Another BBC item promotes falsehoods about Israel’s anti-terrorist fence

On January 3rd BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ re-ran an hour-long programme first aired in November 2019 under the title “Build the Wall!”.

“On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Katy Long asks why political leaders are celebrating the occasion while building new border walls of their own.

From the United States, where ‘build the wall’ has become a symbol of the Trump presidency, to Norway, India and South Africa, dozens of walls have gone up since 1989, with many more being built, planned or imagined. In this programme, Katy tells the modern history of border walls to ask why they are being built, and why now, when new virtual technologies increasingly offer alternatives to concrete barriers.

Katy will examine the complicated history of the Berlin Wall, and what it meant during the Cold War. She’ll examine border walls and border communities in Northern Ireland, the United States, South Africa and Israel, exploring what happens when walls are built – for good and ill – and whether it’s possible to take them down again. She’ll look at the difference between walls to keep people in, and keep them out, and whether the walls are really about safety, or certainty, or just about ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

Katy Long is not a BBC journalist. As readers may know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that:

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

BBC audiences however are told nothing of Long’s affiliations and hear nothing about the “funding and particular viewpoints” of the think tank for which she works.

According to its webpage, the BBC Radio 4 programme will be available “for over a year” and so the substantial section relating to Israel – which begins at 43:55 – is worthy of examination. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Long: “And the closer I look the more it seems like border walls run along the hidden fault lines of our liberal democracies. They’re monuments of the political impossibility of balancing national sovereignty with ideas of universal freedom, human rights and equality. That’s certainly the case of Israel – a state that is now almost entirely surrounded by walls. Danny Tirza.”

Tirza: “In 2000 the government decided to construct a security barrier between the West Bank and Israel and that was the project that I was the head of.”

Israel is of course not “entirely surrounded by walls” – in most places the border is protected by a fence. Long began by casting doubt on the information her interviewee had yet to provide.

Long: “For Tirza, the architect of the West Bank security fence, the logic of the barrier is simple and can be measured in the number of Israeli lives he believes it has saved.”

Tirza: “From 2000 till the end of 2006 we had in Israel more than three thousand terror attacks. We lost in this period 1,562 people that were murdered by terror attacks from the West Bank to Israel. At that period we had from Gaza Strip only three terror attacks because Gaza Strip was already fenced before that. But from January 2007 till today we had from the West Bank to Israel only 50 terror attacks and we lost in this period 41 people. You can see the differences.”

Long proceeded to signpost that information from a contributor  – who is the former head of the Strategic Planning Unit of the Judea and Samaria Division, IDF Central Command (1994-2009), a former senior security adviser and negotiator in diplomatic talks with the Palestinian leadership and a former advisor to prime ministers, the president of Israel, defense ministers, the National Security Council, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, the IDF Planning Branch, and senior IDF commanders – as unreliable. She did not inform listeners by whom that information is “contested” or whether that claim has any merit.

Long: “The exact numbers here are contested and correlation is not always causation. But what is beyond dispute is that there’s been a dramatic drop in Israeli deaths from terrorism since the barrier was built. But from the other side of the wall, the story looks very different.”

The contributor chosen to present the view from “the other side of the wall” is a London-based Iranian-American academic whose frankly often ridiculous claims did not receive any questioning, challenge or signposting from Katy Long.

Khalili: “This wall functions more as an offensive measure rather than as a defensive one.”

Long: “Laleh Khalili is professor in Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.”

Khalili: “So what do I mean by this? I mean that it has a certain series of functions that are used to control populations. Not only are you controlling people’s movements but you’re also by cutting the territory into different segments – and I think that in part explains the shape of the wall in the West Bank – what you’re doing is you’re creating areas with variegated modes of military control in them so that people can be subjected to surveillance in those spaces, they can be subjected to control of movement but also, should there be for example demonstrations or protests or forms of mobilization, the wall actually functions as a military means to limit those protests. And the third function is land grab so some of the areas where we see the wall have really – the wall in the West Bank – have some really very odd contours. In those instances the wall actually functions as a kind of a means to grab a bit of land and annex it.”

Those claims are of course complete nonsense but listeners heard no challenge from Long, who went on to promote an inaccurate claim of her own.

Long: “The West Bank’s wall sits to the east of the pre-1967 borders meaning that about 10% of the West Bank is now on the Israeli side of the barrier and some Palestinian villages are entirely encircled by the fence.”

There is of course no such thing as “pre-1967 borders”: as the BBC’s own style guide recognises, the 1949 Armistice Line is not a border.

“In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.”

Moreover, Long’s claim that all of the anti-terrorist fence “sits to the east” of what she wrongly described as a border is untrue. She went on to promote pure conjecture as fact.  

Long: “This means that while the wall may have brought Israel temporary security, it will make negotiations for a lasting peace still more complicated.”

Tirza: “No, this line is not a border. The border had to be decided only on the table of the negotiation. So the line will change there because there are other concerns that we can deal with on the negotiation table. That’s not that line.”

Long: “How permanent are those walls?”

Tirza: “As I was the territorial expert in all the negotiations with the Palestinians, I want to be the one that will take off the fences around the West Bank. I love this area very much. I have so many friends on the other side so really I hope that they will come and there will be no need for the security fence and we can remove it and live normally and quietly with our neighbours the Palestinians.”

Long: “I was reading as I was preparing for this that on some of the concrete slabs there are holes at the top. Is that right?”

Tirza: “That’s right. We call it the hole of hope. That it will be very easy to come with a crane and to take it off and remove it.”

Listeners then heard a recording, apparently from a news report, followed by the repetition of the false claim that Israel is “encircled with walls”:

“It’s a project shrouded in secrecy and there are plenty of denials today that this barrier is even being built.”

Long: “But despite Tirza’s hope that one day, when there is peace, the walls in the West Bank can come down, Israel is still building new barriers. Today the entire state is encircled with walls physically reinforcing the sense of the state existing under siege – a sense which has informed so much of Israeli politics in recent years.”

BBC audiences did not get to hear anything about the relevant issues of ISIS in the Sinai, Iranian-backed terror groups in the Gaza Strip or the terror group Hizballah in Lebanon and the Syrian Golan at that point or any other in the programme.

Apparently confusing the border with Egypt with that of the Gaza Strip – and making absolutely no mention of cross-border attack tunnels – Long went on:

Long: “On the border with Egypt a new barrier is being built. Not just up but also down underground, as Christian Fraser reported.”

The recording of Fraser’s report continued:

Fraser: “Sources say the new barrier is made of super strength steel that extends 80 meters below the surface. They believe it is manufactured in the United States. From descriptions it appears to fit together like a jigsaw and they say it’s been tested to ensure it’s bomb proof, it can’t be cut, it can’t be melted. In short, it sounds almost impenetrable.”

Long: “Ultimately, so much depends on where you’re standing when you look at Israel’s walls. For Israelis the fences are tolerable, even welcome, because they are held to keep terror out and because for most Israelis they are out of sight, out of mind.”

What evidence Long has to support that dubious claim is unclear. She went on:

Long: “For Palestinians, especially in overcrowded Gaza where nearly 2 million people live on just 350 square kilometers of land, they are hated as an assault on basic freedom because the walls limit everyday lives by keeping people in. Laleh Khalili explains.”

Khalili: “In Gaza the wall is so all-encompassing, in some ways so incredibly difficult to penetrate, that in fact it acts as a kind of a very large-scale prison. People often use that terminology to define…to describe Gaza as a large open-air prison but in fact the walls that surround it, at least on the land side, feels like anybody who’s in Gaza is stuck there.”

That ‘open air prison’ propaganda got no challenge from Long and listeners were not told that the Gaza Strip has a land border with Egypt or that thousands of people travel out of the territory every month. Of course the crucially relevant topic of the terrorism perpetrated by factions in the Gaza Strip did not even get one word of mention.

Long then joined some agenda-revealing dots for her listeners.

Long: “It’s tempting, standing here on the US border with Mexico, to talk about the many links between the barriers in Israel and the increased border enforcements here under President Trump. To point to the Israeli companies competing for contracts or the advice that Danny Tirza has given to the US Sheriff’s Association. To think about the increasing militarisation of this border between allies.”

As we see, the BBC is apparently quite happy for a programme which includes numerous inaccuracies to remain available on its platform for “over a year”.

Related Articles:

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

BBC WS programme on anti-terrorist fence promotes inaccurate information

Revisiting a story the BBC last mentioned in 2013

Back in February 2018 we noted that BBC audiences had seen no meaningful coverage of a long-running dispute between Lebanon and Israel concerning their maritime border. That observation still stands.

In that post we recorded that the United States had been trying to mediate between the two parties for some time, as explained in a comprehensive article by Oded Eran of the INSS.

“In February 2012, State Department Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Frederic Hof…undertook the task of mediation. Israel reiterated to him its willingness to resolve the dispute by reaching a compromise in direct talks with representatives of the Lebanese government. In April 2012, at separate meetings in London (in view of the Lebanese refusal to participate in a joint meeting), Hof submitted a proposed compromise involving division of the disputed area. On May 2, 2013, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman approved the American proposal, even though it granted Lebanon a larger share of the area. To this day no official response from Lebanon has been received, although according to reports of US diplomats in contact with the Lebanese government, they discussed inter alia depositing the proposal with the UN. From this it appears that the proposal was acceptable to the Lebanese government.”

In June of this year Mr Eran and his colleague reported that the negotiations were to be renewed.

“In the coming weeks, negotiations are supposed to begin between Israel and Lebanon on demarcation of the maritime border between them. Agreement on forthcoming talks was reached following intensive efforts by United States Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield, and it was decided that negotiations will be held at the UN facility in Naqoura, on the Israel-Lebanon border. Due to Lebanese opposition to American mediation, the United States will participate in the talks only as a facilitator. The conflict between Israel and Lebanon concerns an 860 sq km triangular area in the Mediterranean Sea, and stems from a dispute regarding the demarcation method (Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline). The issue grew more relevant and became an open conflict following the natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea.”

They noted that:

“The Lebanese government’s current agreement to renew the negotiations, and this time in a direct manner, seems to have been made possible by the formation of the Lebanese government earlier this year, but it is clear that the main backdrop is the urgent economic need, due to Lebanon’s severe economic hardship. […]

Moreover, it seems that there has been a change in Hezbollah’s position on the issue, as Lebanon’s willingness to negotiate would not have been possible without this organization’s approval. […]

This change in Hezbollah’s position increases the chances of reaching an agreement…”

However, the Jerusalem Post now reports that Hizballah’s stance has changed yet again.

“Internal Lebanese struggles are apparently holding up negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over demarcating their maritime border, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri pushing for the talks to begin, but facing resistance from Hezbollah. […]

Lebanese website Naharnet reported earlier this week that France and the US expressed regret that efforts to kick-start the talks have been frozen.

The report quoted sources involved in the negotiations as saying “the Lebanese side, specifically Hezbollah, has decided to stop the negotiations due to an Iranian-Syrian intervention linked to the new tension between America, Israel and Iran.” […]

According to Israeli officials, Hariri and Druze and Christian parties are interested in settling the border dispute because the exploration of natural gas off the coast would add millions to the Lebanese treasury, which is in dire need of replenishing. Hezbollah and its patron Iran have other interests, however, and are placing obstacles in the way.”

The dispute has been going on for many years but the last time BBC audiences heard of its existence was over six years ago in a written report from Yolande Knell about gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Israel and Lebanon remain technically at war and there is a dispute over their un-demarcated maritime border. […]

Political uncertainty in Lebanon means it is also unable to make key decisions, notably on the delineation of offshore blocks, which must be approved by a new cabinet.

There is currently only a caretaker government after the prime minister stepped down last month.”

Since that article appeared in May 2013, audiences have seen no further coverage of the attempts to get negotiations on track and remain completely unaware of the fact that a designated terror organisation acting on Iranian instruction is preventing the resolution of a long-standing dispute and stalling potential improvement to the Lebanese economy.

Related Articles:

A border dispute BBC audiences know nothing about

BBC’s Knell inaccurate on naval blockade of Gaza Strip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace”: a barrier to understanding Israel’s borders

The BBC’s July 2013 backgrounder titled “Middle East peace talks: Where they stand“, which includes details of what the BBC defines as the “core issues” of the current negotiations between Israel and the PLO, has been appended to many articles appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page as a ‘related article’.

At the bottom of that webpage, under the heading “more on this story”, audiences still find links to the four highly problematic articles going under the title “Obstacles to Peace” which – despite being dated 2010 – were actually originally produced by Martin Asser in mid-2007.

We have previously discussed here three of Asser’s pieces – see ‘related articles’ below. The fourth article in the series is titled “Obstacles to Middle East peace: Borders and settlements“. Asser borders

Asser elects to completely ignore the San Remo conference and the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 which brought about the creation of the Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations. Hence, he is able to begin his flawed account in 1948.

“The modern Israeli state was forged in the fires of the first Middle East war in 1948-1949, but from the beginning it was a state without clear borders.”

The borders of the Mandate for Palestine were of course amply clear. The fact that surrounding Arab countries chose not to respect them when Britain abandoned its role as administrator of the Mandate and the State of Israel was declared is the real issue which Asser chooses to conceal. He goes on:

“Jordan and Egypt have signed treaties with Israel, turning some of the 1949 ceasefire lines into state borders. But the absence of final settlements with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians mean most of Israel’s boundaries remain potential flashpoints and the state itself is unstable.”

In fact, the border agreed upon by Israel and Jordan within the framework of the 1994 peace treaty does not run along the 1949 ceasefire lines at all, but this obvious inaccuracy has nevertheless been allowed to stand on the BBC website for seven years.

Asser continues by failing to clarify that it was the “Arab forces” who initiated the war against the nascent Jewish state:

“In 1948, when British rule of Palestine ended, Israeli forces managed to push most of the Arab forces that joined the war to the former Mandate boundaries, which became temporary ceasefire lines.

The exceptions were what we now know as the West Bank, which remained under Jordanian control, and the Gaza Strip, which was controlled by Egypt.”

By use of the word “exceptions”, Asser fails to adequately clarify to readers that the 1949 ceasefire lines agreed with Jordan were also specifically defined as temporary. He then promotes the chimera of the UN partition plan, which of course is entirely irrelevant to the issue under discussion because it has no legal standing due to the fact that it was rejected by the Arab side to the dispute.

“Thus Israel came into being on 78% of the former Palestine, rather than the 55% allocated under the UN partition plan.”

Asser then moves on to 1967 – once again failing to note why that war broke out and the fact it was Jordan’s decision to join the attack which led to the capture of Judea & Samaria.

“Fast forward to 1967, when Israel captured both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Israeli-controlled land now stretched from the Jordan Valley in the east and the Suez Canal to the west; it completely enclosed the Sea of Galilee in the north, and gave it a foothold on the Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea.” ???????????????????

Asser’s assertion that only after 1967 did the Sea of Galilee become “completely enclosed” by territory under Israeli control is inaccurate.

“The 1923 Franco-British Boundary Agreement came about after the British High Commissioner at the time, Herbert Samuel, demanded and got full control of the Sea of Galilee and the Upper Jordan River. The border was set 100 meters to the east of the Jordan River, with a ten meter-wide strip at the north-eastern side of the lake and a broader strip at its south-eastern side included in the territory of the Mandate for Palestine.” 

Asser goes on to make a gratuitous reference to Israel’s former presence in southern Lebanon, with no mention at all of the cross-border terror war waged by the PLO which brought about the first Lebanon war.

“The Sinai was exchanged for peace with Egypt in the early 1980s (at about the time Israel occupied south Lebanon, where it remained until withdrawing unilaterally in May 2000).”

Asser then turns his attention to communities in Judea & Samaria, including the usual incomplete BBC representation of their legal status which – in breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality – fails to inform readers of the existence of conflicting opinions regarding the claim that “settlements are illegal under international law”.

“The settlements are illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this and has pressed ahead with its activity despite signing various agreements to curb settlement growth.”

Which “agreements” those are supposed to be is unclear, but Asser certainly makes no attempt to clarify to readers that the terms of the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – do not include any restrictions on Israeli building in Area C. Neglecting to mention Hebron’s historic Jewish ties as well as its status under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Asser then goes on to claim that:

“The first settlers were religious Jews who remained in Hebron after celebrating Passover there in 1968.”

In fact, Mehola in the Jordan Rift Valley was established in 1967, and Kfar Etzion was reestablished in Gush Etzion in the same year. Ignoring the fact that at least a third of Israeli residents of Judea & Samaria do not identify as religiously observant, Asser presents a cherry picked portion of scripture as though it were the basis for contemporary Israeli policy:

“The settlement movement has become closely affiliated to Jewish religious nationalism, which claims boundaries of modern Israel based on Genesis 15:18: “God made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates’.” “

That leads on to a blatantly political presentation of a ‘timeline’ which completely ignores the terrorism of the post-Oslo years and the second Intifada.

“On both political and religious grounds, therefore, it has been extremely sensitive for Israeli politicians to dabble in land-for-peace negotiations.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin pushed for a two-state solution in the 1990s, and was made to pay for it with a Jewish nationalist assassin’s bullet.

Successors Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon unilaterally pulled out of south Lebanon and Gaza, respectively – both of which moves were followed by a resurgence of violent confrontation in subsequent years, discrediting that approach.

Benjamin Netanyahu managed to put the brakes on Rabin’s historic drive for a two-state solution in the 1990s and has been in no rush to get to the negotiating table during his second term.”

Asser’s piece ends with outlines of various ‘solutions’ to the issue where he makes a reference to some mysterious “further territorial compromises” on the part of representatives of the Palestinian people who, in their various line-ups over the years, have refused the partition plan, refused to make peace after the Six Day War, scuppered the Oslo Accords and failed to respond to Olmert’s peace proposals.

“Further territorial compromises (having already been squeezed into 22% of pre-1948 Palestine) could also be a bitter pill for the Palestinian faction that favours a two-state solution, the Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Although he does note that Hamas is opposed to any negotiated end to the conflict, Asser eliminates Hamas’ terrorism from the picture entirely and fails to clarify its opposition to the Saudi Arabian initiative which he mentions, or the fact that Hamas is not alone in its opposition to Israel’s existence. He ends up by suggesting that Israel is to blame even for Hamas’ stance:

“In the long term, therefore, Israel’s reluctance to accept the existing Green Line in some ways plays into the hands of militant Islamist groups such as Hamas.”

Asser’s article also includes a side box in which, inter alia, it is stated that:

“Settlements and the area they take up cover 40% of the West Bank”

With even the PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat having stated that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria take up 1.1% of the land, one might wonder where the BBC sourced that bizarre 40% figure. One possibility is a report put out by the highly politicised UN OCHA in the same year that Asser wrote this article which states in its introduction that:

“The analysis shows that almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure.”

Later on readers learn that nature reserves and military training areas also count as “infrastructure” for UN OCHA.

“More than 38% of the West Bank now consists of settlements, outposts, military bases and closed military areas, Israeli declared nature reserves or other related infrastructure that are off-limits or tightly controlled to Palestinians.”

The BBC’s claim that “settlements and the area they take up cover 40% of the West Bank” is therefore obviously both inaccurate and misleading.

In light of the fact that the current round of negotiations has – like its predecessors – so far failed to break new ground, it is all the more regrettable that the BBC continues to promote this partisan and misleading article by Martin Asser from which attacks on Israel by neighbouring countries and ideologically driven terrorism are completely erased. Like the rest of the outdated “Obstacles to Peace” series, this item fails to provide BBC audiences with the sort of accurate and impartial information they need if they are to be able to “participate in the global debate on significant international issues“.

Related Articles:

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 1

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 1

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 2

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” erases pre-1967 Jewish history in Jerusalem