BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

For years visitors to the BBC News website have regularly come across claims concerning ‘international law’ in the corporation’s Israel-related content. For example:  

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Or:

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land Palestinians claim for a future state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been noted here in the past, that more or less standard insert does not include a definitive cited source underpinning the claim of illegality and no explanation is given regarding the legal basis for alternative opinions to the one promoted. The claim is erroneously presented as being contested solely by the government of Israel, thereby erasing from audience view the existence of additional legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative and thus breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In recent months the level of audience exposure to that narrative has risen.

The graph below shows the appearance of written reports on the BBC News website which included claims concerning ‘settlements and international law’ during the whole of 2016 and the first two months of 2017 (links provided below). It does not include filmed reports or content from additional BBC platforms.

In all of those 42 reports, BBC audiences were told that ‘settlements are considered illegal under international law’ and that ‘Israel disputes this’ but only in one of them – a backgrounder published in December 2016 – were they given any information concerning  the legal basis for those conflicting opinions. On no occasion throughout the past 14 months were audiences informed of the existence of additional alternative views of the subject beyond that of Israel. 

Readers of that backgrounder were told that:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

The BBC has editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s near standard ‘international law’ insert obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

In other words, this increasingly touted mantra promotes a specific political narrative rather than meeting the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’.

January 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35155227

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35351388

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35428457

March 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35901317

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35910853

April 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36091872

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36102449

July 2016: 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682056

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682062

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36720851

August 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37235922

September 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37345444

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37376069

October 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37570670

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37633012

November 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37978099

December 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38215653

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38450424

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38412079

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38416144

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38421026

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38425512

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38429385

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38431399

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38451258

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38455753

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38458884  backgrounder

January 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608995

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38621527

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608990

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38667119

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38711701 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38740712

February 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38830103

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38842551

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38850975

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38879100

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38888649

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38907755

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38931180  

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38987028

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38989906

Related Articles:

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

 

 

 

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

If there’s one Middle East related topic the BBC can be relied upon to report methodically, that is Israeli announcements concerning building plans in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem: areas the corporation’s journalists are prone to erroneously describe as “Palestinian territories” or “occupied Palestinian land”.

In late January visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports on planning permissions granted in Jerusalem and in Judea & Samaria. Both those articles included amplification of negative reactions from Palestinian and other sources and promotion of the notion that Israeli housing projects are the prime obstacle to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the BBC’s standard – but not impartial – mantra concerning ‘international law’.

“About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Not unexpectedly, the same elements were also found in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on February 1st under the headline “Israel approves 3,000 new settler homes as Amona evacuation begins“.construction-art-1-2

Palestinian reactions were amplified:

“A Palestinian official condemned the move and warned that chances for peace were being destroyed. […]

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi warned that the “frenzied escalation of Israel’s illegal enterprise” signalled “the final demise” of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The theme of Israeli building preventing peace was further reinforced:

“Tuesday’s announcement follows on from the recent approval of 2,500 housing units in the West Bank and 550 in East Jerusalem.

Many in the international community condemned those, saying they undermined hopes of creating a future Palestinian state.”

And of course the usual messaging concerning ‘international law’ was found in the article – albeit with a sudden and unexplained increase in the number of people described as living in ‘illegal’ communities and neighbourhoods compared with the article that appeared ten days earlier.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Those same elements were also found in a report published the following day – February 2nd – under the headline “Israel police evict settlers from unauthorised Amona outpost“.

“Hours earlier, the Israeli government approved plans to build 3,000 new homes at settlements in the West Bank. […]

A Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, condemned the latest approval and warned that chances for peace were being destroyed.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Another article which appeared later the same day under the title “Amona: Israel police clear last protesters from settler outpost” informed readers that:

“Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had set up a committee that would “begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement” for those evicted from Amona.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

And:

“Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday that his government would establish a new settlement on state-owned land to replace Amona “as soon as possible”. […]

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu approved plans for 3,000 new homes at existing settlements – the third such announcement since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who has hinted he will be more sympathetic to settlement construction than his predecessor.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told the BBC that Mr Netanyahu had been “emboldened” by Mr Trump’s failure to express any disapproval at what she called the “frenzied escalation of Israel’s illegal enterprise”.”

The same themes were yet again found in an additional article published on the BBC News website on February 3rd under the headline “New Israel settlements ‘may not be helpful’ to peace, says US“.

“The fate of settlements in the occupied West Bank is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. […]

On Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was moving ahead with plans to set up a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades. […]

The UN resolution [2334] – the first since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy, and effectively allowed to pass by the Obama administration – said the settlements had “no legal validity” and constituted “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution”.”

So here we see that in twelve days the BBC News website published six articles which repeat identical messaging over and over again. In none of those articles were readers informed of any of the alternative interpretations of ‘international law’ and readers received no explanation as to why “Israel disputes this” – even though we know that the BBC is aware of the reasoning behind Israel’s stance.

Furthermore, in none of those six reports were readers presented with any information concerning any of the no less relevant issues which can be described as “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution” such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority incitement, Hamas’ outright refusal to accept the two-state solution, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state and the Hamas-Fatah split.

Even in articles concerning the evacuation of Amona, the BBC’s standard narrative was repeated without any mention of the fact that past experience shows both that Israel evacuated communities in 1982 as part of the terms of the peace agreement with Egypt and that the evacuation of all Israeli citizens from the Gaza Strip and from four communities in northern Samaria in 2005 did not end – or even reduce – hostilities.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality include a rather elastic definition of ‘due impartiality’:

“The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy.  But we go further than that, applying due impartiality to all subjects.  However, its requirements will vary.

The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.”

However, in relation to ‘controversial subjects’ the same guidelines state:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”

The fact that the BBC has distilled the topic of Israeli construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem down to a collection of serially repeated talking points means that visitors to the BBC News website are clearly not being presented with the “wide range of significant views and perspectives” which would enhance their understanding of this issue.

 

 

More partial reporting on Israeli building permits from BBC News

On January 25th the lead story on the BBC News website’s Middle East page once again concerned Israeli planning permits.

In that article – titled “UN condemns Israel’s West Bank settlement plans” – readers were told that:building-permits-js-25-1

“The United Nations has condemned Israeli plans to build more settlements in the occupied West Bank.

A UN spokesman said “unilateral actions” were an obstacle to peace based on a two-state solution. […]

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, said: “For the secretary general there is no Plan B for the two-states solution.

“In this respect any unilateral decision that can be an obstacle to the two-state goal is of grave concern for the secretary general.

“There is a need for the two parties to engage in a bona fide negotiation to reach the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, two states for two people.””

Readers also got the take of the Palestinian Authority:

“Palestinian officials said the plans undermined peace hopes by building on land they want for a future state.”

As well as that of the PLO:

“Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi strongly denounced Tuesday’s announcement.

“Once again, the Israeli government has proved that it is more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution and the requirements for peace and stability,” she said in a statement.

“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334.”

Ms Ashrawi called on the US and the rest of the international community to “undertake serious and concrete measures to bring about a full cessation of all settlement activities and to hold Israel to account for these disastrous plans with punitive measures and sanctions before it completes the destruction of the territorial and demographic contiguity of the West Bank”.”

In short, 44.5% of this article’s 593 words were allocated to unquestioned amplification of comment from interested parties.

A further 173 words related to the new US administration and of course no article concerning Israeli building permits would be complete without the obliteration of pre-1967 history and the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’.

“About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In contrast, the article devoted just 81 words to telling readers what the story is actually about and only in the thirteenth paragraph did they discover that most of the approved plans are located in “existing West Bank settlement blocs”.  

“On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would build 2,500 more homes in Jewish settlements “in response to housing needs”. […]

Most of the new homes approved on Tuesday will be built in existing West Bank settlement blocs, including 902 in Ariel and 652 in Givat Zeev.

One hundred will be constructed in Beit El, a settlement near Ramallah that reportedly has received funding from a foundation run by the family of Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.”

Not surprisingly, the BBC chose not to tell its audiences about another part of the announcement.

“Liberman also said he would request permission from the cabinet for the construction of a Palestinian industrial park in Tarkumiya, northwest of Hebron.

“It will be one of the largest industrial zones in the West Bank, in which we are planning to set up warehouse and fuel storage infrastructure, along with other elements,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.”

BBC audiences were not, however, provided with context crucial to their proper understanding of this story in general and the generously amplified comments from the UN and from the PA and the PLO in particular.

They were not told that under the terms of the Oslo Accords Israel has full control over Area C and that the agreements – signed willingly by the Palestinians – place no ban or restriction on construction in the Israeli communities located in that area. Neither were they told that the future of Area C is, according to those agreements, to be determined in final status negotiations. And as usual, even though the BBC knows it full well, they were not informed that the main “settlement blocs” such as Ariel and its surrounding area would be likely to remain under Israeli control in the event of a peace agreement in exchange for land swaps.

It is patently obvious that the BBC is not even trying to give the impression of adhering to its professed editorial standards of ‘due impartiality’ when reporting on Israeli planning permissions.

 Related Articles:

The Jerusalem building permits the BBC didn’t report

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

 

The Jerusalem building permits the BBC didn’t report

On the afternoon of January 22nd the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel approves settlement homes following Trump inauguration” to which amendments were subsequently made.construction-art-22-1-main

The article includes many of the building blocks used to frame the narrative that has been presented in numerous other recent BBC reports.

a) A lack of historical context: the history of Jerusalem is presented as beginning in June 1967.

“Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. This includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.”

b) A partial portrayal of ‘international law’.

“Settlements in East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

c) Portrayal of the absence of progress in the peace process as being primarily attributable to construction in Israeli communities in specific parts of Jerusalem and in Judea & Samaria.

“Mr Obama regarded opposing new settlement homes as a key plank in pursuing a possible “two-state solution” to ending the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.” […]

“The latest UN Security Council resolution stated that the establishment of settlements “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.”

d) A euphemistic portrayal of the end of negotiations in April 2014.

“Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.”

This report also resurrects an old BBC theme last seen in 2013: the promotion of the inaccurate notion that construction in the area near Ma’ale Adumim known as E1 would prevent territorial contiguity in a future Palestinian state. 

construction-art-22-1-e1

But the really interesting part of this report is what it does not tell BBC audiences and what that says about the BBC’s editorial policy on the topic.

The article’s subject matter is portrayed as follows:

“Israel has approved hundreds of new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem, after the staunch pro-Israel US President Donald Trump took office. […]

Jerusalem’s City Hall approved construction permits for 566 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo and Ramot.”

Readers were not told that under any realistic scenario (such as those put forward in the Clinton Parameters or the Olmert Plan), those three Jerusalem neighbourhoods would remain under Israeli control. Likewise, audiences were not made aware of the fact that no existing agreements between Israel and the PLO (including the Oslo Accords) forbid or curb construction of housing within Jerusalem or Judea & Samaria.

However, as the Jerusalem Post reported, at the same committee meeting the Jerusalem municipality in fact approved 105 more new homes than was reported by the BBC in this article. 

“On Sunday, the municipal construction committee approved 566 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, as well as 49 units in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina; 14 in Wadi Joz; 24 in Umm Lison and Umm Tuba; 7 in Jebl Mukaber; 4 in Beit Safafa; 3 in Sur Bahir; and 4 in a-Tur.”

In other words, not for the first time we see that the BBC is only interested in reporting the granting of construction permits in “occupied East Jerusalem” if it believes (rightly or not) that those housing units are intended for Jewish Israelis. 

The fact that the topic of Jerusalem building permits receives coverage – or not – on the basis of religion/ethnicity is obviously troubling – not least because it shows that information liable to complicate the chosen narrative is ignored. It is difficult to see how the BBC can claim to be providing its audiences with information that meets editorial standards of ‘due impartiality’ when that politically motivated editorial policy is so evident.

Related Articles:

Why is this Israeli planning decision different from others for the BBC?

The BBC, ‘settlements’ and cognitive dissonance

What does the BBC refuse to tell its audiences about ‘settlements’ in Jerusalem?

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

BBC News website produces a backgrounder on ‘settlements’

One of the most frequently recurring topics in the BBC’s Israel-related related content is that of ‘settlements’ and particularly construction in the places described as such. Examples from the past year alone include:

The return of the BBC’s political narrative on Israeli construction

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part one

BBC’s account of Quartet report exposes the holes in its own narrative

BBC’s Knell airbrushes two-thirds of Quartet report out of the picture

Another BBC airbrushing of the Quartet report

BBC News continues to cultivate its settlements narrative

More BBC promotion of the ‘Peace Now’ narrative on construction

BBC amplifies UN criticism of Israeli PM without providing relevant context

BBC News pushes settlements narrative in report on another topic

BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’

The majority of the BBC’s reports include a standard insert:

“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been observed here on countless occasions, that standard insert breaches the corporation’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform BBC audiences of the existence of legal opinions which contradict the corporation’s own adopted political narrative.

Particularly given that repeated failure to meet the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’ it was interesting to see that on December 29th (in the wake of UNSC resolution 2334 and John Kerry’s related speech) the BBC News website published a backgrounder – titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” – which opens as follows:settlements-backgrounder

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.

Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”

To the credit of whoever wrote this article (readers are not informed of the author’s identity) it includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years. [emphasis added]

“Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

This includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The West Bank and East Jerusalem had previously been occupied by Jordan since the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War.”

And:

“Israel has also established settlements in the Gaza Strip, seized from Egypt in the 1967 war, but it dismantled them when it withdrew from the territory in 2005. It also built settlements in the Sinai Peninsula, seized too from Egypt in 1967, but removed them in 1982 as part of a peace agreement with Cairo.”

And:

“Under the 1993 Israel-Palestinian Oslo peace accords, the issue of settlements was to be deferred until final status talks – a reason why Israel objects to pre-conditions and UN resolutions on the matter.”

Later on in the article, in answer to the question “So is a deal on settlements impossible?”, readers are told:

“Not necessarily, despite appearing insurmountable. Israel has said it is prepared to make “painful concessions” for peace, and it has previously shown it will relinquish settlements – such as in Sinai and Gaza, and four small sites in the West Bank in 2005.

It has agreed to negotiate the fate of existing settlements, and Jerusalem, as part of permanent status talks.

Israel has said in any final deal it intends to keep the largest settlement blocs, which are close to the pre-1967 ceasefire line.

This position seemed to get the endorsement of the US under former President George W Bush, who, in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, said it was “unrealistic” to expect a full withdrawal from the West Bank in a final peace deal.”

The writer could have also mentioned the Clinton Parameters and the Olmert Plan at this point – both of which included proposals for keeping the large settlement blocs in situ in return for land swaps. Nevertheless, this is only the second time in the whole of the past year that BBC audiences have been alerted to the existence of that possibility, with the corporation’s content more usually found promoting the PLO narrative of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’ and amplifying its demand for their complete removal.

In a section headed “Are settlements illegal under international law?” readers find the following:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.

The US describes the settlements as “illegitimate” and has refrained from calling them “illegal” since the Carter administration in 1980.

In December 2016, a UN Security Council resolution said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

While more could have been done to help audiences understand the legal background to the view held by Israel (and others too), it is extremely rare to find any mention of pre-1967 history in BBC content relating to the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan for 19 years from 1948.

This article could have done more to explain to readers why the branding of Judaism’s most holy site and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied territory’ is so contentious. It should also have mentioned the much neglected topic of Jewish land ownership prior to 1948 in locations such as Hebron, Gush Etzion and Neve Ya’akov which the BBC now describes as ‘occupied’.

Unsurprising to those following the BBC’s portrayal of this topic over time is the inclusion in this article of data provided by the political NGO ‘Peace Now’.

“According to the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now, there are 131 settlements in the West Bank, comprising about 385,000 Israeli Jewish settlers, and 97 outposts – settlements built without official authorisation.

The group says there are 12 settlements in East Jerusalem, inhabited by about 200,000 settlers.”

The article also directs readers to a partisan report on the website of another political NGO which campaigns on the same topic – B’Tselem – with the promotion of that link obviously compromising BBC impartiality.

“Built-up settlement areas occupy about 2% of the West Bank but critics point out that the land controlled by settlement activity, such as agriculture, amounts to much more than that and requires heavy military presence.”

While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.  

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BBC WS report on UNSC resolution endorses Palestinian narrative

On the afternoon of December 22nd (before news broke of Egypt’s withdrawal of its draft resolution tabled at the UN Security Council) listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard a report (from 50:04 here) relating to that story.plett-newshour-22-12

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

JC: “The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed. The draft resolution is meant to put an end to all settlement activity by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem. Well, joining us now on the line from Washington DC is the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher. Ehm…so Barbara; this is meant to be voted on a bit later on today – is that right?”

Plett Usher responded:

BPU: “Yes; it’s a draft resolution put forward by Egypt which would say that Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the Palestinian…rest of the Palestinian territories are illegal. Now, UN resolutions already say that….eh…but there has been some push to get…ehm…it out there again and re-in…re…re-supported by the UN because of the…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.”

JC: “And what about the Obama administration’s policy? What do we know about its thoughts on this draft resolution?”

BPU: “The Obama administration and the United States generally has said that settlement building lacks legitimacy. It stops short of adopting the position that it is illegal under international law but Mr Obama’s administration has been very, very critical of the settlement building during his administration and he has…and some of his advisors and his officials have said it was…contributed to breakdown in the peace talks. So there’s been a lot of speculation that in the final month of his…of his term he might take some sort of step, some sort of parting shot, to put his own stamp on what he thinks Israel – Palestinian peace should look like or what the parameters might be or what the problems might be and so there’s been some speculation he might take action at the UN. Up until now…eh…the Americans have vetoed any resolution critical of Israel and the Obama administration did that too in 2011 exactly on a resolution involving settlements. But because he’s leaving, because of his contentious relationship with the Israelis, because Mr Trump is coming after him and looks like he will be changing policy or could change policy…ahm…there’s speculation that he might vote differently this time.”

JC: “So briefly, Barbara, what should we make of the president elect’s intervention?”

BPU: “It’s consistent with what he’s done so far. During the campaign his advisors…ahm…were very sceptical of a two state solution. He has appointed an ambassador as his nominee who is a hardline pro-settler…ah…views. Ahm…so I think that’s consistent with what we’ve seen.”

As we see, in that two and a half-minute conversation, listeners heard two references to “settlements” in “Palestinian territories”. The BBC Academy’s ‘style guide’ states that:

“Strictly speaking, the phrase ‘Palestinian Territories’ refers to the areas that fall under the administration of the Palestinian Authority…”

Obviously there are no Israeli ‘settlements’ in those areas and so the use of such inaccurate terminology misleads listeners.

Israeli communities do exist in Area C and in parts of Jerusalem previously occupied by Jordan for nineteen years. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords no limits are placed on construction in those regions and their final status is to be determined in negotiations. Listeners to this item, however, were not provided with that all-important context and the language used by Plett Usher and Coomarasamy clearly endorses and promotes the Palestinian side’s political claims and narrative, thereby compromising BBC impartiality.

Listeners also heard several references to “settlement building”. Just last September the BBC News website amended similarly misleading language – which leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – houses being built in existing towns and villages – most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.

Plett Usher’s claim that “this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building” does not stand up to scrutiny and does not clarify to audiences the existence of what Ha’aretz earlier this year termed “an informal construction freeze”.

It is by no means surprising to see the BBC continuing to push its well-worn but unabashedly partisan mantra on the topic of ‘settlements’ – the corporation has, after all, embraced that editorial line for years. However, as this report once again demonstrates, that editorial policy hinders audience understanding of both this specific story and the issue in general.

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BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’

On October 6th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “US ‘strongly condemns’ Israel over new settlement plan“. The report opened by telling readers that:shilo-planning-art

“The US has “strongly condemned” Israel for approving plans for new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.”

Later on readers were informed that:

“”The actions of the Israeli government in announcing this settlement undermine the pursuit of peace,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

State department spokesman Mark Toner said the new settlement would be “another step towards cementing a reality of perpetual occupation” that would “further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace”.” [all emphasis added]

Although the version of the story promoted by the US administration – and uncritically amplified by the BBC – is inaccurate, the corporation did not bother to inform readers in its own words of the fact that no “new settlement” has been announced or planned. Instead it promoted a ‘he said-she said’ account of the story without providing audiences with the background information necessary for their understanding of which of the two versions is correct.

“Its [Israel’s] foreign ministry said the new homes would be built within the area of an existing settlement.”

Some seven hours after its initial publication, the article was amended to include the following additional information:

“However, Israel’s foreign ministry said the new units did not constitute a “new settlement”.

“This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint,” a statement said.”

The 98 approved housing units – and not 300 as this article inaccurately suggests – are indeed intended to be built in a neighbourhood of Shilo, with the purpose of providing accommodation for residents of the unauthorised outpost of Amona which is to be evacuated according to a High Court ruling.

Notably, the BBC did not tell its readers that part of the story. Instead, audiences were left to reach their own conclusions as to whether a “new settlement” is to be constructed or not.

The impartiality of BBC reporting on the subject of construction in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and some areas of Jerusalem is already compromised because of the repeated promotion of a politicised narrative.  The bizarre style of reporting seen in this latest article not only does nothing to persuade audiences that the BBC is committed to their going away with an accurate and impartial understanding of the story but also clearly fails to contribute to meeting the corporation’s remit of building understanding of international issues.

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BBC News amends misleading portrayal of Israeli construction

Earlier this week we noted that a report titled “US approves record $38bn Israel military aid deal” which was published on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages on September 13th presented an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of Israeli construction. As was observed at the time:military-aid-art

“The employment of phrases such as “Israeli settlement building”, “construction of Jewish settlements” and “construction of settlements” obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.”

Following communication from BBC Watch, the version of the article currently available online has now been amended.

The passage which previously stated “Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank” now reads as follows:

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.”

The sentence which previously read “Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” has also been amended:

“Last month, the White House warned that the construction in settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

[All emphasis added]

The amendments to the article can be viewed here.

Unfortunately, no footnote was added to explain the changes made and the continued absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website means that those who read the report in the week before it was amended will not be aware that they received inaccurate and misleading information.

BBC News pushes settlements narrative in report on another topic

On September 13th an article titled “US approves record $38bn Israel military aid deal” was published on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages. The next day – for reasons unknown – the article was rewritten and its date stamp changed.military-aid-art

Notwithstanding its declared subject matter, the original article told BBC audiences that:

“It [the agreement] was approved despite frustration within the Obama administration at Israeli settlement building.”

And:

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have also been a sticking point between the allies.

Only last month, the White House chided Israel for a “dramatic acceleration” in such building on occupied Palestinian territory.”

The amended version tells readers that:

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The employment of phrases such as “Israeli settlement building”, “construction of Jewish settlements” and “construction of settlements” obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.

The use of the phrase “building on occupied Palestinian territory” of course prevents audiences from understanding that all construction takes place in Area C or in Jerusalem and that under the terms of the Oslo Accords – signed by the recognised representatives of the Palestinian people – the future of those areas is to be determined in final status negotiations and in the meantime, no limitation on construction in those areas is imposed by the Accords.

The sentence “[o]nly last month, the White House chided Israel for a “dramatic acceleration” in such building…” clearly does not clarify to readers the real story behind that hyperbole and in fact actively misleads audiences with regard to the pace of building compared to previous years.

Construction completesThe insertion of the mantra concerning ‘international law’ as ever conceals from BBC audiences the existence of legal opinions which do not conform to the BBC’s chosen narrative.

Ostensibly, this is an article about a subject other than ‘settlements’ but as we see, a highly partial and misleading view of that topic – which does not serve the BBC’s remit of “enhancing audience understanding” but rather advances a specific political narrative – is nevertheless shoehorned into the report.  

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