The BBC and the myth of the ‘twice promised land’

h/t SF

In our recent review of BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration we noted that one of the backgrounders available online states that:balfour-in-timeline-1917

“During this period of change, three key pledges were made.

In 1916 the British Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, had promised the Arab leadership post-war independence for former Ottoman Arab provinces.

However, at the same time, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between war victors, Britain and France, divided the region under their joint control.

Then in 1917, the British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour committed Britain to work towards “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, in a letter to leading Zionist Lord Rothschild. It became known as the Balfour Declaration.”

Similarly partial portrayals of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence are found in additional material produced by the BBC – for example in an article from May 2016 by Jim Muir on the topic of the Sykes-Picot agreement and in an article by Kevin Connolly from July 2015. In May 2015 listeners to BBC World Service radio were told by historian-cum-political activist Avi Shlaim that:

“…Britain’s behavior during the First World War is a prime example of pure opportunism because in the course of fighting the First World War, Britain was desperate to gain allies and it made three major promises that were contradictory and couldn’t be reconciled and this should have been clear during the war. The first promise was to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca – to support an independent Arab kingdom under his rule in return for mounting an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The second promise […] is the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France to carve up the Middle East between themselves at the expense of the Arabs. And the third and most famous promise was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which Britain undertook to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. So Palestine was the twice-promised land – first it was promised to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca and then it was promised to the Zionists.” [emphasis added]

In an ‘educational’ feature about the First World War produced in September 2014 and presented by BBC News diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall, BBC audiences are told (in section 5) that “British diplomats made a series of seemingly contradictory promises to potential allies” before being presented with portrayals of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

mcmahon-corr-on-iwonder

As has been previously noted here on several occasions, Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937 that the claim according to which “Palestine was the twice-promised land” is incorrect.

McMahon letter Times

That point had earlier been clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

One must therefore ask why the BBC – committed as it is to accurate and impartial journalism – continues to enable promotion of the politically motivated myth of ‘contradictory promises’ relating to the area later assigned to the Mandate for Palestine.

One to watch out for on BBC Radio 4

This coming Monday evening, August 3rd, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a programme titled “Women of Terror“. Its synopsis reads as follows:R4 Women of Terror

“From Russia’s 19th century Nihilists to contemporary Sri Lanka and Palestine women have played central roles in terrorist organisations. Attacks planned or executed by women attract attention and inspire fear in a way that male terrorists can only dream of.

Why are we still shocked by female terrorists? Why are they so effective? How can women be dissuaded from joining terrorist organisations? BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, Bridget Kendall investigates the motives that drive women to kill and considers the response of the media and the public to those who have planted bombs, hijacked planes and killed innocents in their quest for political change.”

The claim that the programme “considers the response of the media […] to those who have planted bombs, hijacked planes and killed innocents…” is particularly interesting given the images selected to illustrate both its webpage and an accompanying promotional article by Bridget Kendall which appeared on the BBC News website on July 28th under the title “What drives women to terrorist acts?“.R4 Women of Terror written

Of course BBC audiences are no strangers to those photos of PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled seeing as they have been used in prior BBC content – and not infrequently with linkage to the word ‘icon’ or ‘iconic’ – as seen in the caption to the photograph heading Kendall’s article: “Leila Khaled in iconic pose”. In the body of the article readers are told:

“Leila Khaled was probably the most famous female hijacker in the world in the late 1960s – beautiful, dangerous and politically committed to doing whatever might further the Palestinian cause.

She featured in an iconic photo – sultry-eyed, a Kalashnikov at her side, headscarf carefully draped over her head.” [emphasis added]

Kendall’s 1,277 word article has two hundred and twenty-six words devoted to Khaled alone and the only one of the female terrorists she mentions who is deemed worthy of an insert carrying a further 140 words of biography is Leila Khaled.

As recently as last December another BBC Radio 4 programme also purported to examine “how media organisations tread the fine line of giving publicity to terrorists and reporting the news” but was plagued by accuracy and impartiality issues in its portrayal of Leila Khaled’s organisation’s Dawson’s Field hijackings.

It remains to be seen whether Bridget Kendall’s efforts will be any more successful but her promo article’s romanticised embellishment of the Khaled ‘icon’ does not bode well.

Related Articles:

BBC R4 gives a platform to terrorist Leila Khaled

BBC R4 programme on terror and the media rebrands PFLP terrorists

 

 

Omissions, distortions and inaccurate history in BBC WW1 ‘educational’ feature

Those following the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary may have noticed this Tweet on September 20th.

Tweet BBC WW1

The link leads to a feature on the BBC’s iWonder webpage titled “Does the peace that ended WW1 haunt us today?” which is presented by the BBC News diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.  Launched in January 2014, the iWonder brand was described by the BBC as a project intended to “educate and inform”.

“To coincide with the start of the BBC’s World War One season the BBC today launches a range of exciting digital content under a new brand called BBC iWonder.

iWonder is the new brand from the BBC designed to unlock the learning potential of all BBC content. Interactive guides – curated by experts and BBC talent including Dan Snow, Kate Adie, Ian McMillan and Neil Oliver – are the first phase of this initiative.[…]

Tim Plyming, Executive Producer for BBC Knowledge & Learning says: “Digital plays a central role in the BBC’s World War One season coverage and we’re really excited to bring audiences a range of compelling perspectives of the war. The guides span life in the trenches to poetry and propaganda and we hope each one will educate and inform the curious novice as well as the history buff.” “

Audiences might therefore reasonably expect that the content posted on the iWonder site would be historically accurate.iWonder WW1 feature

The feature is composed of eight sections and section five is entitled “Diplomatic games in the Middle East”. There audiences are given potted versions of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

However, absent from this section (and all others) is any mention of the San Remo Conference, the Treaty of Sèvres or the terms of the Mandate for Palestine which Great Britain was entrusted to administer on behalf of the League of Nations. Instead, a map appearing in that section inaccurately informs BBC audiences that “Britain took control of Palestine”.

Veteran BBC watchers will not be surprised by the BBC’s erasure of the agreements and treaties which form the legal foundations of the Jewish state. In fact, a search for ‘San Remo Conference 1920’ on the BBC News website turns up just one result – and that is in the corporation’s profile of Syria. BBC audiences searching the website for ‘Treaty of Sèvres 1920’ will find a result pertaining to Iraqi Kurdistan and a reference to it in an article about the Armenian church in Turkey but nothing to inform them of that treaty’s commitment to the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine.

Treaty of Sevres Article 95

Treaty of Sevres Article 95

Section six of the feature is titled “The Middle East: What happened next?”. There – with no mention of the fact that the territory concerned had originally been part of that assigned to the creation of the Jewish National Home – readers are informed that:

“In Jordan, Faisal’s brother Abdullah declared himself Emir. The British acquiesced, keen to have a friendly regime that would not threaten oil pipelines coming from Iraq. Jordan became independent in 1946, and Abdullah’s descendants still rule over the country today.”

The sub-section titled “In Palestine” informs BBC audiences that:

“The numbers of Jews emigrating to Palestine increased under British supervision, especially after Hitler came to power in 1933. Arab resentment also increased.”

The average reader of that paragraph would understand it to mean that Britain facilitated immigration of Jews to Palestine as a response to the persecution of Jews in Europe. Of course the historic facts show that in fact the British limited Jewish immigration (though never Arab immigration) and Jewish land purchase throughout much of the mandate period, with the 1939 White Paper – approved by the House of Commons just weeks before the outbreak of World War II – restricting immigration to 75,000 over a period of five years and ruling that illegal immigrants would be deducted from the quota and immigration would be halted at the end of the five-year period.  

The section continues:

“After the Holocaust, in which over 6 million Jews were killed, there was a surge of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Britain struggled to contain the crisis, and handed the task of deciding the future of Palestine to the United Nations.

The UN voted to divide Palestine into two states: one Arab, one Jewish. In 1948, Israel declared its independence; the first Arab-Israeli war began the moment the British left.”

Once again we see that the BBC continues to mislead its audiences by pretending that the 1947 Partition Plan is a thing. UNGA resolution 181 was of course a non-binding recommendation, the implementation of which depended upon the agreement of the parties concerned. Whilst Jewish representatives accepted the proposal, the Arabs rejected it outright meaning that it has no contemporary relevance whatsoever. Likewise, the BBC’s suggestion that violence commenced with the departure of British forces in May 1948 is of course an inaccurate representation of history.

Section seven of the feature is titled “Does the peace still haunt us today?” and it includes a contribution from Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards. Those familiar with Milton-Edwards’ work and with her history of associations with Alastair Crooke and his ‘Conflicts Forum’ will not be surprised by the political overtones of her contribution which includes the specious claim that “radical Islamism” arose as “a reaction to foreign intervention and control”.

The trouble is, of course, that the majority of BBC audience members hoping to be educated or informed by this feature will not be aware of Milton-Edwards’ agenda and – in contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – no attempt is made to inform them of that important factor.

This feature’s distortions, inaccuracies and omissions will come as no great surprise to anyone familiar with the BBC’s existing record of representation of Middle East history in general and the establishment of Israel in particular. Although BBC audiences might expect editors of a feature specifically intended to “educate and inform” to take special care to adhere to BBC guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, political motivations have once again triumphed over historical fact in this feature. That fact is particularly worrying given that presumably the item is intended to remain in the public domain for years to come as part of the BBC’s “historical records“.  

 

“Significant strands of thought” at the BBC

As we have noted here before, Abdel Bari Atwan – the Gaza-born editor of the London-based Arabic language newspaper ‘Al Quds Al Arabi’- is a regular guest on several BBC programmes on both radio and television, despite his frequent voicing of often frankly offensive opinions. 

Readers will probably not be surprised to learn that Atwan is now promoting the notion that:

“… the French military intervention in Mali is designed not only to protect its own interests in the region but to benefit Israel.”

Atwan’s latest tinfoil hat moment is, however, unlikely to dissuade BBC producers from inviting him to contribute what passes as analysis.  Indeed the BBC sometimes appears to actively court bizarre opinions, as was the case in the February 4th edition of ‘Start the Week’ with Bridget Kendall which focused on “the roots and reach of Islamist terrorism from Afghanistan to Africa”.

Start the Week

In that programme (available as a podcast here) listeners were informed (at 13:57) by guest Christina Hellmich that the  Al Qaeda attacks on the US in 2001 were the “consequences” of the West’s actions “in Palestine” and elsewhere. Later (from around 22:20) guest Nadeem Aslam opined that the passengers and crew on the United Airlines flight 93 on September 11th 2001 shared the same motivations as Islamist suicide bombers. Neither of those remarks was adequately challenged by the presenter. 

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.”

One cannot help but sometimes wonder whether the BBC’s idea of a “significant strand of thought” matches that of its audiences.