BBC coverage of the Jerusalem terror attack – part two: BBC radio

Several hours after the terror attack at Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem on the morning of July 14th in which police officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan were murdered and two others wounded, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ aired a report (from 19:18 here) on that story that was introduced by Julian Marshall as follows:

“And we go now to Israel where two Israeli police officers have died after three Israeli Arab gunmen opened fire on them in Jerusalem’s old city. Police chased the attackers into one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites – known to Jews as Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al Sharif. All three attackers were killed.”

As was the case in the BBC’s written report on the same incident, that description does not adequately clarify that the terrorists had been on Temple Mount for an unknown period of time before the attack – and had even posted photographs of themselves there on social media – or that, as the Times of Israel reports, they returned to that site – with the police in pursuit – after carrying out the attack.

Marshall continued:

“The mosque complex at al Aqsa has been closed and evacuated and Friday prayers there have been cancelled for only the second time in 50 years. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attack in a telephone call with the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Israel’s minister of public security, Gilad Erdan, said the Palestinian leadership should be held responsible.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Erdan speaking which included the only mentions of the words terror and terrorists in the entire report.

“The terrorists they used firearms inside the Temple Mount violating, violating the holiness of this important place. I say and repeat again and again: Israel has kept the status quo on Temple Mount and continue to keep the status quo here. We always respected the freedom of worship to everyone – Muslims, Jews, Christians – but we all should understand that the incitement that was led by President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority directly led to this terror attack that happened this morning.”

Marshall: “Well let’s go live now to Jerusalem and the BBC’s Tom Bateman. So what actually happened in this incident, Tom?”

Although several hours had already passed since the incident took place and the sequence of events was by that time clear, Tom Bateman had apparently not been keeping up with events. [emphasis added]

“Well this happened at 7 o’clock this morning local time. You’ll remember that this is in the vicinity of the most revered site in Jerusalem; holy to both Jews and to Muslims. Now the exact location of this attack has remained still a bit unclear but what we know is that they were close to the Lions’ Gate entrance beside that compound. And the police say they were armed with an automatic weapon, a pistol – there was a knife involved too – and that they opened fire on police officers. Now there was then a chase of some sort and some mobile phone footage has shown that at least one of the attackers was chased by police officers and shot.”

In fact the terrorists had two automatic weapons and Bateman similarly failed to clarify that the terrorists were on Temple Mount before they launched the attack or that they intentionally returned there afterwards. He continued:

“Now as a result of the initial fire by the attackers two police officers were fatally wounded. Ah…they were Israeli police officers. They were Druze – an Arab minority religion in Israel – and the attackers themselves were Israeli Arabs. They were from a town in the north of Israel and had Israeli ID and the domestic security services said that they were not aware of these men beforehand.”

Given the failure by both Marshall and Bateman to provide listeners with the full sequence of events, listeners would be unable to understand the context to their next topic of discussion.

Marshall: “And I would imagine tensions heightened by that decision to close the mosque complex at al Aqsa.”

Bateman: “Yeah, that’s right. As you said that is a highly, highly unusual move. There have been closures in the past for short periods of time when there have been incidents but for the police to say they’re closing it and that prayers not take place is significant. And in response, as you’ve heard, there has been much criticism from Palestinians. There have been prayers taking place outside the compound itself this afternoon. Obviously there a scene of heightened tension.”

Bateman did not clarify to listeners that those “prayers […] outside the compound” were not coincidental.

“The Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, told Maan News that he was prevented from going to site. “”We are determined to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to hold all prayers in it,” he said. He called on Palestinians to come to Jerusalem or to head to the checkpoints near Jerusalem to protest the cancellation of prayers.

Hundreds of Muslims gathered outside the walls of the Old City, behind hastily set up police cordons, to pray and protest the actions of the Israeli police.

Israeli Arabs and Palestinians spread the message using social media. Using the hashtag #Go_and_pray_at_alAqsa, they called for the faithful to come to the mosque.

The Director of the Mosque, Sheikh Ahmed Omar al-Kiswani, in a video shared on social media, said Israel was “taking advantage of what happened” at the Temple Mount “to impose a new reality on the ground.”

As we saw in part one of this post, the BBC News website was able to report that the closure of Temple Mount after the terror attack was necessary to allow the police to carry out their investigation – just as British police closed areas of London on two occasions following terror attacks there earlier this year – and not just some arbitrary move by the Israeli authorities. The fact that Tom Bateman failed to clarify that point in this report is therefore all the more remarkable and that failure was repeated later on the same day when Bateman gave another report to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘.

Following a news bulletin in which listeners were told that “two Israeli police officers have been killed in Jerusalem’s Old City by Israeli Arab gunmen who were then shot dead”, presenter Eddie Mair introduced Bateman (from 14:32 here) “live from Jerusalem”.

Bateman: “Eddie, the ancient walls of Jerusalem encircle this city’s most revered site. From where the golden Dome of the Rock rises over the Old City’s narrow streets is the third holiest mosque in Islam; al Aqsa. For Jews the site is the abode of God’s presence where the first and second Temples once stood. The Old City, heavily guarded, is also one of the most acute flash points in this decades-old conflict and it was not long after dawn that police say three men armed with an automatic rifle, a pistol and a knife attacked Israeli police officers at one of the gates to the site.

Mobile phone footage showed a rapid exchange of fire as one of the assailants was chased within the compound before falling to the ground. The attack killed two Israeli police officers. They were Druze – a minority Arab religion in Israel –whilst officials said the attackers were Arab Israeli citizens from a town in the north of the country and were not known to the security services. Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan spoke from the scene.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of the statements from Erdan aired in Bateman’s earlier report – and with it the sole mention of the word terrorists in this item too.

“The terrorists they used firearms inside the Temple Mount violating, violating the holiness of this important place. I say and repeat again and again: Israel has kept the status quo on Temple Mount. We always respected the freedom of worship to everyone – Muslims, Jews, Christians.”

As we see, Radio 4 listeners were also not provided with a full picture of the sequence of events including the fact that the terrorists were on Temple Mount – apparently with their weapons – before they launched their attack and that they returned there afterwards. Like World Service audiences, listeners to Radio 4 would therefore be unable to appreciate the context to the next part of Bateman’s report.

Bateman: “After the shooting police began a search of the site and sealed it off. Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque are usually attended by thousands of Muslims but the closure prevented that: a highly unusual decision by the Israeli authorities. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the preacher at the mosque, was defiant saying no force on earth could prevent prayers there. Instead though, they took place outside the compound amid signs of growing tension and angry scuffles at another of the Old City’s gates. Adnan Husseini – the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem – criticised the closure.”

Listeners were not told of Husseini’s record of inflammatory statements before they heard his comments.

Husseini: “This is the first time that they announce the prayer will not take place; the Friday prayer. And this has never happened before and I think this is very dangerous. They have to use their mind, you know, when they declare such things. This moment is very sensitive moment. We have to go to pray.”

Erasing all pre-1967 Jerusalem history in typical BBC fashion, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “The Old City is within East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war – a move not recognized by the international community. Israel’s government said today’s incident crossed red lines. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas – under pressure in the past from Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn such attacks – did just that during a phone call between the pair but also said that closing down the area could have repercussions. Since the autumn of 2015 there have been a wave of attacks involving knives, guns and car rammings which had decreased in frequency but had not stopped. Today’s shootings in Jerusalem have already led to concerns about a fresh escalation in tensions.”

It is of course highly doubtful that the BBC would find it appropriate to provide a platform to people in a European country who used veiled threats to demand access to the scene of a terror attack just hours after it had taken place and while the police were still carrying out investigations. However, as we see in these two reports, for Tom Bateman the focus of this story is exactly those people rather than the incident itself, which he fails to explain in a manner which would enable audiences to understand why such the highly unusual action of closing Temple Mount had to be taken.

Related Articles:

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BBC coverage of the Jerusalem terror attack – part one: BBC News website

 

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Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

The June 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ included an item relating to the ongoing diplomatic rift between Qatar and various other Arab and Muslim majority states.

Presenter Eddie Mair introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “Qatar in the Middle East is getting the cold shoulder from many of its neighbours. They accuse Qatar of meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and of supporting terrorism. Saudi Arabia has demanded that Qatar stop supporting Hamas, which controls Gaza – all of which might have quite an effect on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In the past five years Qatar has spent the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pounds building homes, a school, a hospital and main roads in Gaza. Reporting for ‘PM’; our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell now.”

One would of course expect that a report on Qatari funding of Hamas – especially within the framework of the current row between Qatar and other countries – would include clarification of Hamas’ designation as a terror organisation by the EU, the US and numerous additional countries. However, while that obviously relevant context was completely absent from this report by Yolande Knell, listeners did get to hear about the colour scheme at one of Qatar’s building projects.

Knell: “Work is still underway at Sheikh Hamad City; built with money Qatar and named after the country’s former ruler. It’s become one of the best new addresses in Gaza. The apartment blocks here are an attractive peach colour. On the grass there are children playing. They’re from some of the poorer Palestinian families who’ve already moved in here. There’s a new mosque and a new school. But residents like Baha Shalabi [phonetic] are fearful about the crisis between Qatar and other Gulf States.”

Shalabi [voiceover]: “The problems between Saudi Arabia and Qatar will affect us a lot, of course. Everything’s going to stop: the money, the support, the infrastructure. The buildings you see; all of this is going to stop. We’re going to be the victims.”

Knell: “All across this Palestinian territory you can see the effects of Qatari cash. I’m at the edge of a brand new road where cars are whizzing along the coast. Doha’s pledged well over a billion dollars to fix Gaza and while most of its help is humanitarian, it also buoys up Hamas – the Islamist group that seized control here ten years ago.”

After that tepid portrayal of the violent and bloody coup in which Hamas ousted the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people from the Gaza Strip, Knell went on, failing to tell listeners that Qatar is one of the few countries to have recognised and supported Hamas’ regime in Gaza over that of the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “Until now, the Emir of Qatar is the only head of state to have visited Gaza while Hamas has been in charge. It was a show of regional influence. But today Qatar stands accused of destabilising the Middle East by backing religious extremists – claims it denies. It’s been told to break off ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The usually fiery Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar is cautious in his response.”

The terror organisation then got a BBC stage for amplification of its unchallenged messaging.

Zahar [voiceover]: “Qatar was supporting the Palestinian people. The houses that were built are not for Hamas. The streets that were asphalted are not for Hamas. And the schools and hospitals, they’re also for the Palestinian people. All the efforts to hitch Hamas to Qatar are wrong and void.”

Making no effort to clarify to audiences that funding provided by Qatar has also reportedly been diverted to terrorist purposes such as the reconstruction of cross-border attack tunnels or that Qatar pledged funding for Hamas employees, Knell went on with a whitewashed portrayal of Qatar’s recent expulsion of some Hamas officials:

Knell: “Back in Sheikh Hamad City, outside the large Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Mosque, there’ve been rallies in support of Qatar. Meanwhile, some top Hamas figures living in exile in Doha have moved away to ease pressure on their patron.

Knell failed to inform listeners that Hamas operatives based in Qatar have directed terror plots against Israel in the past. She went on:

Knell: “In a new policy document, Hamas tried to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood. So will the Qatari money keep flowing here? I asked Mushir Amar [phonetic] from the Islamic University in Gaza.”

Amar: “The situation is not really very clear. We heard some statements here and there from Saudi Arabia trying to reprimand Qatar for supporting Hamas and Hamas political leadership. They say that we’re not involved in any sort of inter-Arab conflict because this is really not in the best interest of Hamas and this is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people.”

Knell refrained from informing listeners that one of Saudi Arabia’s complaints is that Qatari support for Hamas undermines the Palestinian Authority. She closed her report with a superficial portrayal of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “For now, the noise of bulldozers continues at Gaza’s Qatari funded building sites, providing much-needed jobs in this broken economy. But recently, when the local power plant ran out of fuel, Doha didn’t make a donation as it has previously. Palestinians here are trying not to get drawn into a damaging dispute but already they’re feeling its effects.”

Among the public purposes set out in the BBC’s constitutional document is “[t]o provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Obviously this superficial report by Knell, with its unchallenged Hamas messaging and its failure to provide basic context and background information, does not serve that purpose.

Related Articles:

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BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza 

 

BBC’s Hugh Sykes tells R4 listeners that Jews rejected the Partition Plan

As noted here previously, on June 8th Hugh Sykes produced two reports for BBC Radio 4. The second of those reports was broadcast in the programme ‘PM‘ (from 45:16 here) and presenter Eddie Mair introduces it as follows: [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “In Israel there’s a triple anniversary this year, as our correspondent Hugh Sykes explains from Jerusalem, which itself has experienced numerous car rammings and knife attacks recently. On Radio 4’s the World at One Hugh heard from Jewish Israelis who want to end the occupation. Here’s Hugh’s report for PM.”

As was the case in that earlier report, Sykes’ portrayal of attacks against Israelis (rather than the city of Jerusalem, as Mair bizarrely claims) does not include any use of the term terror. Once more, Radio 4 listeners do not hear any background information explaining why the Six Day War happened and the 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem until 1967 is again erased from audience view.

Sykes: “Since September 2015 there’ve been 58 vehicle ramming attacks here in Israel and 177 stabbing attacks on people presumed to be Jewish, killing 50 – most of the dead; Israeli Jews. 250 of the Palestinian attackers were killed by Israeli security forces – figures from the Israeli government. And these anniversaries? It’s 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel fought against Syria, Jordan and Egypt and Israel won. 2017 is also the 50th anniversary of the occupation which ensued.”

Sykes then presents listeners with an inaccurate claim relating to the 1947 Partition Plan.

Sykes: “And 70 years ago in 1947, the UN General Assembly passed the partition resolution, recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states with economic union and an international regime for a shared Jerusalem. The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations.”

The non-binding recommendation known as UN GA resolution 181 of course limited ‘corpus separatum’ status of Jerusalem to a period of ten years, after which “the whole scheme shall be subject to examination by the Trusteeship Council in the light of experience acquired with its functioning” and “the residents the City shall be then free to express by means of a referendum their wishes as to possible modifications of regime of the City”.

The Palestinians – in the form of the Arab Higher Committee – did indeed reject the Partition Plan outright – but so did the Arab states; unmentioned by Sykes. While some groups such as Etzel and Lehi expressed opposition to the Partition Plan, the organisation officially representing Jews in Palestine – the Jewish Agency – both lobbied for and accepted it. Sykes’ attempt to portray the plan as having been rejected by both Arabs and Jews is egregiously inaccurate, although unfortunately not unprecedented in BBC content.

Sykes then goes on:

Sykes: “Civil war broke out between Jews and Palestinians, the State of Israel was declared in 1948 immediately followed by the first Arab-Israeli war which Israel won. Many Israelis are celebrating this year as the 50th anniversary of salvation because they won the Six Day War. Palestinians are marking 50 years of occupation – a word that many Israeli Jews reject. Here are two settlers voicing views that I’ve heard here many times.”

The edited and unidentified voices that listeners then hear are of a genre the BBC so often finds fit to amplify. Sykes commences by suggesting to listeners that individuals – rather than states – are ‘occupiers’.

Sykes: “Do you feel you’re an occupier?”

Woman 1: “Hmm…I don’t know that I’d use that word. I just live here. I’m not familiar with…I don’t use that word. I do not like the word occupying. I am not.”

Sykes: “You’re 20 kilometers inside the West Bank; inside what most of the world describes as illegally occupied Palestinian territory.”

Woman 1: “Let’s just say I don’t agree with the world. Just because the whole world thinks something is right doesn’t make it right.”

Woman 2: “The solution between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is in the Bible. The land of Israel was promised to the sons of Jacob and Israel and this is why the name of the state is Israel and not Palestine. Palestine is Philistines. The Philistines have disappeared from the map of the world. In Israel, Israel is the boss.”

Having inserted the BBC’s standard portrayal of ‘international law’ (which endorses one narrative concerning what is actually an unresolved dispute), Sykes goes on to present a conversation with a shopkeeper in Jerusalem that is remarkable for his own prompting and numerous closed questions.

Sykes: “A conversation in a book shop in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is annexed and governed by Israel and there are now more than half a million Israeli settlers living in what international law regards as the occupied West Bank, though Israel disputes that. The bookshop owner is Imad Muna [phonetic].

Muna: “I was born in 1964 so on 1967 I was 3 years old. So all my life was under occupation. So I don’t know what is the difference between occupation and freedom.”

Sykes: “Do you think the occupation is permanent now?”

Muna: “I think what they call it the national project – the Palestinian national project – I think it’s fall down.”

Sykes: “It’s finished?”

Muna: “I think it’s fini…almost. Some of the people they say that it’s OK to be under occupation, under the Israeli law. So we are not united any more against the occupation. We are used to the occupation, which is dangerous. But this is our situation.”

Sykes: “Dangerous to accept it?”

Muna: “Dangerous to accept because then it will be normal; part of life.”

Sykes: “So if occupation goes on forever, which you’re suggesting, does something happen to stop it or does it just go on and on?”

Muna: “Nothing to stop it because also we are weak. As a Palestinian we are weak. We cannot do anything. The Palestinians – most of them – they’re against fighting and stabbing and bombing. Against that. “

Failing to inform listeners of the relevant issue of Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and its quotidian incitement and glorification of terrorism, Sykes goes on:

Sykes: “Do you blame your parents’ generation for rejecting the United Nations resolution which offered partition between Jews and Palestine?”

Muna: “Yes.”

Sykes: “A two-state solution in 1947 – should that have happened?”

Muna: “Yes. Yes – completely right.”

Sykes: “Do you also blame the violent Palestinians – mostly of Hamas but also of Islamic Jihad and also Fatah – for mounting that sustained suicide bombing campaign in which more than 800 people in Israel were murdered? Did that give Israel permission to remain occupiers forever?”

Muna: “It was wrong. The wall, the isolation – all the things happen because of the bombing that we did.”

Sykes: “So violent Palestinian organisations like Hamas wounded Palestinians?”

Muna:”That’s right – exactly, exactly. Every time we do it it’s come back to us.”

Sykes: “Imad Muna. In 2011 the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that the 1947 Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan had been a mistake and if the occupation does never end,  intense Palestinian anger may return, like that expressed by a farmer I met during the second Intifada – uprising – 15 years ago.”

Listeners then hear a voiceover of an unidentified man saying:

“Three days ago the Israelis came with their bulldozers. They were uprooting olive trees and beans which we used to plant in this area. This is like cancer in the Palestinian body.”

Sykes: “A farmer in the West Bank shortly before the so-called security barrier was erected across his land.”

If a section of the anti-terrorist fence really was erected on the man’s land, he would of course have received compensation but Sykes does not trouble his listeners with such details. He closes:

Sykes: “And this year’s third Israel anniversary? It’s a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration. In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild in which he declared ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment of a national home for Jewish people’.”

Sykes of course misquotes that part of the short text which actually reads:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” [emphasis added]

He continues:

“His letter goes on ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’.”

With the suggestion obviously being that those rights have been prejudiced, the item closes there:

Eddie Mair: “Hugh Sykes reporting.”

Yet again we see in this item promotion of the politicised and inaccurate narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is rooted entirely in the outcome of the Six Day War – in particular ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’. Sykes’ inaccurate portrayal of Jewish acceptance of the Partition Plan obviously needs rapid and prominent correction and one can only hope that misrepresentation does not signal a taste of things to come when that anniversary is marked later this year.

Related Articles:

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The BBC and the 1947 Partition Plan

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

 

‘Analysis’ from BBC R4: Hizballah doesn’t threaten Israeli civilians

Even as the US Secretary of State was still speaking on the topic of the two-state solution on December 28th, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ was already offering coverage of that long speech by John Kerry.pm-28-12

Included in that coverage was analysis (from 05:07 here) from Ian Bremmer of ‘Eurasia Group’ – parts of which might come as something of a surprise to anyone who has been following the news from Israel in recent years – including the thousands of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip and the terror attacks against Israelis which have taken over forty lives and wounded hundreds in the past 15 months.

“Well, in the long-term Kerry’s certainly correct that an imposed one-state solution is no way to build peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But certainly in the short and medium term – and this has been going on for more than just the Obama administrations – the amount of stability that the Israelis presently enjoy with a one-state solution – even if it’s not final – is perfectly fine for them. I mean, even the Israeli Left no longer talks much about a two-state solution because there’s just not much of a Palestinian threat against Israelis these days. They don’t need Palestinian labour. With American defence support Hizballah can’t launch missiles into Israel to threaten Israeli civilians and the extraordinary surveillance – both human surveillance as well as cyber surveillance – the Israelis can do on would-be terrorists in and outside their country has helped to ensure that Israeli security is tantamount [sic]. So I mean the reality is this just isn’t a top priority for many people…”

Indeed, Israel has over the last decade developed missile defence systems that have significantly reduced casualties and damage during conflicts such as that of summer 2014. Nevertheless, those systems are not 100% effective and – contrary to Bremmer’s assertion – do not completely eliminate the threat to Israeli civilians.

“The weaponry Hezbollah has acquired in recent years also indicates that it is still adhering to the “rocket component” of its guerrilla doctrine. Its arsenal has grown in the decade since the Second Lebanon War to include 150,000 rockets. The majority are Katyushas, which are inaccurate and relatively ineffective. However, the emphasis on Katyushas is Hezbollah’s answer to the sophisticated multi-layer missile defense system Israel began developing in 2007, and which is now almost fully operational.

Lacking missiles advanced enough to bypass that system, Hezbollah likely intends to overwhelm it by sheer force of numbers. With Hezbollah expected to fire a daily average of 1,500 rockets in the next war, the cost of relying exclusively on missile interceptors would be prohibitive for Israel. Moreover, given the number of Hezbollah’s rockets, Israel’s defensive systems will not be able to intercept them all. Hundreds will likely strike the north, causing a similar disruption to civilian life and the economy as in the 2006 war.” 

The BBC itself reported earlier this year that:

“Ten years ago, it was in the north of the country that Israel was hit but a new war is expected to be more devastating – on both sides.

There is also concern that despite Israel’s air defence systems such as Iron Dome, the military won’t be capable of intercepting all of the missiles that come Israel’s way.

“More missiles and rockets will hit the centre of Israel, the big cities of Israel,” says Gen Amidror.”

Apparently in this case, the BBC’s need to fill air-time during a breaking story got the better of its obligation to provide its domestic audiences with information which will “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

BBC’s Knell whitewashes terror in re-run of Palestinian teacher story

When the BBC reported back in March on a prize-winning Palestinian teacher, it managed to omit some relevant information from the story. Over four months later, the BBC chose to return to that topic with a report from the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which was aired (from 41:07 here) on the July 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ and this time audiences were told – albeit very briefly and belatedly – about the teachers’ strike which Knell and her colleagues had previously ignored.PM 29 7

“Back in March there were angry scenes during a four-week walk-out over pay. Monthly salaries here are just 430 to 600 dollars; that’s less than many other public workers. Schools are badly under-resourced.”

Predictably, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that the Palestinian Authority’s budgetary priorities do include spending millions of dollars a year on monthly stipends for convicted terrorists, some of whom receive more than the teachers’ salaries she quotes.

Knell’s account of the ceremony at which Hanan al Hroub received her award was as follows:

“Ecstatic, she took to the stage at the ceremony in Dubai and lifted the trophy for herself and all Palestinians.”

[recording] “I did it! I won! Falastin [Palestine] won!”

As in the previous BBC report, no mention was made of this:teacher prize story

“Associated Press staff in Dubai where the award ceremony took place reported that:

“As al-Hroub accepted her award, Palestinians in the audience waved their country’s flag and some chanted, fists pumping in the air, “With our souls, our blood, we sacrifice for you Palestine.””

Knell went on to give listeners a sanitised account of the surge in terror attacks which commenced last autumn, erasing all Palestinian responsibility from the picture.

“It was a victory that gave Palestinians hope at a miserable time. Since October last year violence here has flared. [recording of riot] These were recent clashes with Israeli soldiers at the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah. This is a tough environment to grow up in.”

Listeners were then told that:

“Hanan herself comes from this Bethlehem refugee camp. She decided to go into teaching after her family was caught up in a shooting. Her daughters were left traumatised and didn’t get the extra help they needed at school. Now Hanan specialises in working with troubled children. Her classroom is a peaceful place where teamwork, trust and respect are rewarded.”

Although it is not clear why the BBC found it necessary to revisit this story at this time, it is obvious that Yolande Knell found nothing new to add. That is particularly remarkable given that after the peace-loving teacher made the headlines in March, details emerged of her husband’s involvement in terrorism.

“A Palestinian teacher who won a $1 million prize for teaching nonviolence will keep her award even though her husband participated in a terror attack that killed six Israelis.

Hanan al-Hroub received the UK-based Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize at a ceremony in Dubai earlier this month for a curriculum she called “No to Violence.”

Her husband, Omar, served 10 years in an Israeli prison after being convicted as an accomplice in a deadly 1980 bombing attack in Hebron in which the victims were walking home from Friday night Sabbath prayers, The Associated Press reported. Omar al-Hroub was a chemist who provided chemicals needed for making the bombs, the AP reported.”

Since the BBC last reported on this story in March, the terror attack in which the man who became its protagonist’s husband participated has been glorified by Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party on Facebook and in an official Palestinian Authority newspaper.

That, however, is a story which BBC audiences will never hear.

Related Articles:

Tortuous headlines for BBC report on Palestinian teacher’s prize

Will Guardian amend ‘feel-good’ Palestinian teacher story to note husband’s terror attack?  UK Media Watch

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ resuscitates a two month-old story

Back in March, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ produced a report about a woman who is suing the El Al airline after having been asked to move to a different seat.

At the time, presenter Razia Iqbal chose to frame the story as being indicative of negative trends in Israeli society as a whole but failed to provide any factual evidence to support her anecdotal assertion.

“Noa, I wonder if you would care to comment on what you think has shifted in Israeli culture and society that has made this sort of encounter that Renee has had more frequent.”

“Renee, when you listen to Noa put this into the context of this having been a shift that’s taken place over the last 15 to 20 years […] what are your reflections on that cultural shift that’s taken place?”

In April the BBC World Service promoted on social media a section from the radio programme ‘Newsday’ ostensibly relating to a story from Switzerland about male Muslim pupils refusing to shake hands with female teachers. However, almost half that promoted item was devoted to the same El Al story.PM R4 13 5

On May 13th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ included an item (from 44:40 here) about the same story. Following an interview with the woman suing El Al, presenter Eddie Mair told listeners in the UK:

“If you have experience in the same area, you know our e-mail address.”

Considering that this is a two month-old story about an Israeli woman suing an Israeli airline in an Israeli court, the editorial decisions behind BBC’s repeated promotion of it – particularly on a domestic radio station – are decidedly curious.

BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

It is not difficult to discern when the BBC is running a campaign rather than merely reporting a story. One indication is the promotion of an item on multiple platforms and such was the case on February 3rd when listeners to the 6 am news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 were told that:

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. Migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence. Israel says they are a threat to security but strongly denies acting illegally.”

The news bulletin on the same station one hour later – at 7 am – further expanded the topic.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. There are about 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Kathy Harcombe has more details.

KH: The Israeli government calls them infiltrators who pose a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state. But the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence and persecution. Israel doesn’t forcibly deport them but has introduced a policy that gives the choice to leave for a third country in Africa or be jailed indefinitely. Those third countries, the BBC has been told, are Rwanda and Uganda. Lawyers taking the Israeli government to the Supreme Court argue that increasingly tough measures against the migrants amount to a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Israel however says that it has no doubt that it is acting legally. Rwanda has never confirmed the deal and the Ugandan government has denied that any such agreement exists. It’s also told the BBC it’s now investigating how migrants who claim to have been sent from Israel are entering the country.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show on the same day also heard similar promotion of that story in the 8 am news bulletin.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. It’s alleged the migrants are made to choose between going to prison indefinitely and being sent away. Israel’s government says it’s acting legally.”

All that, however, was only the aperitif. Throughout the day, reports from BBC Africa’s Kathy Harcombe were to be found on a variety of BBC platforms.Migrants story Newsday

BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ broadcast an audio report which was also promoted separately on social media under the inaccurate and misleading title “Israel accused of illegally deporting Africans“. Harcombe’s expertise in her subject matter was demonstrated in her opening sentence:

“Deep in the Negev desert in Israel – hours away from the capital Tel Aviv – is the Holot detention centre.” [emphasis added]

Using very questionable wording with religious associations, the BBC News website promoted a written article by Harcombe headlined “Israel’s unwanted African migrants” on several of its pages including the Magazine, Middle East and Africa pages.

migrants stroy on ME pge

Filmed reports shown on BBC News television programmes were also promoted on the website under the headlines “Israel ‘sending away African migrants’” and “Life in Israel camp is a ‘waste of time’“.migrants story filmed 1

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme heard another audio report  – from 38:59 here – which also included an inaccurate reference to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was introduced by Eddie Mair as follows:

“BBC Africa has gathered evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law.”

All of the above news bulletins and reports present the story as though it were a BBC scoop, with repeated use of the claim that “the BBC has gathered evidence” or “found evidence”.

In fact, there is nothing new or “secretive” about this story at all: it has been in the public domain for nearly two years and related court cases initiated by a coalition of NGOs (which includes ACRI, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights)  have been going on since April 2015. Lawyer Anat Ben Dor, who appears in most of Harcombe’s pieces, has provided legal representation for that coalition of NGOs in these court cases but that fact and the name of the organization she represents is not adequately communicated to BBC audiences in some of the reports.

Harcombe steers audiences towards the mistaken belief that the migrants in Israel are without exception refugees with commentary such as this from her audio and filmed reports:

“The people here say that they came to Israel to seek refuge from conflict or persecution. But the Israeli government has granted asylum to fewer than 1%.”

She does not clarify what that percentage actually means (1% of the total number of migrants? 1% of those requesting asylum?) and she does not inform audiences that in fact, whilst almost 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have illegally entered Israel, only about 1,800 of them had requested asylum as of January 2014. 67% of the mostly younger male migrants who entered Israel via Egypt come from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan and – as Harcombe should know because the BBC has reported the story – the status of migrants from Eritrea has also come under discussion in Europe – including in the UK.

Harcombe’s headline-grabbing claims of “breach of international law” are based on her assertion that:

“By failing to ensure the safety of its unwanted African migrants, some legal experts say Israel is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

A decision from Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 (paragraph 4) provides information concerning Israeli efforts to ensure the welfare of those leaving Israel for a third country, including the inspection and confirmation of implementation of agreements with that country by envoys of the Israeli government (including meetings with migrants) and the appointment of a personal contact in Israel’s Population and Immigration Bureau for each person moving to a third country in order to facilitate communication if problems arise.migrants story written

BBC audiences are not told how Harcombe managed to locate and contact the “two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane” whose stories form the basis of the allegations in these reports and the backbone for the claim of a scoop.

However, it is not unreasonable to assume that contact with those two men may have been facilitated by the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of this story. Last year a representative of one of those organisations – Sigal Rozen who is interviewed in Harcombe’s written article – produced a report that includes remarkably similar stories which were collected by Harcombe’s other interviewee, lawyer Anat Ben Dor. The background to the BBC’s repeated claims that it has “found evidence” or “gathered evidence” therefore requires clarification.  

Clearly, this BBC ‘scoop’ is in fact a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign being run by a coalition of political NGOs.  That in itself does not come as much of a surprise: the BBC has a record of reporting on the issue of African migrants in Israel which includes the regurgitation of a report from Human Rights Watch, the amplification of allegations of racism from a very dubious anti-Israel campaigner and one-sided reporting which has serially failed to present the viewpoint of the people of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where the majority of the migrants live.

However, the BBC’s funding public has the right to know that such an energetically promoted multi-platform ‘scoop’ is in fact part of a political campaign. Audiences also have the right to expect transparency concerning any third-party involvement in locating and recruiting interviewees and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality dictate that the political agendas of the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of these multiple reports should have been made known to viewers, readers and listeners. 

 

Context-free amplification of BDS in BBC reports on London Mayor’s remarks

As our colleague Adam Levick noted over at UK Media Watch, the Guardian’s coverage of the Mayor of London’s recent visit to Israel and the PA controlled areas did not inform readers of the fact that a journalist covering Boris Johnson’s trip on behalf of the Jewish Chronicle was banned from attending an event in Ramallah because she is Israeli.

“Stephen Pollard, editor of the JC, said: “This is the reality of BDS. Forget the lies about it targeting institutions rather than people. As this outrageous ban on a journalist for no reason other than her nationality shows, it is about singling out individual Israelis and telling them that they are banned as people.””

So did the BBC do any better than the Guardian? Whilst the corporation covered the subject of the cancellation of some of the Mayor’s scheduled programme extensively on a variety of platforms, the banning of a fellow journalist simply because of her nationality was obviously not considered newsworthy by the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism”.

All the BBC’s reports did, however, highlight Boris Johnson’s previously made remarks concerning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. But – as is inevitably the case in BBC reporting on the issue of BDS – no effort was made to inform BBC audiences of the underlying agenda of that campaign.Boris filmed

In a filmed report for BBC television news programmes which was also posted on the BBC News website on November 11th under the title “Boris Johnson forced to cut short West Bank visit“, Karl Mercer told audiences that:

“What he said to them [Israeli leaders] over the movement that wants to ban Israeli products and maybe ban Israeli services is that he completely disagrees with any boycott. […]

The Mayor’s comments have been seen as controversial. […] They may be comments he’s going to regret now. […] He flies back to London tomorrow having learnt – you might think – a valuable lesson in international diplomacy.”

The BBC News website also produced a written article on the subject under the title “Boris Johnson cancels West Bank events amid Israeli boycott row” in which readers were told that:

“Advocates of a boycott, which has been in place by some organisations in recent years, claims it exerts pressure on the Israeli government, particularly in relation to the building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, which have been condemned by the UN.”Boris written

The article makes no mention of the fact that the BDS campaign’s ultimate agenda is to bring about Israel’s demise by means of delegitimisation and it even goes on to amplify misleading claims from the vociferously anti-Israel – and not infrequently antisemitic – group known as the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Also on November 11th BBC Radio 4 audiences heard a report on the same topic from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly on the ‘PM’ programme.

“These are remarks that the Mayor came up with when he was discussing his views on calls in the outside world for a boycott of Israel and of course they’re calls that you hear all the time in both the academic and the economic spheres.”

Yet again none of the context vital for audience understanding of the BDS campaign’s agenda was supplied and so BBC audiences were not only deliberately deprived of information which would contribute to their understanding of the issue in general, but also of background vital for the formation of informed opinions concerning the Mayor of London’s remarks.

Kevin Connolly later told Radio 4 listeners:

“You know, official visitors here; foreign embassies, international news organisations, us – everyone weighs their words on these matters with infinite, exquisite care – or at least we try to – because it is just so easy to give offence to one side or the other….”

That a publicly funded corporation legally charged with enhancing audience understanding of international issues is apparently more concerned about ‘giving offence’ than fully informing audiences of the real background to this story (and the many previous ones in which it has similarly failed to provide crucial context) should be remarkable. Sadly, the BBC’s long history of whitewashing and mainstreaming the BDS campaign means that is no longer the case.  

BBC R4 discovers ‘the evolution of the kibbutz’ – a decade and a half late

One can get a good glimpse of the kind of received ideas about Israel prevalent in BBC corridors from presenter Eddie Mair’s introduction to an item (available from 40:37 here) which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme on September 29th.

“The word ‘kibbutz’ might conjure images of utopian Israeli farming communities based on socialist principles and communal ownership, idealistic young volunteers from overseas. But a kibbutz isn’t that simple anymore; many have diversified into industry. From Israel: Hugh Sykes on the evolution of the kibbutz.”

Of course in contrast to the impression given by Mair, there is actually no connection whatsoever between the fact that most kibbutzim run some sort of industrial enterprise and the reforms which took place within the kibbutz movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kibbutzim have been engaged in both agriculture and industry for decades – as the fact that the Kibbutz Industries Association was established over half a century ago indicates.

“The Kibbutz Industries Association, which was established in 1962, is the umbrella organization representing more than 250 industrial enterprises in kibbutzim, collective moshavim and regional enterprises, which are located across the country, mostly in the peripheral areas.”

Reporting from Kibbutz Gadot – where the plastics factory presented as evidence for this ‘new’ industrialisation of kibbutzim has in fact been in existence for thirty years – Hugh Sykes promotes the equally inaccurate notion that the running of kibbutzim as a business is an innovation.

Kibbutz Gadot

Kibbutz Gadot

“The crops [are] chosen according to commercial demand. Gadot, like most kibbutzim nowadays, is a business.”

“…he didn’t expect to end up working for a profit-seeking commercial business.”

“So kibbutzim have mutated into co-operative capitalist businesses…”

Of course kibbutzim always chose their crops “according to commercial demand” (what farmer does not?) and the communally owned branches of agriculture, industry or tourism were always run as profit-seeking business operations which traded with the outside capitalist world – because that was how the communities managed to support themselves.

There is plenty of journalistic material in the story of how the majority of kibbutzim (around 25% still function according to the original kibbutz model) adapted themselves to the economic and social circumstances which endangered their existence in the 1990s. That story, however, does not include promotion of the inaccurate notion that kibbutzim have recently discovered industry and become businesses.

There is also an interesting story to be told about why, when economic crisis came along, those “utopian” socialist principles touted by Eddie Mair in his introduction were ultimately found to fall short. Given recent political developments in the UK, that is a story which might have interested listeners to Radio 4’s early evening news and current affairs show – but one which received ideas similar those underpinning the introduction to this report apparently did not permit telling. 

 

Yolande Knell passes up chance to mend previous BBC stereotyping

The August 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ – presented by Eddie Mair – included an item (from 36:40 here) by Yolande Knell of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau.

Mair’s introduction includes the simplistic description of a village located in Area B according to the terms of the Oslo Accords as being “in the occupied West Bank”:PM hilltop youth

“Last month an arson attack in the occupied West Bank killed a Palestinian baby and his father. It brought wider attention to a small group of young Jewish settlers who in the past conducted acts of vandalism but now advocate violence against Muslims and Christians and try to undermine the Israeli state. Yolande Knell reports.”

Neither Mair nor Knell bothered to clarify to listeners that to date no-one has been charged with the arson attack in Duma and Knell opened with some clear signposting for audiences. 

Knell: “Back at the scene of a shocking attack, Mohammed Dawabshe shows me the blackened interior of his cousin’s tiny house in Duma, south of Nablus.  Last month it was set on fire at night. Eighteen month-old Ali burned to death and later his father died of his injuries. His mother and brother remain seriously ill in hospital. ‘Revenge’ in Hebrew was painted on a nearby wall. It’s thought Israeli settlers did this.” [emphasis added]

Knell continues, paraphrasing her guide’s words:

“‘Nothing like this ever happened in our village before. Nobody in the world would accept it’, Mohammed says. ‘These are crazy terrorists’.

She goes on:

“In the car, we’ve left Duma and we’re driving around this part of the West Bank where there are many Jewish settlements but also outposts. These are usually just collections of caravans or tents where young Israelis are living up on the hilltops. While settlements are seen as illegal under international law, these outposts are also illegal under Israeli law.”

As usual, no effort is made to inform audiences of the existence of other legal opinions on the topic.

Knell continues:

“I’ve come to meet a settler grandmother who’s an inspiration to many from the so-called hilltop youth. They believe Jewish settlement of the land is a primary obligation and some advocate violent means. To most Israelis the views of Daniella Weiss are extreme but she has her own disputes with ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious settlers.”

Were Knell to aspire to true accuracy and impartiality, she would have informed her listeners that not only do the overwhelming majority of Israelis find Weiss’ views extreme, but so too do most of those whom the BBC elects to call ‘settlers’. Listeners then hear from Daniella Weiss, although it is difficult to imagine that those few sentences would have contributed much to audience understanding of the report’s supposed subject matter.

Weiss: “It’s not the majority numbers: this is the sect which is composed of a few hundred people who thinks that Jews and Arabs cannot live hear together – no option at all. And there’s another philosophy which would not accept the idea that the current – mainly secular- government in the existing state of Israel is of any value.”

Knell goes on:

“After the Duma attack Israeli security forces and the media went into overdrive, investigating individuals they described as Jewish terrorists. Israeli Channel 10 reported a manifesto belonging to one cell. It details how to set churches and mosques ablaze and recommends burning people inside their houses. The aim is to stoke violence and weaken the Israeli state.”

Knell refrains from informing listeners that the security forces did not just ‘investigate’ but also made arrests – including the author of the ‘manifesto’ she describes and his cell. She continues:

“The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a tough approach but Palestinian officials say that if his right-wing government wants to stop settler attacks, it must stop supporting settlements on land they want for their future state.”

Knell refrains from clarifying to audiences that according to the Oslo Accords – signed willingly by representatives of the Palestinian people – the future of Area C is to be determined in final status negotiations or that the same accords include no restrictions on Israeli building in Area C.

After a short contribution from PMO spokesman Mark Regev, Knell moves on to another location.

“It’s evening time in Qusra – a Palestinian village near Duma. In recent years it’s experienced dozens of attacks by settlers from nearby outposts. They’ve lost land and trees, had property damaged and their sheep killed. This area’s under full Israeli control so there are no Palestinian police. Now local men such as Abdel al Addin [phonetic] organise night watches.”

Both a report by the Palestinian political NGO ARIJ and maps produced by the NGO B’Tselem (often quoted and promoted by the BBC) place the residential part of Qusra in Area B where civil affairs are fully the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and security is under the joint control of Israel and the PA. Some of the village’s agricultural lands apparently do lie in Area C but Knell’s claim that Qusra is “under full Israeli control” is clearly inaccurate and misleading. Coincidentally, the Wikipedia entry for Qursa wrongly places the village in Area C, apparently on the basis of an inaccurate claim in an article which appeared in the Economist four years ago.

After telling audiences more about the night watches (which are actually not as new as this report suggests), Knell closes with the following take-away message:

“With no efforts to reach a peace deal in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tensions here continue to simmer and can flare up dangerously at any time.”

This report was billed from the beginning as being about the ‘hilltop youth’ and – as Eddie Mair correctly noted in his introduction – the aim of at least some of the groups falling under that title is to “try to undermine the Israeli state”. Knell also noted that the aim of the cell whose members are now in custody is to “stoke violence and weaken the Israeli state”.

It is therefore unclear why in her closing lines Knell materially misleads audiences by suggesting that the absence of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has any influence whatsoever upon what are essentially anarchist groups which reject the authority of the Israeli government. Clearly that knee-jerk closing mantra did nothing to enhance audience understanding of this particular ‘international issue’.

This item presented an ideal opportunity for the BBC to undo some of its previous stereotyping of the half million people it calls ‘settlers’ by providing audiences with more comprehensive background information on the small groups known as ‘hilltop youth’ and explaining the differences between them and the vast majority of residents of Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation for impartiality, Yolande Knell did not rise to the occasion.

Related Articles:

The Duma terror attack and BBC consistency

BBC News misleads audiences on administrative detention

BBC ‘Dateline London’ guest: Israel kills babies as policy