BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part two

In part one of this post we saw how, on a visit to the Golan Heights, ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks purported to interview a resident of the community set to be expanded and renamed after the US president. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

As we showed, the man concerned does not live in Beruchim and that meeting was not with “government officials”.

Following that interview, Franks’ long report (from 30:06 here) in the May 22nd afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ continued with a trip to Majdal Shams which he insisted on describing as a “village” even though it has over 11,000 residents and once again using the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Golan’s Druze residents identify as such.

Franks: “You get a different view further north in the Golan Heights. In this Druze village – Majdal Shams – you literally get a different view because you can see from its slopes into Syria. For decades this frontier marked by this sinuous ceasefire fence was the quietest that Israel had. That changed with the Syrian civil war. Militant Islamist groups and Iran building up a presence just the other side of these hills. […] So what does this leave the Syrian Druze in Majdal Shams feeling? One good place to try to get a thoughtful response is the owner of the local bookshop, Amal Safadi.” […]

Having already signposted his interviewee’s response and once again failing to inform listeners that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights 38 years ago, Franks went on:

Franks: “With the American announcement that they would recognise the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, what’s your attitude towards the idea of the local people here taking Israeli citizenship? Have you taken Israeli citizenship?”

Franks obviously must have known the answer to that ‘question’ before he asked it. Safadi has made her views clear in other media interviews (as have some members of her extended family) and she was obviously selected in advance by his production team to represent a certain side of the story. Listeners heard a translated version of her responses in Arabic.

Translator: “She says I will never think to take the citizenship. Our citizenship as Syrians is historical. We’re here from thousand years. This decision is political: nothing will change on the ground.”

Franks did not bother to try to clarify where “here” is and hence avoided the need to remind listeners that Syria as an independent state came into existence in 1946 or tell them that Majdal Shams was settled in the 18th century.

Franks then brought up imaginary scenarios which have not been proposed by any Israeli official either recently or in the past 38 years since the Golan Heights Law was passed.

Franks: “If the Israeli government decides now that you have to take citizenship or maybe they will say you don’t deserve all the rights of living here.”

Translator: “She is saying we had the same story in 1982 and they tried to force us to take the citizenship. Even we were less educated by then but now we are more stronger and our decision will be more strong these days.”

Franks: “People around the world listening to you might understand that you’ve got a very strong sense of identity – that you are a Syrian Druze – but they’ll also say just look over there inside Syria where there’s chaos, there’s conflict. At least here you’ve got rights and you’ve got relative prosperity as well. Why aren’t you happy to be here and take the advantages that Israel can give you?”

Translator: “She says you have a mother, right? If your mother is sick will you leave her? No, you will stay there and support her. Syria is our mother and we need to support our mother instead of leaving her.”

Making no effort to get beyond Safadi’s slogans and examine factors such as the relevant fact that many Druze residents of the Golan Heights have relations in Syria for whose safety they fear, Franks next told listeners that “elsewhere in Majdal Shams though, the taboo is beginning to crack”.

In fact there has been a rise in the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. 

Majdal Shams

Franks then interviewed a Majdal Shams resident who did so two years ago.

Franks: “He needs it, he says, so he can travel more easily for work and also so that once abroad, he doesn’t get hassled or intimidated for having no declared citizenship.”

After his interviewee had told him that opinions for and against the move among people he knows were “fifty-fifty”, Franks responded:

Franks: “I don’t really need to tell you this but the argument that is used by a lot of people here is that this is occupied territory; it doesn’t belong to Israel. One day it will go back to Syria.”

Following his interviewee’s reply to that and an additional question, Franks took the time to stress to listeners that his decision was “the pragmatic, non-ideological decision to take Israeli citizenship”.

The final section of Franks’ report was introduced with another undated reference to “annexation”, an unexplained reference to “strategic importance” and a misleading statement concerning water.

Franks: “So what’s driving the actions of the Israeli state up here? Given Israel’s decision to annex the territory, given the government’s delight at Donald Trump’s recent support for that annexation, given the Golan’s strategic importance, militarily and in terms of the country’s water supply, has there ever been serious thought to a territorial exchange with the Syrians? Well the answer is yes – all the way from the 1990s until as recently as the start of this decade. […] What stopped everything was – no surprise – the Syrian civil war.”

Franks’ final interviewee was former national security advisor Uzi Arad who explained how the war in Syria had led to “the notion that Israel would now forfeit” the Golan Heights looking “recklessly silly”. Franks was however far more interested in Arad’s assessment of “the American move”.

Arad: “Don’t press the point. Clearly this Assad is a real (bleeped out) as a person, as a leader. Clearly Syria needs something better but he had successfully won the nation and he has support to that from Russia. If you provoke him you would make him insist that for him the liberation of the Golan remains a priority. So why? Why pushing them into that corner? We stay there anyway.”

Franks then closed his report:

Franks: “The Golan is beguiling and beautiful. It’s also deceptive. The struggle with the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in Gaza – that’s the most visible, most frequently violent manifestation of Israel’s uneasy place in the Middle East. But it’s away from them, up in the north, that the potential for the greatest conflict may come.”

In the years since the Syrian civil war began BBC audiences have seen reports from a number of BBC and other journalists visiting the Golan Heights, most of which have presented a drearily monochrome portrait of the Golan Druze that fails to reflect changes in their society. In addition to being blighted by basic inaccuracy and omission of relevant context, Tim Franks’ almost thirteen-minute-long report largely stuck to the same jaded political narrative and even promoted irrelevant and imaginary scenarios concerning the Israeli government.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders





BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another long report (from 30:06 here) by Tim Franks in the programme’s May 22nd afternoon edition. The same report was also aired in the May 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ (from 35:30 here).

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Two days ago I was reporting for you from what we tend to think about when we talk about occupied territory: the congested, contested area of the West Bank and Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Today we’re gonna head to the north-eastern tip of Israel – to the Golan Heights. This is a small country so from here – Jerusalem – to the Golan it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive and into stunning landscape.

This is also occupied territory but, my goodness, it feels so different to the West Bank. Despite the signs you come across occasionally as you travel through this place warning you to keep out of minefields, this is quiet, it’s beautiful, in parts mountainous, in parts fertile. It’s the slice of land that separates Israel from south-west Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967 leaving thousands of Syrian Druze this side of the ceasefire line. There’s now about twenty thousand of them who, back in March, heard the news that Donald Trump was – unlike the rest of the world – going to recognise Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory. We’ll find out later what some of those Syrian Druze make of that in a moment.”

Significantly, Franks’ portrayal of history as beginning in June 1967 – a typical BBC practice – failed to inform listeners why Israel “captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War” and what happened in the years before that to prompt such a move. Additionally, while repeatedly referring to “annexation” of the region, Franks failed to clarify to listeners at any point that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights thirty-eight years ago.

Notably, Franks elected to exclusively use the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Druze population of the Golan Heights identifies in that manner.

Franks: “First though, I’m going to meet one of the twenty thousand Israelis who live in the Golan Heights. He’s called Menachem Ender. He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

Although Franks refrained from naming that “tiny hamlet”, as the Jerusalem Post and others reported ten days before his report was aired, the community tapped to be the location of that “new settlement” is Beruchim.

“Makor Rishon reported last week that the community, which will be a mixed secular-religious settlement that in its first stage will number some 120 families, will be set up in the northern Golan at Beruchim, where plans for a previous settlement were approved in 1991, and where there have been unsuccessful efforts over the years to establish a community.”

Ynet added:

“Today, Beruchim is the home of 10 people, and several other newcomers who wish to establish a leadership seminar for pre-army teens in the settlement.

The community was established in 1991, by then-housing minister Ariel Sharon, who sent a group of new immigrants from the Soviet Union to live there. It was established near Qela [Kela Alon] and meant to be a thriving extension of it, but failed to live up to the expectations.

Residents of Qela were outraged about the decision to change their existing community’s name, and hung signs protesting the move on their entrance gate, apparently under the impression that the entire perimeter of Qela and Beruchim will become the new Trump community.

However, the residents had false information, and it was clarified Sunday [May 12th] that the new settlement will not replace Qela, but rather built on top of Beruchim; a draft plan already exists and offers 110 new homes be built in Beruchim, that will house both religious and secular residents.”

An article published by Ha’aretz on the same day that Frank’s report was broadcast shows that he apparently did not bother to check facts adequately in the four days between recording and going on air. The man interviewed by Franks – Menachem Ender – appears in the Ha’aretz report where he is identified as a resident of nearby Kela Alon rather than a resident of the site of the new community to be named after the US president.

“Some 200 meters (650 feet) from Beruchim lies a very different place: The well-tended, middle-class settlement of Kela Alon, home to 85 families. Officially, Kela Alon and Kela-Beruchim are part of the same municipal entity, known simply as Kela. This led to confusion among Kela Alon residents when they heard of the Trump plan through the media, believing their settlement would be expanded and renamed for the U.S. president.

Their unhappiness is still visible on the main road to the neighborhood: Two homemade signs, one leaning against a tractor, read “Kela Alon is not for sale” and “Ramat Trump — not here!”

Mene [Menachem] Ender, 72, says the initial opposition was based on a misunderstanding of the government’s plans.

Ender, who moved to the Golan 45 years ago “out of Zionist motivation — I’m not ashamed to admit it” — after fighting in the Yom Kippur War, has lived in Kela Alon for the past two years. He says members of his community were disturbed by initial details of the plan, about which they had not been consulted. They feared it would transform their town.”

Franks’ claim that “tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials” is also shown to be inaccurate in the same Ha’aretz report.

“In a damage-control effort, the regional council has sought to calm the community, explaining that any new development would take place in Beruchim, not Kela Alon.

On Sunday, leaders of the Golan Regional Council met with 150 concerned residents and assured them that the new “Trump town” would be a separate entity from their own and that they would only benefit from its presence.”

That meeting with local council officials – not “government officials” – took place on May 19th – the day that Tim Franks was in the Golan Heights. We can identify the date of Franks’ visit because later on in the item he tells listeners that:

Franks: “Israel has launched hundreds of air sorties, particularly against Iranian positions [in Syria]. There was an airstrike just last night.”

That incident – which has not been acknowledged by Israel and was not reported by the BBC at the time – took place on the night of May 18th.

The rest of Franks’ report will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders





BBC Radio 4 promotes politicised narrative about the Golan Heights

The March 10th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 17:02 here) not promoted in its synopsis. After a couple of general sentences concerning the civil war in Syria, presenter Kate Adie introduces the item as follows:FOOC 10 3

“One vantage point – if you can call it that – overlooking the war is the mountain range that rises up about 40 miles south of Damascus; the Golan Heights – an area that was part of Syria before Israel seized it in the 1967 war. The residents include around 20,000 Israeli settlers and a similar number of Syrians belonging to the religious minority the Druze. Diana Darke’s just been to meet some of them.”

As ever in BBC content, the outcome of the Six Day War is presented without background or context. Moreover, listeners are not provided with any relevant background information about the freelance occasional BBC contributor – and self-described Arabist – Diana Darke which would enable them to put her words into their appropriate context.

pic bental

The “bizarre” cafe on Mount Bental

Darke opens with a description of a place once inaccurately described by the BBC as an “army position”.

“Standing in a peaceful spot, high on the volcanic cone of Mount Bental, I am gazing across into war-torn Syria. It is a surreal experience but this is the Golan Heights where anything is possible. Beside me is a bizarre hilltop café called Coffee Anan – after Kofi the former UN Secretary General. Staffed by enthusiastic Israelis from the nearby settlement of Merom Golan; Israel’s first to be built on the Heights. They are selling beer and pizza along with local pomegranate liqueur and skin creams. Sharing the vantage point are busloads of Israeli tourists and a couple of blue-capped UN observers stationed here to patrol the cease-fire line. While rising above the whole conflict is Mount Hermon, whose snow-covered summit still lies inside Syria. Israel controls a listening post bristling with antennae lower down.”

Her use of language such as “bizarre” and “settlement” is obviously part of Darke’s signposting but had audiences been informed of her “particular viewpoint” they may have found that (and the later) politicised categorisation of an Israeli kibbutz in the Golan all the more revealing given that she clearly has no issue with British people living on what she sees as Syrian land, having herself bought a house in Damascus a decade ago.

Darke then turns to her one and only named interviewee – a man who, together with his multilingual customer-tailored sales-pitches, will be familiar to anyone who has visited Mount Bental in recent years. Particularly notable is her repeated use of the word ‘now’ to describe a status quo which has been in place for well over four decades.

Mt Bental

Mt Bental

“In the car park I meet the cheerful Abu Amin; an elder from the Syrian Druze community with a magnificent moustache and the distinctive black baggy trousers that mark him as one of the enlightened uqqal – a spiritual level obtained only with the wisdom of age. He’s here to earn a bit of money in retirement by selling the famous local honey. He lives in one of the four Syrian Druze villages now cut off on the Golan. ‘Down there in Quneitra is where I was working as a maths teacher’ he explains philosophically, pointing out the now destroyed town. ‘When the Israelis captured it I fled back up here to Buqata. Now the border crossing is closed and our apple and cherry orchards are farmed by the kibbutz of Ein Zivan’.

Education is tremendously important to the Druze – a proud religious minority living mainly in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon. Syria’s ruling Assad family was good to the Golan Druze and earned their loyalty by allowing them to study free of charge at Syrian universities even after the ’67 war, giving them a small monthly stipend. The Quneitra crossing was opened to allow several hundred students a year to continue their courses. The current war has put an end to that so many now go to Germany instead. Interrupted by periodic explosions from the direction of Damascus, Abu Amin and I exchange poignant memories of the Syrian capital where he studied for four years. ‘Although the Israelis pressure us, we will never give up our Syrian nationality’ he assures me. ‘This war will end one day and our families will be joined again’.”

Darke of course does not provide any source to support that specious paraphrased claim of Israeli “pressure” on the Golan Druze population and neither does she tell her listeners that since the civil war in Syria began increasing numbers of them have applied for Israeli citizenship, to which they have been entitled since 1981. Notably too, Darke avoids all mention of the topic of the Druze population in Syria – many of whom have family in the Druze villages on the Golan – and the topic of the connection between the support for the Assad regime voiced by some Golan Druze and their obvious concern for the welfare and safety of their relatives in Syria does not come up in her monologue. She continues:

“His certainty is admirable but the realities on the ground are different. Israel has built over thirty settlements here, thirty wineries with names like Chateau Golan and devised nature reserves to market its tourism potential. It has built a ski resort on Mount Hermon and laid out hiking trails beside the waterfalls of Banias – the ancient city of Pan. Israeli maps increasingly show the Golan as theirs, making it even harder to remember that under international law all this is Syria, whose border once reached right down to the eastern shore of Lake Galilee.”

That latter statement is of course inaccurate: the 1923 agreement between the British and the French which predated the creation of Syria left the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee under the control of the British mandate authorities. Darke goes on to promote another inaccuracy:

“Israel is quietly drilling for oil on the Golan; rewarded last autumn with a major find. It has recently completed a big barrier along its border with Syria – similar to that on the West Bank – citing security concerns and the need to bring stability to the region.”

Israel not drilling for oil on the Golan: a private American company is currently carrying out exploratory drilling in part of the area and although that company’s PR has indeed included optimistic messaging to the media, the exploratory process is set to continue for the next two years and the viability of production remains at this stage unclear.  Darke refrains from reminding her listeners that the new fence along the border between Israel and Syria was constructed after repeated violent breaches of the old one in 2011. Failing to mention that all four of the Druze villages in the Golan have run their own local councils for decades, she closes:

Ein Kinya

Ein Kinya

“But the Golan Druze are determined to maintain their identity and govern themselves. Ein Kinya – the smallest and most beautiful of the Druze villages – has its own local council. Numbers are steadily increasing and they are building more homes. Two Christian families live in their midst. The young Druze women I see appear free from inhibition, dressed in hot pants, ripped jeans and tight tops; strong and equal to their men. Abu Amin’s generation still treasures memories of Damascus but the Golan’s younger Druze – deprived of such cherished dreams – have found their own uniquely non-political vision of their future. Key to the Druze faith is reincarnation of souls – male to male, female to female – always into a newborn child. They simply believe they will be reincarnated in their next lives into the right part of Syria.”

Which exactly is the “right” part of Syria today for members of the Druze minority, Darke does not reveal.

Diana Darke’s account is not only trite, one-dimensional and in parts inaccurate – it is clearly rooted in the echo-chamber of a political ideology which – despite the geopolitical tremors which have taken place in Syria in the last five years – has not changed since she wrote a similarly themed piece for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign over three years ago. Clearly the safety and welfare of the Druze residents of the Golan Heights spared the turmoil and violence in Syria is far less important to Darke and her fellow travellers than political point scoring on “settlements” and “international law”.

This of course is far from the first time that audiences have seen the BBC amplifying the jaded narrative which promotes the notion that all 20,000 Golan Druze homogeneously aspire to return to live under Syrian control. In the five years of the Syrian civil war, however, that narrative has unravelled and a curious journalist free from the baggage of a political agenda could find much more interesting, unexpected and complex stories to report from the foothills of Mount Hermon. 


Did the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau miss this Israel story?

On December 30th the Israeli government unanimously approved a plan to invest 15 billion shekels ($3.8 billion) in the Arab sector over the next five years.


Daburiyya, Galilee

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel formulated the plan seeking to change governmental allocation mechanisms in an effort to narrow gaps and aid in the quick economical development of Arab society.

NIS 1.2 billion will be allocated to promoting construction in Arab municipalities, while NIS 1.4 billion will be allocated to bolstering local authorities in an effort to develop infrastructure. […]

Approval of the plan heralds a big change in transportation, including increasing subsidies for public transportation in Arab municipalities, completing the infrastructure for public transportation and making the information accessible to the Arab public by translating it to Arabic.

To that end, 40 percent of the State of Israel’s public transportation budget will be used in the Arab sector, as well as 40 percent of the budget allocated to transportation infrastructure in municipalities.

The plan includes extensive and in-depth investment in education in the Arab sector, focusing on training educators, educational achievements, and informal education – in both basic and higher education.

In the field of employment and economic development, 32.5 percent will be allocated in 2016 to the development of industrial areas in Arab municipalities. In addition, 17.5 percent of the Small and Medium Businesses Agency’s budget will be allocated to businesses in the Arab sector.”

Two weeks on, BBC audiences have still heard nothing about this story or an additional one about the planning approval for an entire new town in the Lower Galilee for members of the Druze community. Could it be that the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau missed those stories – or do they simply not fit into the popular ‘right-wing Israeli government’ narrative?