BBC News misrepresents a budgeting story to imply Israeli state discrimination

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 6th and 7th may have been somewhat surprised to find that a domestic Israeli story about a budget disagreement between the Ministry of Education and institutions in the private schools sector had been deemed by editors to be worthy of international amplification.

However, anyone with background knowledge of this story who read the article titled “Protesters rally over funding for Christian schools in Israel” could be left in no doubt as to the underlying editorial considerations which prompted its publication.Christian schools story

Readers are told that:

“Protesters have gathered in front of the Israeli prime minister’s office to demand greater funds for Christian schools.

Private Christian schools receive some state funding but protesters say it is lower than that given to equivalent Jewish schools.

They say their funding has been reduced in an effort to make them join the Israeli public school system.

Israel’s Christians come overwhelmingly from its Arab minority.

The country’s 47 Christian schools have been on strike since the beginning of the school year on 1 September.

Ibrahim Fakhouri, a parent from Nazareth, was at the demonstration and said he believed Christian schools were being discriminated against.

As citizens of this country, we are law obeying citizens, and we deserve equal rights,” he told AP.

Arab members of parliament were also at the demonstration.”  [emphasis added]

So the take-away message in this article is very clear: readers are given to understand in those 131 words that there is discrimination against Christian Arabs in Israel in the form of lower funding for their schools in comparison to Jewish schools. Only at the end of the article are readers provided with a second-hand fifty-word response from the Ministry of Education and in order to fully comprehend it they would have to have some prior knowledge of the system of categorisation of schools in Israel – which the BBC does not offer.

“In response to the protest the education ministry said that “Christian schools are funded in an equal manner as other recognized but unofficial schools in the State of Israel,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

It reported the ministry as saying it “is having meetings with representatives of the educational institutes”.”

This story actually began in May 2013 when the Ministry of Education announced across the board budget cuts. Some of those cuts were made to the budgets of state schools and in addition, the Ministry of Education informed approximately 250 other schools of cuts to certain clauses of funding. Those schools are not state schools: they are private institutions categorized as ‘recognised but not official’ and they include, for example, some Jewish religious schools, some Christian schools, some Muslim schools and some schools from the Anthroposophic (Waldorf) and Democratic streams. In 2014 a petition from a number of those schools was heard by the Supreme Court – details of that case can be found here (Hebrew).

Whilst one can of course debate the issue of those budget cuts to the non-state school sector, what is clear is that they were made to private schools of many differing types in accordance with their classification and not – as overwhelmingly implied in this BBC article – because of the religion or ethnicity of their pupils.

In other words, the BBC has misrepresented this story in order to promote the false impression of discrimination against Christian Arabs by the state of Israel.

In addition, under the heading “more on this story” readers of this report are offered a link to a previous BBC article by Yolande Knell which has still not been amended to correct the inaccurate claim that renewed construction of the anti-terrorist fence near the Cremisan Valley will “separate over 50 families from their land”.

 

Advertisements

BBC’s Knell continues Cremisan crusade with promotion of inaccurate information

Yolande Knell’s journalistic crusade against a section of the anti-terrorist fence near the Cremisan Valley has long been a permanent feature in BBC Middle East reporting and her latest contribution to that political campaign came on August 21st in an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian Christians urge help against West Bank barrier“.Knell Cremisan 21 8 main

Knell opens her article by telling readers that:

“Palestinian Christians are appealing for international support to oppose renewed construction of part of Israel’s West Bank barrier.

Residents of Beit Jala – a town along the planned barrier route – made the appeal at an open-air mass among centuries-old olive trees on Friday.

They have also been waging a long legal battle, backed by the Vatican.

The barrier will separate over 50 families from their land – but Israel says it is a vital security measure.” [emphasis added]

So BBC audiences learn that “renewed construction” of this particular section of the anti-terrorist fence (which began last week) “will separate over 50 families from their land”. That, however, is not true. The recent history of this case is as follows: [all emphasis added]

“On April 2, 2015, the High Court of Justice upheld the need for the construction of the security fence in the area on security grounds. That said, the Court found in favor of the petitioners regarding the proposed route of the security fence, and ruled that it may not separate between the Monastery and Convent and that the route must be crafted in consultation with the clergy, allowing both bodies to remain on the Palestinian side, preserving their territorial contiguity and their physical connection to the communities that they serve in the nearby villages.

Following and in line with this ruling, the Israeli authorities began work to construct 1200 meters of the security fence, excluding a 225 meter area in the vicinity of the Monastery and Convent in which no barrier will be constructed at this time. This gap enables the territorial contiguity of the monastery and convent, free approach by and to the local Palestinian population, and maintains for the Monastery unfettered access to their agricultural lands, thus respecting the High Court of Justice decision.  

Following the initiation of this construction, the 37 Beit Jala residents petitioned the High Court and requested a contempt of court order against the State in the Cremisan Valley Case (HCJ 5163/13).

On July 6, 2015, the High Court of Justice dismissed the contempt of court petition. The High Court of Justice noted that the actions of the State at present do not negatively affect contiguity between the Monastery and the Convent, nor their access to their vineyards and farmlands. Moreover, access to the town of Beit Jala is also not affected, nor is the daily routine of the population in the area. Accordingly, the current construction of the barrier in the area which excludes the 225 meter gap, are in full compliance with the April 2, 2015 High Court of Justice decision on this matter.”

Obviously then neither the issue of access to agricultural lands nor the previously cited topic of separation between the convent and the monastery is the real reason why political activists are still opposing the construction of this section of the anti-terrorist fence.

Knell then throws some  additional ‘reasons’ into her cocktail, including further promotion of the myth of locals ‘losing access to their land’ and an absurd claim relating to Palestinian Christians: [all emphasis added]

“The mayor of Beit Jala has written to diplomats from the European Union and the United States, asking them to put political pressure on Israel not to continue.

“We want people outside to come and say ‘enough is enough’,” says the mayor, Nicola Khamis. “Christians all over the world must stop being silent.”

“What Israel is doing here is against peace. It will prevent a two-state solution [to the conflict].”

Last year, Pope Francis met residents who stand to lose access to their land in the Cremisan Valley, when he visited nearby Bethlehem.

Foreign dignitaries have also expressed their concerns to Israeli authorities, listing the separation barrier among pressures that are pushing Christians to leave the Holy Land.”

Knell continues with the following obviously inaccurate paraphrasing of the Israeli side of the story:

“Israel says the barrier is needed in the valley as a security measure to protect the Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo.”

Despite the fact that legal status has no bearing on the need for security measures, she then inserts the standard BBC mantra:

“Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC has done little over the years to inform its audiences of the fact that the fence has proven to be effective in thwarting suicide bombers and other types of terrorist attacks and Knell’s half-hearted ticking of the context box does little to enhance audience understanding of the issue.

“Construction of the Israeli barrier began in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, after a series of suicide attacks.

In the Beit Jala area, at this time, there was shooting at the settlements.”

She then predictably inserts a specious claim regularly touted by the BBC over the last thirteen years:

“Palestinians believe the ultimate aim of the barrier – which includes stretches of high concrete walls and barbed-wire fences – is to grab land.”

Towards the end of the article readers are presented with the following opaque information which does nothing to clarify that Knell’s earlier allegations regarding access to land are inaccurate.

“In April, Israel’s High Court appeared to rule against proposed routes for the barrier in the Cremisan Valley, a local beauty spot filled with olive groves and orchards.

However, the court later said this prevented work only in a small area near a Salesian convent and school, and a monastery and winery.”

Knell ends her piece with the following hyperbole:

“Local church leaders – Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox – have been involved in the campaign to prevent the construction of the barrier.

“When you kill the olive trees, you kill the people here,” said the Catholic priest, Faisal Hijazin, during the mass. “We pray for God to protect the olive trees, the land and the people.””

Seeing as they do not even get a mention in this report, it is obvious that the 1,100 Israelis actually killed between 2000 and 2006 and the thousands more maimed and injured by Palestinian terrorists are of much lesser concern to both the quoted priest and his BBC amplifier.

It of course comes as no surprise to those who have followed Yolande Knell’s self-conscription to this political campaign and others over the years to find such inaccurate, misleading and one-sided ‘reporting’ on the BBC’s website.  Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that the BBC is supposedly obliged to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” by means of accurate and impartial reporting and that its editorial guidelines on accuracy state that “[t]he BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead its audiences”.

By telling readers that the renewed construction of the anti-terrorist fence near the Cremisan Valley “will separate over 50 families from their land”, Yolande Knell has done precisely that.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Knell’s follow up on Cremisan Valley marred by BBC mantras

Variations in BBC portrayal of fences, walls and barriers

Resources:

BBC News Online – contact details

 

Knell’s follow up on Cremisan Valley marred by BBC mantras

BBC Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Yolande Knell has invested quite a bit of energy over the past three years into promoting the topic of the court case concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence in the Cremisan Valley.  

Bethlehem nuns in West Bank barrier battle May 3rd 2012

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder  April 2013

BBC’s Yolande Knell erases Jewish history in campaigning article  January 2014

BBC’s Knell promotes undiluted Palestinian propaganda in coverage of Pope’s visit May 2014

The same topic has also appeared in other BBC content.

On April 3rd 2015 Knell reported on the Supreme Court decision given the previous day (according to which the Israeli authorities will have to find an alternative route for that particular section of the anti-terrorist fence) in an article titled “Israeli court rejects Cremisan Valley West Bank barrier“.Knell Cremisan

Despite Israel’s Supreme Court having accepted a petition presented by a non-Israeli municipality and tens of individuals who are not Israeli citizens in a case concerning the route of a structure described by the court as “one of the ways of dealing with the threats of terror and with the aim of preventing and avoiding the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory”, Yolande Knell chose to downplay that exceptional aspect of the story, instead opting to focus readers’ attentions on the standard BBC mantras relating to the anti-terrorist fence and ‘settlements’.

“Construction of the barrier began in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, following a wave of suicide bombings.

Israel said it was an essential security measure to prevent attacks.

However, Palestinians see it largely as a land grab because much of it was built inside the occupied West Bank.

Jewish settlements and additional land have been left on the Israeli side.

Settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

As has been noted here before with regard to that last sentence:

“Though that mantra has been repeated countless times over the years, it is not accompanied by a definitive cited source (because of course there isn’t one) and its claim is erroneously presented as being contested only by the government of Israel. In other words, the BBC’s standard formulation egregiously ignores the existence of legal opinions which contradict its own adopted narrative.”

The standard BBC insert on the topic of the anti-terrorist fence, which inevitably includes the phrase “Israel says” and inaccurate description of the structure as a “land grab”, is no more impartial.

“The systematic failure to present audiences with the readily available factual evidence which proves the anti-terrorist fence’s efficiency – rather than the subjective presentation of “Israel says” – is clearly a failure to distinguish “opinion from fact” and a major “omission of an important perspective”.  The fact that a standard formula has been employed for over a decade also represents a failure to adhere to the demand for “impartiality over time”, presenting the same jaded “land grab” theme over a long period of years in which no such thing has happened.”

Knell’s description of Gilo and Har Gilo is equally political:

“In the Cremisan Valley, Israel’s defence ministry argued it was seeking added protection for the settlements of Har Gilo and Gilo. Israelis view these as Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.”

As was the case in one of her previous articles on the subject, Knell refrains from informing audiences of the status of the land upon which Gilo was built, preferring to promote the standard Palestinian narrative of all Jerusalem neighbourhoods in areas occupied by Jordan during the War of Independence – including those on land owned by Jews before 1948 – as ‘settlements’. She also predictably avoids the topic of the terrorism directed at Gilo from nearby Beit Jala during the second Intifada.

At the beginning of her report Knell inaccurately informs readers that:

“Fifty-eight Christian families would have been cut off from their land.”

Those who bothered to read on discovered that was not the case:

“The Israeli authorities had said there would be access between the sites and for Palestinians trying to reach their land through gates operated by soldiers.”

Like the rest of Knell’s coverage of this story over a period of three years, this article passed up on the opportunity to provide BBC audiences with the comprehensive background necessary for audiences to understand both sides to the story in favour of the promotion of a specific political narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

 

BBC’s Knell promotes undiluted Palestinian propaganda in coverage of Pope’s visit

Among the BBC’s remarkably extensive coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle East is an article by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 25th under the title “Thorny issues await Pope in Holy Land“.Knell Pope art 25 5

In that article, Knell uses selected quotes from Palestinian interviewees – and adds her own commentary – to produce a concentrated version of some of the prime falsehoods which the BBC has been amplifying for some time now. Notably absent from Knell’s piece is the necessary background needed for BBC audiences to put the highlighted statements in their correct context.

Her first interviewee is Rania Bandak.

“We are not able to move freely to all parts of Palestine. Bethlehem is surrounded by Jewish settlements and the high wall that cuts us off from Jerusalem.”

As has been noted here before on numerous occasions, the number of checkpoints has been reduced dramatically as counter-terrorism measures have proved effective and hence movement within Judea and Samaria has vastly improved since the days of the second Intifada which brought about the need for security checkpoints; a point not made clear to readers either by Bandak or Knell.

removal of checkpoints

The false claim that “Bethlehem is surrounded by Jewish settlements” is a version of a theme also frequently seen in BBC reports – see for example here and here. The word ‘surrounded’ of course means enclosed on all sides but, as can be seen on the B’tselem-produced map below, that is not the case.

map Bethlehem

Neither is Bethlehem “surrounded” by “the high wall”. Not only is there no anti-terrorist fence to the south and east of Bethlehem, but the section which can accurately be described as a “high wall” is one small specific section. On the map below, concrete sections of the anti-terrorist fence are marked with yellow and grey stripes whilst parts made of wire fencing appear in purple and the orange section represents road protection from sniper attacks. 

anti terrorist fence bethlehem

So already in one sentence from her first interviewee, Knell has caused BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Palestinians are not able to travel around Judea & Samaria and that Bethlehem is encircled by “Jewish settlements” and a “high wall” – and all without even a single reference to the Palestinian terrorism which makes security measures necessary. But there is more: carrying straight on from those falsehoods, readers are fed the false implication that Israel is causing Palestinian Christians to leave the area, with Knell failing to make any reference to the issue of intra-Palestinian harassment of Christians.

” “The Pope’s message should be that he wants us to stay in this land,” adds souvenir shop owner, Rony Tabash.”

Under the loaded sub-heading “Barrier fear”, Knell goes on to promote the usual BBC formula regarding the anti-terrorist fence which ignores its proven track record of prevention of terrorism – as well as the issue of terrorism itself –  instead presenting the issue to BBC audiences as one of subjective competing narratives and thus legitimizing the notion of a “land grab” which does not exist whilst erasing from the picture the terrorism which does.

“One issue that is sure to come up is the barrier that Israel is continuing to build in and around the occupied West Bank. Israel says its barrier is needed for security reasons but the Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

Next, Knell returns to one of her favourite topics – the Cremisan Valley – allowing her interviewee to falsely suggest to BBC audiences (also in the accompanying film clip) that there is some kind of connection between the Pope’s visit and the legal proceedings concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence there and that land belonging to Palestinians from Beit Jala will no longer remain theirs if the fence is built on its proposed route.

“Israel’s Supreme Court has delayed its decision on a controversial section that runs through the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, where the land belongs to 58 Christian families and the Roman Catholic Church.

“This valley is very important for Beit Jala and for Christians,” says Maha Saca who joins the weekly open-air Mass in Cremisan. “It’s our land until now. And we’re afraid that after the Pope leaves Bethlehem, the Israelis will take our land through the court.” “

Under the sub-heading “We need our freedom”, Knell writes:

“Representatives from a small Christian delegation given Israeli permits to come to Bethlehem from the Gaza Strip hope to tell the Pope about the impact of border restrictions.

These were tightened by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist group, Hamas, seized control of the Palestinian territory in 2007, a year after winning elections and entering a unity government. Israel, along with other countries, views Hamas as a terrorist group.”

Predictably, Knell fails to clarify to readers that “border restrictions” are necessary measures which are part of Israel’s attempt to protect its citizens against the terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip – which she fails to even mention. Likewise, Knell fails to make any reference to the persecution of Christians in Gaza by Hamas and other Islamist extremists.  

As was noted here recently, the Israeli Ministry of Defence provided 500 permits for members of Gaza’s 1,500 strong Christian community to travel to Israel and the PA-controlled areas during the Pope’s visit. That is one-third: hardly a “small delegation” as Knell claims.

Permits Easter

Knell highlights a tided up quote from her next interviewee:

“Pope Francis is our hero,” says George Anton, a teacher at the Holy Family School in Gaza. “We would ask him to interfere so that we can get peace and the Palestinian state very quickly, because we need our freedom. We feel like we are in a big jail here.”

In the film clip of George Anton inserted into that part of Knell’s article, the BBC facilitates the promotion of the inaccurate notion that the Gaza Strip is under “occupation” nine years after Israel’s evacuation.

“We would ask him to interfere that they can get the peace and we can get the Palestinian state, you know, very quickly because we need our freedom, you know. We feel like we are in a big jail here in Gaza. We cannot move, you know. All the people they look to us like we are terrorists, we are criminals. It is really [unintelligible] because we are people, you know. We are Christians, we are Muslims, but we are people. We are under occupation, you know. We are the people who are suffering, you know, so we need somebody to stand by us.”

Neglecting to inform readers of the interesting fact that even the PA acknowledges that it is situated on land owned by the Jewish National Fund since before 1948, Knell then moves on to the topic of Dheishe refugee camp, inserting a passing context-free promotion of the ‘right of return’ without bothering to explain its implications and failing to clarify to readers that “the 1948 war which followed Israel’s creation” was in fact an attack on a nascent state by five Arab states, two irregular armies and an assortment of foreign volunteers – all of whom played their part in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

“As Pope Francis heads out of Bethlehem, he will stop off at a community centre by the Dheisheh camp where local children will sing for him. Their families fled or were forced to leave their homes in the 1948 war which followed Israel’s creation.

While the stop-off is only short, an organiser, Abu Khalil al-Laham, says it is symbolically important to meet Palestinian refugees.

“They’ll bring up the right for refugees to return to their towns and villages and their dream to live in peace and tranquillity,” he tells me.”

The filmed accompaniment to this part of Knell’s piece facilitates yet more context-free Palestinian propaganda, failing to inform viewers that over 95% of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria live under Palestinian Authority rule.

“The children here will deliver a message, in a natural way, about how Palestinians suffer because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. They’ll bring up the right for refugees to return to their towns and villages and their dream to live – like other people in the world – in peace and tranquility.”

Knell rounds off her article with a decidedly transparent attempt to inject the required dose of BBC ‘impartiality’ by briefly quoting two Argentinian-born Israelis on the topic of the Pope and his mission and she concludes by mentioning some other locations on the Pope’s itinerary.

Clearly, however, the main purpose of this ‘analysis’ was not to meet BBC obligations regarding the building of a “global understanding of international issues”. Had that indeed been its aim, readers would not have been subjected to the politically motivated promotion of the blatant inaccuracies and decidedly partial falsehoods which comprise this latest dose of the kind of context-free Palestinian propaganda which is rapidly becoming ever more entrenched as Yolande Knell’s trademark.

Related Articles:

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

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

h/t MA

Hot on the heels of its recent programme called “Africans in the Holy Land“, the BBC World Service has now produced a two-part programme with the similar title of “Christians in the Holy Land” as part of its ‘Heart and Soul’ series. Part one of the half-hour programme, which was initially broadcast on May 17th, can be heard here.Heart and Soul WS Bethlehem

The reader who kindly wrote in to tell us about this broadcast described it as “one of the most blatantly anti-Israeli programs I’ve ever heard” and listeners will find it hard to disagree with that assessment.

Using the Pope’s upcoming visit to the Middle East as a hook, presenter John Laurenson ostensibly sets out to discover why Christians are leaving areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but fails completely in that mission. Had Laurenson really wanted to enlighten and inform BBC audiences with the answer to that very serious question, then he would have had to avoid the usual trap of basing most of his programme on interviews with political activists whom – in all too regular contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines – he fails to identify as such.

Laurenson’s first interviewee is Vivien Sansour, whom readers may remember from another BBC item from 2012. Sansour is an advocate of “agriculture as a form of resistance” and so it was neither surprising to find Laurenson interviewing her in a field nor to find Sansour excusing terrorism. Note Laurenson’s inadequate introduction of Sansour and his failure to make any attempt to clarify her political activities for listeners.

John Laurenson: “I’ve come up to Shepherds’ Fields. It’s a wide green valley close to Bethlehem. It was here that the angel Gabriel is believed to have told shepherds that the Christ had been born. And I’m here with Bethlehem Christian Viviene Sansour. Vivien; many Palestinian Christians have left, including your own family.”

Vivien Sansour: “Yes; my own parents left in 2001. Ah…they left because….ah…my town was under shelling and our house was [inaudible] hit and they were actually in the area where there was lots of F16s flying above their heads and so they left and came to the United States.”

Neither Sansour nor Laurenson bother to remind listeners that the PA-initiated second Intifada was in full sway at the time and Laurenson fails to question Sansour’s dubious reference to F16 jets over Bethlehem during that period.

JL: “You yourself left, but you came back. You were living in LA.”

VS: “Yes I left. I actually lived in the US for 14 years but I returned four years ago in an attempt to kind of reconnect to my heritage and reconnect to what I think is a very important struggle.”

JL: “And when you were small you’d come out onto these hills and you’d go foraging here.”

VS: “Yes, it’s a big part of our relationship with the land here and so, for example, if you leave me here in this mountain for many days I probably will survive just fine, especially in Spring.”

After having marveled over some edible plants, Laurenson provides Sansour with her next opening:

“You obviously love this place; would you consider settling down here, having children here?”

VS: “Well clearly I worry for example that my children won’t have the same childhood I had. You know, I for example took my young nephew foraging last year. And we went foraging for..ahm…a kind of thorn that we cook – it’s called akoub – and while we were foraging the soldiers started shooting tear gas at nearby village and we got the wind of the tear gas and my nephew – he’s ten years old – he didn’t know what was happening to him. His body started itching. He was crying and I felt helpless; what can I do to keep him safe? I was telling him you know everything’s gonna be fine, but I really didn’t know if everything was gonna be fine and I didn’t know where to take him. Should we go left or right? So many also traditions that I grew up with. For example now it’s Easter time. I want to go to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. You will be able to go and I won’t be able to go and it’s a tradition.”

Attempting to provide no context for listeners as to why the soldiers in Sansour’s anecdote might have had to fire tear gas “at a nearby village” – for example a reference to the weekly violent Palestinian demonstrations at Bil’in and Na’alin – Laurenson ostensibly presents the other side of the story, but in fact merely provides Sansour with an opportunity to continue her politically motivated propaganda, throwing in some geographical revisionism to boot.

JL: “I thought there were permits for the Christians in Palestine to go to Jerusalem for Easter.”

VS: “Not everybody gets the permit. For many years actually I didn’t get the permit. Many of my friends won’t have the permit for example, so I would have to go by myself. So taking your whole family the way you used to before is no longer an option. As you can see, we’re sitting here in this very serene area in the Shepherds’ Field and we’re surrounded by beautiful greenery and wild plants but yet right in front of us is this electric fence that goes all the way through here.”

Laurenson makes no effort to inform audiences that the anti-terrorist fence is electronically monitored – not “electric” – and neither does he bother to explain that permits for Christians to travel during Easter from the Palestinian Authority controlled areas such as Bethlehem, in Area A, are actually nowhere near as difficult to obtain as Sansour and others make out in this programme, with the obvious exception of applications which raise security issues. Audiences would undoubtedly have been much more well-informed had Laurenson asked Sansour to explain the real reason her friends “won’t have the permit”.

Permits Easter

Next, Laurenson provides Sansour with another hook, which she uses to blatantly justify terrorism against Israeli civilians – with no interference from him and with the first of numerous appearances of Laurenson’s inaccurate use of the word “wall” to describe the anti-terrorist fence instead of ‘barrier’ as recommended by the BBC style guide.

JL: “What do you say to the Israelis when …erm…they say well look it’s just simple you know; this wall has cut terrorist attacks in Israel by 90%?”

VS: “I find it comical, to be honest.”

JL: “What, you don’t believe them?”

VS: “Ah…no. Well first of all when you talk about terrorist attacks and you really are interested in stopping terrorist attacks then the first thing you will have to consider is what am I doing that is causing a resistance? And what’s happening is that people are resisting an occupation. If you continue to oppress people they’re going to react.”

Next, Laurenson moves on to another location which features frequently in BBC reports – the Cremisan Valley. There he allows free rein to – and amplifies – the blatantly inaccurate political statements of Kairos signatory Father Ibrahim Shomali.

JL: “….Father Ibrahim Shomali celebrates mass in the open air. He’s been doing this ever since the Israelis announced they were going to build an extension of the wall here. […] If the plans go ahead – and a final decision is expected in July – a convent just down the road from here will be cut off from a school the nuns there run for 400 poor children. The famous Cremisan winery, whose profits finance the school, will also be threatened by what is, Father Shomali says, an annexation of more Palestinian land by Israel.”

Laurenson fails to inform listeners that the “final decision” to which he refers is actually an ongoing court case or that Shomali’s later claim that Palestinian  Christians will “lose completely” their land if the anti-terrorist fence is constructed on the originally planned route is utterly inaccurate because the lands will remain in their possession and will be accessible via a gate. Neither has he anything to say about Shomali’s political use of the word “colonies” to describe Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

Ibrahim Shomali: “They will build the wall on this land where we are standing now taking 1,200 acres from 58 Christian families will lose completely their land. And they want to annex it to Jerusalem to do the big Jerusalem and to annex two colonies together – the Gilo and Har Gilo.”

Later, Laurenson asks Shomali:

“Do you think that this wall is the reason why so many Christians have left this land?”

IS: “Not only the wall but the Israeli occupation. Because living here means living without future. If they take also all of this land I assure you families from Beit Jala will leave because it’s the only green area that we still have with Mahrour area and they will take Mahrour too. You can’t separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem. If you separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem, Bethlehem cannot live. My brother-in-law is a guide but he’s not allowed to work in Jerusalem. All the Israeli guides are allowed to work in Bethlehem because the Palestinian Authority is giving them the opportunity. Why they do not give us permits to work in Jerusalem? They don’t want us to stay here. They want a Palestine without Christian community.”

Whilst Shomali specifically says that his tour guide relative is “not allowed to work in Jerusalem”, the inference is that he is just one example of Palestinian guides not being allowed to work there, whereas according to Shomali, “all” Israeli guides can work in Bethlehem. Neither statement is true: the fact is that more than a quarter of all licenced Palestinian tour guides do have permits to work in Jerusalem and the number of Israeli guides permitted to work in Bethlehem is subject to a quota.

Not only does Laurenson fail to challenge Somali’s downright delusional and evidence free claim that Israel wants “a Palestine without Christian community”, but he actually repeats and embroiders it with a dose of bigotry of low expectations.

“Behind Father Shomali as he holds the holy wafer aloft for communion you can see on the hill one of the Israeli settlements that now circle this town [Beit Jala]. Father Shomali tells me that Israel wants to rid the Palestinian territories of Christians so as to polarise the conflict between Jews and Muslims. And because the Muslims will resort to terrorism, losing them support in the world, this is a battle Israel will win, he says.”

Beit Jala is of course situated in Area A and it is not ‘circled’ by “Israeli settlements”. Whilst the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo lies to its north and Har Gilo to its west, on the other side of the ‘circle’ to the south and east is Bethlehem.

Next, Laurenson turns his attentions to the subject of the relations between Christians and Muslims in Bethlehem, with his main named interviewee being yet another political activist whom he fails to identify as such, describing Fadi Kattan – who, inter alia, was involved in the ‘Flytilla’ publicity stunt – merely as a member of “one of the oldest Bethlehem families”.

JL: “Fadi shares his Palestinian nationality with the Muslims and he says they share the same problems: the security checkpoints for example that hinder movement inside the Palestinian territories and the wall that means that he can’t take his family to the seaside or fly abroad out of Tel Aviv airport.”

Again, Laurenson fails to put checkpoints in their proper context as counter-terrorism measures and neglects to inform listeners how many there are of them or that their number has been vastly reduced as the security situation has improved.

removal of checkpoints

Laurenson goes on:

“But Bethlehem Christians tend to be better educated than the Muslims and have these big family networks abroad. That is why, he [Kattan] says, faced with Bethlehem’s 29% unemployment – on a par with the Gaza Strip – the Christians emigrate more than the Muslims. It’s not because of the Muslims.”

After Kattan’s ensuing rosy anecdotes regarding his Muslim neighbours, Laurenson’s focus turns briefly to the bagpipe  players of Bethlehem (a topic also covered before by the BBC), but quickly reverts to the issue of Muslim-Christian relations.

JL: “At the Church of the Nativity […] I stood outside asking people why so many Palestinian Christians have left. Again and again I got the same answers: the wall, the occupation and the economic hardship they cause. And I asked everyone another question: is it true also that there is some mistreatment of the Christians by Muslims?”

After interviews with two unidentified people who tell him how wonderful relations between Muslims and Christians are in Bethlehem, Laurenson interviews the town’s mayor – Vera Baboun – who has also frequented the BBC in the past. Baboun’s blatant political propaganda and inaccuracies go unchallenged and of course there is no mention of the Palestinian terrorism which made construction of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

VB: “Message of Bethlehem is a message of love and peace. In our city the lord of salvation was born. In John 10 Jesus says ‘I’m the gate. I’m the gate for all the sheep. I’m the gate of salvation’. But most ironically we’ve permitted that this same city be walled with another gate. It is not a gate of salvation but a gate of discrimination. How can that fit? The city where the lord of salvation was born is besieged by a wall, with a gate of discrimination. The in and the out. The Palestinian and the Israeli. The privileged and the under privileged. How does that come for salvation [unintelligible] place? We are one and we live the irony in that?”

Less than two minutes of Laurenson’s half-hour programme are devoted to hearing the Israeli side of the story and that portion comes next in the form of a short interview with Israeli spokesman Mark Regev who tries to explain to him why Palestinian Christians might be reluctant to speak out, but Laurenson is having none of it. He goes on to mention one conversation with a woman who did “say she was worried about the Muslims” but then goes on to say:

“And Father Jamal Khader – rector of the Latin Patriarch seminary – though a long way from agreeing with her, had this to say when I asked him whether he was concerned about the rise of political Islam.”

Jamal Khader: “No we don’t feel it in Bethlehem. Neither in Palestine in general. What we see is a slow change in the religious discourse; more exclusiveness. And here it’s not particular to Muslims. We see it sometimes on Friday prayers but we can see it on the Jewish side as well, where settlers come to confiscate our land to build settlements in the name of God, in the name of the Bible. So this is religious fundamentalism and we can also talk about Christian fundamentalism – specially in the United States where Christian Zionists who support unconditionally not only the State of Israel but the policies of the government of Israel and the wall and the…and its occupation. […]”

Had Laurenson bothered to properly introduce Jamal Khader as yet another signatory of the Kairos document and explained to listeners what that document actually is, they may have been able to put Khader’s words in their proper political context. But of course – yet again – he did not and so to BBC audiences, Khader is just a priest.

Laurenson finishes off by returning to the topic of the bagpipe-playing scouts, this time in Beit Jala, and yet again engages in some context-free promotion of the inaccurate notion of insufficient permits for Palestinian Christians to visit Jerusalem for Easter. His take-away message is this:

“Will there be bagpipes for Pope Francis when he visits Bethlehem? If so, perhaps someone will whisper in his holiness’ ear what this sound means; where this sound comes from; a music of defiance that says we, Christians of the Holy Land, are here to stay.”

Had Laurenson attempted to step outside the frame and looked up some interviewees not already on the BBC’s list of contacts and with fewer political axes to grind, his programme could have been informative and interesting, as well as more accurate and impartial.

As it is, he totally embraced the specific banal narrative promoted by politically motivated interviewees according to which Palestinian Christians only leave their homeland because of Israeli actions. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines, Laurenson did not bother to properly identify his hand-picked interviewees, he inaccurately promoted the notion of the anti-terrorist fence as a “wall” in breach of the BBC style guide on multiple occasions and he promoted inaccurate information concerning the subject of permits for Palestinian Christians to visit Jerusalem during Easter.

The issue of the plight of Palestinian Christians is not a new one on these pages. We have previously quoted here the work of Khaled Abu Toameh who has been writing about the subject for years – for example in 2007:

 “A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city. The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of “intimidation” for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded “collaborators” with Israel. But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.”

Others too have written on the topic over the years – see for example here, here and here.

John Laurenson, however, chose to do worse than fail to tell the real story of Palestinian Christians, with those few still left in the Gaza Strip not even getting a mention from him. He actually lent his journalism to the promotion and amplification of propaganda which aims to conceal the real reasons for the plight of Christians in PA controlled areas and instead uses them for the purpose of politically motivated, gratuitous Israel-bashing.

There may be many words to describe this BBC World Service programme by Laurenson, but journalism is not one of them.

Part two of Laurenson’s programme will be broadcast on May 25th.  

 

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell erases Jewish history in campaigning article

On January 29th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell – over-dramatically titled “West Bank villages’ fate rests on key Israeli court ruling” – appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis” section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Knell Battir

Knell’s article relates to two Supreme Court hearings on the subject of the route of the anti-terrorist fence – described in her opening sentences as “the controversial barrier” – which were due to be heard on January 29th. One of the locations under review is near the village of Battir and the other is in the Cremisan Valley.

Readers may remember that Knell has written about the Cremisan Valley before and that she has also promoted the campaign (indirectly funded by the UK government) to re-route the anti-terrorist fence on Twitter. In this article Knell informs readers:

“Nearby in Beit Jala, the planned route of the barrier – expected to be an 8m (25 foot) high concrete wall – will cut off Palestinians’ access to another green area and popular beauty spot in the Bethlehem district, the Cremisan valley.”

Throughout her two hundred and nine-word presentation of the point of view of those campaigning against the construction of the fence in the Cremisan Valley, Knell avoids any mention of the long history of terrorism in the area. That includes the takeover of Beit Jala by Palestinian terrorists during the second Intifada and the ensuing gunfire and mortar fire at the nearby Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, as well as the murders in 1984 of students Revital Seri and Ron Levi by Issa Abed Rabbo (who coincidentally was recently featured in a television programme  on the Ma’an network which is funded by a variety of European governments, including the UK).

Knell does inform readers that:

“Many in Beit Jala believe the primary aim of this section of barrier is to link the nearby Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, both built on land that originally belonged to their town.”

She then inserts the standard misleading BBC mantra which conceals from audiences the fact that there are many contrasting legal opinions on the subject:

“Settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Were she really interested in informing audiences rather than in the promotion of a one-sided narrative, Knell would have also presented the counter-claim that much of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo is built on land purchased by Jews before the establishment of the State of Israel and she might even have asked around in Beit Jala about the sale to Israelis of some of the town’s land in that area (upon which other parts of Gilo were built) by its former mayor Jabra Khamis. 

In comparison with the 209 words dedicated to the Palestinian view, Knell allots eighty-three words to the presentation of a statement from the Israeli Ministry of Defence, but no column space at all to the views of Israelis living nearby.

The second location – Battir – has also been the subject of past BBC reports when Wyre Davies visited the village in 2012. In this part of the article, Knell outdoes herself as far as misinforming readers by omission is concerned.

Knell Battir c

Canaanite, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic: all that is well and good, but Knell makes no attempt to inform her readers of the rather significant historical facts which her interviewee has ‘overlooked’.

Whilst Knell quotes Badr as stating that the irrigation system in Battir is “2,500 years old”, the photo caption just to the side describes it as dating “from Roman times”. With the Romans having conquered Judea in 63 BCE, that leaves over four centuries unaccounted for and the answer to that anomaly is to be found in the fact that the name Battir is derived from the name of the much earlier Jewish community on that site – Betar –which fell to the Romans in the Second Jewish revolt of 135 CE.

In other words, Knell has adopted the politically motivated practice of avoiding any mention of the ancient Jewish presence in the region – which has of course been amply recorded by archaeologists

“Tel Betar (Khirbet el-Yahud) is situated southwest of Jerusalem near the Arab village of Bittir, its northern side flanking the Rephaim Valley.” […]

“Khirbet el-Yahud is unanimously identified with Betar, the last stronghold of the Second Revolt against the Romans, where its leader, Bar Kochba, found his death in 135 CE. The ancient name was preserved in the name of the Arab village Bittir, and the Arab name of the site – Khirbet el-Yahud, that is “The ruin of the Jews”, keeps the memory of the Second Revolt. The identification is supported by the results of the surveys and the excavations.”

Two hundred and twelve words of Knell’s 806 word report are assigned to presenting the point of view of the villagers of Battir and sympathetic organisations. Eighty one words are given over to presenting the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s point of view and yet again, the views of ordinary Israelis living in the area do not make it into Knell’s report. 

Conforming to what has been BBC policy for over a decade, Knell predictably informs audiences that:

“Israel says the barrier is essential for security but Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

In doing so she breaches BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to provide readers with factual information regarding the fence’s proven efficacy and thereby denying them the possibility of placing her “Israel says” statement in its proper context. She fails to distinguish “opinion from fact”, as required by the editorial guidelines, by juxtaposing a proven Israeli view (based on statistical evidence of the reduction in terror attacks since the fence’s construction) with an unproven Palestinian claim (of a “land grab” which has not taken place) as though they were of equal weight. Another reference to the anti-terrorist fence comes later on in the report when she states:

“Construction of the barrier began in 2002 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, following a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel. It is now approximately 440km (273 miles) long.”

Still, readers are not provided with any factual information regarding the fence’s success in curbing terror attacks.

Seven paragraphs into her report, Knell comes up with the following claim with regard to the 1949 Armistice Line:

“Much of the international community identifies the boundary, also known as the Green Line, as the de facto border of Israel.”

Despite Knell’s transparent attempt to invoke the “international community” as some sort of authority, the 1949 Armistice Line was clearly defined in writing – at Arab insistence – as not being a border of any kind and hence Knell is in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by failing to point that fact out to readers.

“Article II

With a specific view to the implementation of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948, the following principles and purposes are affirmed:

1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognised;

2. It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.

Article VI

9. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Additionally, she fails to make clear to readers that the status of Area C – as defined under the terms of the Oslo Accords to which the Palestinian leadership agreed – is to be the subject of final status negotiations between Israel and the PLO rather than an issue to be determined in some sort of popularity poll among the so-called “international community”.

It is the task of the BBC to provide audiences with factual information and context so that they can reach informed opinions. For any report on the subject of the anti-terrorist fence to be accurate and impartial, it must balance the presentation of the inconveniences and problems caused to the nearby Palestinian population with honest reporting on the very real issue of the counter-terrorism measures necessary to protect the lives of Israel’s civilian population, of which the fence is one. 

Yolande Knell’s misleading distortions of the status of the 1949 Armistice Line and her omission of factual information regarding the anti-terrorist fence actively hinder audience understanding of the subject matter of this report. Likewise, her adoption of the well-known tactic of erasing Jewish history to advance a specific narrative indicates that rather than aspiring to inform, Knell in fact seeks to herd audiences towards a particular view of this issue. This is not the report of an objective journalist: it is part of a campaign to which Knell long since self-conscripted.

Related Articles:

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