Next week will mark forty years since the Coastal Road Massacre took place on March 11th 1978. Thirty-eight people – including thirteen children – were murdered and seventy-one wounded in that Fatah perpetrated attack, making it the single most deadly terrorist attack carried out in Israel.
“During the Jewish Sabbath, March 11, 1978, twelve members of a Palestinian terrorist cell led by female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi landed on a beach near Ma’agan Michael, north of Tel Aviv, having departed from Lebanon with a stash of Kalashnikov rifles, RPG light mortars and high explosives. They walked less than a mile up to the four-lane highway, where they began a murderous rampage, opening fire at passing vehicles before hijacking a bus en route to Haifa. They murdered American photo-journalist Gail Rubin, who was taking nature photographs nearby.
The terrorists continued to fire and throw grenades at passing cars, while shooting at the passengers, and dumping at least one body out of the bus. At one point they commandeered another bus, and forced the passengers from the first bus to board the second one.
The bus was finally stopped by a police roadblock.”
Members of the BBC’s funding public searching online for reports produced by their national broadcaster relating to the terror attack that prompted Operation Litani (and later led to the establishment of the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon) will, however, find very little information indeed.
No archive coverage of the Coastal Road Massacre is currently available at all and the sole references to that attack appear in reports relating to the subsequent Israeli operation in Lebanon.
A BBC report titled “Civilians flee southern Lebanon” dated March 17th 1978 states in its eleventh paragraph:
“Israel launched an offensive in southern Lebanon in retaliation for the 11 March bus hijacking in Tel Aviv in which 35 people were killed and 100 others were injured. […]
Israel accuses Palestinian fighters of using southern Lebanon to mount intermittent cross-border attacks against civilian and military targets in Israel.”
A report from June 13th 1978 – “Israeli troops leave southern Lebanon” – tells readers that:
“Operation Litani, Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon, was launched following a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) attack on the Tel Aviv-Haifa road which killed 37 people.
PLO troops were using southern Lebanon as a staging area for their attacks and Israeli forces moved in to destroy their bases.”
Included in the BBC’s ‘Palestinian Territories profile’ is the following:
“1978 March – PLO attack kills 38 civilians on Israel’s coastal road. Israel carries out first major incursion into southern Lebanon, driving PLO and other Palestinian groups out of the area.”
The BBC’s ‘Lebanon profile’ describes the same events as follows:
“1978 – In reprisal for a Palestinian attack, Israel launches a major invasion of southern Lebanon. It withdraws from all but a narrow border strip, which it hands over not to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) but to its proxy South Lebanon Army mainly Christian militia.”
Curiously, in the BBC’s ‘Israel profile’ there is no entry at all for 1978.
Some of the BBC’s coverage of the 2006 Second Lebanon War includes a timeline headed “Israel in Lebanon” in which the first entry reads: “March 1978: Israel invades to stop Palestinian attacks”.
As we see, in the little reporting that there is, the BBC uniformly describes the Coastal Road Massacre as having been carried out by the PLO – failing to specify that the terrorists belonged to the PLO’s Fatah faction.
It is hence perhaps unsurprising that the regular glorification of the Coastal Road Massacre, its perpetrators and planners by both the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party goes unreported by the BBC. As the ITIC notes in an extensive study of that topic:
“The PA and Fatah have commemorated Dalal al-Mughrabi every year since the days of Yasser Arafat. Events are usually held on or about March 11, the day of the Coastal Road Massacre, sometimes on other days. The official events are attended by senior PA and Fatah movement figures and the Palestinian media gives them extensive coverage.”
The sole BBC reference to Palestinian glorification of the Coastal Road Massacre terrorists to be currently found online dates from 2003 when Lyse Doucet hosted a phone-in discussion with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen after the broadcast of a film he made titled “Arafat Investigated”. The transcript of that discussion includes the following:
Lyse Doucet: “There was a sequence in the film where you had Yasser Arafat praising Dalal al Mughrabi as the road to freedom and yet this Palestinian woman was, according to the film, in 1978 responsible for one of the worst terrorist incidents in Israeli history, killing nearly 40 people and injuring many others. Well, Ruth Green, Neil Solden, among many others, have asked you: Arafat is publicly praising the terrorists, how can he be a man of peace and still do that?”
The BBC Middle East editor’s response perhaps casts light on the BBC’s chronic under-reporting of the issue of Palestinian glorification of terrorism.
Jeremy Bowen: “Well, lots of Israelis say that and of course the Israeli Government has concluded that Arafat has been a terrorist his entire life and he is not a man of peace. In the Oslo process the feeling was that the man had changed. Now, I don’t know whether he has changed fully or not but I think that the point made in the film by Eyad Sarraj, the Palestinian we talked to in that, is important in so far as what he said was that these people are seen by Palestinians as heroes of their would-be independence movement, and it’s important for them to be mentioned and it fulfils their ritualistic sloganising function. Let’s not forget that before Israeli independence Messrs Shamir and Begin were regarded by the British as terrorists. They went on – in the case of Begin – to win the Nobel Prize for Peace.”
For years the BBC has promoted the notion that the prime factor preventing peace from coming to the Middle East is Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and specific areas of Jerusalem. More recently another factor was added to the BBC’s list of ‘things preventing peace’: the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
However, remarkably little has been done to inform BBC audiences of issues that detract from that trite narrative such as the Palestinian Authority’s payments to convicted terrorists, PA and Fatah incitement or PA and Fatah glorification of terrorism of the type seen annually around the anniversary of the most lethal terror attack on Israeli civilians.
That is not omission – it is editorial policy.