BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part two

In part one of this post we saw how listeners to BBC Radio 4 on March 30th heard a report about the violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip which included multiple references to the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’  – without any background information or context on that issue being provided.

Listeners to the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on the same day also heard reporting on the same events. Presenter Julian Marshall introduced the item (from 00:63 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we go first to the border between Israel and Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians massed today in what is the start of weeks of protest to demand that refugees be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel. The protesters had been told by the organisers – among them Hamas – to be peaceful and not to approach the border fence but stones and firebombs were thrown while the Israeli army responded with tear gas and live fire. And at day’s end 15 demonstrators have been killed and hundreds injured.”

Without clarifying to listeners that the people he described as refugees are in fact descendants of refugees – and why – and without reminding audiences that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for thirteen years, Marshall went on to present some voice-over translations of anonymous speakers – the first of which had also been heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4.

Marshall: “Here are some Palestinian voices on the border.”

V/O Man 1: “We need to change the way we deal with the Israeli occupation. Every peaceful and non-peaceful way has failed. We must find a way to go back to our homeland. It’s been 100 years now and Palestinians are stranded while all the other nations of the world are enjoying peace and democracy.”

V/O Man 2: “Did you see all those who got injured today? We are staying put until we get back our land. I hope we sent a clear message today. What could happen to us more than that? We’re besieged, beaten and have been suffering for so long.”

V/O Woman 1: “This is a peaceful rally. We are here to tell the world that returning to our land is non-negotiable. We will return to our cities.”

As made clear in Marshall’s introduction and as the showcased “Palestinian voices” further indicate, the programme’s producers are obviously aware of the fact that the publicity stunt dubbed ‘the Great Return March’ rests on the issue of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’.

Clearly in order for listeners to be able to reach an informed opinion on that topic, they should have been made aware of the fact that the aim of that demand is in to eradicate the Jewish state and that it is incompatible with the internationally accepted ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obviously audiences would also have benefited from hearing some context regarding the circumstances under which some of the Arabs living in the area in 1948 became refugees – and not least the fact that the process began because neighbouring Arab states chose to initiate a war intended to eradicate the emerging Jewish state.

Marshall however supplied no such information before going on to interview former IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich about the day’s violent incidents on the border. At 07:43 he introduced his next interviewee – a member of the Hamas terror group that co-organised this stunt precisely in order to get such media exposure.

Marshall: “So what does Hamas make of the allegations by Israel that the violence started on the Palestinian side? The protests have been taking place at a number of locations along the border between Israel and Gaza and at one of those, near Malaka, we contacted Ahmed Yousef – a former senior advisor to the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh.”

Interestingly, in a 2008 interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Yousef described plans similar to the ‘Great Return March’ now underway.

“Ahmed Yousef would like to pull off another Rafah-style exploit, but this time against the Palestinians’ archenemy, Israel. He is planning a mass march to the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza. “We’re going to send half a million people there, mainly women and children. Then we’ll see how the Israelis react,” he says. A devilish scheme, since the Israelis would not react as passively to the storming of their border as the Egyptians did. But Yousef is not impressed by such objections. “If the Israelis want our blood, I’m willing to sacrifice my children.”

Yousef has already asked international observers to participate in the “march on Erez.” Some have already agreed to come, and Yousef is happy about this. “This,” he says, “is the beginning of the third Intifada.”” 

Listeners heard Yousef deny seeing anyone approaching the border fence or “firing anything” and dismiss such reports as “what the Israeli try just to justify their aggression and the way of killing people and shooting on them”.

Yousef: “But from my observation I didn’t see any of these accusations or these Israeli lies against the people here. They enjoy actually to sit and talk and sing to show the whole world that we, as Palestinian, as refugee, we are close to our border and we hope that the message received will be received by the world community.”

In response to a question from Marshall about Hamas’ funding of the event Yousef claimed:

Yousef: “This all nonsense. This is the Israeli hasbara, the propaganda machine trying to undermine the people’s spirit. That why everybody brought his family with him and come to show that those grandchildren and their sons and daughters continue that kind of commitment towards their land. Their land is across the border and everybody try to inherit this vision for his family.”

Replying to a question from Marshall about the possibility of a “rethink” of tactics, Yousef made references to a non-existent “siege” and inaccurately implied that Israel is to blame for poor medical services in the Gaza Strip. Julian Marshall made no attempt whatsoever to challenge those falsehoods.

Yousef: “You know that actually it is every day we have people who are – because of the sanction, because of Gaza being under siege – died from different diseases because they can’t get the medical treatment. Or the people are suffering because there is no enough job or work and so you are suffering by any means. You are [in] hell and now the time for the message to cross to the world community that there are, there were people here in Gaza who still suffering from the siege and also they are willing to push the world community to implement United Nations resolution 194 where people should return to their towns and cities and being compensated. So this is the message that the people trying to send and this is the only message.”

Listeners would of course have benefitted at that point had they been informed that UN GA resolution 194 is a non-binding resolution dating from December 1948 that was opposed at the time by Arab states and which (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees and – contrary to often heard assertions – does not grant any unconditional ‘right of return’. 

However Marshall instead provided Yousef with a platform from which to downplay Hamas involvement in the organisation of the ‘Great Return March’ before closing the interview.

Yousef: “But you know most of the people who been actually organise this Great March are youth. They don’t rely on political factions.”

As we have seen in the two examples in this post, the BBC has provided Hamas and some of the publicity stunt’s other organisers with exactly the type of unchallenging media platform that they counted on being given. Concurrently however, the BBC has refrained from providing its audiences with the background information on the Palestinian maximalist demand for the ‘right of return’ that is essential for proper understanding of this latest Hamas agitprop.

Related Articles:

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BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

 

 

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BBC News website does stealth makeover on fact check fail

On the morning of March 19th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an apparently hastily written short report titled “French consulate worker ‘smuggled arms to Gaza'” which read as follows: [emphasis added]

“A French national employed at the country’s consulate in Jerusalem will appear in court on Monday charged with smuggling weapons to the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said the unnamed man, in his 20s, was arrested in February while crossing into Gaza from Israel.

One of the suspect’s jobs at the consulate was as a driver, involving regular trips to Gaza, reports say.

Israel has long tried to prevent arms reaching Gaza’s militant Hamas group.

A spokesman for the French embassy in Tel Aviv told AFP news agency: “We take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities.”

Shin Bet said the suspect had smuggled more than 70 pistols and two assault rifles into Gaza over a period of five trips. It said he used a consulate vehicle to elude detection.

Hamas has fought three conflicts with Israel and carried out thousands of rocket [sic] and bombings against it.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza to prevent weapons smuggling and attacks by militants.”

In fact, that story is about an employee of the French consulate in Jerusalem (who, despite the BBC’s claim, was named) allegedly smuggling weapons from the Gaza Strip to Judea & Samaria.

“Two French embassy workers have been arrested by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency on suspicion of smuggling dozens of weapons from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to the West Bank, the agency cleared for release on Monday.

One French citizen, Romain Frank, worked at the French consulate in Jerusalem, and is suspected of belonging to a cell which smuggled 70 pistols and 2 assault rifles through the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border on five different occasions. […]

According to the Shin Bet investigation, Frank received the weapons from a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip employed at the French Cultural Center in the Gaza Strip and he transferred the weapons to a cell in the West Bank who sold them to arms dealers.

The Shin Bet investigation clearly showed that Frank was acting in return for financial gain, of his own volition, and without the knowledge of his superiors. The investigation also found that several Palestinians arrested in relation to the case were also involved in the smuggling of money from Gaza to the West Bank. […]

In addition to Frank, a resident of east Jerusalem who works as a security guard at the French consulate in Jerusalem as well as several Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were living in the West Bank illegally were arrested and will be indicted on Monday.”

The BBC at some point realised its error and the report was republished under the amended headline “French consulate worker ‘smuggled arms from Gaza’” – but without a footnote clarifying the previous errors. [emphasis added]

“A French national employed at the country’s consulate in Jerusalem will appear in court on Monday charged with smuggling weapons from the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said the unnamed man, in his 20s, was arrested in February at the Erez border crossing.

One of the suspect’s jobs at the consulate was as a driver, involving regular trips to Gaza, reports say.

Israel has long tried to prevent arms reaching Palestinian militants.

A spokesman for the French embassy in Tel Aviv told AFP news agency: “We take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities.”

Shin Bet said the suspect had smuggled more than 70 pistols and two assault rifles from Gaza into the West Bank over a period of five trips. It said he used a consulate vehicle to elude detection.

Hamas has fought three conflicts with Israel and carried out thousands of rocket [sic] and bombings against it.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza to prevent weapons smuggling and attacks by militants.”

A third version of the report has since appeared in which the consulate employee was named and further details of the story provided.

As regular readers know, the BBC has in the past ignored attempts to smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip for the purpose of terrorism as well as numerous stories related to efforts to build up the Hamas terror infrastructure outside Gaza.

How unfortunate then that when the BBC did finally produce a report on that issue, it passed up on basic fact checking. How unfortunate too that those who read the initial version of this article have once again not been informed that they were given inaccurate information. 

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BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was recently broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

After presenter Murad Batal Shishani had uncritically amplified Hamas’ claim that Israel was behind the assassination of one of its senior operatives last year and had been given access to a Hamas-run prison to interview a contrite collaborator, he turned to the topic of the alleged recruitment of Mazen Fuqaha’s assassin by Israel.

Shishani: “But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

Shishani then went to interview the former Shin Bet director and current member of the Knesset Avi Dichter, asking him:

Shishani: “Would you recruit a jihadist to kill a Hamas operative?”

Dichter: “Well everything is possible in this fight against terrorists.”

Shishani quickly moved on to his next interviewee who he described as “a reserve officer from Israeli military intelligence”. The fact that the interviewee remained anonymous and his voice unheard, together with Shishani’s claim that “he has to be careful about what he says in order to avoid arrest”, raises the unanswered question of how BBC Arabic made contact with this particular interviewee and whether or not a ‘middle-man’ such as the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ was involved.

That interviewee – presented as Aaron – apparently gave Shishani the money quotes he was obviously looking for.

Voiceover: “We know so much about people’s personal lives. Their romantic affairs, their sexual affairs, their health problems, everything. So if you want to gain cooperation from people it’s obviously best if we can blackmail this person.” […]

Shishani: “But it’s not just sexual orientation that makes people targets.”

Voiceover: “If someone’s daughter has cancer, for example, and he wants to get treatment in one of the Israeli hospitals – which is no doubt better treatment than in Palestinian hospitals – and if we know about it, maybe we can stop him and tell him OK you can have this but only if you cooperate.”

That led Shishani conveniently on to his next story.

Shishani: “Salwa Saidni [phonetic] knows all about this coercion. Today she is with her grandchildren. A year ago their mother Kholoud needed urgent treatment for cancer. The Israeli authorities granted her permission to go to a hospital in Jerusalem. It was six o’clock and barely light when Salwa and her daughter Kholoud arrived here at the Erez Crossing one morning in January 2017. […] The officers wanted information about a man married to Kholoud’s cousin. She said he was an olive tree farmer.”

Salwa: “He said ‘yes but he plants rockets. He plants rockets with Hamas.’ She said ‘if you know he plants rockets what’s that got to do with me? I’m sick and need treatment. I want to be able to raise my kids.'”

Shishani: “Salwa says her daughter was not able to give any information about the man.”

Salwa: “He told her ‘there’s the bus you need’. Only a glass screen separated us from it.”

Shishani: “But the Israeli authorities did not allow Kholoud to board the bus. […] Three weeks later Kholoud died.”

After having given extensive amplification to allegations that have been used by anti-Israel activists to delegitimise Israel – and with nothing to suggest any independent verification by the BBC – Shishani once again ostensibly ticked the BBC’s impartiality box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us that entry to Israel is not conditional on providing information or cooperation and they denied any irregularities in their dealings with Kholoud.”

Notably, Shishani made no effort to inform BBC audiences that the party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which in 2017 exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel. 

Shishani’s next interviewee was presented as follows:

Shishani: “Some Palestinians work with Israel because they genuinely believe this is the right way to protect their own people. I have come to a tiny village in the far south of Israel. It is the home of a Bedouin community of around 20 families that were moved from Gaza, where they had devoted their lives to working with the Israeli state. […] Hassan is the community leader here – a role he inherited from his father, a Bedouin Sheikh from the Sinai desert. Hassan’s father sided with the Israeli state after Arab nations were defeated in the 1967 war and Israel occupied his land. […] How do you feel when you or your father are called a traitor or a spy?”

The programme’s last interview – once again anonymous – took place in “a provincial Israeli town” with a man described as having “worked in Gaza for the Israelis from the age of 17 – but that was before he had to get out.”

Unsurprisingly, Shishani’s final interviewee stated that “my past is haunting me” and Shishani then closed the report.

Shishani: “Normality, more than anything, is what people in Gaza crave but for most here, it’s out of reach. Constant scrutiny, suspicion and human need mean that collaboration will keep shaping and poisoning lives and some will continue to work for the enemy.”

Clearly Murad Batal Shishani had a specific story to tell in this programme and nothing was going to get in its way. His uncritical amplification of the stories and interviews – in part obviously Hamas approved – that make up the bulk of the programme was not balanced by his token interview with Avi Dichter or his tepid one-liner presentations of responses from “the Israeli authorities”.

For years Hamas has periodically run campaigns targeting ‘collaborators’ and its extra-judicial executions of people branded as such are a subject only rarely covered by the BBC. Given the cooperation from Hamas that Shishani obviously enjoyed in the making of this programme, it is hardly surprising to see that Hamas’ use of the ‘collaborator’ tag as an excuse for extrajudicial executions did not get any coverage whatsoever in Shishani’s one-sided report.  

Related Articles:

BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC Arabic inaccurately portrays 2002 terror attack victims

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

A Gaza border closure not deemed newsworthy by BBC News

 

 

BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC audiences recently saw heavy social media promotion of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

“Collaborating with Israel can mean prison or death in Gaza. So why do people do it? Some Palestinians say they’re forced or blackmailed, others believe they’re helping to prevent attacks on innocent people. Israel says recruiting Palestinian agents helps protect its citizens. For Our World, BBC Arabic’s Murad Batal Shishani travels to Israel, and Gaza, to unravel a complex web of desperation and exploitation.”

The ‘documentary’ presented by Murad Batal Shishani (available here) literally opened with a context-free slur that has long been used by anti-Israel campaigners and BBC journalists alike.

Shishani: “It’s been called the world’s largest open prison. The Gaza Strip: penned in by walls, barbed wire and gun turrets. The 1.8 million people living here can only get into Israel with special permission. And even if their lives depend on it, they have to enter through here – the Erez Crossing – the main gateway into Israel. […] This is the story of the desperate choices people have to make. […] It’s the story of how the Israeli state seeks to protect its citizens. […] And of those who now live tortured by shame and regret. […] This is a film about Palestinians who collaborate with the Israeli state: those who work for the enemy.”

Following that introduction, the next four minutes of the film repeatedly and uncritically promoted clips from a video produced by a terrorist organisation.

Shishani: “In May 2017 the ruling Hamas government in Gaza released this video to a shocked public. Some Palestinian men had apparently been caught working for Israel in Gaza. They were explaining how they were recruited. […] Each had been cleverly targeted according to their needs and beliefs. They were then recruited by Israeli agents to kill a senior leader of the Hamas military wing – a man called Mazen Fuqaha.”

As readers may recall when Mazen Fuqaha was assassinated in March 2017, the BBC did not cover the story in English. Hamas immediately blamed Israel for the killing, at one point claiming that the assassins had arrived by sea. The BBC’s English language services also showed no interest in reporting border closures imposed by Hamas following the killing.

In April 2017 the BBC News website correctly reported that “Hamas has offered no evidence that Israel was behind Fuqaha’s death”. In May 2017 the BBC News website reported the executions of three men said by Hamas to have confessed to killing Fuqaha, quoting criticism of the process from an NGO.

“Human rights groups had called on the Islamist movement not to carry out the executions – just two weeks after it announced the arrests and aired videos of what it said were the men’s confessions. […]

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said: “Rushing to put men to death based on an unreviewable decision of a special military court days after announcing their arrests, and airing videoed confessions, smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law.

“Reliance on confessions, in a system where coercion, torture and deprivation of detainee’s rights are prevalent, and other apparent due process violations further taint the court’s verdicts”.”

Nevertheless, BBC Arabic chose to take those video confessions at face value and after a brief sketch of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities during the second Intifada, his imprisonment and his release, Shishani interviewed Hamas’ Mahmoud al Zahar, describing him as someone who “had known Mazen Fuqaha for years”.

Zahar: “They [Israel] thought Fuqaha was active in the West Bank while based in Gaza. Either some Palestinian told them or they had some intelligence.”

Shishani: “And was he active?”

Zahar: “I don’t know.”

Showing no further interest in the topic of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities, Shishani went on to further amplify Hamas’ version of events.

Shishani: “But someone seemed to think Fuqaha was still active. On the 24th of March 2017 this man – Ashraf Abu Leila – received his instructions. He outlined the plan in the Hamas confession video. Hamas officials say that this is Ashraf, caught on CCTV as he walks past the hospital into the yard and towards his target’s parking lot. Fuqaha had spent a family day on the beach. He was alone in his car. The gunman followed him, knocked on his window and shot him five times. Ashraf’s job was done. Hamas had lost one of its key assets and there was an outpouring of grief at Fuqaha’s funeral. Soon after, Ashraf and his suspected accomplices were arrested. In their confessions they warned their audience not to fall for Israeli recruiters. Days after these confessions were filmed all three men were executed as traitors – and as a warning to others.”

Then – after having spent a full four minutes unquestioningly amplifying Hamas’ unproven version of the story – Shishani told viewers that:

Shishani: “We cannot verify the testimonies in the video. Hamas would not share their evidence. But collaborating with Israel is not such a rare thing here.”

With obvious approval and cooperation from Hamas, Shishani next visited a prison in the Gaza Strip where he spoke to one of the “convicted collaborators” called Ibrahim. BBC audiences were once again led towards the erroneous belief that Gaza is under “siege”.

Ibrahim: “Most people who fall into this trap, 90% or more are victims. We in Gaza are suffering from a very harsh siege. Everything is in short supply. Healthcare. Basic needs.

Shishani: “Ibrahim told me that Israeli recruiters prey on the needs of people in Gaza.”

Ibrahim: “They target young men with financial problems and put pressure on them. To start with they say they are not asking for anything serious, just a chat. And then you fall into a bigger trap.”

Shishani: “Who are they targeting?”

Ibrahim: “Firstly it’s those who need medical treatment. This is the biggest problem facing us all. Everyone suffers from this problem. Secondly, it’s people with financial problems and thirdly those who are vulnerable and they turn to drugs.”

Once again – after giving uncritical and extensive amplification to those claims – Shishani ticked the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us they don’t try to recruit people in these vulnerable situations.”

The next part of Shishani’s film was devoted to the man executed by Hamas for the killing of Mazen Fuqaha – Ashraf Abu Laila.

Shishani: “What could have made a Palestinian like Ashraf kill a leading Hamas militant? And how might the Israeli security forces have found and recruited such a man?”

Quoting an unidentified source described as a “jihadi” – presumably one of Gaza’s Salafists – Shishani told viewers:

Shishani: “Ashraf Abu Laila approached the jihadists, claiming he is a member of the so-called Islamic State but the jihadists rejected him. As a loner, Ashraf might have been easier to control. But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

The rest of this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.  

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A Gaza border closure not deemed newsworthy by BBC News

 

 

BBC silence on Gaza smuggling continues

In the past we have documented several examples (see ‘related articles’ below) of the BBC’s serial failure to report stories concerning attempts to smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip for the purpose of terrorism.

Another such story recently came to light but it too has not received any BBC coverage.

“Israeli authorities at the Kerem Shalom Crossing foiled an attempt to smuggle into the Gaza Strip explosive components for long-range projectiles hidden inside packages of medical supplies, the Defense Ministry said in a statement Sunday morning.

The explosive material was intercepted by security authorities this past week after crates with containers of medical equipment destined for the Strip were removed and packages inside the containers were taken to a laboratory for additional testing. […]

The materials seized by authorities were then identified as a central component in the preparation of explosive charges and in the high-trajectory projectiles fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip.”

Just last month BBC audiences heard a Hamas official blame Gaza’s poor medical care on Israeli counter-terrorism measures without any challenge from his interviewer. The myth that medical services in Gaza are affected by the blockade is one that has been promoted in the past in BBC content, along with similar fables concerning fuel and the allegation that the counter-terrorism measures are ‘collective punishment’.

“Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade around Gaza aimed at preventing attacks by militants there, though the measure has been condemned by rights groups as a form of collective punishment.” BBC News website, February 13th 2017.

“…the stifling border closures the Israeli government says are for security, the people here say are for collective punishment.” BBC World Service radio, February 1st 2017.

“One of the reasons Gaza’s often described as the largest open-air prison in the world is the difficulty of getting across the border with Israel.” BBC World Service radio, May 19th 2015.

And yet, although it regularly amplifies such inaccurate claims, the BBC at the same time repeatedly refrains from informing its audiences of the stories which would enhance their understanding of why the restrictions placed on the border with the Gaza Strip are necessary.

Related Articles:

Documenting the BBC’s continuing silence on Gaza smuggling

BBC waives another chance to explain why Gaza’s naval blockade exists

BBC News passes up chance to explain why Israeli counter-terrorism measures exist

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Gaza terror smuggling again not newsworthy for the BBC

 

 

 

Stats defy the BBC’s repeated portrayal of a ‘siege’ on Gaza

When, in the summer of 2014, the BBC began describing the counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel along its border with the Gaza Strip as a “siege” we noted that the definition of that term is “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender” and commented:

“A besieging army does not ensure and facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid including food and medical supplies to those it surrounds. It does not supply them with 50% of their electricity supply, with oil and diesel or with cooking gas. It does not help them export their produce and give their farmers agricultural training. It does not evacuate their sick and treat them […] in its own hospitals.”

The use of that inaccurate terminology is however still evident in BBC content – both by unchallenged interviewees and by BBC journalists. For example:

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” (Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 4, 19/7/14)

“And I have to say – and this is one of the oddest things – from the decrepit heart of a half-destroyed city in a besieged and blockaded enclave, sometimes described as the biggest open air prison in the world, comes the best ice cream I have ever tasted.” (Roger Hearing, BBC Radio 4, 18/6/15)

“I had attended the war in Gaza in 2012. I’ve been working there for about the last five years and while I was there we had patients coming in – no equipment because the siege has gotten so bad even though it’s medical equipment – and we had to listen to patients’ chests by putting our ears to their chests…” (Tarek Loubani on ‘Newshour‘, 16/8/15)

“These people who suffered these wars and siege are now in rows having popcorn and watching [a movie that] reflects the Palestinian situation,” Mr Abu Saleh said. […] ‘The project is very important… because it is considered as one of the ways to break through the siege that has been forced on Gaza for 10 years’.” (Hugo Bachega, BBC News website, 8/4/16)

“‘The war’s over but the war-like situation is still going on’ he tells me. ‘The siege goes on, we’re still prisoners. The quality of life gets worse’.” (Yolande Knell, ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, 22/7/17)

“Of course life for ordinary people in Gaza is under tremendous pressure at the moment because it’s almost ten years of siege… […] I think what needs to be looked at is the whole siege of Gaza and I think that will require much more international determination both from the West and from the Gulf countries and Egypt to sort of say to Israel ‘look, it’s not in your interest to keep the siege going’.” (Oliver McTernan on ‘Newshour‘, 17/9/17)

“Hamas is also suffering because not easy now to rule Gaza and the policy of the political isolation from the international community, from the blockade and siege on Gaza from the Israeli occupation…” (Ghazi Hamad on ‘Newshour‘, 17/9/17)

“The siege for a long time destroyed our medical, our social, our economic life and nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.” (Mahmoud Zahar on ‘Hardtalk‘, 8/1/18)

On January 24th Israel’s Ministry of Defence published a summary of its Crossings Authority’s activity during 2017. In the section relating to the Kerem Shalom crossing the report states:

“The movement of Israeli goods that entered Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing grew and reached some 160 thousand lorries. The peak of the year was recorded in April when in one day over 1,000 lorries carrying goods crossed the crossing.”

The report also states that in 2017 there was a rise of 15% in the amount of goods transported and in the number of people using the various crossings to the Gaza Strip and Judea & Samaria administered by the authority, with 15 million crossings by Palestinians recorded.

Obviously a media organisation seriously committed to accurate and impartial reporting would not portray, or facilitate portrayal of, 160,000 truckloads of supplies in one year as a “siege”. The BBC, however, continues to do just that.  

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BBC fails to produce follow-up reporting on Gaza power story

Back in November 2017 we noted that BBC reporting on the electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip had come to an abrupt halt.

“When the long-running electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip was exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority’s decision to cut payments for electricity supplied to the territory in April of this year, BBC audiences saw coverage of that topic (albeit often lacking accurate background and context) on a variety of BBC platforms. […]

After Hamas and Fatah announced their latest ‘reconciliation’ in mid-September, BBC coverage of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip suddenly waned and no further reporting on the topic has since appeared.

However, if BBC audiences perhaps assumed that reason for that dramatic drop in coverage is that the Hamas-Fatah ‘unity deal’ (which was reported profusely and enthusiastically by the BBC) has solved the long-standing crisis, they would be mistaken – as the Times of Israel reports.”

Just as those getting their news from the BBC were told nothing of the Palestinian Authority’s continued refusal to renew payment for the electricity supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip after the latest Hamas-Fatah ‘unity deal’ was announced in September 2017, they also saw no reporting on the reversal of that decision at the beginning of January 2018.

“The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that it is ready to resume paying for all of its share of electricity for the Gaza Strip, ending more than six months of restrictions for the already power-starved Strip. […]

Abbas had dramatically reduced payments to Israel for the electricity — effectively slashing the supply — in a bid to pressure Hamas to loosen its grip on Gaza.

The PA has now requested that Israel now resume supplying another 50 megawatts to Gaza’s power lines, restoring the provision of electricity to Gaza to what it was prior to June 2017, said Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh in a statement to the official PA news site Wafa.

The return of the regular power supply to the Strip would mean Gazans would again see six to eight hours of electricity a day, rather than two to four hours a day they received during the reduction.” 

A few days later full power supply was resumed.

“Israel is to restore its full share of electricity supply to the Gaza Strip from Monday, ending more than six months of restrictions for the already power-starved Strip, officials said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday instructed the Israel Electric Corporation to increase the supply to maximum capacity, after more than half a year of a 40% reduction after the Palestinian Authority intentionally decreased payments to Israel.

Israel’s 10 power lines into Gaza, which can provide up to 120 megawatts, will be “fully operational” by Monday night, at the request of the PA, the Defense Ministry said.”

Despite its vigorous promotion of the story between April and September 2017 – which not infrequently led audiences to mistakenly believe that the crisis was connected to Israeli counter-terrorism measures – the BBC has not produced any follow-up reporting informing audiences of the developments in the story.

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BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, listeners to the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th heard two very similar opinions on the story of US aid donations to UNRWA from NGO head Jan Egeland and from the UN agency’s spokesperson Chris Gunness.

In a later edition of the same programme, Gunness was interviewed again (from 02:09 here) by presenter Shaimaa Khalil.  

Gunness began by telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

While Gunness has been promoting that claim for years, it bears closer examination because, as pointed out by Steven J Rosen:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

Rosen notes that:

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees” though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.”

Regarding Gunness’ claim “that is the case with UNHCR refugees”, Rosen notes:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Unchallenged by Khalil on that important point, Gunness (who in his previous interview claimed to “maintain the highest standards of neutrality”) continued:

Gunness: “And the refugees we serve are not only just going up in number but the vulnerabilities they face are also intensifying. In Syria there’s this cruel war raging into its 7th year. In Gaza we see a blockade – a collective punishment in violation of international law – and in the West Bank we’ve seen 50 years of Israeli occupation.”

That Gunness failed to offer any legal basis for his allegations concerning the blockage and refrained from mentioning the terrorism that made it necessary is not surprising. As former UNRWA senior official James Lindsay has noted:

“In 2008, UNRWA issued comparably fewer calls for engaging Hamas. Instead, it has focused on criticizing the Israeli blockade of Gaza […]. In this regard, the agency echoes the Hamas view of the conflict with Israel. For example, when UNRWA ran out of fuel supplies in late April–early May 2008, it implied that its shortage was caused by the Israelis (who were blocking deliveries to Hamas but not to UNRWA) rather than by Hamas’s actions (which included allowing demonstrators to prevent delivery of fuel to UNRWA as well as intimidation of the Petrol Station Owners Association, which subsequently refused to distribute fuel delivered to Gaza by Israel). This propensity to echo Hamas views extends to other issues as well.”

Gunness continued:

Gunness: “What we need to resolve UNRWA’s budget problems is a political settlement. We need a just and durable solution for 5.3 million Palestine refugees who to this day, 70 years after their original exile and dispossession, have remained exiled. They remain stateless and in many cases they are deeply vulnerable. That is what causes UNRWA’s budget problems. UNRWA is an expression of the political failure of the political echelons to bring dignity and resolution to a community that for far too long has been deprived of those things.”

As also noted by Lindsay, UNRWA’s idea of a “political settlement” echoes Palestinian claims of ‘right of return’:

“Regarding the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, UNRWA’s sympathies are not with resettlement or “repatriation” to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but with “repatriation” to Israel.”

Shaimaa Khalil made no effort to question Gunness on the issue of the estimated 2 million people defined as Palestinian refugees who hold Jordanian citizenship before going on to ask:

Khalil: “But what do you say to the point being made that the United States has the right to know where the money is going and the point that UNRWA has poorly planned the resources?”

Gunness’ answer to that question repeated claims he made in the first interview of American ‘praise’ for UNRWA during a visit by its commissioner-general to Washington last November. Khalil went on:

Khalil: “Just on the point that your budget is over a billion dollars – this is just $125 million [sic] that’s being withheld. Don’t you think that other countries could step in and provide that amount?”

After Gunness answered that UNRWA is “going after other donors”, Khalil asked him “how will this shortfall affect your operations?” to which (despite having claimed in the previous interview that “what is at stake [is] nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East”) he replied:

Gunness: “Well let us be clear. The commissioner-general said in his statement that we intend to robustly defend our mandate and we are determined that services will not be impacted. And that remains our position. It is premature to talk about cuts. We will do everything I can…we can a) to go after additional funds and b) to protect the mandate and make sure that the dignity of these people living in such fragile and vulnerable circumstances can continue to be protected with the services that we deliver.”

As we see, not only was Gunness not asked any in-depth questions about UNRWA’s record and agenda that would help BBC audiences understand this story better but his inaccurate and misleading claim concerning hereditary refugee status and his politically motivated allegations concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures were not challenged at all.

Moreover, not only was the same interview rebroadcast in a later edition of the same programme (from 00:35 here) but the BBC World Service also chose to promote a slightly edited version of it on social media.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

The top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ aired on January 17th was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

In the early edition of that programme, listeners around the world heard from two contributors voicing similar opinions. The item was introduced (at 00:48 here) by presenter Paul Hawkins as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hawkins: “But first to the news that the US is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the UN relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA. The White House has sent $60 million in its kind of first installment of 2018 but it’s withholding the remaining $65 million and has urged other countries to pay more. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor and supplies nearly 30% of its total budget of over a billion dollars. Here’s the reaction of Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary general and current head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”

Despite the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, as is all too often the case listeners were not given any information regarding that NGO’s political agenda and activities before they heard its representative speak.

Egeland: “This is horrible news for us who are actively trying to provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East to all parties including to Palestinian refugee children. UNRWA is the number one provider of education, health care, even food and shelter for Palestinian refugees and their children: people who in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria have nowhere else to go, no job opportunities, no hope. It is a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid that grown, well-fed politicians and diplomats say we will now cut relief to the most vulnerable people because we disagree politically on, for example, the future of Jerusalem. Cannot do like that.”

Later on in the same programme (at 18:30) Hawkins returned to the same topic and after a short introduction, brought in UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.

Hawkins: “First of all the US State Department says that this decision is not aimed at punishing anyone, it’s not punitive and they just simply want your agency to reform itself. Do you believe them?”

Gunness: “Well first of all let me say that this reduction of US funding is regrettable, it is abrupt and it is harmful. The decision threatens one of the longest standing, most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East and at stake is the access of over half a million boys and girls to over 700 UNRWA schools. At stake is the dignity and the human security of millions of Palestine refugees. We tend to the sick, the elderly, the dying, the vulnerable children and women. So that is what is at stake: nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East

As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms. We remain committed to reforms but we have to say that this decision is extremely worrying because at stake is, as I say, the dignity, the human security of millions of Palestine refugees.”

Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.

Hawkins: “Well you say you remain committed to the reforms – it seems like the current White House administration is fed up with the agency being committed to reforms but not actually following them through. We’ve spoken to one expert who’s heard from the White House that UNRWA…when the US provides around $200 million a year to UNRWA, the agency burns through the budget within its first eight to ten months and then it has to go round asking for more money and this is the kind of thing that the US is a bit fed up with.”

Gunness: “Well as I said the US has consistently commended our high impact, our transparency and our accountability and as I’ve just said this was reiterated once again during the visit to Washington last November. The reason why, as you say, we burn through our budget is that the number of refugees continues to grow. The vulnerabilities they face in places like Gaza – because of the blockade – in Syria – because of the war that is now in its 7th year – and in the West Bank where the occupation is 50 years old. The reason why the budget of UNRWA goes up is because the numbers are going up and what we say to all stakeholders of the political echelon is what will stop this and what will put UNRWA out of business is a just and durable solution for the refugees in accordance with international law and based on UN resolutions. That is what is going to obviate the need for UNRWA to – as you put it – burn through the budget. So let’s get some political action to resolve the refugee issue because year on year the numbers are going up and there is increasing demand therefore our budget goes up.”

Hawkins made no effort to help listeners understand what part UNRWA’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status plays in causing the number of Palestinian refugees to rise, why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. 

Hawkins: “Just very quickly because we’re running out of time, Chris – apologies for that – but there’s also been a few questions raised about UNRWA’s…about the money that UNRWA provides – a lot of it going to political activity and what some may think is a questionable use of funds.”

Gunness: “Well we are one of the most audited of UN organisations on the planet. We maintain the highest standards of neutrality. The aid pipeline which we have is…it guarantees…I don’t understand where you say…I don’t understand where these accusations are coming from. Our funds are used for the purposes they’re intended for and that is a matter of public record and it’s something which we achieve to the satisfaction of all our major donors.”

The interview ended there, with no further questioning of Gunness’ (frequently touted) claims of “neutrality” despite his own well-documented activities and the agency’s record of political advocacy.

Once again, BBC audiences heard nothing of the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau, of the Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools  or of the antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees.  

That, however, was not Gunness’ only interview on ‘Newsday’ on that particular day and his second appearance will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 8th edition of ‘Hardtalk (aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio) was devoted to an interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar in which some of the messaging audiences have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

Throughout the interview Zahar also promoted numerous falsehoods, smears and inaccuracies which went unchallenged by presenter Stephen Sackur – thereby leaving audiences with misleading impressions and false information.

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

1) Despite Hamas’ known misappropriation of thousands of tons of building materials intended for the repair and reconstruction of civilian homes damaged during the 2014 conflict and its spending of millions of dollars on tunnel construction and missile production rather than on public services for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip, Sackur failed to challenge Zahar’s claim that the poor quality of life in Gaza has nothing to do with Hamas “management”.

Zahar: “Yes, our life is very miserable – not because of bad management on our side but because of the crime committed by the Israeli occupation and by the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority with them and lastly by the impact of the international community, represented mainly by Mr Trump, against our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.”

2) Sackur also refrained from questioning that claim from Zahar that the “human rights” of Muslims at al Aqsa mosque are being abused and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that in fact Muslims alone are allowed to pray there.

3) Zahar’s inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” went unchallenged, as did the false allegation that the problems plaguing medical services in the Gaza Strip are the result of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Zahar: “The siege for a long time destroyed our medical, our social, our economic life and nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”

4) The issue of discrimination against Palestinians in some Arab countries was not raised by Sackur when Zahar mentioned refugee camps and neither was the subject of the deliberate perpetuation of their refugee status.

Zahar: “Add to that our miserable life in the West Bank in addition to the very distress life in the refugee camps outside Palestine, whether in Jordan, especially in Lebanon and Syria. For this reason I think it’s a big crime. It’s a big crime against the Palestinian human rights.”

5) Zahar’s repeated claims of “occupation” since 1948 were not challenged by Sackur even once and neither was his inaccurate characterisation of the British mandate administration.

Zahar [04:00]: “…we are living under occupation since many, many years. Since 1948 they occupied what is now called Israel and after that at ’67.”

Zahar [14:36]: “We are here speaking about national interest. Our interest is our land. Our land well-known occupied at ’48.”

Zahar [19:50]: “Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.”

6) Zahar’s repeated portrayal of Palestinian terrorism as “self-defence” went unquestioned.

Zahar [04:00]: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

Zahar [05:36]: “The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […] We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are not a terrorist and we are not launching rockets against Israel randomly. But we are defending ourself against the fifth…the Phantom fifty-five. […] You [are] speaking [about] us as we are launching rockets against Israel as terrorist. We are not terrorist. We are freedom fighter.”

Zahar [16:51]: “We practiced as a Palestinian people all the peaceful methods in order to achieve our right as a homeland and now we see no square meter for the Palestinians except Gaza – liberated by armed resistance. […] We are insisting to defend ourself by all means including the armed resistance […] people are admiring to sacrifice [i.e. suicide bombings] in order to achieve their homeland.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Humanitarian aid [from foreign donors] is our right whether we are fighting as a freedom fighter or living in prison.”

Zahar: [21:43] “Why you describe it as violence? This is not a violence. This is one of the methods to have a self-defence.”

7) When Sackur raised the issue of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians, Zahar’s claim that they “are not citizens” [from 05:36] went unchallenged by Sackur, as did his repeated inaccurate and bigoted portrayal of all Israelis as ‘foreigners’ and his portrayal of Israel as a colonial implant for which Europeans are to blame.

Zahar: “First of all these are citizens…are not citizens. These are settler. These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.

Zahar [14:36]: “I’m asking just simple question: what moral principle justify Netanyahu to come from America and while his father is still there and to occupy our land? What justified for Lieberman coming from Russia to be in our land?”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are occupied by foreigner, dismissed all through your history. You as European people and Americans are particularly the people responsible about the disaster of the Jews when you destroyed […] the existence of the Jews in your country and dismissed these people to our people as part of the occupation.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Do you believe that your capital [Jerusalem] can be occupied by a foreigner and the price will be material aids [aid]?”

Zahar [19:37]: “It is not a matter of destroying Israel. It is a matter of liberation of our land occupied by a foreigner, by people from America…”

8) Zahar’s repeated airbrushing of the long history of suicide bombings by Hamas and other terror groups went without comment from Sackur.

Zahar [05:36]: “We started by throwing stones, using knife and lastly at a time used guns against the Israeli.”

Zahar [21:43]: “We practice…we practiced all, all methods. Since the occupation we practiced several different self-defence and in the first Intifada we threw stones, we distributed leaflets and we [unintelligible] and the result was more Israeli aggression […] and the people were enforce [forced] at that time to use violence – throwing the stone and after that using knives and after that when they succeed to have guns, they use guns and by these guns the Israelis came from Gaza.”

9) Even Zahar’s dog-whistle remarks concerning Temple Mount produced no reaction from Sackur and at no point was the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians clarified to audiences.

Zahar [14:36] “Our interest is our holy place al Aqsa mosque which is the most important third shrine in Islam, not only for Hamas but for every Muslim – even the British Muslim.”

While there may of course be those who argue that it is useful for BBC audiences to hear the type of extremist views espoused by Hamas straight from their source, the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.

As we see, that did not happen and so BBC audiences around the world went away having been fed an unhealthy dose of standard Palestinian propaganda that erases Jewish history and portrays Jews as a foreign colonial implant in the region.  

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Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one