Political NGOs and dissonance in BBC report on Jerusalem eviction

On September 5th an article titled “Israel evicts Palestinians after East Jerusalem legal battle” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, along with a video relating to the same story titled “Palestinian family loses East Jerusalem home“.

Of the written report’s 491 words, one hundred and eleven are used to describe the events themselves and a further 136 are given over to brief explanation of the legal background to the story, but without clarifying that the property was supposed to be vacated by the Shamasneh family long ago.

“In 2013, the Shamasneh family lost their appeal of the case in the Supreme Court, after lower courts ruled that the land should be restored to its Jewish owner.

But the Supreme Court also deferred any eviction of the Shamasneh family at the time on humanitarian grounds, stating: “It is not easy to evict someone from their residence, particularly when it involves someone elderly who has lived at the property for many years.”

Two and a half years after the eviction date set by the court, legal proceedings against the family were renewed and the family was served with an eviction order.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s report includes a rare mention of the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem.

“Under Israeli law, Jews can reclaim property lost when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem in the war of 1948-9.” [emphasis added]

However, that sentence is followed by a reference to another ‘occupation’ of the exact same location and the BBC fails to provide any explanation for that dissonance.

“Israel has occupied the area since driving Jordan out in a war in 1967.”

Readers find a 21-word reaction from a member of the evicted family and a thirty-six word long comment from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’. The article does not include any response from or on behalf of the property’s owner.

The report correctly explains that the property in question – which is actually located in the Shimon HaTsadik neighbourhood rather than in Sheikh Jarrah as stated – was originally owned by Jews.

“The land in Sheikh Jarrah was originally owned by a family among the thousands of Jews who fled or were expelled from eastern Jerusalem by Jordanian forces in the 1948-9 war.”

The purchase of the land upon which the property was built was made in 1876.

“…in 1876 the cave [of Shimon HaTzadik] and the nearby field were purchased by Jews, involving a plot of 18 dunams (about 4.5 acres) that included 80 ancient olive trees. The property was purchased for 15,000 francs and was transferred to the owner through the Majlis al-Idara, the seat of the Turkish Pasha and the chief justice. According to the contract, the buyers (the committee of the Sephardic community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel) divided the area between them equally, including the cave on the edge of the plot.

Dozens of Jewish families built homes on the property. On the eve of the Arab Revolt in 1936 there were hundreds of Jews living there. When the disturbances began they fled, but returned a few months later and lived there until 1948. When the Jordanians captured the area, the Jews were evacuated and for nineteen years were barred from visiting either their former homes or the cave of Shimon HaTzadik. […]

After 1948 the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Shimon HaTzadik came under Jordanian control and the Jewish-owned land was handed over to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. In the mid-1950s the Jordanian government settled Arabs there. They took over the homes of the Jews and paid rent to the Jordanian Custodian.”

However readers are – as usual in BBC content – encouraged to view Jewish presence on land legally purchased over 140 years ago as ‘illegal settlement’ and the BBC offers no explanation for its promotion of that incongruous and partial politically motivated narrative.

“The issue of control in East Jerusalem is one of the most contentious areas of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

About 200,000 Jewish settlers and 370,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Some 2,500 of the more hardline settlers live in buildings bought inside Palestinian neighbourhoods, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The article also promotes a partisan map credited to the political NGO B’tselem that has been seen many times before in BBC content and which similarly promotes the notion that places such as the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and even parts of Mt Scopus are ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in such areas long before they were expelled by the invading Jordanian army in 1948.

Further encouragement of audiences to view this as a story about ‘settlements’ is evident in the ‘additional reading’ accompanying this article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and at the bottom of the article itself. The promoted reports include a BBC backgrounder on ‘settlements’ that first appeared in December 2016 and was subsequently amended four times.

The article closes with the unquestioned promotion of Palestinian messaging:

“Palestinians say the Israeli law allowing Jewish property reclamation is discriminatory since no such law exists for Palestinians, some 800,000 of whom fled or were expelled from what became Israel in the 1948-9 war.”

Not only does the BBC not provide any source for the debatable claim that 800,000 Palestinians became refugees around 1948 but it also fails to inform readers that a larger number of Jews fled or were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries (most of whom found refuge in Israel) and that they have never received compensation for the lands and property they were forced to abandon.  

This report propagates the BBC’s usual simplistic narratives on ‘settlements’ and ‘East’ Jerusalem. Inevitably, readers find the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ – which makes no attempt to inform them of legal views on the topic that fall outside the corporation’s chosen political narrative – and interested parties in the form of campaigning NGOs are repeatedly given uncritical amplification. As ever, that editorial policy fails to contribute to the enhancement of audience understanding of these complex topics.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

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Weekend long read

1) Back in April the BBC News website told audiences that the Israeli prime minister had ‘snubbed’ the German foreign minister over the latter’s insistence on meeting what the BBC described as “human rights activists”. At the Fathom Journal, Gadi Taub takes a closer look at that story.

“Gabriel, on the occasion of an official visit for Holocaust Memorial Day, announced that he would meet the representatives of two radical left-wing civil society organisations – Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. When Netanyahu said that if those meetings went ahead he would boycott the visit and refuse to meet Gabriel, many thought he was overreacting. Few, however, expected Gabriel to choose those two organisations over Israel’s prime minster (and acting foreign minister). And when he did, things began to appear in a new light. It no longer seemed that the German foreign minister made an honest mistake, not knowing how controversial these organisations were among Israelis. It appeared, instead, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was us, the Israeli public, who had made a mistake in our assumptions about German-Israeli relations.”

2) At the JCPA, Ambassador Alan Baker examines the issue of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA.  

“Unlike its sister organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated since 1950 to coordinate the handling of all refugee communities worldwide, UNRWA was established in that same year to deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees, thereby excluding them from the protection of the UNHCR.

While the aims and operations of the UNHCR are based on international instruments – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – UNRWA was never provided with a specific statute or charter. It has operated since its inception under a general mandate, renewed every three years by the General Assembly.

The major distinction and main reason for the establishment of a separate agency to deal with Palestinian refugees, was to crystallize their sole aim – not rehabilitation and resettlement, as was the aim of UNHCR – but solely “return.” Inclusion of Palestinian refugees under the general UNHCR definition of “refugees” would have been interpreted as a waiver of their claim that “return” was the sole solution.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has a new report on a topic habitually absent from BBC coverage of the Middle East: Hamas’ indoctrination of children in summer camps.

“This year, as in previous years, summer camps were held throughout the Gaza Strip, attended by tens of thousands of Gazan children and adolescents. Most of the camps were organized by Hamas, some by other terrorist organizations and institutions. The camps provide a wide range of activities, from ordinary summer pastimes (sports, arts and crafts, computers, day trips, etc.) to military training and ideological indoctrination. Hamas attributes great importance to the summer camps, considering them an effective means for influencing the younger generation and training a cadre of operatives and supporters for its military wing and movement institutions.

An examination of some of the closing ceremonies of the 2017 summer camps shows they emphasized military topics coordinated to the age of the participants. The older the campers were, the more and varied military training they received. The adolescents, some of them who would join Hamas military wing in the near future, wore uniforms and learned how to dismantle and reassemble weapons. They also practiced simulating infiltrating Israel through tunnels, attacking IDF posts, taking control of tank positions, and capturing IDF soldiers and abducting them to the Gaza Strip. They trained with real weapons, mostly light arms and RPG launchers.”

4) At the FDD, Grant Rumley takes a look at Mahmoud Abbas’ handling of last month’s violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere following the murder of two Israeli policemen in a terror attack on July 14th.

“The closest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got to an actual third intifada, or uprising, happened late this past month when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas mobilized the shadowy militia elements of his party for widespread Friday protests. What the lone-wolf stabbing attacks that have plagued Israel for the past several years lacked—and what both the first and second intifadas had—was political leadership and support. In activating the Tanzim, a faction of his own party that Abbas has struggled to control, the Palestinian President was sanctioning his people’s unrest.”

BBC News promotes more of its unvarying narrative on Israeli construction

On June 20th an article titled “Israel starts work on first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Like the BBC Radio 4 report on the same story, the article is built around one Tweet from the Israeli prime minister.

“Israel has started work on the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than 20 years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

He tweeted a photograph of a bulldozer and digger breaking ground for the settlement, to be known as Amichai. […]

“Today, ground works began, as I promised, for the establishment of the new community for the residents of Amona,” Mr Netanyahu announced on Tuesday.

“After decades, I have the privilege to be the prime minister who is building a new community in Judea and Samaria,” he added, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Israel Radio reported that the work involved installing infrastructure for the settlement. However, the building plans still need to go through several stages of planning approval, according to the Times of Israel newspaper.”

Also in line with the Radio 4 report, this one too promotes Palestinian Authority messaging – and not least the accusation of a deliberate effort to sabotage negotiations – while failing to include any response from Israeli officials.

“A Palestinian official denounced the ground-breaking as a “grave escalation” and an attempt to thwart peace efforts. […]

Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters news agency that the ground-breaking was “a grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts” by the administration of US President Donald Trump to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

Readers also found the BBC’s own standard but partial messaging on ‘international law’.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As is very often the case in BBC reporting on this topic, the narrative promoted in this report is borrowed from political NGOs.

“There are also almost 100 settler outposts – built without official authorisation from the Israeli government – across the West Bank, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now. […]

Amichai, previously known as Geulat Zion, will be constructed on an hilltop [sic] about 2.5km (1.5 miles) east of the settlement of Shilo, which is close to the site of Amona.”

The link in that second paragraph leads to the ‘Peace Now’ website and the article includes partisan and inaccurate maps produced by the foreign-funded NGO B’tselem (which engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS) that have appeared many times previously in BBC content.

The BBC News website’s coverage of the topic of construction in the neighbourhoods and communities it terms ‘settlements‘ has for years followed a standard pattern which contributes nothing new to reader understanding of the issue. Audiences inevitably find the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ – which makes no attempt to inform them of legal views on the topic that fall outside the corporation’s chosen political narrative – and interested parties in the form of campaigning NGOs are repeatedly given uncritical amplification.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on ‘controversial subjects’ state:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”

Visitors to the BBC News website are clearly not being presented with the “wide range of significant views and perspectives” which would broaden their understanding of this issue.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

BBC Radio 4 amplification of PA messaging on Israeli construction

 

Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

The centrepiece of the BBC News website’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War was published in the ‘Features’ section of its Middle East page on June 5th. That article by the corporation’s Middle East editor is titled “1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East” and it runs to a remarkably lengthy 6,181 words and – as Jeremy Bowen’s Twitter followers later learned – is based on a book he originally had published 14 years ago.

The article includes numerous factual inaccuracies or inadequately clarified statements. For example, the person named by Bowen as “Ray Rothberg” was actually Roi Rotberg from Nahal Oz. What Bowen repeatedly describes as “disputed territory” along Israel’s border with Syria was in fact the demilitarised zones defined as such in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between the two countries, while his reference to “Syria’s attempts to divert the River Jordan away from Israel’s national water grid” fails to adequately clarify that the Headwater Diversion Plan was actually conceived by the Arab League in 1964. The article also makes use of B’tselem’s inaccurate and partisan map that has been seen in numerous other BBC reports.

Interestingly, readers of this article discover that the BBC’s Middle East editor is entirely aware of factors such as Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s demand to expel UN peacekeepers from Sinai and his closure of the Straits of Tiran that were crucial in causing the war but yet curiously are so often omitted from BBC portrayals of the topic.

However, the most important aspect of Bowen’s tome is its promotion of a narrative composed of two parts.

As he has done in the past, Bowen suggests to audiences that the Six Day War was not a war of survival for Israel. [emphasis added]

“Western powers had no doubt which side in the Middle East was stronger on the eve of war in 1967. The US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff judged “that Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years.”

In a report on the Israeli army in January 1967, the British defence attaché in Tel Aviv assessed that “in command, training, equipment and services the Israel army is more prepared for war than ever before. Well-trained, tough, self-reliant, the Israeli soldier has a strong fighting spirit and would willingly go to war in defence of his country.””

“The pressure was crushing General Rabin. Against all the military evidence, he had convinced himself that he was leading Israel to catastrophe.”

“If they could fight on their own terms, Israel’s generals were confident they would score an overwhelming victory. But strict military censorship kept those conclusions private.”

The second part of Bowen’s narrative is designed to steer audiences towards the belief that the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of those six days in June 1967. [emphasis added]

“Fifty years ago, war broke out between Israel and its neighbours. The conflict lasted just six days but its effect would last to the present day.”

“All the issues that are now depressingly familiar to anyone who follows the news – violence, occupation, settlements, the future of Jerusalem – took their current form as a result of the war. The shape of the occupation emerged very quickly. Predictions of the dangers that lay ahead were ignored.”

“The 1967 war made Israel into an occupier, which is why more than anything else it matters. The experience has been a disaster for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel built settlements for Jews, in defiance of international law that says occupiers cannot settle their people on the land they capture. Israel, though, sees it differently.”

“Military occupation is by definition oppressive. The occupation has created a culture of violence that cheapens life and brutalises the people who impose and enforce the occupation and those who fight it.”

“Fifty years on from 1967, President Trump – like many new American presidents – is hoping to help Israelis and Palestinians make peace.

If his dreams become substantive talks, they will have to be about the future of the land that was captured in six days of war. […]Ignoring the legacy of 1967 is not an option.”

However, the urge to promote that selective narrative means that Bowen has to erase from audience view the fact that – as Michael Oren recently explained – the Six Day War was just one chapter in a conflict that began long before.

“Far beyond 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is in fact about 1917, 1937 and 1947. Those anniversaries can teach us much about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and why peace has proved so elusive. […]

What began as a clash between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews changed overnight into the Arab-Israel conflict. The two-state solution twice turned down by the Palestinians, in 1937 and 1947, would be forgotten as Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Yet the Palestinians showed no interest in establishing sovereignty in those areas. Instead, they rejected Israel within any borders. “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants” swore Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the eve of the Six-Day War. […]

The conflict is not about the territory Israel captured in 1967. It is about whether a Jewish state has a right to exist in the Middle East in the first place. As Mr. Abbas has publicly stated, “I will never accept a Jewish state.””

Jeremy Bowen’s promotion of his preferred narrative (which, notably, has not altered at all over the years despite repeated Palestinian rejections of peace proposals) has long been on view. However, while his exclusive focus on “the occupation” and his related concealment of the most basic factor underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict – the refusal to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist – may well serve the advancement of that political narrative, it does not serve the BBC’s funding public: the people for whom he is supposed to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible”.

Related Articles:

BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

Six Day War Anniversary resources

Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s new US embassy relocation report recycles old themes

Since mid-December 2016 the BBC has been telling its audiences that relocation of the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is on the cards. During those five and a half months, numerous BBC reports on that topic have been aired or published, with many if not most of them providing amplification for unchallenged PLO messaging to the effect that such a move would bring an end to the chances of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and spark regional violence.

“A senior Palestinian official warned that such moves “will be the destruction of the peace process”.

Veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat said moving the embassy and “annexing” settlements in the West Bank would send the region down a path to “chaos, lawlessness and extremism”.” (BBC News website, 16/12/16)

““If this is the decision, to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, it will not help peace and we hope it doesn’t happen,” President Abbas told reporters outside the Vatican.

Palestinian officials say the plan would undermine chances of a negotiated peace based on a two-state solution, in which Palestinian and Israeli states would live side-by-side.

“Not only would this move deprive the United States of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy the two-state solution,” Mr Abbas was quoted earlier as saying in French paper Le Figaro.” (BBC News website, 14/1/17)

““This is very dangerous what President-elect Trump wants to do,” Palestinian official, Mohammed Shtayyeh tells me. “It is American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel.”

“We would consider this American move as an end to the peace process, an end to the two states and really putting the whole region into chaos.”” (BBC News website, 14/1/17)

“The conference comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and there are fears President-elect Trump’s plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could stoke it further.

There was deep alarm among participants at the conference that if President Trump does break with decades of US policy and move the embassy to Jerusalem, then conditions will be set for another upsurge in violence in the region, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris.” (BBC News website, 15/1/17)

“And the Palestinians are basically saying that any move for a US embassy – bringing it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – would kill the two-state solution; this long-standing goal of international policy on this conflict.” (BBC Radio 4, 15/1/17) 

“Palestinian minister Mohammed Shtayyeh says this would kill hopes for creating a Palestinian state. “For us we consider Jerusalem as a future capital of the State of Palestine, so having the president moving the embassy there, then it is an American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel. That’s why we consider this American move as an end to the peace process; an end to two states and really, putting the whole region into chaos.”” (BBC World Service radio, 14/1/17)

“…this is serious cause for alarm and if it moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.” (BBC World News, January 2017)

“If the US moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.” (BBC Radio 4, 6/2/17)

“And the idea of Trump moving the embassy of the United States to Jerusalem is against international law […] If he does that he is just ruining the entire peace process. He is defying the international law and he knows very well that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a breach to all kinds of agreements; to all UN Security Council, believing that Jerusalem is the united capital – the eternal capital – of the State of Israel. That will dramatically shift the entire game and the entire negotiations and the entire peace process. If he does that, this is a recipe for another intifada…” (BBC Radio 4, 15/2/17)

“David Friedman favours relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, a highly inflammatory proposal because both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to the city as their capital.”(BBC News website, 10/3/17)

However, as has been repeatedly observed on these pages, in all of its reports on the topic, the BBC has not once provided its audiences with any explanation as to why the transfer of a foreign embassy to a location in Jerusalem to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences the PA does not lay claim should be an obstacle to a negotiated settlement. 

As has also been noted, despite making claims that the proposed relocation would be “break with decades of US policy”, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences of the existence of the 1995 US Embassy Relocation Act. Nevertheless, a vague reference to that legislation appeared in the opening sentences of a report that appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages on June 1st under the headline “Trump delays moving US embassy to Jerusalem“.

“President Donald Trump has decided to delay moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite promising to do so during the election.

He renewed a waiver for a law requiring the relocation, as his predecessors have done every six months since 1995. […]

On Thursday, as a deadline loomed, the White House announced that Mr Trump had continued his predecessors’ policy of signing a six-month waiver for the Jerusalem Embassy Act.”

As in previous reports, PLO messaging on the topic is given unquestioning amplification.

“Palestinian leaders had warned the move would threaten a two-state solution.”

During January of this year no fewer than three BBC reporters (Yolande Knell, Tim Franks and Mark Lowen) visited the plot of vacant land next to the US Consulate in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Talpiot that, as Knell put it at the time, has “long been reserved for a US embassy”. Despite the fact that the said plot lies on the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Agreement lines, nowhere in this article are readers informed of its location.

Moreover, immediately after they have been told that “the move would threaten a two-state solution”, readers find the following:  

“Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the area in 1980 and sees it as its exclusive domain. Under international law the area is considered to be occupied territory.

Israel is determined that Jerusalem be its eternal, indivisible capital. But Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.”

Clearly that would prompt readers to mistakenly assume that the proposed site for an American embassy in Jerusalem is located on land the BBC describes as “occupied” – without providing any information whatsoever concerning its actual occupation by Jordan during the 19 years prior to 1967.

In addition, this article included a partisan map produced by the political NGO B’Tselem which has been repeatedly seen in previous BBC News website content.

That map of Jerusalem portrays places such as the Jewish quarter in the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and even the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus (which never came under Jordanian occupation) as ‘Israeli settlements’, despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those and other areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948.

The BBC’s repeated use of that inaccurate and politically partisan map indicates that the corporation is not committed to accurately and impartially informing its audiences about the geo-political situation in Jerusalem.

Likewise, six months of recurrent unquestioning promotion of PLO messaging concerning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the repeated lack of clarification to audiences where that embassy would be located and the chronic failure to explain existing US legislation on the issue shows that the BBC’s presentation of this topic to audiences also fails to meet its professed standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Related articles:

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge 

 

 

 

BBC News portrays political NGOs as ‘human rights activists’

On April 25th an article billed “Israel PM snubs German foreign minister” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with the sub-heading “Sigmar Gabriel had refused to call off talks with Israeli human rights activists”.

The report itself – headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu scraps talks with German minister over rights groups” – opens with a description of the NGOs concerned in the same terms.

“Israel’s prime minister has cancelled talks with Germany’s foreign minister after he refused to call off a meeting with Israeli human rights activists.

Sigmar Gabriel had been due to meet Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu had warned he would not see Mr Gabriel if he met the groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.”

The fact that the BBC chose to describe those two political NGOs as “human rights activists” should not be surprising: after all, both ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘ are among the campaigning NGOs (overwhelmingly from one end only of the political spectrum) that are routinely quoted and promoted in BBC content.

However, in breach of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality, the BBC has a longstanding policy of consistently refraining from adequately informing its audiences with regard to the foreign funding, agenda and “particular viewpoint” of the NGOs it promotes in Israel-related content – including ‘B’tselem‘ and ‘Breaking the Silence‘.

In this particular report readers are told that:

“Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers, gathers anonymous testimony from within the military about alleged abuses of Palestinians by the army.

Israeli authorities have accused it of making unreliable accusations.”

They are not however informed that a significant proportion of those ‘testimonies’ have been shown by persons completely independent of the “Israeli authorities” to be false, exaggerated or unverifiable.

With regard to B’tselem, the BBC’s report states:

“B’Tselem is one of Israel’s leading human rights groups and has come under similar criticism.”

Readers are not told that B’tselem was one of the sources of dubious casualty figures (also used by the BBC) during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas or that it engages in ‘lawfare‘ campaigns intended to delegitimise Israel – the one country it openly admits to wanting to see “punished” by the international community.

Both ‘B’tselem’ and ‘Breaking the Silence’ are generously foreign funded campaigning NGOs with a clear and specific political agenda. The BBC’s anodyne portrayal of those groups as ‘human rights activists’ is a barrier to audience understanding of this story.

Related Articles:

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC News portrayal of Israeli law airbrushes political NGOs

 

 

 

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

BBC News continues to promote dubiously sourced Gaza statistics

On February 28th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Netanyahu criticised over 2014 Gaza war preparations“.mevaker-report-art

Relating to a report on Operation Protective Edge published by Israel’s state comptroller, the article includes background information concerning the 2014 conflict, part of which relates to the subject of casualties.

“The 50-day war left at least 2,251 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,462 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,231 others injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

Since the end of that conflict the BBC has published varying accounts of casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip, all of which cite the UN as their source. In August 2014 a graphic told BBC audiences:

“2,101 people killed in Gaza – UN estimates 70% of deaths are civilians”Graphic Op PE

In October 2014 the same graphic was amended to read:

“2,104 people killed in Gaza – UN estimates 69% of deaths are civilians”

In December 2014 the BBC told its audiences that:

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza between Israel and militant groups led by Hamas left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

So where has the figure 2,251 cited in this latest article come from? Its source is the controversial report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council more than a month before the conflict ended and originally headed by William Schabas that was published in June 2015. Section V of that report states:

“In Gaza, in particular, the scale of the devastation was unprecedented. The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians, of whom 299 women and 551 children and 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured, of whom 10 per cent suffered permanent disability as a result. While the casualty figures gathered by the United Nations, Israel, the State of Palestine [sic] and non-governmental organizations differ, regardless of the exact proportion of civilians to combatants, the high incidence of loss of human life and injury in Gaza is heartbreaking.”

A footnote states that the quoted figures come from:

“Data compiled by the OCHA Protection Cluster, 31 May 2015. For its methodology, see A/HRC/28/80/Add.1, para. 24, footnote 43.”

That reference leads to a footnote which states:

footnote-43

As we see, the footnote reveals that the Hamas-run “Ministry of Health in Gaza” is one source of the report’s data, together with “the Protection Cluster”. As has been noted here previously, that “Protection Cluster” includes political NGOs, some of which also have a financial relationship with UNOCHA.

“During the 2014 Gaza war, three NGOs from the cluster – B’Tselem, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – were designated to provide casualty statistics. In turn, their statistics were repeated without question by OCHA and other UN bodies, the media, European officials, and the Schabas-Davis commission. […]

Al Mezan and PCHR are also leaders in promoting “lawfare” cases against Israelis in Europe and the International Criminal Court (ICC).Their lack of credibility is also reflected in their highly politicized agenda, including accusations that the IDF (“Israeli Occupation Forces” in NGO parlance) is responsible for “massacres,” and “war crimes,” as well as “disproportionate” and “criminal” attacks against civilians.”

Those sources are of course the same ones that produced data promoted by the BBC almost from the very beginning of the 2014 conflict – as BBC Watch revealed at the time.

Readers may also recall that last August the BBC Trust published  the findings of a review of the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs output. That report included “10 Golden Rules”, one of which is:

“Check your source. Is it likely to be someone with a vested interest in interpreting findings in a particular way?”

The UNHRC is of course notorious for its anti-Israel bias and to describe it – as well as the Hamas health ministry, UNOCHA, the PCHR, B’tselem and Al Mezan – as having “a vested interest” would be gross understatement.

Nevertheless, as we see, over thirty months since the 2014 conflict ended the BBC is still amplifying casualty figures and debatable civilian/combatant casualty ratios supplied by Hamas and NGOs involved in ‘lawfare’ campaigning against Israel that were funneled through a UN agency and subsequently promoted in a controversial and biased UNHRC report.

Related Articles:

BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part one

The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part two

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

Earlier this month we documented the BBC’s promotion of a map produced by the political NGO B’Tselem in three separate BBC News website reports.

Since then the same politically partisan map has also appeared in an article titled “Israel passes controversial law on West Bank settlements” published on February 7th, in an article titled “Rights groups challenge Israel settlements law in court” published on February 8th and in an article titled “Trump urges Israel to ‘act reasonably’ on settlements” which appeared on February 10th.

In addition, the same map has been added to the BBC News website backgrounder titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” which first appeared in late December 2016.

The backgrounder was subsequently amended in January 2017 to include a link to the website of the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a map of Jerusalem produced by B’Tselem and UNOCHA which had been found in previous BBC material.

Since then, that backgrounder has been amended yet again and the B’Tselem/UNOCHA map of Jerusalem has been replaced with two versions of the new one produced by B’Tselem. In addition, the section previously titled “What difference will Donald Trump make?” has been retitled and rewritten.

settlements-backgrounder-new-jlem-map

Since its latest amendment, visitors to the BBC News website have also found a link to that backgrounder promoted under the title “Can Jewish settlement issue be resolved?” [emphasis added] in numerous reports  – for example here, here, here, here, here and here.settlements-backgrounder-link-1

In other words, anyone visiting the BBC News website’s Middle East page since February 1st would have been more than likely to come across those politicised maps. The map of Jerusalem portrays places such as the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and parts of Mt Scopus as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. The same is the case in the bigger map of Judea & Samaria which portrays the whole of Gush Etzion as a ‘settlement’.

The BBC News website’s vigorous promotion of campaigning maps produced by the foreign funded political NGO B’Tselem (which engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS) makes it very difficult to believe that the corporation is committed to providing its audiences with the accurate and impartial portrayal of this issue which would meet the BBC’s obligation to provide information which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”.  

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

BBC News website produces a backgrounder on ‘settlements’

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Between February 1st and February 3rd 2017, visitors to the BBC News website found three articles which included one of two versions of the same map.

February 1st: Israel approves 3,000 new settler homes as Amona evacuation begins

February 2nd: New Israel settlements ‘may not be helpful’ to peace, says US

February 3rd: What will the Trump presidency mean for Israel? Jonathan Marcus

Both versions of that map (one of which includes a ‘zoom in’ view of Jerusalem) are credited to the foreign funded political NGO B’Tselem which – despite its engagement in lawfare against Israel and its membership in a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS – is one of the NGOs most consistently quoted and promoted by the BBC in its supposedly impartial reporting on Israel and the Palestinians.

btselem-map

This of course is not the first time that the corporation has promoted a politically partisan map produced by B’Tselem. In October 2015 the BBC News website published an article including a similar map of Jerusalem credited to UNOCHA and B’Tselem in which the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem  (where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years) is marked as an “illegal settlement” and Temple Mount is marked as being located in a “Palestinian urban area”. That same map recently reappeared in a BBC News website backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

This new map of Jerusalem similarly portrays places such as the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and parts of Mt Scopus as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before the Jordanian invasion in 1948. The same is the case in the bigger map of Judea & Samaria which portrays the whole of Gush Etzion as a ‘settlement’.

Once again we see the BBC promoting the simplistic and biased narrative that all areas conquered by Jordan (or any of the other Arab countries which took part in the military campaign to destroy the nascent Israeli state) are “Palestinian land”, even if there were pre-existing Jewish communities on that land before the location was placed under Jordanian occupation (unrecognised by the international community) and their inhabitants expelled.

The BBC is obliged to provide its audiences with accurate and impartial information which will enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”.  By continually – and exclusively – promoting the partisan narrative of political NGOs such as B’Tselem as ‘fact’ the BBC fails to meet that obligation and compromises its reputation for impartiality by abandoning journalism in favour of activism.