What do BBC audiences know about the Coastal Road Massacre?

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.

Coastal Road Massacre memorial

“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.”

Prompted by that attack and previous ones perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists based in Lebanon, Israel launched Operation Litani days later.

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.”

In a recent glorification video produced by Fatah, the victims of the attack – including children – were said to be ‘soldiers’.

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.

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BBC ignores another example of PA glorification of terrorism

Earlier this month the BBC’s new man in Jerusalem told World Service listeners that Israel “has long accused Palestinian officials of using sport to glorify terrorism”.

As was noted here at the time:

“Of course BBC audiences are consistently denied the information which would enable them to know whether “Palestinian officials” do indeed use sport to glorify terrorism and Bateman failed to inform listeners that just a day prior to his report, Rajoub’s Palestinian Football Association organised a tournament named after a terrorist responsible for the murders of 125 Israelis.”

Neither are BBC audiences informed about additional ways in which the Palestinian Authority and Fatah regularly glorify terrorism and promote incitement, such as naming schools, streets and squares after terrorists.

One terrorist frequently honored by the PA is Dalal Mughrabi who participated in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which 38 people – including thirteen children – were murdered. Schools, summer camps, squares, community centres and sports tournaments have been named after Mughrabi, as PMW has documented.

It therefore did not come as much of a surprise when a women’s centre in a village under PA control was recently dedicated to Dalal Mughrabi but what is unusual – and hence newsworthy – is the reaction of one of the refurbished building’s funders.

Photo credit: PMW

“Norway’s foreign minister on Friday condemned the Palestinian Authority for naming a women’s center in the West Bank, funded in part by the Scandinavian country, after a female terrorist.

“The glorification of terrorist attacks is completely unacceptable, and I deplore this decision in the strongest possible terms. Norway will not allow itself to be associated with institutions that take the names of terrorists in this way. We will not accept the use of Norwegian aid funding for such purposes,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said in a statement.

Brende’s comments were made in reference to a new women’s center opened earlier this month in the West Bank town of Burqa. The center was named after Dalal Mughrabi, who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre. […]

Brende said that Norway had been unaware of the decision to name the center after Mughrabi. He demanded that the country’s name be removed from the center and that the funds it gave for construction be returned.”

In addition to that robust response from the Norwegian government, the UN also published a couple of statements concerning the unauthorised use of its UN Women logo on the building.

However, four days after it broke, none of the BBC’s locally based correspondents has yet covered this story.

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Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad

Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad

On November 1st an article appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website concerning the declassification of an Israeli newspaper report about the 1988 assassination of Fatah founder Khalil al Wazir – aka Abu Jihad. 

Entitled “Abu Jihad killing: Israeli censor releases commando’s account“, the article goes into considerable detail regarding the assassination itself, but makes scant reference to its context. 

“Abu Jihad – whose real name was Khalil al-Wazir – founded the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) with Yasser Arafat and was blamed for a string of deadly attacks on Israelis.” [emphasis added]

The ‘related stories’ and ‘More on This Story’ promoted on the same web page amount to one article entitled “Long history of Israel’s ‘covert killing'”. No information whatsoever is provided about Khalil al Wazir’s involvement in terror. 

Unlike the BBC, the Palestinian Authority is quite certain about al Wazir’s connections to terror attacks in which hundreds of Israelis were killed and injured. In fact, as recently as April 2012 the PA organized a week-long celebration of the man and his terror attacks, including the naming of sporting events in his honour, TV broadcasts of footage of him planning a terror operation and the presentation of 125 Israelis killed in attacks he planned as an ‘achievement’. 

“Abu Jihad was killed by the Israeli Mossad in Tunisia on April 16, 1988… and was crowned the Prince of the Martyrs of Palestine… Among the military operations planned by Abu Jihad: the explosion at the Zohar reservoir in 1955; the operation to blow up the Israeli National Water Carrier in 1965; the operation at the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, which killed 10 Israelis, in 1975; the blowing up of a truck bomb in Jerusalem in 1975; the killing of Albert Levi, the senior sapper, and his assistant, in Nablus in 1976; the Dalal Mughrabi operation (i.e., bus hijacking), in which more than 37 Israelis were killed, in 1978; the shelling of the Eilat Port in 1979; the Katyusha fire on the northern settlements [in Israel] in 1981…” [WAFA and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 16, 2012]

Abu Jihad: “After we strike the [Israeli] headquarters, Allah willing, we will close off the streets [of Tel Aviv]. On one street, for example, we will hold 500 people [hostage]. 500 people at once. Can anyone bargain over them? No one, without exception, is allowed to go there unless he sets up the fuse and the explosives. At any moment, he can blow up everyone. Blow up their building, or the whole thing, no matter how many people are there. Our dagger will be a poisoned dagger in our enemy’s heart, and we will take down as many as possible. We want to land on enemy territory (Israel) and to be like a single fortress. When we get there, Allah willing, we will begin to fire, to fire on our enemy. We will dig in his throat and heart with the massacres that we spoke about. We want to turn the Tel Aviv day black. We want to turn the Tel Aviv day into destruction, Allah willing. We will turn the Tel Aviv day so it will be remembered in the history of Tel Aviv as black Saturday, black Sunday. Tel Aviv will be closed that whole day with blood and destruction.”

קובץ:PikiWiki Israel 10326 savoy hotel terror attack memorial in tel aviv.jpg

Savoy Hotel terror attack memorial, Tel Aviv

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Coastal Road Massacre memorial, near Gilot Interchange.

The failure by the BBC to provide any information whatsoever about the terror attacks perpetrated by al Wazir renders the article disturbingly lacking in context, imbalanced and inaccurate.