Yolande Knell’s annual politicisation of Christmas on Radio 4

As usual during the festive season, BBC content on and around Christmas Eve included several politicised reports from Yolande Knell about Christmas celebrations in Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ on December 23rd heard a report (from 10:00 here) about St Nicholas Day which, according to presenter Emily Buchanan “is still widely celebrated and nowhere more so than among the Christians of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.”

During that report listeners were told by Yolande Knell that:

Knell: “Over the centuries some town’s people claim that St Nicholas has protected them, including in 1948 during the fighting that followed the creation of the State of Israel and the violence of two Palestinian uprisings.”

Although her examples “over the centuries” were limited to events connected to Israel, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that during the Second Intifada Palestinian terrorists used Beit Jala as a position from which to repeatedly attack Israeli civilians in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighbourhood with gunfire and mortars.

In addition to Mishal Husain’s politicised report from the Gaza Strip, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 24th heard a report (from 35:41 here) from Yolande Knell in Bethlehem. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Justin Webb: “Christian pilgrims from around the world will be attending a Christmas Eve mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity today, built on the site where they believe Jesus was born. Yolande Knell is our correspondent there. What kind of numbers, Yolande?”

Having stated that “thousands of people” were expected to visit, Knell went on:

Knell: “Tourism here has recovered from a big fall that really began in late 2015 after that series of stabbings and car-ramming attacks. According to the Palestinian tourism ministry this has been the busiest year on record for Bethlehem…”

Later on Webb asked:

Webb: “How easy is it for people to get to it if they want to?”

Knell: “Well on Christmas it does become much easier but of course…ehm…for the Palestinians this is one of their great problems especially when it comes to developing tourism as they’re very reliant on Israel…”

Having reported that Bethlehem’s hotels are fully booked, Knell went on:

Knell: “Things are pretty bleak politically for Palestinians. But the message from officials and from regular people alike is that after some tough years – remember last year there was a lot of unrest that marred the Christmas celebrations, led to a lot of parties being cancelled, after President Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without recognising Palestinian claims to the east of the city: the part that they want as the capital of their promised future state.”

Similar messaging from Knell was heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ on December 24th (from 6:04 here) in a news bulletin.

Newsreader: “Thousands of pilgrims have joined Palestinians in Bethlehem for the start of Christmas Eve celebrations. A parade was held in Manger Square with carols sung in Arabic played through speakers. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell sent this report from Bethlehem.”

Having described that parade, Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Tourism here is often hit by flare-ups in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last year many parties were cancelled after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without acknowledging Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city which they want as the capital of their promised future state. This year the political outlook remains bleak but the message from Palestinian officials and locals alike is that this should be a joyful Christmas.”

As documented here last December – 2017’s non-religious festivities were cancelled on the orders of Palestinian officials.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

As ever Yolande Knell’s annual Christmas messaging obscures Palestinian actions which affect seasonal tourism in the Bethlehem area. While listeners heard of a “series of stabbings and car-rammings” in 2015 and that tourism is “often hurt by flare-ups in violence”, they were not told who instigated those events, just as they were not informed who ordered the cancellation of Christmas parties last year or of the terrorism launched from Beit Jala in the Second Intifada.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

 

 

 

 

 

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BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

h/t FB

On the morning of December 24th BBC Radio 4’s Today programme aired yet another report produced during Mishal Husain’s recent visit to the Gaza Strip.

Presenter Justin Webb introduced the item (from 1:42:48 here) as follows: [emphasis in bold added]

Webb: “This time last week we were reporting from Gaza and for its small Christian community this of course is the time of year when many dream of getting to Bethlehem which isn’t, after all, that far away to celebrate Christmas. However, given the blockade maintained by Israel – it says of course that’s for security reasons – travelling to the West Bank requires special permission which many do not get. Mishal Husain went to meet Palestinian Christians at one church in Gaza City.”

Having described the scene at a reception for a “visiting delegation from Jerusalem” and spoken to a couple of children, Mishal Husain further amplified that introductory messaging.

Husain: “But the hardships of life here are not far away, especially at this time of year.”

Unidentified Woman: “There is no real Christmas in Gaza. We used to long for Christmas so we could travel and go to Bethlehem but none of the young people this year got permission. We don’t really feel the Christmas spirit in Gaza.”

Husain: “Permits to travel are difficult to obtain, as they are for other Palestinians who live here. Christmas is no exception as Sister Maria de Nazerat – a nun who came here from Argentina – explains.”

Sister Maria: “They need a special permission from Israel. They ask a lot of time but not always will receive the permission or maybe some of them can have permission or on the same family some of them no. For example the children has permission and the parents no. Every year it’s a very difficult situation because they wait, they hope, they want to go pray in Bethlehem but most of them cannot go.”

Throughout this report Mishal Husain is conspicuously silent on the topic of how many Christians actually currently live in the Gaza Strip. In April of this year the Catholic News Agency reported that “[i]n the past six years the number of Christians in the Gaza Strip has plummeted from 4,500 to just 1,000”. In contrast to Husain’s claim, Christmas (and Easter) is an exception: every year special arrangements are made for Palestinian Christians by COGAT and those pertaining to Gaza residents this year can be seen below.

In other words, permits were available for the Christian population of the Gaza Strip and while the number of applications made is unknown, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post “[s]ome 600 individuals received special permits for the holidays”. So as we see, the BBC’s claim that “many do not get” travel permits fails to reflect the fact that 60% of the Gaza Strip’s Christian population did receive them.

The second theme promoted by Husain in this report involves whitewashing the problems faced by Christians in the Gaza Strip. Husain introduced “the parish priest Father Mario de Silva”.

De Silva: “We don’t have problems to worship God here and we are doing our work.”

Husain: “Because some people might wonder what it is like with Hamas governing Gaza. Is that a problem for the community?”

De Silva: “Not at all. They never did any problem to us about religious or…”

While one can of course comprehend Father de Silva’s recurrent promotion of that messaging, the BBC should have been able to tell its audiences that the true picture is actually somewhat different.

“Rami Ayyad owned a religious bookstore in Gaza. He had been involved in numerous charitable organizations and was also a member of the Baptist Church. His store and charity organization, the Bible Society, had been a frequent target of Muslim extremists. A grenade was thrown at the building during protests over the publication of a Danish cartoon that depicted the prophet Mohammed. Ayyad had also received continuous death threats for his perceived missionary work. He was married with two small children, and was just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday when [in October 2007 – Ed.] he was found shot in the head and stabbed multiple times 10 hours after he was kidnapped from his store.

One Christian leader expressed his fear after months of increased attacks: “This latest incident is aimed at sending a message to all the Christians here that we must leave. Radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care.” Many in Gaza’s tiny Christian community, including the Baptist Church’s full-time pastor and twelve of Ayyad’s bookstore employees, fled to the West Bank to escape further violence. 

The head of Gaza’s Roman Catholic Church, Rev. Mauel Musallem, said he knows seven families that sold their properties in Gaza and left for safer pastures in the aftermath of Ayyad’s slaying. Fifteen more were preparing to do the same, he said.”

In 2012 reports of cases of forced conversions to Islam came out of the Gaza Strip. This year Gaza’s Christians have been warned in flyers distributed by an armed terror group that ‘celebrating Christmas is evil’.

Nevertheless, Radio 4 listeners heard nothing of such incidents in a report obviously intended to promote the politically motivated narrative that Gaza’s Christian population lives happily under Hamas rule, with its only tribulations caused by Israel.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

 

 

Was BBC News reporting of the Pope’s Christmas address accurate and impartial?

On December 25th visitors to the BBC News website’s main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page found a report presented as follows:

Contrary to the impression given by that presentation, the Pope’s Christmas address did not include any mention whatsoever of the US president or his December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The BBC article reached by clicking on that link – titled “Urbi et Orbi: Pope calls for peace for Jerusalem” – is 401 words long. Twenty-one of those words related to the US president:

“US President Donald Trump recently announced that America recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The controversial move drew international condemnation.”

Seventy-four words were devoted to the topic of the non-binding resolution passed the previous week by the UN General Assembly.

“Last week, UN members decisively backed a non-binding resolution that said any decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem were “null and void” and must be cancelled. […]

Guatemala has said it plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following Mr Trump’s announcement.

It joined the US and Israel, and Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo, in voting against the UN resolution.

However, 128 countries backed the resolution while others abstained.”

A total of 155 words were used to provide background information – in part politically partisan and lacking sufficient historical context – concerning Jerusalem.

“Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their future capital, and all countries currently keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. […]

Jerusalem is home to sites sacred to Judaism and Islam, and because of its role in the life of Jesus, the city is also one of the holiest places for Christians.

The city’s status goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally and, according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The Papal address itself was given 151 words of coverage with one hundred and three of those words relating to Israel and the Palestinians and a mere 25 words relating to the rest of the world.

“Pope Francis has used his traditional Christmas Day message to call for “peace for Jerusalem” and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

Acknowledging “growing tensions” between them, he urged a “negotiated solution… that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states”. […]

The Roman Catholic leader gave his Urbi et Orbi speech, which in Latin means “To the city and world”, in Saint Peter’s Square.

“On this festive day let us ask the lord for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land,” he told the crowd.

“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”

The pontiff’s speech touched on other pressing international issues, from the migration crisis to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, from Venezuela to North Korea.”

BBC audiences would clearly get the impression from that report that the focus of the Pope’s address was on Israel and the Palestinians and that he merely “touched on” other issues.

However, examination of the actual 932 word address delivered by the Pope shows that while he used 118 words to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he devoted 439 words to speaking about other topics including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Africa, Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Myanmar, Bangladesh, children of unemployed parents, migrants and child labour.

So while 80.5% of the BBC’s coverage of the speech related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in fact that topic featured in just 21.2% of the parts of the address relating to specific countries and issues and in 12.7% of the speech as a whole.

Obviously the BBC News website cannot claim to have reported that Papal address in a manner that accurately and impartially reflects its content and its focus.

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

h/t RB

As we saw in part one of this post the BBC’s Christmas reporting from Bethlehem presented a uniform portrayal of diminished numbers of visitors to the city that was attributed exclusively to “increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.

BBC World Service radio listeners were not spared politicised messaging either. The December 24th edition of ‘The Newsroom’ opened with an item about Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (from 00:06 here) in which listeners were told by presenter Jackie Leonard that the Patriarch of Jerusalem “reached Bethlehem after being driven through a checkpoint at the Israeli separation barrier”. Leonard went on:

Leonard: “Marwan Kattan runs the five-star Jacir Palace Hotel in Bethlehem. He says bookings have plummeted after the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked violence in the occupied West Bank.”

Kattan: “Every year we are fully booked in Christmas and the New Year. This year we have it; before it was over-booking but when the uprising started, everything cancelled. What he said; uprising started; we lose everything.”

Reporting from Bethlehem, the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman then told listeners that:

Bateman: “…there is of course the backdrop of growing hostility and, you know, on a near daily basis now ever since Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem we’ve had clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians, not least here in the West Bank, here in Bethlehem and also on the Gaza border and that diplomatic stand-off between the Palestinian leadership and the United States.”

However, Jackie Leonard then went on to allude to information concerning tourism previously undisclosed to BBC audiences and the conversation began to go somewhat off message.

Leonard: “Now we’ve heard from the Israeli tourism ministry saying that they expect to see the number of Christian pilgrims increase. What are you seeing with tourist numbers?”

Bateman: “Well certainly tourism, the tourist economy in Bethlehem has taken a severe dent over the last ten days or so. I was talking to a hotelier last night who said that many hotels had really been emptied after the Trump announcement. Now a lot of that was the domestic tourists – the Palestinian Christians both from the West Bank and also Palestinians from inside Israel who traditionally come here often in the week before Christmas and many of these simply cancelled and didn’t come.

As for international tourists, well many have been here today. I mean I was talking to some Irish pilgrims from Dublin a little earlier on. Having said that, some of the religious leaders have said that groups have been cancelling and I think there is no doubt that the tourism economy in Bethlehem has suffered. But as you say, I mean, overall, more broadly, the Israelis have made the point that, you know, the number of Christian pilgrims coming to the holy land overall has risen by a significant amount when you compare it to the years before.”

Leonard then asked Bateman about security at the Christmas events in Bethlehem and his answer included the following:

Bateman: “In terms of the clashes that have taken place, well, they haven’t been to the scale that many had feared or predicted after Donald Trump’s announcement but they have taken place on a regular basis. They do tend to be very localised and in areas that are quite predictable so, you know, tourists can avoid, really, with a fair amount of ease. But I think what it has affected, of course, is the mood.”

As we see, Tom Bateman knows that the response to calls for violence instigated and encouraged by Palestinian bodies has been limited and that tourists can in fact easily avoid problematic locations. He did not, however, bother to inform BBC audiences of an additional and relevant part of the picture: the fact that Palestinian officials ordered limitations on the Christmas festivities.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

Although that deliberate cancelling of festivities (along with a similar – but failed – attempt by the mayor of Nazareth) could obviously account for some cancellations by tourists, the BBC is clearly not interested in letting its audiences know that just as Palestinian officials jeopardised Christmas tourism by calling for violence and bloodshed in response to the US announcement concerning Jerusalem, they have also given tourists much less of a reason to visit Bethlehem by cancelling parts of the festivities.

Just as the BBC never portrays Palestinians as having agency or being responsible for the violence they choose to instigate, the corporation’s narrative does not include own goal political posturing by Palestinian leaders which harms the tourist industry upon which many Bethlehem residents rely.

Instead, as we see in these BBC Christmas reports from Bethlehem, the narrative the corporation has chosen to promote once again lays the blame at the door of any party other than the Palestinians themselves and this year the BBC has chosen to uniformly promote simplistic and politically motivated messaging blaming the US president for the results of choices made by Palestinian leaders.  

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two

 

 

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

As documented here earlier this month, the BBC began telling its audiences that the US president had ruined Christmas for Palestinians just hours after his announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was made on December 6th.

At the same time, multiple BBC platforms promoted copious numbers of reports and news bulletins claiming that the US statement would spark violent reactions that were portrayed as being inexorable and irresistible. When reporting on rioting and other acts of violence, including missile fire at civilian communities in Israel, the BBC made sure that audiences were told that ‘reason’ for the violence was Donald Trump’s announcement – rather than the choices made by the people who chose to engage in such acts of violence. 

Two and a half weeks later, we see that the BBC is still perpetuating those themes in its Christmas reporting from Bethlehem.

Listeners to the December 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ heard a report from the Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell (from 14:47 here) that was introduced by presenter Edward Stourton with a dollop of political messaging.

Stourton: “Later this morning the head of the Latin Catholic church in Jerusalem will, in accordance with tradition, set off on a journey to Bethlehem where he’ll celebrate midnight mass tonight. Bur these days the route means he’ll have to go through Israel’s West Bank separation barrier: a reminder that even at Christmas the politics of the place aren’t far away.”

Yolande Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Santa hat sellers are out in force and all around me there’s a riot of multi-coloured lights. But something is missing: the tourists. Many have cancelled their planned visits here in just the past few weeks because of growing unrest. There have been days of clashes by an Israeli military watchtower built into the high wall at the edge of Bethlehem: part of Israel’s separation barrier. Young Palestinians throw stones and Israeli soldiers fire tear gas. Similar scenes have unfolded at other flashpoints across the West Bank.

While Israel welcomed Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital, saying this reflected Jewish history and the modern reality, Palestinians are furious. They want occupied East Jerusalem to be the capital of their promised future state and say the US has disqualified itself as a mediator for peace talks.

[sound of church bells] Back by the Nativity Church I’ve been talking to local Christians. One woman spoke of her frustration after her son and his family – who live overseas – decided at the last minute not to come home for Christmas, fearing trouble. And a hotelier complained that Bethlehem got all dressed up for Christmas and all of a sudden the streets are empty.”

In a filmed report that appeared on the BBC News website on December 24th under the title “Bethlehem celebrates Christmas amid heightened tensions” Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman told audiences:

Bateman: “Well the crowds have turned out in their hundreds for the day but the numbers are much lighter than in previous years. And that’s because tourism has taken a severe dent here because of fears over clashes that have taken place in the last few weeks in the occupied West Bank ever since Donald Trump announced that the US officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The synopsis to another filmed report – “Bethlehem Christmas: Church of the Nativity hosts pilgrims” – posted in the early hours of December 25th tells BBC audiences that:

“Fewer people than usual were in the West Bank town because of increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Interestingly, BBC Christmas reporting from Bethlehem has in previous years also included comment on the number of tourists visiting the town. BBC audiences have repeatedly been told sad tales of dwindling crowds that have been attributed to a variety of (inevitably Israel related) factors.

For example, in 2012 BBC audiences heard that:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

“And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.”

“Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

In 2015 BBC audiences were told of “dampened” celebrations that were attributed to a wave of Palestinian terrorism that was portrayed by the BBC in euphemistic language – with no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to limit celebrations.

“Celebrations are taking place in the West Bank town where it is believed that Jesus was born. However this year they are overshadowed by the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence that shows no signs of abating. […] Like many Palestinian Christians, Mary thinks the holiday spirit is dampened this year and that festivities will be relatively low-key.”

And:

“Even as visitor numbers continue to dwindle Christmas upon Christmas, this year the reason is pretty clear: the tensions that have washed over Israel and the occupied territories show no sign of abating.”

However this year it’s not ‘the occupation’, ‘the wall’ or ambiguous ‘tensions’ that have caused allegedly low numbers of visitors to Bethlehem at Christmas: this year the BBC has decided that the blame should be laid at the door of Donald Trump.  

However, one BBC programme went a little off message– as we will see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part one

The BBC, violence and promotion of linkage – part two

 

 

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

As may have been expected, the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ that was aired on December 17th did not – as claimed by the station’s controller Patrick Holland – present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of that hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging promoted primarily by both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

The real ‘star’ of this exercise in the manipulation of Christmas was however the anti-terrorist fence – and although well over 90% of that structure is built of wire mesh, viewers were never informed of that fact and only saw images of the sections constructed from concrete.

The film opens with a description of its main location – Bethlehem – which has of course been under complete Palestinian Authority control for the last 22 years: a fact that was erased from the entire programme. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Colman: “This is Bethlehem: world capital of the international Jesus Christ birthday business. This year Bethlehem became home to a unique hotel. Billed as having the worst view in the world, Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel sits under the gaze of an Israeli watchtower in the occupied Palestinian territories. The place where Christmas was invented now feels like a city under siege and in need of some serious festive cheer. This is the story of what happened when Banksy asked a world-famous movie director to come all the way to the little town of Bethlehem to put on a nativity play like no other in what was once the most Christmassy place on earth.”

A siege is defined as “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”. Bethlehem of course does not fit that definition. As we see, the BBC commissioned programme uses the term “occupied Palestinian territories” to describe an area that has been under complete PA control for over two decades.

Later on (04:56) that term is also used to describe areas that – under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the status of which is to be determined through negotiation and are therefore not at this time “Palestinian”.

Colman: “There are no international airports in the West Bank. Tourists fly to Tel Aviv in Israel. From there, Bethlehem is only an hour away by car. But the journey means crossing through a 400 mile long heavily fortified separation barrier into the occupied Palestinian territories. Inside this enclosed region movement is restricted. And most Palestinians are not allowed to leave without permits. It’s a small step for Danny but a huge leap into a very different reality.”

The messaging is reinforced by Boyle’s own comments.

Boyle: “And there’s the wall. Wow! Yeah. Look at that.” […] “Wow! Look at the wall. The wall’s extraordinary, isn’t it? You’ve no idea how…they’re like kind of…it’s like nails driven into the ground. It’s like…you just imagine something different really. It’s so crude and brutal.”

From 11:46 viewers hear the narrator introduce another scene.

Colman: “Fadi – a local guide – is taking Danny to experience Bethlehem’s version of the rush hour at 5 a.m. when thousands of labourers queue to get to work on the other side in Israel.”

She subsequently (12:20) promotes several highly partisan and questionable claims:

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.”

Viewers then hear an unverifiable account from a person identified as Amin Jebrein but are not told that gates in the anti-terrorist fence allow farmers access to their crops, that land owners receive compensation for any land used for the fence’s construction or that they have the legal right of appeal.

Jebrein: “They came to my land and they put a fence before my land and they take all my land inside the wall. They take me to the prison and I stay for one year because I am terrorist because I fight them, you know. And I lost my land, lost my life, lost my study. But I hope next year when you come that this will have gone>”

Boyle: “No wall”.

Jeberin: “Inshallah.”

Boyle: “Inshallah.”

Boyle goes on:

Boyle: “You can see the guys going to work. You know, it’s almost like their heads were down so they didn’t see the indignity they were having to go through to pass through this thing.”

Viewers then see Boyle compare the anti-terrorist fence to the Berlin Wall, claiming that it is “double the height” and “so tall compared to that” but with no mention made of the fact that the height of the concrete sections is specifically intended to thwart sniper attacks.

Only nearly a quarter of a way into this programme (at 14:24) and long after the scene has already been amply set, do viewers hear the first – and last – brief mention of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

Boyle: “Obviously reading history and the background, obviously the wall was a response to suicide bombings and shocking acts of terror, really, where innocent people were blown up and a nation clearly reacts in an incredibly aggressive and dominant way to a force that they feel threatens them. So I can understand – although I personally don’t…it’s not a solution that I think works ultimately – nor as I think it is a solution that is fair for any nation to impose upon itself or a community within itself. I find that very, very, very difficult.”

Referring to the part of the nativity story in which Joseph has to go to Bethlehem for a census, Boyle then compares that journey to those of the Palestinian workers just featured, making no mention of Joseph’s religion and ethnicity or the fact that Bethlehem was a Jewish town at the time.

At 17:24 viewers hear an inaccurate – and contradictory – statement:

Colman: “The Church of the Nativity [in Bethlehem] might be cut off from the world by walls and watchtowers but it still gets over a million tourists a year.”

Later on (20:45) another entirely unsupported and evidence free claim is made:

Colman: “The olive tree is hugely important to Palestinian culture but thousands of families have seen their olive groves enclosed by the wall and uprooted.”

The programme’s focus then turns to another location and that will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

h/t LV, BF

Over the years we have often seen BBC produced content in which the Christmas season was exploited for the promotion of a chosen politicised narrative and this year, it transpires, will be no exception.

On December 17th at 21:00 BBC Two will screen an hour-long programme titled “Alternativity” which combines the Christmas theme with a much promoted BBC favourite – Banksy.

“This exciting arts documentary film offers an alternative take on the nativity story. The unique, hour-long film follows the production of a contemporary one-off performance of the nativity play quite unlike any other.”

The BBC News website informs us that:

“Director Danny Boyle has teamed up with Banksy to stage an alternative nativity play at the artist’s Bethlehem hotel.

The Alternativity was staged in the car park of the artist’s Walled Off Hotel in the occupied West Bank. The process was filmed for a BBC Two documentary. […]

BBC Two controller Patrick Holland said the programme would show “a challenging and provocative” version of the story. […]

Patrick Holland said: “It is brilliant for BBC Two to be working with Danny Boyle, Banksy and the creative team who together are making this alternative nativity.

“It promises to be a challenging and provocative exploration of a story that speaks to young and old alike.””

Readers are also told that:

“Banksy created a promotional image for the documentary showing a drone watching over the nativity scene.

He also put up two new artworks ahead of the event. One said “Peace on Earth” next to a twinkling star, which doubled as an asterisk. Below was the same asterisk and the words “Terms and conditions apply”.

The other artwork was painted on the wall and showed two cherubic angels trying to prise two panels apart with a crowbar.”

The article employs a formula frequently evident in BBC content: the anti-terrorist fence – constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers – is described as “controversial”, but no mention whatsoever is made of the terrorism that caused it to be built.

“The anonymous street artist opened The Walled Off Hotel in March, boasting the “worst view in the world” – next to the controversial barrier Israel has built in and around the West Bank.”

While in the past we have witnessed the BBC repeatedly providing uncritical PR for Banksy’s anti-Israel agitprop, we now see that the corporation has elected to take an active role in the promotion of such politically motivated propaganda by using licence fee funding to commission this ‘documentary’.  

Can readers recall any other examples of public funds being used by the ‘impartial’ BBC to amplify a political activist’s delegitimisation of a particular country?

Related Articles:

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Christmas is coming and with it – if the BBC’s record over the past five years is anything to go by – the usual politicised reporting from the Middle East.

Christmas Eve of 2011, for example, saw Jon Donnison piling on the pathos in a reworking of the well-worn ‘Bethlehem shepherds’ theme on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.  

“There are still shepherds in Bethlehem 2000 years on from the nativity but as our West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison reports, Jewish settlement expansion there has made the life of the shepherd increasingly limited.”knell-2011-nativity

On the same day the BBC News website published a particularly egregious example of campaigning propaganda produced by Yolande Knell under the transparent title of “Bethlehem’s modern-day nativity characters“. 

In 2012 Kevin Connolly reported on Christians in the Middle East while managing to omit any mention of the one country in which they thrive and Jon Donnison produced a politically opportunistic report from Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was also the location for a 2013 report from Yolande Knell in which she promoted inaccurate information about the anti-terrorist fence.

“In the Bethlehem Governorate there are more than twenty Pal..err…Israeli settlements and now Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. It appears as a high concrete wall around Bethlehem and the people here complain that it has strangled their economy. Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab.”

A multi-platform item promoted a smear from a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.Knell Bethlehem main

Political messaging concerning the anti-terrorist fence also dominated a Christmas 2014 report on the BBC News website and Yolande Knell produced an audio report and a written report from Bethlehem in which she blamed “the dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” on “Israel’s occupation”.

Reporting again from Bethlehem in 2015, Yolande Knell revisited the ‘nativity characters’ theme in a multi-media feature focusing on politicised messaging concerning the anti-terrorist fence. An audio report by Knell broadcast on the BBC World Service was notable for its adherence to PLO media guidance.

Let’s hope that this year the BBC Jerusalem bureau can resist the temptation to exploit Christmas for the promotion of opportunistic politicised messaging and perhaps even come up with some original reporting about the Middle East’s beleaguered Christians.