Treading faithfully in the footsteps of their compatriots of yesteryear, few subjects have been done to death by British journalists in the Middle East as that of the Bedouin in Israel.
It therefore came as no surprise to find the BBC’s Wyre Davies venturing a whole eleven miles out of Jerusalem last month to report on “Israeli threat to Bedouin villages”.
Davies’ report appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, as well as on television news, on October 18th. It was also broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on October 25th and can be heard here from around 25:26′.
Davies opens his radio report from the school constructed without planning permission in the Bedouin encampment of Khan al Ahmar with the uncorroborated statement:
“If they [the children] didn’t come to school here, they wouldn’t get an education anywhere.”
He goes on to say:
“But they’re [the Bedouin] surrounded by illegal Jewish settlements as far as the eye can see and they want the school evicted and demolished.”
Contrary to what Davies would apparently have his listeners believe, in Israel demolition orders on buildings constructed – in any sector – without planning permission are not given out by the neighbours, but by the relevant authorities.
One may think that of all places, it would be wise to ensure that a school was built according to health and safety regulations. Apparently that aspect of the story is of no concern to Davies, who next interviews a woman named as Angela Goldstein and described as “an advocate who campaigns on behalf of this Bedouin community”.
Ms Goldstein claims that:
“The only schools that are near are settler schools and of course none of these children would be accepted into Jewish-only schools.”
The whiff of racist rhetoric arising from that comment should have wised-up Wyre Davies to his interviewee – did he not already know who she actually is.
Angela Godfrey Goldstein is no mere ‘advocate’: she is the policy officer for ICAHD – the political NGO which promotes apartheid rhetoric and the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. She is also a member of the ‘Free Gaza Movement’ ,which was recently involved in a scandal due to its anti-Semitic Tweets and of course organizes flotillas. ICAHD’s director Jeff Halper sits on Free Gaza’s Board of Advisors as well as being a member of the ‘Russell Tribunal‘.
In addition, Ms Godfrey Goldstein is a member of Machsom Watch (the same organization which organized a delegation to comfort the families of the arrested murderers of the Fogel family) and her trip to Khan al Ahmar is far from a one-off: she runs a nice line in political trips to the encampment, in which Wyre Davies’ next interviewee, Eid Abu Hamis of the Jahalin tribe, is something of a regular feature.
Davies sets the romantic scene by informing listeners that he is talking to Eid Abu Hamis Jahalin “under the shade of a fig tree” and then allows his host – unchallenged and unproven – to state that:
“The situation is now difficult due to the settlers who want us to leave”
“They [settlers] attack the woman [sic] and the children”
The Jahalin tribe has been the subject of many articles over on our sister blog CiF Watch, due to the fact that Khan al Ahmar is also a favourite and frequent watering hole for Guardian correspondents. Readers can view more background information here and here.
The story which Wyre Davies tells is by no means a new one; in fact, it has been going on for about thirty years and Israeli courts have examined – and rejected – the Jahalin’s claims to the land.
“The Jahalin have been making claims about the land of Ma’ale Adumim, and squatting on state land assigned to the community, since the 1980’s. They have been warned many times by successive Israeli governments that eventually they would have to move. Most of the Jahalin eventually agreed that they did not have rights to the land. For example, according to a January 29th, 1994 Los Angeles Times article, “no one, not even Hairsh (Mohammed Hairsh, a Jahalin leader) claims that his tribe has a legal right” to the land they have been occupying.
Nevertheless, out of sympathy for the plight of the Jahalin tribe, the Israeli government offered them title to a plot of land if they would agree to leave their encampment near Ma’ale Adumim. This new site is about one kilometer from and more than five times larger than the Jahalin’s previous encampment. In addition, under the proposed agreement with the Jahalin, the Israeli government agreed to provide, at no charge, electricity and water hookups, cement building platforms and building materials.
Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Jahalin tribe accepted Israel’s offer and most of the tribe moved to the new site. The electricity and water hookups were provided, and the platforms were built. However, when a lawyer representing some of the Jahalin returned from a trip abroad and heard of the agreement, she convinced several of the Jahalin families who had not yet moved to stay where they were.”
Bizarrely, Wyre Davies then interviews MK Ariyeh Eldad – presumably supposedly in the name of ‘balance’. Eldad, however, does not represent the Israeli government against which Davies’ other interviewees make charges (he also represents a mere fraction of Israeli opinion with his party – Ichud Leumi – holding a mere 4 seats in the Knesset) and therefore the interview with him can hardly be considered a ‘right of reply’.
During the interview with Eldad, however, Davies manages to squeeze in the following:
“This land…the international community regards as occupied Palestinian land and therefore it’s not Israel’s to claim as state land or otherwise”
Once again, a BBC reporter fails to reflect the fact that there are conflicting and diverse legal opinions about the status of the land in question, as well as neglecting to mention that it falls in Area C which, under the Oslo Accords, is still subject to negotiation.
Next, Davies travels to what he terms “inside Israel proper” and visits the Bedouin encampment at Umm al Hiran in the Negev, which he describes as being situated on “ancestral lands”. He claims that the Bedouin there are scheduled for eviction:
“..because Israel wants to build a new community here, but for religious Jews only.”
That final statement, by the way, is not true. The proposed community includes both religious and secular people, but to pretend otherwise undoubtedly embellishes the story with new dimensions.
Again, CiF Watch has published much on the subject of land disputes with the Negev Bedouin because that too is a frequent subject for Guardian journalists. Background reading is available here, here and here. Details of Israeli government offers and incentives to the Negev Bedouin squatters can be read here.
One organization involved in the politicization and promotion of Negev land disputes as a means of delegitimizing Israel is ‘Adalah‘. Adalah calls for the replacement of the Jewish state with a ‘democratic, bilingual and multicultural’ country in which Jewish immigration would be limited to strictly humanitarian cases but Palestinian refugees and their descendants would be entitled to the ‘right of return’. Ironically, Adalah is also involved in a campaign to remove Jewish residents from areas of the Negev.
Wyre Davis’ interviewee in Umm al Hiran is Suhad Bishara, whom he describes as “a lawyer who represents the Bedouin in their fight to remain here”.
Ms Bishara is actually the head of the Land and Planning Unit at Adalah. She is allowed by Davies to state – again, unchallenged and unproven – that:
“It’s like the Wild West. Human rights are suspended. The rule of law is suspended. This is black and white. You are not entitled to be here because you are an Arab”.
So, what do we have here? Well, obviously Wyre Davies is telling a very partisan version of a story without even trying to appear impartial or accurate. The rhetoric he and his interviewees use is clearly designed to leave the audience with shocking impressions of Israeli discrimination and racism towards the Bedouin. Davies does not make a proper attempt to recount the other side of the story apart from the inclusion of a very brief statement by COGAT in the internet version only.
But what is really shocking about this collection of articles and broadcasts by Wyre Davies is his willingness to play wingman for political NGOs dedicated to the abolition of the State of Israel. By failing to declare the affiliations of his interviewees, Davies allows the BBC to be used as a medium for the promotion of their message.
Did ICAHD and/or Adalah organize Davies’ visits to Khan al Ahmar and Umm al Hiran? He certainly would not be the first journalist to take advantage of such trips in exchange for a sympathetic write-up, if he did.
The BBC needs to provide transparency on the background circumstances to these articles immediately.