BBC’s Bowen recycles the ‘contiguity’ myth on World Service radio

On the morning of September 13th the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, sent a context-free tweet to his 170,000 followers.

Later that day, Bowen was to be found reporting on the same story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘. Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 45:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Iqbal: “Israel now, and security forces have today dismantled several shacks built by Palestinian protesters near Khan al Ahmar – the Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank which Israel has targeted for demolition. The village houses around 180 Bedouin but has become a symbol of something bigger and many European countries have urged Israel to stop the demolition. I’ve been speaking to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. I asked him first to map out the geography of this village.”

Neither Iqbal nor Bowen bothered to adequately clarify to listeners that the structures removed on the morning of September 13th had actually been placed there deliberately just days earlier by Palestinian activists on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and were not part of the encampment itself. 

Bowen commenced his report by failing to explain to listeners that what he described as “a road” is actually a major highway – Route 1.

Bowen: “There’s a road going down from Jerusalem – a steep road going downhill to the Dead Sea and to Jericho – and about a third of the way down that road, I suppose, there is this very small village Khan al Ahmar which is…it’s like a typical Bedouin settlement in that most of the dwellings there are shacks. And it’s just opposite an absolutely massive Jewish settlement called Ma’ale Adumim and so the argument being made by those on the Israeli side who say it’s got to go, they say that it’s unsafe, it’s in the wrong place, it shouldn’t be happening. People on the other side say they’re just trying to get rid of it so Israel can tighten its grip even further on that bit of territory.”

As can be seen on the UNOCHA produced map below, Khan al Ahmar is not located “just opposite” Ma’ale Adumim but further to the east and neither is it located in the area known as E1. Bowen did not bother to clarify to listeners that the location of the story is in Area C which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations.

Nevertheless, Iqbal and Bowen went on to advance a false narrative about ‘contiguity’ that the BBC has been promoting for years.

Iqbal: “And that bit of territory, from the Palestinians’ perspective, is the idea from their point of view is that the Israelis want to cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, both of which the Palestinians seek for an independent state.”

Bowen: “Yeah. 1967 was when they captured East Jerusalem. Israel has built a string of settlements that essentially…ahm…ring East Jerusalem and separate it from the rest of the West Bank. Now there is one gap and the gap is quite a large area and this very small settlement is part of it. But Israel has a whole master plan for developing that particular gap – it’s an area known as E1 – and the argument the Israelis say for it is that this is their territory; that they need to develop their capital. And the argument against it is that if the Palestinians ever want a hope of some kind of contiguous state, then the fact that East Jerusalem – where there are many Palestinians – is ringed in by these settlements is going to make it next to impossible.”

Iqbal then went on to ask Bowen whether or not the Israeli Supreme Court had got its facts right.

Iqbal: “The Supreme Court rejected petitions to stop this from happening, siding with the authorities, and they said that the village was built without the required permits. That’s right, is it?”

Carefully avoiding inconvenient details of the story – such as the fact that the residents of Khan al Ahmar do not even claim to own the land on which they built illegal structures without planning permission – Bowen went on:

Bowen: “Yeah, it wasn’t built with permits and a lot of Palestinians build without permits because they can’t get permits. The whole planning process in Jerusalem and in the occupied territories – in East Jerusalem – is highly politicized. For Israel, once it was more about security but now I’d say it’s mostly about nation building and mostly about hanging on to territory. And planning reflects the wider needs of the state and they don’t encourage Palestinians to build, even though the Palestinian population is growing, and as a result of that Palestinians don’t get permits to build. They build anyway and then quite often those dwellings get knocked down.”

Iqbal: “This particular village, Khan al Ahmar, is a Bedouin village as you described. It affects just under 200 people but it’s symbolic of much more and that clearly has been recognised by European Union countries urging the Israeli government not to go ahead with the plan. Presumably that’s all going to fall on deaf ears.”

Obviously at that point it would have been appropriate for BBC audiences to have been told that the EU has also carried out illegal construction at that site and others in the vicinity. It would also have been helpful to listeners to know that under previous peace proposals, the area of E1 was set to remain under Israeli control.  

Bowen: “Well they’ve urged the Israelis many times not to expand their settlement activities in the occupied territories and it’s always fallen on deaf ears. The only voice that was ever listened to by successive Israeli governments was the American one and the American voice now under the Trump administration is really quite different. I think under Obama, and before that under previous administrations as well, moves to develop this area E1 were always strenuously objected to on the grounds that it makes the pursuit of peace even more difficult. Just recently the American ambassador to Israel – close ally of Donald Trump – said he doesn’t know why Israel needs to ask permission of the US before it builds. So that, I think, is another green light for Israel to go ahead and push as much as it wants. Having said that, they are aware of international opinion and they’re sensitive to it. But that doesn’t change – based on history – the objective.”

Iqbal: “Complicated story – unpacked expertly there by our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen speaking to me from Jerusalem.”

Yes – despite Bowen’s faulty geography, his amplification of the ‘contiguity’ myth and his failure to provide BBC audiences with the full background to this story (not least the fact that related court cases have been going on for nine years and the residents of Khan al Ahmar have been offered free plots of land on which to build homes nearby) and notwithstanding his erasure of the politically motivated interventions by the Palestinian Authority and the EU in this case, BBC World Service listeners were told that they had just heard an ‘expert’ explanation.

Related Articles:

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

THE LA TIMES, THE BEDOUIN OF KHAN AL AHMAR AND ‘THEIR LAND’  (CAMERA)

MEDIA EMBRACE E1 FALSEHOODS  (CAMERA) 

 

 

 

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BBC’s Davies continues to promote the Palestinian narrative on E1

The BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Wyre Davies is apparently bored by the Israeli elections.

“Whether you support him or not, agree or disagree with his controversial opinions, you might be tempted to utter the words: “Thank goodness for Naftali Bennett.”

He is young, wealthy and is taking this Israeli election by storm as leader of the Jewish Home party.

He has breathed life into what was otherwise becoming a boring and predictable process.”

So bored, it seems, that he cannot even be bothered to get the name of the party predicted to win the most votes right:

'Yisreal'

In his January 19th article – supposedly about Naftali Bennett – which appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, Davies has little to say that goes beyond the standard clichés used by the media to depict the Israeli political scene. 

Davies Bennett article

However, Davies does seize the opportunity to slip in a loaded description of the anti-terrorist fence: [emphasis added]

“Alongside the huge and controversial separation barrier, which divides Israel from the West Bank, I met David Newman, a professor in politics at Ben Gurion University.”

The location of Davies’ meeting with Newman has no relevance whatsoever to the content of this article. Hence, Davies’ description is not only gratuitous, but its lack of context – and not least the failure to point out that the fence is considerably less “controversial” in the eyes of those whom it protects from suicide bombings – makes it partial.  

Davies also does not pass up the chance to resurrect the BBC’s repeated promotion of the Palestinian narrative according to which the construction of houses in the area known as E1 would spell the end of a Palestinian state – even re-using the BBC’s much touted map which contributes nothing to audiences’ understanding of the issue.  

“With dozens of Jewish settlements already in the area, Palestinians say that if Israel develops E1 it would cut off East Jerusalem and other parts of Palestinian land from each other – denying the possibility of an unbroken future Palestinian state.”

Davies article E1

As BBC Watch has pointed out in previous articles on the subject, a contiguous Palestinian state would not be prevented from coming into being were building to go ahead on the four square miles in E1. 

map E1 camera

Other mainstream media organisations which previously also unquestioningly reproduced the E1 myth have long since corrected that error. It is notable that the BBC continues to be among the few still promoting that falsehood at any and every opportunity.  

Palestinian land-grab in E1: yawns from the BBC

When the Israeli government announced zoning plans for the area east of Jerusalem known as E1 in late November, the world – and the BBC – was aghast. A plethora of BBC reports informed audiences that: [all emphasis added]

“The US said the expansion plan was counterproductive and would make it harder to resume peace talks.”

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.”

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an end to settlement building and a return to peace talks.”

“It is an act of Israeli aggression against a state, and the world needs to take up its responsibilities,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told the AFP news agency.”

And

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace”.

The White House had earlier described the proposal as “counter-productive”.”

“UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “extremely concerned” at the move, adding that the UK “strongly advises the Israeli government to reverse this decision”.”

And:

“Israeli settlement plans in a strategically sensitive area of occupied land near East Jerusalem would deal “an almost fatal blow” to peace hopes, UN head Ban Ki-moon has warned.”

“In a statement on Sunday, Mr Ban expressed “grave concern and disappointment” over the 3,000 newly authorised Israeli settlement units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But he was most adamant that any plans to build in the so-called E1 area – between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim – should be rescinded.

“It would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution,” Mr Ban said.”

“On Monday, the UK summoned the Israeli envoy to express its concerns.

The UK Foreign Office said Israel should expect a “strong reaction” if it went ahead with its plans.”

“The UK said it was urging Israel to reconsider the settlements plan, saying it “threatens the two state solution and makes progress through negotiations harder to achieve”.”

“The US said earlier the expansion plan was counter-productive and would make it harder to resume peace talks, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “extremely worried” by prospects of large-scale construction.”

And:

“Britain and France have both summoned Israeli ambassadors in protest at Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UK said the move would cast doubt on Israel’s “stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians”.”

“The UN has warned the homes would be “an almost fatal blow” to peace hopes.

In a statement, the UK Foreign Office said it was urging Israel to reconsider, and threatened a “strong reaction” if the homes went ahead.

It said: “We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two state solution.”

“It would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution,” Mr Ban said.”

“German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin: “Israel is undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate and the geographic space for a future Palestinian state, which must be the basis for a two-state solution, is disappearing.”

The Russian foreign ministry website said the move would have “a most adverse impact” on peace.”

And, from the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent:

“The summoning of Israeli ambassadors to the foreign ministries in London, Paris and Stockholm may be only the opening phase in the diplomatic crisis prompted by Israel’s decision to build some 3,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as plans to push ahead with construction between Jerusalem and the settlement town of Maale Adumim.”

Later in December, the BBC returned to the subject once again:

“The US protects Israel at the UN but the state department accused Israel of “a pattern of provocative action”.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity put the goal of peace “further at risk”.

“The four European members of the UN Security Council – France, Germany, the UK and Portugal – issued a statement saying they were “extremely concerned” by Israel’s intentions to build more settlements.”

“Israel’s announcements “send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate,” it warned.”

As we see, the BBC – in no fewer than six separate articles on its website (not to mention its television and radio reports) was doggedly intent upon getting the message across to its audiences that decisions by Israeli planning committees and a few lines drawn on maps were ruining the last chances for peace. 

On January 11th 2013, a considerably more tangible action than planning protocols and architects’ sketches was initiated by some 200 members of Palestinian political groups who, together with foreign anti-Israel campaigners, set up a land-grab tent camp in the area known as E1.

“Its creation was lauded by Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Palestinian leaders, including Mustafa Barghouti, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, visited the campers in the morning. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP that the Israeli army stopped him from arriving at the outpost.”

Like Mustafa Barghouti, the ‘Popular Struggle Committees’ involved in organizing this latest stunt were also involved with the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ last spring and with the various ‘flytillas’. Salah al Khawaja of the Nil’in Popular Resistance Committee and a member of the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ International Central Committee told the press:

“Leading activist Salah al-Khawaja said that the group is determined to stay on the land. “This is Palestinian land, it is our right to build our villages on our land whenever we like. We will not accept displacement and we will stay,” he said.”

The BBC has produced one article on the subject so far. Needless to say, according to that report the Palestinian Authority-approved action does not appear to be a provocation, does not apparently endanger peace, make it harder to resume peace talks or deliver anything approaching “a fatal blow” to the two state solution. In contrast with its usual practice when reporting on Israeli planning decisions, in this case the BBC refrains from presuming expertise on the outpost’s legality under ‘international law’. 

Update: the campers at the outpost (around 10% of whom were journalists) were evacuated by Israeli security forces early on Sunday morning. The BBC’s report on the subject – still promoting the erroneous Palestinian claim that development of E1 would “threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state” – is here.

Slogan rich, evidence free: BBC’s Plett ‘analyses’ Israeli planning decisions

December 20th 2012 saw yet another article in the Middle East section of the BBC News website about ‘settlement building’ – this time relating to the call by several European members of the UN SC to “immediately halt new construction” – which they seem to have failed to notice is not yet underway and is in fact a very long way from commencement. 

The report opens with the adoption of one of the favourite mantras of anti-Israel campaigners such as the PSC: [emphasis added]

“The UN is stepping up pressure on Israel over its settlement building on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

It goes on to say:

Divided Jerusalem

“Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it as part of its capital, in a move never recognised internationally.”

What the BBC neglects to inform its readers, of course, is that eastern Jerusalem was artificially divided from the rest of the city – for the first time in its history – for only 19 years prior to 1967, as a result of the Jordanian capture and subsequent annexation of certain parts of the city. That annexation was also never recognized “internationally”.

Additionally, the report states:

“Also on Wednesday, Jerusalem’s planning committee granted approval for 2,610 homes in a new settlement in East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos – the first to be built in the area since 1997.”

Interestingly, the BBC report not only neglects to mention that there are already people living in that area, but also that half the proposed housing units in Givat HaMatos are ear-marked for Arab residents. In addition, it does not inform its audience that one day prior to the decision on Givat HaMatos, over 600 houses were also approved – by the same planning committee – in the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safafa. Strangely, the latter decision did not appear to irk either the UN SC, the EU or the BBC.

Givat HaMatos

The article goes on to quote a statement from the EU on the subject:

“If implemented, these plans would jeopardise the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine”.

That theme is echoed in the side-bar of ‘analysis’ by the BBC’s UN correspondent Barbara Plett in which she claims that:

“The outcry at the UN reflects a real concern that Israel’s continued settlement building could deal a fatal blow to the chances for a two-state solution of its conflict with the Palestinians.

Its announcement of new construction plans, including the possibility of a new settlement in East Jerusalem, comes just days after its declared intent to build in a parcel of land known as E-1, which would cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland.”

Plett analysis

Of course both the EU statement and Plett’s matching one – whilst high on hubris – have little connection to the reality on the ground as far as geography is concerned and as reflected in different peace proposals over the years.

The 2000 Camp David proposal – rejected by Arafat – included all of the sites of today’s proposed building in Israeli territory. 

Camp David proposal

Similarly, the 2008 Olmert proposal – widely accepted by many Israelis as representing the most they can offer to the Palestinians – also includes Ramat Shlomo, Givat HaMatos and E1 in Israeli territory.

Olmert plan

It is therefore notable that the BBC – along with members of the Quartet such as the EU – now appears to ignore all previous realistic proposals and instead embraces the rejectionist Palestinian approach to the dispute. It is also regrettable – and ridiculous – that they invent alarmist canards such as the notion that building houses in areas which – under any realistic peace plan – will remain in Israel “jeopardises” and “deals a fatal blow” to the chance of a two-state solution. 

For some eminently sensible and realistic commentary on the subject, one can do no better than to turn to Yaacov Lozowick, who recently wrote on the subject:

“When it comes to E1, he said, the Israelis and Palestinians are competing to see who gets the balloon and who gets the string. Jewish West Jerusalem, Maaleh Adumim, Rammallah and Bethlehem are all there to stay. Whoever ends up controlling E1 will have a comfortable land corridor between their two balloons while the other side will be left with a road through the other’s territory: a string. If Israel controls E1, the Palestinians will have a north-south road through it; if the Palestinians own E1, the Israelis will have an east-west road through it.

The claim whereby Israeli ownership of E1 would make for a truncated and thus non-viable Palestinian state on the West Bank ought to be about as convincing as saying a physical barrier between Manhattan and Brooklyn and New Jersey makes Manhattan non-viable.

To be clear: I’m not arguing for or against Israeli construction on E1. I’m merely pointing out that much of the verbiage on the topic is misleading.”

In addition to the five very pertinent points made by Mr Lozowick in the rest of his article, it is possible to add one other. If we assume that a peace agreement broadly based on something very similar to the two maps above will be the eventual outcome to the current dispute, then obviously significant numbers of Israelis will need to leave their current homes and livelihoods in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Rift Valley and relocate to other parts of Israel. The current zoning and long-term planning in areas which will remain within Israeli territory under such a two-state solution agreement could therefore actually speed up its implementation rather than presenting a barrier to it. 

It remains highly problematic that the best the BBC can apparently contribute to its audiences’ understanding of the Middle East peace process is the kind of evidence-free, slogan-rich hyperbole proffered by Barbara Plett in this article.  The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.”

On the subject of Israeli zoning and planning decisions, the BBC is failing miserably to meet its obligation to impartiality by consistently neglecting to provide audiences with any information on the indisputably significant “strand of thought” which lies behind several past peace proposals and according to which, the existing neighbourhoods of Jerusalem with a Jewish majority beyond the ‘green line’ would remain Israeli. 

By failing to meet that obligation, the BBC also contravenes – by omission – yet another of its Editorial Guidelines:

“The BBC Agreement forbids our output from expressing the opinion of the BBC on current affairs or matters of public policy”.

BBC advances Palestinian narrative on ‘E1’

In no fewer than three articles currently available on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, we find the promotion of the narrative according to which Israeli building in the area known as E1 would prevent territorial contiguity in a future Palestinian state. 

An article from November 30th 2012 entitled “Israel to build 3,000 settler homes after UN vote” states that:

“Plans to build settlements in the area, known as E1, are strongly opposed by Palestinians, who say the development will cut the West Bank in two, preventing the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

Another article from December 1st 2012, entitled “Hillary Clinton warns Israel on settler homes” repeats the same mantra:

“Plans to build settlements in the area, known as E1, are strongly opposed by Palestinians, who say the development will cut the West Bank in two, preventing the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

A third article entitled “UN’s Ban Ki-moon warns Israel of ‘fatal blow’ to peace“, dated December 3rd 2012, states:

“Plans for construction in the E1 envelope are strongly opposed by Palestinians, who say such development will prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

All three articles also include the same not-so-handy map, which does little to explain the issue to BBC audiences. 

bbc map E1

The claim repeated in all three of the BBC articles above is far from a new one. Back in 2005 our colleagues at CAMERA produced a much more comprehensive map which puts the subject of “E1” into perspective. 

map E1 camera

For an explanation of the map and more reading on the subject, see here

Update:

An additional article from December 3rd – “UK and France summon Israeli envoys in settlements row” – promotes the same erroneous narrative both in the body of the article itself and in a sidebar with analysis from the BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus.  

JM art E1

 

Yet another article published on December 3rd  – written by Jonathan Marcus and entitled “Israeli settlement move risks diplomatic fallout” – also repeats the same narrative. Notably, in both cases Marcus omits the caveat of “Palestinians say”, thus presenting the narrative as fact.

Whilst referring to the Israeli decision not to transfer customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority this month, Marcus makes no mention of the long standing arrears well in excess of 700 million shekels which the Israeli Electricity Corporation is owed by the PA and the Palestinian-owned ‘East Jerusalem Electricity Company’ (which supplies power to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Beit Jala, among other places) and which those revenues will go towards paying. 

The Israeli Electric Corporation also supplies electricity to Gaza, for which it does not receive any payment from the Hamas regime, as well as to parts of PA-controlled territory not supplied by the ‘East Jerusalem Electricity Company’ such as Jenin and Hebron. The cost of that electricity is taken from the revenues collected on behalf of the PA by Israel. The Palestinian Authority uses some 7% of the total electricity generated by the Israeli Electric Corporation.  Meanwhile, Israeli consumers were informed this year that their electricity bills will rise by 31% over the next three years.  

JM 2 E1