided no evidence to support that misleading claim of “a recent increase in settlement building”. Even if his intention was to comment on construction within existing communities rather than to assert that an increased number ‘settlements’ had been recently built, the basis for that claim is unclear because the available statistics run only until the end of March 2019 and they show a decrease in construction completes in Judea & Samaria.

Both Justin Webb and subsequently Yolande Knell told BBC audiences that the story is about “the sale” of properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is not the case: the story is actually about 99-year leases for three properties (rather than two as claimed by Webb).

Knell’s report commenced as follows:

Knell: “There’s a rush of tourists entering Jerusalem’s walled Old City through Jaffa Gate. They’re here to visit the sacred sites of three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Over the centuries this place has been the crucible of conflict. Today the struggle is between Israelis and Palestinians and I’m looking up at the impressive façade of a nineteenth century landmark which is now on the front line of that. Wow! So this is the Imperial Hotel.”

Knell then introduced her report’s main protagonist – again inaccurately claiming that “the building” has been “bought”.

Knell: “Abu Walid Dajani’s family has lived in Jerusalem for generations. His father started renting this hotel in 1948. But now Jewish settlers have bought the building and he could soon be thrown out.”

The transaction did not occur “now” as claimed by Knell but a decade and a half ago in 2004.

Dajani: “The only thing I wish that God would give me the help and for my children to continue the battle of my life. We’ve been here for the last 600 years and inshallah we will continue.”

Knell then once again inaccurately referred to “the sale of the property” and told audiences of “a corrupt official” despite the fact that in 2017 the Jerusalem District Court ruled that “the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was unable to establish that the deals, made in 2004 […] were fraudulent or involved bribery” and in June 2019 the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Knell: “During a long court battle the landlords – the Greek Orthodox Church – argued the sale of the property for just over a million dollars was carried out by a corrupt official. But Israel’s Supreme Court found it was legal. Mr Dajani says the buyers were driven by ideology.”

Dajani: “Distorted history. Where this is the land that God give. Who gave you? God was never a real estate man. All right; you can buy but you can do a deal in an honest way.”

Knell next claimed that Jerusalem’s Old City is “East Jerusalem”.

Knell: “Outside the hotel local church leaders pray for peace. They’ve appealed to the Vatican, to Moscow and Washington to intervene to stop a Jewish take-over of Christian properties in the Old City. For Palestinians this is also about protecting their presence in East Jerusalem and the idea of creating the capital of their hoped-for future state here.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified man claim that:

Man: “Every small land here in Jerusalem for Palestinians is very important but here is very like main area for tourists to come in so they see the flag, they see like returns to Israeli but it’s not – it’s Palestinian.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that there has never been a Palestinian state – let alone one which had sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem – Knell went on:

Knell: “But come down to the Western Wall – this crowded spot which is the holiest place where Jews can pray – and Israelis have a very different perspective. They see a united Jerusalem as their eternal capital.”

Listeners then heard two vox pop interviews with people who barely speak English replying to Knell’s question “you wouldn’t give up part of Jerusalem for peace with the Palestinians?”.

The Old City is of course not just any old “part of Jerusalem” but Knell made no effort at all to inform listeners of the fact that it is a location where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed by Jordan for a period lasting nineteen years.

Moreover, Knell then went on to promote a politically motivated narrative long embraced by the BBC: the notion that any and all Jews living in the Old City are ‘settlers’ and their homes ‘illegal settlements’.

Knell: [shouting] “A Palestinian woman screams after she’s evicted from her Old City home earlier this year so Jewish students can move in. Settlements are seen as illegal by most countries but Israel disagrees and in East Jerusalem one group – Ateret Cohanim – is behind a lot of the house purchases. Its director Daniel Luria recently told me he hopes to see many more Jews living here.”

Following that short and obviously carefully edited interview, Knell closed her report.

Knell: “Back at the Imperial Hotel an Israeli court worker serves Abu Walid Dajani with a new lawsuit, freezing his assets. The pressure on him from the settlers is mounting. At the heart of this deeply contested holy city, real estate has much more than just a financial value. It has an emotional and political one too.”

Not only did this report repeatedly promote inaccurate information concerning the properties which are ostensibly its subject matter but Yolande Knell has clearly exclusively embraced the Greek Orthodox Church’s narrative.

More gravely, Knell unquestioningly promoted the partisan political narrative she long since adopted with her framing of Old City houses inhabited by Jewish Israelis as ‘illegal settlements’, the inhabitants as ‘settlers’ and her uncritical amplification of the claim that the location is “Palestinian”.

Clearly this report does not meet the standards of either accuracy or impartiality laid down in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.  

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‘Homemade’ Palestinian weapons return to BBC news reporting

Back in November 2012 a BBC TV presenter told viewers that Hamas was ‘only’ firing “home-made contraptions” at Israeli civilians.

Not enough Israelis killed by “home-made contraptions” for BBC’s Mishal Husain

During the conflict in the summer of 2014, BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondents repeatedly described the missile arsenals of the Gaza Strip based terrorist organisations as “homemade rockets”.

BBC continues to promote theme of “homemade” rockets

As was noted here at the time:

“The obvious intention is to steer audiences towards a view of these weapons as being crudely and simply made, with the implication that they are ineffective and do not present such a dangerous threat to Israeli civilians.”

Five years on, BBC audiences were told of a “homemade” improvised explosive by one of the same BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondents in the August 24th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 17:23 here).

The newsreader began by framing the story according to BBC editorial policy – i.e. by failing to describe a violent politically motivated attack on civilians as terrorism and by using politically partisan language to portray a geographic region. [emphasis added]

Newsreader: “An Israeli teenager has been killed and her father and brother injured in a suspected Palestinian militant attack near a settlement in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military says an improvised bomb was used. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Yolande Knell chose to use the Arabic pronunciation of the name of an Israeli city and – in line with BBC policy throughout the past 18 months – to portray violent rioting that included the throwing of explosives, grenades and Molotov cocktails as “protests”.

Knell: “As the funeral took place for seventeen-year-old Rina Shnerb in the central Israeli city of Lud [sic – Lod], her father – a rabbi – and older brother remained in hospital, being treated for their injuries from the explosion. In the hilly area of the West Bank, Israeli soldiers searching for the girl’s killer have blocked roads leading to Palestinian villages. Unusually, a homemade bomb is said to have been used. It’s thought it was planted close to a natural spring in a popular hiking spot and detonated as the family approached it. There’s been a recent rise in Palestinian attacks – several linked to the Islamist movement Hamas – raising concerns about a possible upsurge in violence ahead of next month’s Israeli elections. In Gaza, where there was a large turn out for the regular Friday protests along the border fence with Israel, the Hamas leader praised the latest attack in the West Bank but didn’t say whether his group was responsible.”

Since the beginning of this year the Israel Security Agency has recorded monthly use of improvised explosive devices and pipe bombs in attacks carried out in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem:

January – 15 attacks using pipe bombs

February – 11 attacks using IEDs

March – 16 attacks using IEDs

April – 21 attacks using IEDs

May – 4 attacks using pipe bombs

June – 15 attacks using pipe bombs

July – 6 attacks using pipe bombs

Since the BBC has refrained from reporting the majority of those attacks (with four of those seven months seeing no reporting on terrorism against Israelis whatsoever) it is hardly surprising that Yolande Knell portrays this latest attack using an IED as being ‘unusual’.

As for Knell’s claim that the device was “homemade”, the Times of Israel reports that:

“The army said an improvised explosive device was used in the attack. Police sappers determined that the bomb had been planted earlier at the spring and was triggered remotely when the family approached it. […]

Channel 12 quoted unnamed officials as saying that the size and complexity of the device indicated that one of the major terror groups was behind the attack.”

Channel 13’s military correspondent Alon Ben David reported that the IED weighed between three and four kilos and contained a large amount of shrapnel, adding that the incident was “planned and organised – and not a spontaneous or improvised terror attack”.

Yolande Knell’s use of the term “homemade” does not convey that information to BBC audiences and – as was the case when she used it in 2014 – downplays the gravity of events.

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Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

On the morning of August 25th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drones’ in Syria to prevent attacks” on its Middle East page. The headline was later amended to read “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drone’ sites in Syria”.

The article in fact relates to two separate incidents, the first of which took place over twelve hours before the publication of the BBC’s report. The BBC described that incident as follows:

“Israel has struck Iranian military sites in Syria to prevent what it said was a pending drone strike by Iran.

Israel’s military rarely acknowledges operations in Syria, but it claimed on Saturday its strikes had prevented an attack on Israel “using killer drones”. […]

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes on Saturday targeted Iran’s Quds force in Aqraba, south-east of the capital, Damascus.”

A part of that story which the BBC chose not to tell – even though the information was readily available – is as follows:

“The Israeli military said its strike late Saturday targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives. […]

[IDF Spokesman] Conricus said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan. Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said. […]

“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said. “It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”

He said the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.””

Neither did the BBC bother to inform its audiences that, as reported by Ha’aretz:

“A commentator close to the Revolutionary Guards wrote [on Thursday August 22nd] in the Iranian newspaper Kayhan that Israeli actions in Iraq and Syria would be met with surprises, such as launches of UAVs at sensitive security targets, ports and nuclear sites in Israel. The plan that was foiled, according to the IDF, was identical to the action threatened beforehand by the commentator.”

The BBC did choose to amplify Syrian claims:

“A Syrian military source quoted by the official Sana news agency said that Syrian anti-aircraft defences “detected enemy targets from Golan heading towards the area around Damascus”.

“The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets,” the source said.”

BBC audiences were not informed that – despite those claims – at least three Hizballah operatives were reportedly killed.  

By way of ‘context’ BBC audiences were told that:

“Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, to try to prevent Iran gaining a foothold.”

While Israel has indeed carried out strikes in order to prevent both advanced weaponry reaching the Hizballah terror organisation and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, that context is not relevant to this particular story, which is about the prevention of an imminent attack by Iranian forces on Israel. That fact of course explains why in this case Israel did release statements concerning the incident.

The second story in this report relates to an incident which took place a few hours later in Lebanon and which was portrayed by the BBC in the first two versions of the article as follows:

“Separately, reports said two Israeli surveillance drones had come down in a stronghold of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Hezbollah officials said an unmanned drone fell on the roof of a media centre belonging to the group, and was followed by a second unmanned drone that exploded in mid-air and crashed nearby.

Residents told the Associated Press they heard a large explosion that shook the area, after hearing the sound of an aircraft. Israel’s military declined to comment on the reports.”

Some two and a half hours after the report’s initial publication, the sub-heading “Blatant attack” was added along with comments from the Lebanese prime minister.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Israel’s alleged surveillance drones a “blatant attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty”.

“This new aggression… forms a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards more tension,” he said in a statement.”

The BBC does not appear to have carried out any independent verification of the claims put out to news agencies by Hizballah – including the allegation that the drones were Israeli – before publishing its own report.

And so BBC audiences got superficial and incomplete reporting on two separate incidents based in no small part on second-hand claims made by ‘reliable’ sources such as the Hizballah terrorist organisation and the Assad regime.

 

 

 

BBC News ‘contextualises’ terror attack with ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’

Roughly four hours after a terror attack took place near Dolev on August 23rd the BBC News website published a written report headlined “Israeli teenage girl killed in West Bank bomb attack” and a filmed report titled “West Bank bomb blast kills 17-year-old Israeli girl”.

The synopsis to the filmed report states: [all emphasis added]

“An Israeli teenage girl has been killed and her father and brother injured in a suspected Palestinian militant attack at a natural spring near a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military says an improvised explosive device was used.”

All four versions of the written report similarly opened by telling readers that:

“A 17-year-old Israeli girl has been killed in a bomb attack near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military says.”

A Tweet promoting the article used the same terminology:

“Israeli teenage girl killed in bomb attack near Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank

All four versions of the report also closed with the BBC’s standard but partial mantra on ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the story being reported.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

In line with BBC editorial policy, the only mentions of the word terrorist came in direct quotes.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “harsh terrorist attack”. […]

“The security arms are in pursuit after the abhorrent terrorists. We will apprehend them. The long arm of Israel reaches all those who seek our lives and will settle accounts with them.””

And:

“The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, tweeted that he was “heartbroken and outraged by the brutal terrorist attack”.”

All four versions of the written report included qualified references to a previous terror attack which the BBC failed to report at the time.

“Last Friday, two Israelis were injured near the settlement of Elazar in what police said was a car-ramming attack. The alleged assailant, a Palestinian man, was shot dead at the scene.”

Readers also saw a belated update concerning an earlier attack.

“Earlier this month, an off-duty Israeli soldier was stabbed to death near the settlement of Migdal Oz. Israeli security forces subsequently arrested two Palestinian men in connection with the attack.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“In a speech in the Gaza Strip, the leader of the militant Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas praised the attack but did not say that it was behind it.”

They were not however informed that Haniyeh called the murder of a seventeen-year-old girl “a heroic attack” or that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad similarly described the attack on three Israeli civilians with an IED as “resistance”. 

Notably, the first two versions of the written report stated that the victim of this latest attack had been:

“…hiking with her brother and father near the Ein Bubin spring outside Dolev when an improvised explosive device was detonated.”

In the third version the names of Rina Shnerb’s brother and father were added:  

“…hiking with her brother Dvir and her father Eitan near a spring outside Dolev when an explosive device was detonated.”

That information corresponds with statements put out by officials investigating the incident.

“The army said an improvised explosive device was used in the attack. Police sappers determined that the bomb had been planted earlier at the spring and was triggered remotely when the family approached it.”

However in the fourth and final version of the written report – the one that will remain as “permanent public record” on the BBC News website – the BBC amended its description from the active (“was detonated”) to the passive:

“Rina Shnerb had been hiking with her brother Dvir and her father Eitan near a natural spring outside Dolev when an improvised explosive device blew up.” 

The BBC’s refusal to describe such incidents as terrorism in its own words, along with its description of Palestinian terrorist organisations as “militants” and its editorial policy of promoting irrelevant and politically partial messaging concerning ‘international law’, as ever mars the accuracy and impartiality of its coverage of violent attacks against Israelis.   

Related Articles:

BBC ignores another terror attack on Israelis – in English

BBC News ignores arrests connected to terror attack it didn’t report

BBC reporting on Gush Etzion terror attack

BBC News website fails to update report on Gush Etzion terror attack

BBC News continues to ignore Palestinian terrorism

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC analyses last weekend’s attempted infiltration from the Gaza Strip, which the BBC chose to ignore.

“On August 17, 2019, IDF observation posts identified five suspects approaching the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. At least one of them was armed. IDF forces were rushed to the site. An IDF tank and helicopter shot at the suspects before they could cross the security fence (IDF spokesman, August 17, 2019). The attempted penetration came two days after four rockets were launched at Israel in two separate incidents (August 16 and 17, 2019). The Palestinian ministry of health reported that IDF forces had killed three Palestinians and critically wounded another. The five belonged variously to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Fatah. Some of them had participated in the return marches and were Night Harassment Unit operatives in the northern Gaza Strip. Senior figures in Hamas and the other terrorist organizations publicly praised the operatives who were killed and blamed Israel for their deaths. Senior Hamas figure Isma’il Haniyeh paid visits, well covered by the media, to the families of the dead operatives.”

2) Writing at the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Spyer takes a look at recent moves by the UAE.

“In Yemen on July 8, the Emiratis announced the drawing down of their forces from the country. Abu Dhabi’s soldiers have played the key military role on the ground against the Houthis since 2015.

Having departed the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Ansar Allah or Houthi insurgency, the Emiratis subsequently threw their weight behind their local allies in Yemen. […]

The UAE has notably refrained from directly accusing Tehran of carrying out the attacks on four tankers in UAE territorial waters which took place in May. This despite there being no other serious candidate for responsibility. And in late July, a UAE delegation travelled to Tehran and, with exquisite irony, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iranians to “enhance maritime border security cooperation.” “

3) At the FDD Aykan Erdemir discusses recent events in Turkey.

“The Turkish government on Monday removed from office three mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) less than six months into their five-year terms. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who suffered an embarrassing defeat in last March’s local elections, continues to disregard the will of Turkey’s electorate by appointing trustees to replace opposition mayors.

Erdogan first introduced the practice of removing elected mayors from office in September 2016, taking advantage of the state of emergency declared shortly after Turkey’s abortive coup. Together with his ultranationalist allies, the Turkish leader first targeted pro-Kurdish officials, replacing 90 of the 102 HDP mayors with trustees. Shortly after the March 2019 elections, which provided many HDP mayors with a renewed mandate to assume office, Turkey’s High Election Board overturned the election of seven HDP mayors, handing their offices to losing candidates from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).”

4) At the Times of Israel Abraham Rabinovich recalls “How an Australian sheepshearer’s al-Aqsa arson nearly torched Middle East peace”.

“One of the first stories I was assigned as a young journalist in Israel in 1969 was the trial of an Australian sheepshearer who set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an act that threatened to unhinge the Middle East. It remains for me the most vivid story I covered during my 25 years with The Jerusalem Post, a period that included several wars.

August 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the event. The Muslim world assumed that Israel was responsible for the arson and Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal ordered his armed forces to prepare for a holy war. The Arab League met in emergency session, and from distant India came reports of rioting in Muslim areas, with many casualties.”