Event touted by BBC as ‘non-political’ bans UK participant on political grounds

Four years ago the BBC’s Jon Donnison (who was based in the region at the time) promoted a marathon run in the PA controlled territories as a ‘non-political’ event – despite very clear evidence to the contrary.

“The Israelis should look at this purely as a sporting event. It has nothing to do with politics,” says Samia al-Wazir, the spokeswoman for the Palestinian Olympic Committee.” [emphasis added]

This year that marathon is taking place on March 31st and British comedian (and marathon runner) Eddie Izzard had planned to take part.

The event’s organisers had other ideas:

A BDS campaign linked website that received promotion from BBC Music just last month put out a press release:

“British comedian Eddie Izzard cannot run for freedom this Friday if he entertains in Tel Aviv on Thursday, say Palestine Marathon organisers.

“We refuse to be used as a fig leaf to cover up Izzard’s whitewashing of Israel’s occupation and apartheid” Palestinian campaigners commented.

Eddie Izzard, who ran 27 marathons in tribute to Mandela in 2016, and who is a UNICEF ambassador, should be consistent and stand against Israeli Apartheid, say Artists for Palestine UK. […]

The Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel [PACBI – Ed], commented:  “Eddie Izzard is not welcomed in the Palestine marathon after he has crossed our boycott picket line. Today, performing in Tel Aviv is equivalent to performing in Sun City during the time of apartheid, and there is no balancing act that can justify violating the Palestinian boycott call. We refuse to be used as a fig leaf to cover up Izzard’s whitewashing of Israel’s occupation and apartheid.””

Jon Donnison’s 2013 article is still available online. In light of the stance taken by the marathon’s organisers and BDS supporters, the BBC clearly needs to rethink its promotion of the event as having “nothing to do with politics”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Donnison promotes Bethlehem Marathon as non-political event

Bethlehem Marathon: the bit the BBC did not report

BBC Music promotes falsehoods and BDS campaign website

Bethlehem Marathon: the bit the BBC did not report

Here is another interesting follow-up story to Jon Donnison’s recent article on the subject of the Bethlehem Marathon. It turns out that whilst Donnison (along with the race organisers and the political NGO ‘Gisha’) was criticising the fact that a number of would-be participants in the event from the Gaza Strip were not permitted to cross into Israel, the organisers of this ‘non-political’ marathon had banned Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds and creeds from taking part. 

“If The Palestine Marathon had nothing to do with politics, it had everything to do with political warfare. It is likely the first marathon in the history of modern sports that categorically prohibited runners from Israel from taking part, banning Israeli Jews, Muslims and Druse athletes.

Palestinian Olympic committee member Itidal Abdul- Ghani told The Times of Israel on April 22, a day after the race, that “Israelis weren’t welcome to join the marathon while their military occupies Palestinian lands.” Haaretz reported that a number of Israeli runners were turned back and their registration fees returned.”

No doubt Jon Donnison is penning his follow-up article at this very moment. 

BBC deems parts of Israeli right of reply statement “irrelevant”

Section 6 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines deals with the subject of the Right of Reply and states:


When our output makes allegations of wrongdoing, iniquity or incompetence or lays out a strong and damaging critique of an individual or institution the presumption is that those criticised should be given a “right of reply”, that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations.

We must ensure we have a record of any request for a response including dates, times, the name of the person approached and the key elements of the exchange.  We should normally describe the allegations in sufficient detail to enable an informed response, and set a fair and appropriate deadline by which to respond.


Any parts of the response relevant to the allegations broadcast should be reflected fairly and accurately and should normally be broadcast in the same programme, or published at the same time, as the allegation.”

Further details come in the Guidance section on ‘Right of Reply’:

“To be fair, we should include material that is relevant to the allegations. It is not necessary to include material that may be considered irrelevant to the allegations. If we choose to paraphrase material rather than use direct quotes, the meaning must be fairly represented.”

Jon Donnison’s recent report on the subject of the Bethlehem Marathon appeared to include a response from an Israeli source to the allegations made in the article:

“An Israeli military statement said: “The entrance of the Gaza Strip residents to Israeli territory, and their passage to the West Bank, is possible only in exceptional humanitarian cases, mainly urgent medical cases.”

It added that this was because Gaza was ruled by Hamas which Israel considers a “terror organisation”.”

However, BBC Watch has learned that the version published in Donnison’s article was not the complete ‘Right of Reply’ statement provided to the BBC. The full text of the response provided by COGAT appears below in Hebrew, and then in English – translated by BBC Watch.

“בקשתם של 26 תושבים מרצועת עזה להשתתף במרתון בית לחם נבחנה על ידי הרשויות המוסמכות והוחלט לסרב לפנייה מאחר ואינה עומדת בקריטריונים שנקבעו לצורך מעבר בין עזה לאיו”ש.

בעזה שולט ארגון טרור, המנהל לחימה נגד מדינת ישראל ואזרחיה. משכך, בהתאם להחלטת ממשלת ישראל, כפי שאושרה על ידי בית המשפט העליון, כניסה של תושבי רצועת לשטחה של מדינת ישראל ומעברם לאיו”ש מתאפשר רק מטעמים הומניטאריים חריגים, בדגש על מקרים רפואיים דחופים. הבקשה הנוכחית לא העלתה טעמים מסוג זה”

“The request by 26 residents of the Gaza Strip to take part in the Bethlehem Marathon was examined by the authorised authorities and it was decided to refuse the application as it does not meet the criteria established for the passage between Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

Gaza is ruled by a terrorist organisation which wages warfare against the State of Israel and its citizens. Thus, in accordance with the decision of the Government of Israel – as has been approved by the Supreme Court – the entry of residents of the [Gaza] Strip to the territory of the State of Israel and their passage to Judea and Samaria is possible only for exceptional humanitarian reasons, with emphasis on urgent medical cases. The current request did not raise such reasons.” File:Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Humanitarian Passage through the Erez Crossings.jpg

We can therefore understand that the parts of this official response which were deemed by the BBC “not necessary to include” on the grounds of their being “irrelevant” are the fact that the specific requests made by the Gaza runners were examined and considered, together with the fact that the criteria for entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel were established by the Government of Israel and the Supreme Court, rather than by the IDF as readers of this article might well be led to understand. Additionally, the fact that Hamas wages war against Israel and its civilian citizens was apparently also deemed “irrelevant”.

The BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality – together with its audiences’ understanding of the Middle East – would be much enhanced were it to publish ‘Right of Reply’ responses in full rather than resorting to manipulative censorship.  

BBC’s Donnison promotes Bethlehem Marathon as non-political event

On April 18th 2013 the Middle East section of the BBC News website featured a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Jon Donnison entitled “Israel bars Gaza runners from first West Bank marathon“. 

Bethlehem marathon

The report features an unchallenged quote from the Palestinian Olympic Committee spokeswoman.

“The athletes, the race organisers and the Palestinian Olympic Committee have asked the Israeli authorities to reconsider their position but have not received a reply.

“The Israelis should look at this purely as a sporting event. It has nothing to do with politics,” says Samia al-Wazir, the spokeswoman for the Palestinian Olympic Committee.

“This is an event in the West Bank and every Palestinian, not just athletes, should have the right to attend.” ” [emphasis added]

Donnison makes no attempt to verify the accuracy of the claim that the event (due to take place on April 21st) has “nothing to do with politics” for his readers. A quick perusal of the marathon’s website would have been enough to inform him of the fact that the reality is quite different. 

marathon 1

marathon 2

A look at the marathon’s official Facebook account – including, inter alia, the promotion of an article entitled “Running is a subversive act” which indicates some foreign runners’ links to the politically motivated NGO the Amos Trust – would also have relieved Donnison of any impression that the event is not political. 

“And of course, in Palestine, where movement is so restricted, where people are separated from their family, land and friends by 8m high concrete barriers, where it’s not possible to travel 26.2 miles in a straight line without encountering road blocks, when people from Gaza are forbidden to enter the country, then running a marathon is a wonderfully subversive act.”

marathon 3

Among the co-organisers of the marathon, according to its own website, is the ‘Higher Council of Youth and Sports’ – a Palestinian Authority government body (also known as the ‘Supreme Council for Youth and Sports’) which is headed by Secretary General Jabril Rajoub – who also heads the Palestinian Football Association and the Palestinian Olympic Committee; from which Donnison conveniently got his quote. 

Jibril Rajoub will of course be familiar to many readers, both for his own terrorist past and his use of his various sports-related positions in anti-Israel campaigns. Ironically – but not unrelated – two of the organisations headed by Rajoub, including the one now involved in the organisation of the Bethlehem Marathon, were party to a call to boycott the Jerusalem Marathon just a couple of months ago. 

Donnison’s failure to fact check the claim that the marathon does not have political aims, as made in the quote he elected to include in his article, clearly renders the report inaccurate and partial. Donnison continues:

“Israel strictly controls movement in and out of Gaza making it difficult for Palestinians there to make the short journey to the West Bank.

It also controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.

An Israeli military statement said: “The entrance of the Gaza Strip residents to Israeli territory, and their passage to the West Bank, is possible only in exceptional humanitarian cases, mainly urgent medical cases.”

It added that this was because Gaza was ruled by Hamas which Israel considers a “terror organisation”. “

Donnison’s distortion of the reality behind the necessity for restriction of movement from a territory under the de facto control of a terrorist organization is as obtuse as his use of quotation marks around the phrase terror organization. As has been previously mentioned here on numerous occasions, Israel is far from the only country to categorise Hamas as such. Once again we see that the BBC’s effort to avoid making “value judgements” on the subject of terrorism constitutes a value judgement in itself – one which severely compromises BBC impartiality. 

Donnison goes on to feature another quote in his report – this time from the political NGO ‘Gisha‘ which is regularly promoted by the BBC – as well as a link to the NGO’s press release on the subject. As previously noted here, it is not in the BBC’s remit to amplify the messages of  politically motivated NGOs and the fact that it does so without informing audiences of such organisations’ political stances severely compromises its own guidelines on impartiality.

Donnison ends his article with a snide swipe at the IDF Spokesman’s Unit:

“The Gazan runners’ inability to compete in the Bethlehem marathon is their second disappointment this month.

The United Nations cancelled its annual Gaza marathon after Hamas refused to allow women to take part.

An official Israel Defense Forces blog criticised Hamas for that decision.”

It takes a particularly perverse version of moral equivalence to be able to imply that the Hamas ban on women taking part in a sporting event in territory it controls is in any way comparable to a restriction on travel due to only too real security factors brought about by Hamas’ engagement in terrorism.