BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

The September 1st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item nearly thirteen minutes long on the topic of the previous day’s US State Department announcement concerning its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA.

Presenter Lyse Doucet introduced the item (from 30:06 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees – known by its acronym UNRWA – has lurched for many years from one financial crisis to the next. But now the agency supporting some 5 million Palestinians faces its greatest test. Palestinian officials as well as the UN are criticising a decision by its biggest donor the US to withdraw all funding. Israel welcomes the move saying UNRWA keeps Palestinian hopes alive of returning to their homes which now lie in Israel proper.”

Obviously uninformed listeners would not understand from that portrayal by Doucet that at most only a tiny proportion of those 5 million people could actually claim to have had “homes” over seventy years ago in what is now Israel.

Doucet first brought in the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell who noted that pupils in UNRWA schools had begun the school year, citing “526,000 pupils across the Middle East”, “711 schools” and “270,000 students” in the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a reference to an aspect of the story rarely discussed by the BBC: that of UNRWA as an employer of Palestinians.

Doucet: “So and it’s not just schools; it’s also health facilities. I mean in effect entire families they depend on this for their sole source of income?”

Knell: “That’s right; of course UNRWA is also a major employer. 22,000 teachers in those schools that I’ve just mentioned. If you go to Palestinian refugee camps you will find that there are also clinics run by UNRWA that is providing many of the services such as rubbish collection.”

Knell went on to mention a story from July not previously covered by the BBC.

Knell: “…already we’ve seen protests, particularly in Gaza in recent weeks – a sit-in at the UNRWA headquarters there – as the first rafts of cuts have hit and about a thousand people were told that they were going to have their contracts ended.”

Doucet then introduced her second contributor.

Doucet: “But we do know that there are urgent meetings going on in the region including the Arab capitals…where millions of Palestinian refugees rely on UN support. And we reached UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness just as he was boarding a plane in the Jordanian capital Amman.”

BBC World Service audiences then heard Chris Gunness repeat talking points he used back in January when the US administration announced a cut to its UNRWA contribution. They also heard Gunness claim that his clients – rather than Yazidi, Syrian or Yemeni refugees living in temporary shelters – are “some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East” with no challenge from Lyse Doucet.

[33:25] Gunness: “The impact will be absolutely devastating. It’s likely to be widespread, profound, dramatic and unpredictable because – let’s make no mistake – some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East are going to likely suffer because of this. 562,000 schoolchildren receiving an UNRWA education every day. 1.7 million food insecure people. 3.5 [sic] patients coming to our clinics every day. We do assistance to disabled refugees, to women, to vulnerable children. The list goes on and as I say, the impact on them is likely to be utterly devastating.”

Doucet then asked Gunness “but what is your reply to the critics?” before playing part of an interview with Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the FDD heard in another BBC radio programme.

Schanzer: “This was a decision that was long time coming. For several years now we’ve been hearing about calls for reform within UNRWA. UNRWA has been slow to respond to the allegations that, for example, it has allowed Hamas to exploit some of its operations, that it has inflated the number of refugees making it virtually impossible for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace and that their budget has been over-inflated. Amidst these calls, UNRWA has dragged its feet and now the Trump administration, which is looking for really any excuse to cut budget, has found a new target.”

[34:52] Gunness: “Well it’s very interesting that just a few months ago the US administration was praising the high performance of UNRWA. They expressed praise for our reforms; we’ve been doing root and branch efficiency reforms – that was just a few months ago.”

If that sounds familiar it is because BBC audiences heard Gunness say the exact same thing in January:

“As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms.”

As noted here at the time:

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

Gunness went on:

Gunness: “On the specific allegations, whenever there’ve been accusations for example about militants leaving weapons in our schools or weapons components in our schools in Gaza, we were the first to come out and condemn and call for an investigation, which we did. When Hamas built tunnels under our schools we discovered them. We condemned it. So that allegation I reject absolutely.”

Having seen no BBC coverage of that latter story and others, listeners would of course be unaware of additional UNRWA related issues.

Gunness then repeated another previously made claim:

Gunness: “On the question of refugee numbers, the General Assembly have endorsed our methodology that we…err…confer refugee status through the generations exactly as the UN’s other refugee agency UNHCR does and the General Assembly has, as I say, approved this. If any single member state wants to try and bring that case, that accusation, to the General Assembly they’re very welcome to do that but our mandate remains. It cannot be changed unilaterally by a member state and, you know, as I say we’ve got the mandate. What happens now is we have less money to implement it but the mandate remains the same despite this decision by the Trump administration and we will do everything we can to implement it.”

Speaking to the BBC World Service in January, Gunness claimed that:

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

As was pointed out here at the time:

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

And:

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

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

Once again a BBC WS presenter failed to challenge Gunness’ intentionally misleading presentation of that issue or to raise the relevant issue of ‘refugees’ that hold Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship. Doucet also refrained from questioning Gunness about the discrepancy between the number of registered refugees and actual refugees in Lebanon which came to light last year and an UNRWA official’s related claim that UNRWA’s figures do not necessarily reflect “deaths or relocation”.

Doucet next asked Gunness about alternative sources of funding and then went on to put a political slant on the story while ignoring the fact that when the US made its previous announcement concerning UNRWA donations in January, it specifically urged other nations to “step in and do their part“. 

[36:58] Doucet: “It’s clear that Israel and also the new US administration wants to take the issue of refugees off the negotiating table. They want to look at the so-called peace process in a different way. Do you believe that you’re a victim of that?”

Gunness took that cue to deflect criticism of UNRWA and proceeded to provide an example of why many consider UNRWA to be a political lobbying body.

Gunness: “Certainly it feels as if, given the praise for our reforms, that there are other forces at work. But let’s be very clear: you cannot airbrush out of the equation 5.4 million people. These are individuals with rights, including the right to self-determination, to a just and durable solution and whatever else must happen, if there is to be a peace dispensation it must be based on international law, it must be based on UN resolutions and of course the refugees themselves must be consulted. As I say, they cannot simply be airbrushed out of history. These are people who’ve been a UN protected population for 70 years and we have a continuing obligation towards them.”

Doucet went on to ask Gunness about “the mood” in Amman where, she pointed out, there are “so many refugees…dependent on UNRWA funding” but without clarifying that the vast majority of them are Jordanian citizens. After Gunness had spoken of “real alarm”, “panic and alarm” and “dramatic and unpredictable consequences”, Doucet further pursued her point.

Doucet: “Jordanian officials are even warning that this could be explosive. There could be security consequences.”

After Gunness had spoken of “the consequences of having 2 million angry, ill-educated, hungry people in Gaza on the doorstep of Israel”, Doucet closed that conversation and re-introduced Yolande Knell and the theme of a link between the US decision to stop contributions to UNRWA and “what’s happening in the peace process”. Knell took up the baton, promoting Palestinian messaging on that topic.

At 41:36 Doucet brought up a topic rarely discussed in BBC content.

Doucet: “What about the criticism that neighbouring Arab states, you know, keep the Palestinians generation after generation as refugees, denying them rights, as a political bargaining chip with Israel?”

Failing to mention the Arab League decision of 1959 designed to do exactly that, Knell responded:

Knell: “Well it depends on the different countries. There has been the different response to the Palestinian refugee issue. Certainly Jordan would point out that it has given citizenship to many of those Palestinian refugees but those in Syria and in Lebanon, it’s important to remember, they are still considered to be stateless. They are kept as refugees and the governments of those countries have said that it would be against the Palestinian interests, against the interests of their nationalist struggle if they were to be absorbed as citizens in those countries. This is an extremely sensitive issue for Palestinians and there are lots of Palestinian people that have lived their life in limbo from one generation to the next. They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic but which the different parties including the Palestinians say can only be solved through negotiations; not by just taking an issue off the table.”

With no mention made of the real motivation behind promotion of the ‘right of return’ issue, Doucet brought what she described as “a very sensitive, a very crucial story” to a close.

As we see BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.

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BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

On September 1st the BBC News website replaced its original report on the topic of the US administration’s decision to cut funding to UNRWA (discussed here) with an article titled “Palestinians brand US aid cut to UN group ‘a flagrant assault’“.

As may be expected given that choice of headline, 16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.

Readers were told that:

“The US has been the largest single donor to Unrwa, providing $368m (£284m) in 2016 and funding almost 30% of its operations in the region.

But in January, the administration of President Donald Trump withheld more than half of its planned funding to Unrwa, saying it would keep back $65m unless the body carried out “reforms”.”

The BBC chose not to explore the question of why, given that warning, no reforms were made to UNRWA during the last eight months or whether other countries stepped forward with increased contributions as the US suggested in January.

Portrayal of the US announcement itself included a link to the US State Department’s statement.

The state department said the US had shouldered a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”, and that the international community should contribute more.

It has also said it is unhappy that Unrwa has kept expanding the number of people eligible for assistance, and says its business model is “simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.

This links to a wider disagreement over which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The UN says there are about five million Palestinian refugees, including the descendants of people who fled the 1948 war.

However, the US and Israel disagree with how this number is calculated, and say the number of Palestinian refugees should be much smaller.”

Once again the BBC failed to provide its audiences with a factual view of the background to this story that includes UNRWA’s gradual expansion of the term ‘refugee’ to include people who do not meet that description under its original mandate – as well as millions of people with Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship – and its failure to promote resettlement of refugees.  

Readers were not told that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries and they were not given an explanation as to why refugee camps still exist in areas long under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. 

Perhaps most importantly, BBC audiences were not told that UNRWA’s seventy-year perpetuation and exacerbation of the Palestinian refugee issue does nothing to contribute to the prospects of the peaceful solution to the conflict supposedly backed by most Western nations – including the UK – as Einat Wilf explains:

“Why does this matter for peace? Because if millions of Arabs who are citizens of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, or inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon, claim to be refugees from what is today Israel, even though they were never born there and never lived there, and demand that as a result of this refugee status they be given the right to relocate to Israel (‘the right of return’), then the whole basis for peace by means of two states for two people crumbles. If Israel with its 6 million Jews and more than 1.5 million Arabs has to absorb between 5 and 8 million Palestinians then the Jews will be relegated again to living as a minority among those who do not view them as equals; the only country in which the Jews are a majority and can exercise their right to self-determination would be no more.”

Since this story first emerged in January the BBC has had ample time in which to provide its audiences with the full range of information essential for its understanding. Instead, BBC audiences have seen repeated promotion of UNRWA campaigning and have been given a portrayal of the issue which overall is unbalanced and severely lacking in essential information.

Related Articles:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

 

 

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

Earlier this year BBC audiences saw quite a lot of reporting on the topic of US aid donations to the Palestinians in general and via UNRWA in particular – for example:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

That generous, if mostly imbalanced, coverage was hallmarked by the repeated failure to provide BBC audiences with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its record or its efficiency. Significantly, BBC audiences were not provided with an explanation of why – in contrast to the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees – UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – or “resettlement” in third countries.

Those crucial omissions were evident again in a report originally published on the BBC News website’s main homepage as well as its ‘World’, ‘US and Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on August 31st under the headline “US ends aid to Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa“.

The article opened with a three sentence description of the story:

“The United States is ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, the US State Department says.

It described the organisation, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), as “irredeemably flawed”.

The US administration has “carefully reviewed” the issue and “will not make additional contributions to Unrwa,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.”

Readers then found three paragraphs of Palestinian Authority condemnation of the decision followed by two paragraphs and a screenshot amplifying comment from UNRWA’s spokesperson.

“A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later said the move was an “assault” against his people.

“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told Reuters news agency.

He added that the decision was “a defiance of UN resolutions”.

A spokesman for Unrwa, Chris Gunness, defended the agency in a series of tweets.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that Unrwa’s schools, health centres, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed’,” he wrote.”

The report continued under the sub-heading “What is Unrwa?”.

“Unrwa was originally set up to take care of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The agency says it currently supports more than five million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, including providing health care, education and social services.”

The BBC’s article went on to supposedly explain the background to the US decision under the sub-heading “Why is the US critical of Unrwa?”.

“The US disagrees with Unrwa, and Palestinian officials, on a number of issues. […]

The US and Israel also disagree with Unrwa on which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 war.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said earlier this week that Unrwa exaggerated the number of Palestinian refugees, and needed to reform.

“You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America,” she said.

The state department says the US is contributing a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”.

It complains of a business model and fiscal practices, linked to an “exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”, which is “unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.”

Interestingly, the BBC chose not to report that the US State Department statement also included the following:

“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business. These children are part of the future of the Middle East. Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.

Accordingly, the United States will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners, that can provide today’s Palestinian children with a more durable and dependable path towards a brighter tomorrow.”

Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.

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

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

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

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

Neither did readers get any information concerning the relevant topic of the Arab League’s politically motivated refusal to integrate Palestinian refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt or the UN’s abandonment of that target.

“In November 1951, UNRWA’s second director, John Blandford, Jr., proposed a three-year, $200 million program to reintegrate 150,000-200,000 refugees into their Arab host countries. Blandford’s plan was endorsed by U.N. General Assembly resolution 513 of January 26, 1952, which tasked UNRWA “to explore with the governments … their assuming administration of reintegration projects at the earliest possible date.”  Seven years later, the concept was reaffirmed by U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, who called for the “reintegration” of refugees “into the economic life of the area.”

For its part, Washington was a foremost advocate of the reintegration program as evidenced by various State Department plans and proposals, including those in May 1949, May 1953, July 1957, March 1959, and June 1960. To this must be added the 1954 Anglo-American Alpha Plan, a plan proposed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as well as a bold initiative by Secretary of State Christian Herter and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in June 1960.

But since 1960, successive administrations have ignored or forgotten the reintegration idea, and U.S. allocations of funds to UNRWA have been devoted to maintaining the few surviving refugees and their much more numerous descendents in unsettled conditions, turning them into a growing source of conflict. […]

And so UNRWA abandoned its original mission of relief extension and conflict resolution, evolving into an agency for the perpetuation of unsettled claims against Jerusalem for millions of persons born in the years after the founding of Israel in 1948.”

Likewise, the BBC did not attempt to explain to its audiences why some 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship are still defined as ‘refugees’ by UNRWA or why a similar number of people who live in areas under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas also continue to hold that status.

Readers of this report did however see a further six paragraphs of Palestinian messaging under the sub-heading “What does the Palestinian side say?” including uncritical amplification of statements from a person inaccurately described as “the Palestinian ambassador to Washington”.

“On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, accused the US of “endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees”.

The US “is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace”, he told AFP.”

With the BBC once again having failed to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for understanding of this story, readers would of course be unable to objectively assess Zomlot’s claims regarding the UN agency’s highly debatable role in contributing to “the prospects for future peace”.  

On September 1st that report was replaced by a subsequent one which will be discussed in part two of this post.

UNRWA spokesman’s biased polemic goes unchallenged on BBC R4 ‘Today’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the first five minutes of an item relating to the weekend’s events in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip that was aired in the July 16th edition of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme was given over to an unchallenged polemic from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

Up until this point in the item listeners had not been told that some 200 projectiles had been launched by terror factions in the Gaza Strip at Israeli communities over the weekend. They had not heard an accurate description of the building – a Hamas training facility – in which the two teenagers had been located when they were accidentally killed. Neither had they been informed that this latest round of violence began when an IDF officer was wounded in a grenade attack at the border on July 13th. They had however heard a severely whitewashed account of terror attacks perpetrated along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip during the past three and a half months.

Presenter John Humphrys next brought in the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 01:39:29 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Humphrys: “Chris Gunness; thank you very much for that and let’s turn to, as I say, Tom Bateman our correspondent. Tom, I was trying to suggest to Mr Gunness what the Israelis would say. What are they in fact saying this morning, if anything?”

Bateman: “Well, you know, it was a significant flare-up over the weekend and I think, you know, eh..on a similar scale we saw a couple of months ago.”

In fact, 25% fewer attacks took place on May 29-30 than on July 13-14. Bateman than went on to tell listeners that Israel had been “bombing the Gaza Strip” rather than carefully selected terrorist infrastructure as is actually the case.

Bateman: “Whereby, you know, you had Israel bombing the Gaza Strip – it said more than 40 militant sites – and at the same time the Israelis say up to 200 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza. Now one of those rockets hit a house in the town of Sderot: people were wounded.”

While Bateman did inform listeners of the scale of attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, he failed to clarify who fired the missiles and presented the numbers with unnecessary ‘Israel says’ qualification. As was the case in BBC World Service news bulletins, while listeners had heard plenty about two teenagers – or “children” – killed in Gaza, they were not told that the wounded in Sderot also included people in that age group.  Bateman continued:

Bateman: “So the Israeli perspective is very much about that point of provocation. They’ve said – the Israeli Defence Forces said over the weekend that it is increasing the number of Iron Dome anti-missile systems in central and southern Israel. But I think, you know, the real decision maker here is the Israeli security cabinet and there are even more hawkish elements in the right-wing coalition to Benjamin Netanyahu that have been saying that – for example – the ceasefire was allowing Hamas to dictate the conditions. Naftali Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, was Tweeting over the weekend in effect suggesting that this was Israel caving into Hamas who was dictating the terms to this Egyptian mediation.”

As documented here previously, BBC coverage of the three months of Palestinian arson attacks that have destroyed some 7,400 acres of farmland, woodland and nature reserves and caused millions of dollars-worth of damage has been very poor indeed. It is therefore highly unlikely that listeners would be able to fill in the gaps for themselves as they heard Bateman’s tepid description of that terrorism, together with his introduction of the theme of “asymmetric warfare”.

Bateman: “But I think the tensions are going to continue to simmer, John, because what Israel has now been concerned about is this…what’s been happening on a near daily basis, which has been Palestinians at the fence flying kites and filling condoms with helium and sending them over the fence with flammable objects tied to them and burning fields. And you now have this sort of spectre that I think will be seen from the outside – and this is tension on Mr Netanyahu – as a sort of asymmetric warfare because the Israelis were using airstrikes against people over the weekend who were sending these kites over the fence.”

While failing to clarify that Egypt and Israel enforce closures of their borders with the Gaza Strip precisely because of Hamas terrorism, Bateman closed with a reference to an incident on July 13th but refrained from informing listeners that the “15 year-old boy” was climbing the border fence when shot.

Bateman: “The Palestinians say that this is simply protest against the blockade that continues by Israel and by Egypt. It is made worse by the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority imposing sanctions on Hamas in Gaza – on some of the public sector payments. But, you know, those tensions at the border are going to continue. There was a 15 year-old boy shot dead by the Israelis again at the fence on Friday and I think, you know, that issue over how Israel responds to what’s happening at the fence will increase the political pressure on Mr Netanyahu.”

Later on in the same edition of ‘Today’ listeners heard another item (from 02:50:20 here) relating to the same topic which was introduced by presenter Justin Webb as follows:

Webb: “We heard earlier in the programme about the worst exchange of hostilities between Gaza [sic] and…err…Israel since the war in 2014. There is now a fragile ceasefire but Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA the United Nations relief agency that operates in Gaza, said he condemned what had happened.”

Radio 4 listeners then heard part of Gunness’ previously aired unchallenged polemic recycled:

Gunness: “These deaths illustrate tragically the dangers of using overwhelming air strikes in a heavily populated area. Imagine a foreign army using massive air power on a building in central London and two British children are killed and ten wounded. That would rightly…there would rightly be international outrage. Imagine if that attack by a foreign army had already killed 146 people since the end of March of which 21 have been children. Imagine if 15,000 Brits had been wounded by that foreign army of which over 8,000 had been hospitalised, over 4,000 of them wounded by live fire. That’s what’s happened in Gaza since the end of March: make no mistake. And there rightly should be international outrage and condemnation.”

Now a quarter of the way into the four-minute item, Webb introduced former IDF spokesman Peter Lerner, whom he proceeded to interrupt repeatedly.

After Lerner had clarified the number of missiles fired from Gaza on July 14th, the number of acres of land in Israel destroyed by Palestinian arson attacks and the fact that Iran had funded the ‘Great Return March’ to the tune of $45 million which could have been used to improve Gaza’s infrastructure, Webb interrupted him with the false suggestion that the two teenagers accidentally killed because they were in a building that listeners had still not been told was a Hamas training facility were deliberately targeted.

Webb: “But the point Chris Gunness was making was that even if you accept all of that, attacking a place where there are children, killing two children, is not a proper proportionate response.”

When Lerner pointed out that Hamas “basically wrote the book on the use of human shields”, Webb interrupted him again.

Webb: “But even if that is the case, is it right to kill the shields?”

When Lerner raised the topic of Hamas’ accountability for the events, Webb interrupted once more.

Webb: “Well what about an investigation then that looks at both sides?”

As we see listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on July 16th heard a total of eleven minutes and forty seconds of content relating to a story based around the deaths of two teenagers. However, not once in all that time were they told that the building in which the two were located was a Hamas training facility with access to the terror group’s underground tunnel network. Rather, even at the end of both items, listeners were still under the mistaken impression that this was just some random “building in a popular gathering place in Gaza City, a park where many families go” as Chris Gunness falsely claimed and – significantly – as Hamas tried to spin the story.

So much for the BBC’s supposed obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Related Articles:

UNRWA spokesman’s biased polemic goes unchallenged on BBC R4 ‘Today’ – part one

Gaza missile attacks get 44 words on the BBC News website

An overview of BBC WS July 14 news bulletins

 

 

 

UNRWA spokesman’s biased polemic goes unchallenged on BBC R4 ‘Today’ – part one

The July 16th edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme Today included an item (from 01:3:24 here) in which UNRWA spokesman (and former BBC employee) Chris Gunness was given free rein to preach five minutes’ worth of completely unchallenged propaganda and distortions.

Gunness’ tenuous link to the subject supposedly under discussion was portrayed by presenter John Humphrys as follows:  

Humphrys: “Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an attack by Israel at the weekend in Gaza. They were pupils at a school run by the United Nations relief agency. It’s been described as the worst exchange of hostilities between the two sides since the war in 2014. A ceasefire was called yesterday but the peace [sic] is fragile. I’m joined on the line by our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman and Christopher Gunness of the United Nations relief agency. Chris Gunness; what happened on Saturday?”

Why the BBC – with its offices in Jerusalem and Gaza – should need Gunness to tell audiences “what happened on Saturday” is unclear but listeners then heard a distorted version of the story which, not surprisingly given Gunness’ record, dovetails with the version put out by Hamas and its supporters.

Gunness: “There was an Israeli airstrike on a building in a popular gathering place in Gaza City, a park where many families go, adjacent to the building. [It] Struck two children, Amir and Louay, as you say UNRWA students, they were killed. At least ten people were wounded.”

As shown in a video produced by Hamas, that “park” is in fact an open space next to an unfinished building intended to be a library but instead long used by Hamas as an urban warfare training facility that includes access to Hamas’ tunnel network. John Humphrys made no effort whatsoever to challenge Gunness’ echoing of Hamas propaganda or to clarify that the people he described as “children” were youths aged 15 and 16 who – despite the fact that missile fire by terror groups into Israel and retaliatory strikes had been ongoing for hours at the time of the incident – were reportedly playing in the Hamas facility. Instead, Humphrys allowed Gunness’ polemic to proceed unhindered.

Gunness: “The killings of children, John, in any context must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. These deaths illustrate tragically the dangers of using overwhelming air strikes in a heavily populated area. Imagine a foreign army using massive air power on a building in central London and two British children are killed and ten wounded. That would rightly…there would rightly be international outrage. Imagine if that attack by a foreign army had already killed 146 people since the end of March of which 21 have been children. Imagine if 15,000 Brits had been wounded by that foreign army of which over 8,000 had been hospitalised, over 4,000 of them wounded by live fire. That’s what’s happened in Gaza since the end of March: make no mistake. And there rightly should be international outrage and condemnation.”

Humphrys did not bother to clarify to listeners that Gunness’ imaginary scenario would only be relevant if the ruling British authorities had been firing hundreds of mortars and rockets at the civilians that “foreign army” was charged with protecting and “Brits” had repeatedly tried to breach the border with that foreign country while carrying out scores of terror attacks. Instead – apparently quite at ease with Gunness’ whitewashing of Palestinian terror – he went on to presume to speak for Israel.

Humphrys: “Well we were hoping to speak to an Israeli minister. He had – or we understood that he’d agreed to talk to us earlier this morning but he has since pulled out of that interview. But what they would say – and I can say this [laughs] because we’ve heard them say it many times before – they are under massive provocation. Their very existence is threatened – or would be if Hamas had its way – and they have to defend themselves.”

Gunness: “Look, we’ve all seen the pictures of the fence and we are very clear in the United Nations…the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has called on Israel to ensure that its security forces do not resort to the use of excessive force, particularly at that fence. Under international law Palestinians first of all have the right to peaceful assembly and expression.”

Humphrys failed to clarify to listeners that no-one on the Israeli side has suggested that Palestinians in Gaza or elsewhere do not have the right to peaceful assembly or that “peaceful assembly” is not an accurate description of what has been going on along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip for three and a half months.

Gunness: “Israeli security forces, according to our top human rights official, in policing the Gaza fence must use only necessary and proportionate means to discharge their duties. Exceptionally, they may resort to lethal force in cases of extreme necessity as a last resort and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury. But – and, you know, I say but – it is difficult to see how tyre burning, stone throwing or even Molotov cocktails thrown from a significant distance at heavily protected security forces in defensive positions can be seen to constitute such a threat.”

Humphrys made no effort to inform listeners that in April, May and June Palestinians engaged in Hamas facilitated violence at that border carried out, inter alia, 294 attacks with petrol bombs, 20 shooting attacks, 35 IED attacks and 5 grenade attacks. He also failed to challenge Gunness’ subsequent inaccurate description of the Gaza Strip as being under “occupation”.

Gunness: “In the context of an occupation such as Gaza, killings resulting from the unlawful use of force may also constitute wilful killings which are a grave breach of the 4th Geneva Convention and I think that is why the Secretary General has called for an independent and transparent investigation into the killings in Gaza from the end of March. Will there be one? Well what a shame we didn’t have an Israeli official on this programme to ask that question. Will there be a transparent an independent investigation? Because that is what the world’s top diplomat has called for.”

Once again Humphrys presumed to respond on behalf of Israel:

Humphrys: “Yeah but you know how Israel will respond to that, don’t you? Because Israel would say the world community – put the word in quotation marks if you like – is weighted against us. People hate us for…because we are Israel and we lose the propaganda battle all the time.”

Gunness: “John, I’m sorry – I’m not on this programme to answer for Israel. As I say it’s…”

Humphrys: “No I understand but I mean you’re making the case for sanctions, at least for an investigation to be undertaken into Israel’s actions. I’m trying to put to you what they would say if they were here.”

Gunness: “John, it was you that used the word sanctions. I’m not making the case for sanctions. Can we please be very clear. I have not come on…”

Humphrys: “OK; you want an investigation.”

Listeners then heard that UNRWA condemned Hamas rocket fire – four years ago. They did not however hear that some 200 projectiles had been fired at Israeli communities in just over 24 hours.

Gunness: “The UN Secretary General has called for a transparent and an independent investigation into the killings that have taken place in Gaza since the end of March. I don’t think that is an unreasonable thing for the United Nations to call for. We have condemned the rockets coming out of Gaza. We have condemned Hamas rockets. We didn’t do it from the comfort of our offices in London or Tel Aviv or New York or Washington. Our Commissioner General did it from inside Gaza while the war raged in 2014. So let’s bat that old canard…”

Humphrys: “Alright.”

Gunness: “UNRWA condemns these rockets in the strongest possible terms but at the same time we condemn the killing of teenagers – UNRWA teenagers. They have a dignity and a destiny that must be protected and nurtured and that is why we condemn those killings.”

After that five-minute long unchallenged tirade from Gunness, Humphrys moved on to a report from the BBC’s Tom Bateman. Whether or not listeners to BBC Radio 4 then got to hear the crucial information and context entirely missing from the first five minutes of this item – and how Chris Gunness’ propaganda was later recycled – will be discussed in part two of this post.   

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

Since the US administration announced on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) the BBC has produced numerous reports on the story (see some in ‘related articles’ below).

Nevertheless, none of the corporation’s reports to date have provided its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

BBC audiences may therefore have expected to find such information in an article presented not as a news item with limited space but as a ‘feature’ that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 30th under the title “Palestinians fear cost of Trump’s refugee agency cut“.

However, just 72 words in Yolande Knell’s 882 word report were devoted to the provision of superficial background information on UNRWA.  

“Unrwa was originally set up to take care of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Nearly 70 years on, some of those refugees and many of their descendants continue to live in camps, which are now chronically overcrowded breeze block neighbourhoods.

Unrwa supports some five million people not only in the Palestinian Territories but also in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – where Palestinian refugees have limited rights.”

Knell made no attempt to explain to readers why people who have lived under Palestinian rule in Gaza since 2005 or those holding Jordanian citizenship are still classed as ‘refugees’ and why some Arab countries give only “limited rights” to Palestinians.

Her approach to the highly relevant issue of inherited refugee status was to present it as an ‘Israel says’ subject – including quotes from the Israeli prime minister – and she refrained from informing readers how that issue is used for political ends or that ‘”right to return” to parts of historic Palestine’ for millions of people registered as ‘refugees’ would in fact mean the end of the Jewish state and hence the politically motivated perpetuation of that Palestinian “call” is unrealistic .

“The fate of the refugees is a core issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict and they have often been at the heart of Palestinian political and militant activity.

Palestinians call for their “right to return” to parts of historic Palestine – land which is now in Israel.

Israel rejects that claim and has often criticised the set-up of Unrwa for the way it allows refugee status to be inherited, which it points out is uniquely applied to Palestinians among all the world’s refugees.”

Knell countered that with statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness.

“Unrwa officials stress that the UN General Assembly sets their mandate and dismiss the idea it obstructs any Israel-Palestinian peace deal.

“It is the failure of the political parties to resolve the refugee issue that perpetuates it,” says Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness.

“As soon as there’s a resolution of that based on international law, based on United Nations resolutions, Unrwa will go out of business and hand over its service.””

She then amplified UNRWA’s current fundraising campaign, citing support from what she blandly described as “humanitarian groups” – with no mention of the blatant political agenda of some of those organisations, including AFSC, Oxfam, Church World Service, Amnesty International and Islamic Relief.

“The agency has now launched a global appeal to fill the gap in its budget and is receiving many messages of support – including from celebrities and 21 international humanitarian groups.”

The prime focus of Knell’s article – over 300 words – was promotion of its main protagonist.

“Unrwa was there every moment for me,” says Najwa Sheikh Ahmed, an information officer with the UN Relief and Works Agency.

“It gave not only food, clothes, education and healthcare but also a job and the opportunity that offers your family.”

Najwa was born in Khan Younis refugee camp and brought up in tough conditions. […]

I watch her eldest daughter, Salma, as she excels in an English lesson. She is one of 270,000 Unrwa students in Gaza.

“As a mother I feel very worried,” Najwa confides.

“If the funding gap isn’t bridged, then Unrwa might find itself in a situation where [it has] to close the schools and health services. My children will be at risk.” […]

“Without Unrwa nobody will identify us as refugees,” says Najwa Sheikh-Ahmed – whose father fled from his home in al-Majdal – now in Ashkelon in southern Israel – as a boy in 1948.

“My refugee number, my ration card is witness to the fact that once upon a time I had a homeland,” she says. “Without this we will lose the right to fight for our rights.”

When UNRWA advertised last year for an ‘information officer’ in another location the job was described as a PR position:

“…maintains regular contact with local or regional and international media representatives; keeps the press informed of the Agency’s activities to promote better understanding and coverage of the Agency’s work, and to encourage the media to use UNRWA as a source of information on refugees.”

In other words, Knell’s main interviewee in this article is an employee of UNRWA’s public relations department whose job description includes contact with the international media and fund-raising. In addition to producing emotional UNRWA press releases, in the past Najwa Sheikh Ahmed has written for local publications and political NGOs as well as for the ‘Palestine Chronicle’, Channel 4 and the Times.

It is therefore hardly surprising that in addition to her story and comments, readers also found amplification of UNRWA’s fundraising and the protests by UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip.

“”Dignity is priceless,” read the signs as thousands of employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees march through central Gaza City.

They fear Washington’s recent decision to withhold $65m (52.5m euros; £46m) in funds could affect their positions as well as basic services which most of them, as refugees, rely on. […]

At the rally in Gaza City, participants focus on the impact of any Unrwa cutbacks on the most needy but also on existential issues.”

While content provided by UNRWA staffers Najwa Sheikh Ahmed and (former BBC employee) Chris Gunness makes up nearly half of Yolande Knell’s 882 word article, once again this PR item amplifying UNRWA’s campaign against the US administration’s reduced donation fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of impartial information concerning the UN agency that is needed for broader understanding of the story.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosen notes that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunness continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

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

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

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

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

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

 

 

 

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

On January 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined “US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians” on its ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages. Readers were told that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m. […]

The US funds almost 30% of the UN agency’s work overall and gave $370m to UNRWA last year. The money withheld is part of this year’s first instalment.”

Later on in the report more details on funding were provided under the sub-heading “How much aid does the US send to Palestinians?” – with the BBC finding it necessary to inform readers that:

“By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify that the vast majority of that different kind of aid is conditioned on it being spent on American defence contractors.

Readers also found the following:

“”This is not aimed at punishing” anyone, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters, adding that it was due to a US desire to see reforms at the agency.

The $65m is being withheld “for future consideration”, a US official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official added.”

BBC Audiences were not told what such “reforms” might entail although, according to a report in Ha’aretz, Ms Nauert did clarify that point in her remarks.

‘”This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” Nauert said during her daily press briefing. “The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around,” she added. 

According to Nauert’s explanation, “the United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more.” Nauert compared the decision regarding UNRWA to the Trump administration’s push for members of NATO to increase their defense spending: “Just as we have with NATO, asking other countries to provide that 2 percent GDP into its defense, we are asking countries to do more as it pertains to UNRWA.”‘

Under the sub-heading “What is Israel’s position?” readers were told that:

“Its ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called for aid to UNRWA to be scrapped completely.

He accused the agency of misusing humanitarian aid and supporting “anti-Israel propaganda”.

“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” he said.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Mr Danon’s statement included additional points which the BBC apparently chose to edit out.

‘“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” he said.  

“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities.  It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed toward their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” Danon added.’

As readers may recall, the BBC did not report on the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau. Stories about Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools have also been ignored – as have those concerning antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees and political campaigning by a senior official at UNRWA.

The BBC does not have an online profile for UNRWA but a profile of the United Nations published in 2011 gives descriptions of the two UN agencies dealing with refugees:

“UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – safeguards rights and well-being of refugees; based in Geneva

UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) [sic] – dedicated agency providing assistance solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants”

Readers of this article (and many previous BBC reports) were not provided with relevant background information such as the fact that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries. Audiences were not informed that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750 thousand in 1950 to five million in 2013 due to that organisation’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status.  

Readers were not told why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. Neither were they informed of the fact that while the UNHCR is “mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly Resolutions to undertake resettlement” of refugees, no such mandate currently applies to UNRWA.

While that relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO.

“The withdrawal of funds would, he [Egeland] said, have “devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who depend on the agency for their education”.

It would also “deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare up in the conflict”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group for Palestinian factions, tweeted that the Trump administration seemed to be following an Israeli policy of dismantling “the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees”.”

Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.

Related Articles:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

BBC self-conscripts to UNRWA PR campaign

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

 

 

 

BBC ignores another Gaza tunnels story

Hamas’ efforts to rebuild the network of cross-border attack tunnels destroyed in 2014 and the terrorist organisation’s related misappropriation of construction materials intended for the rebuilding and repair of civilian dwellings are topics which have been serially under-reported throughout the three years since that conflict took place and over a year has passed since the BBC last produced any coverage of that subject.

Another such story recently emerged when a tunnel was discovered in the Maghazi district of the Gaza Strip.

“The tunnel was discovered by workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on June 1 under two schools in the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip near the city of Deir al-Balah. […]

The tunnel, between two and three meters underground, passes under the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School and the Maghazi Preparatory Boys School, and was built both westward into the Palestinian enclave and eastward toward the security fence with Israel, according to UNRWA.

UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said Friday that the tunnel “has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way.”

“UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way,” he said.

Gunness said the agency had “robustly intervened and protested to Hamas in Gaza”.

He said UNRWA will seal the tunnel, which was discovered while the schools were empty during the summer holiday.

Hamas, for its part, denied that it or any other terror group built a tunnel under the two UN schools. The organization on Friday “strongly condemned” the UNRWA revelation, saying it would be exploited by Israel to “justify its crimes.”

The terror group denied it built the tunnel and said it had clarified the issue “with all factions and resistance forces, who clearly stated they had no actions related to the resistance in the said location,” the movement said, adding that it respected UNRWA’s work.”

Despite the discovery of weapons in UNRWA schools and the firing of missiles from such locations during the 2014 conflict as well as the recent scandals (unreported by the BBC) concerning Hamas and UNRWA staff, the BBC’s Gaza bureau has to date shown no interest in reporting this story (of which its staff are obviously aware), let alone in investigating how a tunnel beneath two schools could have been constructed apparently under the noses – and ears – of UNRWA employees.