BBC Radio 4 listeners are told of ‘Palestinian air’

The July 11th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“More than 25 years on from the Oslo Peace accords, close friendships between Palestinians and Israelis are still rare. Charlie Faulkner attends a Shabbat meal in Jerusalem where an Israeli woman invites a former Palestinian prisoner to her home.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 11:25 here) with an inaccurate portrayal of the aims of the Oslo Accords, a one-sided explanation of factors supposedly making a two-state solution “more remote” and the same unevidenced claim about friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “It’s more than 25 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed, aiming to fulfil the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The accords led to the creation of a Palestinian Authority with limited self-governance of the West Bank and Gaza and raised hopes for a more peaceful future. But now the ultimate goal of establishing a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution seems more remote than ever amid rocket attacks and air strikes and an Israeli government taking a hard-line approach. Close friendships between Palestinians and Israelis are rare but Charlie Faulkner has come across a personal attempt to bring people together.”

Charlie Faulkner is not a BBC employee: she describes herself as “an independent journalist” currently located in Amman and has written for several Qatar-linked outlets includingMiddle East Eye’, ‘The New Arab’ and ‘Al Jazeera’.

Faulkner’s story was about what she claimed was “a very unusual dinner party” at the home of someone described as “Jewish American” despite having lived in Israel for twelve years.

“In just a few moments Susan – a Jewish American in her 60s – would be inviting Suli – a former Palestinian prisoner – into her home for Shabbat dinner even though she’d never had a conversation with a Palestinian before. It was Susan’s daughter, 33-year-old Noa, who’d orchestrated this unusual get-together.”

Although family names are absent from Faulkner’s account, Noa appears to be Noa Yammer – communications director for ‘Hand in Hand’ – and ‘Suli’ is apparently Sulaiman Khatib who has previously appeared in BBC content. Carefully avoiding the word terror, Faulkner told listeners:

“Suli, now in his mid-forties, was imprisoned for 10 years at the age of 14 after attacking two Israeli soldiers. Having informally joined the Fatah movement, one day he and a friend decided to steal the soldiers’ weapons. During the attempt – and in a moment of blind fury – Suli and his friend stabbed them. Luckily the soldiers survived, he said, and after his release from prison he focused on achieving peace. He’s the founder of a group called ‘Combatants for Peace’ and gives speaking tours around the world. This year he’ll publish a book he hopes will humanise both sides of the conflict.”

Radio 4 listeners were given no factual information about the activities, agenda and funding of the political NGO ‘Combatants for Peace’.

Again with no evidence provided to support the claim, listeners were told that:

“Encounters between Israelis and Palestinians like this are incredibly rare, set against an often tense political background. […] The conversation quickly turned serious. Israel’s Independence Day was taking place the following week and Suli’s organisation had planned a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day service the evening before. He invited Susan to attend. Immediately she bristled but answered very honestly. She said she felt that attending would be disrespectful to the sacrifice made by Israeli soldiers who had died for the country.”

Faulkner made no effort to explain to listeners that that annual event – held on what is Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism – is considered by many to be controversial with “critics accusing it of legitimizing terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers and those who attacked them”.

Listeners heard Faulkner’s descriptions of her protagonists’ “attachment to the land”, with one including superficial references to the Six Day War and the Palestinian refugee issue – and promoting the notion of “Palestinian air”.

“Having spent most of her life teaching religious studies, Susan explained that through her faith she felt a real attachment to the land. She also emphasised that the family had sacrificed some quality of life to be there.”

“Suli pointed out his own family’s attachment to the land and how his cousin in Jordan, whose parents were among the thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the 1967 war, is not allowed to return. His cousin often longs to breathe in Palestinian air, said Suli, and on those days he climbs Mount Nebo from which he can see Jerusalem and the village where Suli’s family still live.”

More one-sided framing followed:

“He talked about how his village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, called Hizme, has continued to suffer under what he describes as an ever-tightening grip of the Israeli authorities.”

Terrorist incidents in and around that village were of course not mentioned in Faulkner’s account.  

Israelis, however, were painted as largely intolerant.

“We talked about a social media post Noa had shared showing empathy for innocent Israelis and Palestinians caught up in the 2014 Gaza conflict. It had unintentionally sparked a highly emotional backlash from some friends and relatives. ‘We’re talking about these people’s children on the front lines’ Susan exclaimed. These people had seen Noa as siding with the enemy. […] Susan said she was proud of the way her daughter could hold both sides in equal esteem, suggesting she maybe wasn’t able to do so herself.”

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ promises BBC audiences “[i]nsight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world”. This report did not include any of those elements and was remarkably superficial and uninformative. It did, however, promote an inadequately portrayed political NGO, marginalise Israeli concerns and contribute to the inaccurate framing of the Oslo Accords and the supposedly ever “remote” two-state solution that has been quite frequently evident in recent BBC reports.  

 

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Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Among the channels offered to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer is one called S4C.

While S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru – Channel Four Wales) is not a BBC channel, it does get some of its programming from the BBC under what the director of BBC Wales has called “a partnership”. S4C receives most of its funding from the obligatory licence fee paid by UK households and currently also gets funding from the UK government. Its content, as seen above, is available on BBC iPlayer which is subject to OFCOM regulation.

Among the Welsh-language programmes produced by that media organisation which are currently available to users of BBC iPlayer are three episodes of a series called ‘Y Wal’ (‘The Wall’). One of those episodes is described as follows in Welsh:

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

And in English:

“Presenter Ffion Dafis visits the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

According to the credits at the end of the programme – which is one of the least impartial pieces of content that we have seen aired on any British channel for a long time – it was made with the cooperation of the Welsh government. The person presenting this programme – Ffion Dafis – is apparently an actress (rather than a journalist) on her first visit to the region and she makes no effort whatsoever to present audiences with an accurate and impartial account of its subject matter.

As readers are no doubt aware, the anti-terrorist fence constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers is mostly – over 90% – a metal fence. Viewers of this programme, however, do not see even one camera shot of those parts of the fence: throughout the entire 48 minute programme they are exclusively shown dozens of images of the minority part of the structure that, due to danger from snipers, is made out of concrete. Throughout the whole programme viewers also hear the entire structure called a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate.

Another feature of this programme is its exclusive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s style guide instructs journalists that “There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel” and hence “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.

The programme begins with an airbrushed account of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Dafis: “The year 2000 – and once again there was increasing tension between Palestine and Israel. A wave of terror attacks swept through Israel. Israel responded with the full force of its military might. In 2002, Israel decided to build a wall. A wall to stop the killings and restore peace. But the wall has bred hatred on both sides. I’m going to visit one of the world’s most controversial walls. I want to understand why it was built and see the effect it has had on life in Palestine. As we meet brave individuals who dare to challenge the system, what are the chances of us seeing this wall coming down?”

After the Welsh actress on her first visit to the region has told viewers that Jerusalem “is a familiar sight to me even though I’m looking at it for the first time” because she “went to Sunday School as a child and I suppose it’s part of my history”, she goes on:

Dafis: “But people have fought over this holy land for generations. While some have tried to build bridges, others have fuelled the conflict.”

Viewers then [02:05] see an image of the US flag and hear a recording of the US president saying “it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” So much for media impartiality.

Additional commentary that does not meet any definition of journalistic ‘due impartiality’ (and concurrently promotes inaccuracies) is seen throughout the entire film.

[04:30] Dafis: “What goes through my mind as I stand here is the audacity of the wall. Just the way it ploughs through villages, through streets, through rivers and orchards. The devastation it leaves in its wake is plain for all to see. But according to the Israelis, it is here for a purpose [shrugs].”

[15:23] Dafis: “This wall has been built on foundations of fear and a need to protect. But the major question I have is where is the respect? This isn’t a cute white picket fence in a garden but a huge monstrosity knocked into the front room of a neighbour. Maybe one side feels safe but the other side definitely feels like it’s being suffocated.”

[19: 04] Dafis: “It’s clear that I’m standing in one of Palestine’s most fertile valleys. That much is evident. What’s also clear is that there’s a monstrosity being built on both sides of this valley. But the truth is that until you sit with an 84 year-old [Palestinian] woman who could be my grandmother, until you look into those eyes and realise the pain and the injustice then I don’t think people will ever understand one another. Maybe that is fundamentally the problem. I don’t know.”

[25:36] Dafis: “I think it’s extremely important for them [children in Aida refugee camp] to realise that growing up like this, without rights and surrounded by a high wall, is not right. It’s not normal for any child.”

[30:03] Dafis: “Imprisonment is the only word to describe what Palestinians go through here. Going through the checkpoints is like being in a big livestock mart. The wall is ludicrous. There is no other word.”

[46:58] Dafis: “The horrors taking place here can no longer be denied. Names like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Judea, Jericho are part of a great silent war. These are not peaceful places at all. I’ve touched and met people in these places and if something like this doesn’t alter me then I don’t think my heart is actually beating.”

One possible clue as to why this film is so one-sided comes at 31:37 when Dafis tells the camera that “our sound man, our driver and our fixer are Palestinian” while claiming that “they could end up being detained overnight”.

Referring to a non-incident in which she and her crew could not proceed along a particular road due to maintenance work being carried out, Dafis told viewers: “That experience with the Israeli army really shook me” and viewers then saw the unidentified fixer launch into a long monologue which provides some context to the backdrop to this film.

Fixer: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? To die? Many people have died before us for Palestine. We are not more precious than they are or than their life. You just say ‘OK, whatever, let it happen how it is or let it come’. Many people start to think OK only God protects me and others say what if I die now? Nothing will happen. So that’s why we lose the sense of life. No-one cares and then we face fear, we face…we see our rights being smashed on the floor and that we are treated as if we weren’t even human beings with soul and feelings and emotions. It’s like creatures or insects anyone can step on then and just walk. So when you feel that you stop caring.”

Part of a fixer’s job is to set up interviews and in this film viewers see twice as many Palestinian participants as Israelis. In addition to three farmers with unsubstantiated stories, a resident of al Walajah and Ahmad Sukar, head of the Wadi Fukin village council, viewers hear from representatives of assorted NGOs without any explanation being given of the political agenda of organisations including the Society of St Yves, al Rowwad, Combatants for Peace or Parents Circle Families Forum.

Among the four Israeli interviewees one is a staff member at a Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and two are members of an NGO which self-describes as “a joint Palestinian-Israeli grassroots peacemaking initiative”. The only Israeli interviewee to have lost a family member in a Palestinian terror attack is also co-director of the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan. Despite Palestinian terror being the reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence which is supposedly this programme’s subject matter, that information is only revealed to viewers three-quarters of the way into the programme, just after Elhanan has told viewers:

[34:02] Elhanan: “The Palestinians live in their cages unable to go out in any way. The Israelis are sitting in their coffee houses, drinking coffee. They don’t want to know what is going on down [under] their noses, 200 meters behind their backs. They prefer not to know. The Israeli media is cooperating with this and the whole situation is like a false paradise. A bubble if you like.”

As the above examples show, this S4C programme does not even pretend to present its subject matter in an impartial fashion. In part two of this post we will review the programme’s accuracy.  

Related articles: 

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

More wind in the sails of the ‘apartheid’ trope from BBC’s Bowen

As has already been noted on these pages, the BBC’s coverage of the end of the latest round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO which reached their pre-set deadline on April 29th was left entirely in the hands of Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. BBC audiences did not hear, read or see any alternative opinion or analysis to that provided by Bowen and vigorously promoted on a variety of BBC platforms.

In addition to Bowen’s filmed and audio reports already discussed here (see related articles below), two further items dated April 29th promoted the same themes as his previous ones.Bowen PM 29 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ broadcast an audio item by Bowen in its April 29th edition which can be heard here. Presenter Eddie Mair stayed on message in his introduction to the item, promoting the superficial notion that Israel is to blame for the demise of the talks and – notably – with the unilateral actions taken by the PA such as applying to join UN agencies in breach of the agreement reached before the talks’ commencement or the Hamas-Fatah unity deal already having been erased from the BBC version of events.

“This morning, quietly, another deadline came and went in the Middle East. It should have been the deadline for the latest round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Before the discussions started last year, the US Secretary of state John Kerry said they might be the last chance for peace. But the deadline was missed because the talks were suspended last week by the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He blamed the Palestinians. They blame him. President Obama blames both sides. If you’re wondering whether Palestinian – Israeli peace talks can ever succeed after years of failure, you’re not alone. So is our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, in Jerusalem. ” [emphasis added]

In this item, Bowen yet again reports from Hebron and once again fails to inform audiences that Israelis living there do so because the Palestinian Authority agreed to their presence in the H2 area of the city by signing the Hebron Protocol in 1997.

“I’m in Hebron which is the only city on the West Bank where Jewish settlers – Israelis – live in the heart of the town alongside Palestinians, but of course separated by wire, by concrete, by guns.”

Bowen also once again refrains from informing listeners why he needs to use the word “restarted” in the following sentence.

“I’ve come to see Shlomo Levinger who’s the son of one of the people who restarted Jewish settlement here in 1967.”

Bowen fails to inform listeners that security arrangements in Hebron – including those near the shared site of the Cave of the Patriarchs – are laid out in the mutually agreed Hebron Protocol, preferring to imply instead that freedom of worship for Muslims is impaired by Israeli security measures.

“Now I’m down near the building, the holy site here, which Muslims call the Abraham Mosque and which the Israelis – the Jews – call the Cave of the Patriarchs. And it’s a highly guarded place – there’s been a lot of trouble here in the past – and to get…for Palestinians who wanted to pray in the mosque…to get to the area and to get back they have to go through this turnstile past another Israeli checkpoint. More guns, more concrete.”

Bowen continues by interviewing an unidentified man in the street, whose opinions he apparently considers worthy of amplification, but providing no context – for example in relation to the subject of why exactly the “prisoners” the man mentions are imprisoned.

“Hebron; it’s a very unique place and you have the Israelis and the settlers very, very close to here. What is life like with the Israelis there and you here?”

Unidentified man: “Not good, no. [voiceover] There will never be peace – only in our dreams. The talks are unsuccessful. Israel is not serious. It’s a joke to them. They don’t want peace. They aren’t serious about it. They still have prisoners. They are still building settlements. It’s just words. They don’t mean it.”

Bowen then goes on to promote the NGO ‘Combatants for Peace’, describing the members he interviews only as ‘peace campaigners’.  That leads to Bowen’s conclusion, in which he promotes the notion of “the expansion of Jewish settlements” as being on a par with terrorism.

“The trouble is that conversations like that were also happening twenty years ago. They’re still in a minority and the pessimism caused by violence, the expansion of Jewish settlements and failed talks helps keep them there. Perhaps it’s too late to make peace by splitting the land between Israel and the Palestinians, but no alternative is easier and many look much worse.”

Bowen’s two interviewees from ‘Combatants for Peace’ also appeared in his written report which was published in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 29th under the title “Have MidEast talks failure killed two-state goal?“.Bowen 29 4 art end talks

In that article Bowen repeats and promotes the same messaging points which dominated his other filmed and audio reports.

“Bowen’s messaging includes portrayal of the Arab-Israeli conflict as an exclusively Palestinian-Israeli affair and as one concerning land only, as well as the claim that the opportunity for a two-state solution to the conflict died with this latest round of negotiations (the end of which, significantly, had been attributed to Israel alone in previous BBC reports) and the prediction of  violence in the near future.”

As he did just days before in another report, Bowen once more ‘tidies up’ Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians in this one too, euphemistically turning it into unattributed and amorphous “violence”.

“Twenty years ago, when the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were fresh and young, millions from both sides thought a peace agreement, at long last, was going to make their lives much better.

It didn’t happen. Twenty years of off-on talks, punctuated by violence, have not worked.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s explanations to BBC audiences as to why the talks have failed are equally euphemistic and notably he continues the BBC policy, evident throughout the last nine months of coverage, of failing to clarify the crucial significance of the refusal of the Palestinian Authority (with Arab League backing) to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and thus an end to any future claims.

In addition to his themes of a conflict about land and the demise of the two-state solution, Bowen also revisits another theme he promoted only days previously – the ‘demographic threat’ argument, seasoned with the ‘apartheid’ trope. Under the sub-heading “Demographic time-bomb?” he writes:

“Secretary of State John Kerry has been forced to apologise, in effect, for remarks he made saying that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state if it cannot make a deal with the Palestinians.

The argument is that if Palestinians do not have their own state, they will have to be inside Israel.

If they were given the vote, their birth rate means they would soon be able to outvote Jews.

If they were not given the vote, Israel would be like the old South Africa.

Many Palestinians believe that their best strategy is to persuade the rest of the world that Israel should be isolated. They want it to be compared to apartheid South Africa.”

What Bowen fails to clarify to readers is that the argument he presents has nothing to do with population size and is null and void if – as is the case – Israel has not annexed the areas currently defined as Areas A, B and C. As James Kirchick recently pointed out:

“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the West Bank Arab population ballooned tomorrow from 2.5 million to 25 million, vastly exceeding the number of Jewish Israelis. By itself, this change in the proportion of Jews to Arabs would have no bearing whatsoever on whether Israel could be categorized as an “apartheid state,” because Israel has not annexed the occupied territories. […]

The Arab-Israeli conflict could persist for decades, frankly, with the Palestinian population in the territories growing at an exponential rate, and it would still not affect the question of whether Israel is or is not an “apartheid state.” The entire argument about looming apartheid is premised on the idea that if the peace process fails, Israel will ultimately annex the territories without granting the Arabs living there citizenship. […]

But if annexation comes to pass, it wouldn’t matter whether there are more Arabs than Jews in the new, enlarged Israel; it would only matter how Israel decided to treat its new Arab citizens.”

Bowen also refrains from explaining to BBC audiences why Palestinians “want it [Israel] to be compared to apartheid South Africa”, even though the comparison is utterly redundant. He fails to clarify that this is a tactic employed by Israel’s delegitimisers in an attempt to stigmatise the Jewish state as being morally beyond the pale and hence to bring about the demise of that country in its current form.

There is nothing new about the BBC’s consistent refusal to explain to its audiences the roots and political intentions of the ‘apartheid’ trope, but the fact that its Middle East editor – the man whose entire role is supposed to be to provide context to audiences – continues to intentionally avoid presenting that crucial background information on the one hand, whilst amplifying that trope on the other, raises serious doubts about his commitment to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality and his ability to fulfil his stated role.

Related Articles:

The BBC ME editor’s role: comparing theory and practice

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

Jeremy Bowen’s one-man messaging continues on BBC TV

What is the BBC’s take away message on end of Israel-PLO negotiations?