Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2019

Throughout the month of February 2019, seventeen items relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which also appeared on other pages.

(dates indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One item related to security issues:

Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN (28/2/19 to 2/3/19) discussed here

Two items related to aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Hebron: One Street, Two Sides (18/2/19 to 22/2/19) discussed here and here

Hezbollah to be added to UK list of terrorist organisations (25/2 19 to 26/2/19) discussed here

One item related to Palestinian affairs:

US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza Yolande Knell (1/2/19 to 4/2/19) discussed here

Of the reports concerning Israel, three articles concerned foreign and diplomatic relations:

Warsaw summit: Why Iran is the elephant in the room Jonathan Marcus (12/2/19 to 19/2/19)

Poland PM cancels Israel trip after Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment (17/2/19 to 18/2/19) discussed here

Holocaust: Israel summit scrapped in ‘racism’ row with Poland (18/2/19 to 21/2/19)

One item related to trade:

US to buy Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (6/2/19 to 9/2/19) discussed here

One report concerned the upcoming general election:

Israel elections: Netanyahu challengers Gantz and Lapid join forces (21/2/19 to 25/2/19)

Three reports related to legal/criminal cases in Israel:

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (28/2/19 to 1/3/19) discussed here

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations? (28/2/19) discussed here

Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption Tom Bateman (20/2/19 to 28/2/19) discussed here

One item related to historical subject matter:

A 2,000-year-old biblical treasure BBC Travel (25/2/19 to 27/2/19)

One item related to science:

Israel’s Beresheet Moon mission gets under way Jonathan Amos (22/2/19 to 25/2/19)

One item concerned social issues:

Why I use a Jewish ritual bath after my period Erica Chernofsky (10/2/19 to 14/2/19)

Two additional items did not actually relate directly to Israel:

Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport Emmanuel Igunza (18/2/19 to 19/2/19) discussed here

Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich attacked during break-in (26/2/19 to 27/2/19) discussed here

As has been the case in previous years (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website continues to cover Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – January 2019

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2017 – part two

 

 

 

 

 

A two and a half minute BBC News video on a story ignored for three months

In recent weeks we have been documenting the BBC’s coverage – or lack of it – of the arson attacks on farmland, woodland and nature reserves adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

BBC News yawns at ‘Great Return March’ arson incidents

BBC News makes a story disappear by changing photo captions

BBC News finally mentions Gaza arson attacks – in just sixteen words

Comparing BBC coverage of fires in England and Israel

After three months, BBC News website notices Gaza arson attacks

As was noted on several occasions during that time:

“Since they began in April, not one BBC Jerusalem bureau reporter has found the time to travel to the border district to report on how the attacks are affecting the people living there.”

Apparently somebody at the BBC also noticed that fact because on July 12th a filmed report by Erica Chernofsky appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “How kites and balloons became militant weapons“.

Although the arson attacks had been going on for three months by the time this video appeared, they were described as a “new threat” in its synopsis. [emphasis added]

“Israelis living close to the border with Gaza face a new threat from Palestinian militants – ‘fire kites’ and balloons.”

In just over half of the two-minute twenty-seven second video viewers hear from Yael Raz Lachiani – spokesperson for Kibbutz Nahal Oz. In the rest they are told by the BBC that:

“Palestinian militants in Gaza are using some unusual weapons to attack Israel. These rudimentary weapons have caused more than 500 fires in the area. The balloons are often made from condoms because of their durability.”

At that point viewers see footage of such a balloon being filled with some sort of gas.

They are not told that the gas is helium and that it is intended to be used for medical purposes – notably MRI machines – or that last month Israel announced that it would “be more critical in assessing the requests made by hospitals and medical facilities in the Gaza Strip to ensure that the gas was being used for the correct purposes and not for arson balloons”.

The video goes on:

More than 6,000 acres of land have been destroyed by the fires.”

In fact, over a week before this video was published the figure was already over 7,400 acres.

“In Nahal Oz, some 250 acres of wheat fields have been scorched. The damage is estimated to be about $2m (£1.5m). The attacks began amid a period of violence along the border which saw about 120 Palestinians killed.”

No context concerning the pre-planned nature of that “period of violence”, the part played by terror groups in initiating, facilitating and financing it or the fact that over 80% of those “120 Palestinians” were linked to terror factions was provided to viewers, who were then told that:

“The Israeli army has developed drone technology to down the kites but it doesn’t catch them all.”

So finally, after three months of arson attacks, members of the BBC’s audience who happened to visit its website may now have seen one minute and twenty seconds of comment from one resident of the area bordering the Gaza Strip.

 

 

BBC’s Knell promotes unsupported allegations in Yemenite children story

On June 21st an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website as well as on its Middle East page under the title “Missing babies: Israel’s Yemenite children affair“. The article is introduced as follows:

“In the years after the creation of the Israeli state hundreds of babies went missing. Their parents, mostly Jewish immigrants from Yemen, were told their children had died, but suspicions linger that they were secretly given away to childless families – and newly released documents have revealed some disturbing evidence.”

It opens with the 50 year-old story of a woman who “had given birth to premature twins”.

“But when Leah’s husband visited soon afterwards, only one of the twins was there. The other, Hanna, had died, he was informed.

Leah was shocked not to be shown a body or a grave – a common feature of such stories…” [emphasis added]

A similar approach to the burial of babies who died during or shortly after childbirth was of course the norm in Britain right up to the 1960s and even later – but readers of this article are not given that context.

The historical background to the story provided by Knell is limited to a few lines.

“Leah had experienced many calamities long before the loss of her baby. As a child, she and her family had joined thousands of Jews fleeing violence in Yemen. They were robbed as they trekked from one end of the country to the other and Leah was reduced to begging for food. Then they were rescued in an airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. […]

They had arrived, malnourished and penniless, during the first Arab-Israeli war.”

Although the fact that the new immigrants from Yemen arrived in Israel in poor health after long journeys on foot to the overcrowded transit camps in Aden where disease was rife and mortality rates high is very relevant to the story she is telling, Knell does not expand further.

Despite the fact that three separate commissions of inquiry have determined that the overwhelming majority of the children died, Knell nevertheless amplifies unsupported allegations.

“Many Yemenite Jews spent periods in transit camps before being settled in homes, and stories of babies going missing began to arise immediately.

Some reports talk of children disappearing after visits to the camps by wealthy American Jews.

In other cases children appeared to be recovering in hospitals from relatively minor ailments when the parents were suddenly told they had died.

On kibbutzes [sic], where some of the Yemenites settled, it was typical for youngsters to be separated from their parents and looked after together, and here too it’s said that some children vanished.

Estimates of the number of missing children range from hundreds to thousands.

In many cases the parents believe their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to families of European Jews – occasionally Holocaust survivors who had lost their children – or Americans.”

Only in the twenty-seventh paragraph of her article does Knell tell readers that:

“Three government inquiries have looked into the Yemenite Children Affair, as it is known, since the 1960s, and all have concluded that most children died of diseases and were buried without their parents being informed or involved.”

However, that is immediately followed by a paragraph again promoting entirely unproven speculations:

“But many of the families involved suspect a cover-up and continue to believe that there was an organised operation to snatch children, involving health workers and government officials.”

Later on in the article, Knell half concedes that allegations of “an organised operation” are unproven:

“Whether there was an organised conspiracy to snatch Yemenite babies and give them away for adoption remains unproven though, according to historian Tom Segev, who has written books on Israel’s early years and served as an expert witness for one government inquiry.

He points out that hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Israel at a time of war, and in the years immediately afterwards, when the country was still reeling.

“All these people came in very, very difficult conditions and it’s a story of chaos,” Segev says.”

Nevertheless (while conveniently ignoring the fact that her own country was not exactly free of prejudice and discrimination in the 1950s) Knell uses this story to promote a clear take-away point to readers:

“One of the disturbing aspects of the Yemenite Children Affair is the way the darker-skinned immigrants appear to have been treated as second-class citizens. The founders of Israel were mostly Ashkenazi Jews, of European descent, some of whom expressed fears that Mizrahi (literally “Eastern”) Jews brought with them a backwards “Oriental” culture that might damage the new state.”

Perhaps it was the urge to promote that notion that prevented Knell from informing BBC audiences that not only “darker skinned” children were said to have disappeared at that chaotic time but also children of immigrants from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The Yemenite children affair as it is known in Hebrew is for obvious reasons a sensitive subject in Israel and one that has been under examination and discussion for decades.

However, any journalist wishing to present an objective account of that story would take care to provide an accurate portrayal of the conditions in which a new country that was still at war at the time took in hundreds of thousands of impoverished refugee immigrants from dozens of different countries and cultures despite a grave lack of facilities and resources and the absence of a common language and efficient communication. An objective journalist would of course also take into consideration that in Israel – as in other countries – societal norms on topics such as the death of a child have changed during the decades that have since passed.

Yolande Knell, however, prefers to tell a story that amplifies assertions of “a cover-up”, that promotes evidence free claims of an “organised operation to snatch children” and – unsurprisingly – touts allegations of Israeli racism.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell regurgitates Ha’aretz slurs 

 

Too little, too late: BBC website feature tries to ‘balance’ Gaza reporting

Six weeks after the ceasefire which brought the summer’s conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip to an end came into effect and three weeks after the publication of Yolande Knell’s big feature on Shuja’iya ( “Gaza: Life amid the rubble” – September 15th), the BBC News website published an article titled “Israeli families scarred by Gaza war” on October 6th.Chernofsky art

The article – which appeared on the website’s main homepage as well as on its Middle East page – is specifically introduced to readers as ‘balance’ to Knell’s earlier feature.

“While the August ceasefire which ended the 50-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has held, families on both sides of the border continue to suffer the devastating effects. Following our report on Palestinians whose neighbourhood was destroyed by Israeli bombing, here the BBC’s Erica Chernofsky looks at the impact of the war on three Israeli families.”

Although on the whole factually accurate, the article does not adequately inform readers of almost three hundred missile attacks on Israeli civilians carried out by terrorists in the Gaza Strip during June and the first week of July, meaning that readers are not aware of why Israel needed to “restore quiet to its communities” in the first place or of the efforts made by Israel to avoid a military operation.

“This past summer, millions of Israelis – from the small southern city of Sderot to the bustling coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv – lived under regular rocket attacks from the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Attacks surged after Israel launched an offensive to restore quiet to its communities.”

The section relating to Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels fails to make any mention of the numerous attacks carried out via those tunnels during the conflict, including that of July 17th which made the subsequent ground operation inevitable.

“However this operation uncovered a far sinister threat against Israeli citizens, that which Israel calls the “terror tunnels”.

These are a vast underground network with numerous shafts, many of which led from inside Gaza to Israeli communities in southern Israel.

A tunnel opening was even found near a kibbutz dining hall and kindergarten. Israelis were shocked by media reports that Hamas had planned on using such tunnels to commit a mass attack on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

Israel said it HAD destroyed 32 of these tunnels, but Yael Raz-Lachiani from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, less than 1km (0.6 miles) from the Gaza border, is still living in fear.”

Moreover, no effort is made to clarify to BBC audiences the all-important connection between the tunnels described in this article and the scenes of destruction described by Yolande Knell in her earlier feature, even though almost a third of the tunnels which Chernofsky correctly notes were decommissioned during the operation originated in the Shuja’iya neighbourhood which was the subject of Knell’s big feature and a subsequent radio report.Tunnel shafts Shujaiya

But perhaps the most notable thing about this report is its timing. Prior to Operation Protective Edge Israeli towns and villages located in the western Negev were under escalated attack by terrorists in the Gaza Strip for almost five weeks and yet – as was similarly the case in the period preceding Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 – at no point during that period did even one BBC reporter set foot in Sderot, Nahal Oz or Ashkelon.

BBC audiences did not hear the voices of fearful mothers residing in the kibbutzim just a few hundred yards from the border with Gaza or those of people still living under constant threat of missile attack even though they were uprooted from their homes during Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip nine years ago before Israel began its military operation. Had such voices been brought to BBC audiences at the appropriate time, they may have gained a more balanced view of the subsequent conflict.

So whilst Erica Chernofsky’s article is of course welcome, it can do little at this late juncture to address the inaccurate impressions created by weeks of imbalanced BBC reporting. 

 

 

BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the Easter and Pessah holidays, the BBC News website’s Middle East page included in its ‘Features & Analysis’ section a written report about Jerusalem published on April 17th.Jerusalem written

What makes Jerusalem so holy?” – by Erica Chernofsky – laudably avoids some of the more common errors made by many a foreign journalist by correctly pointing out the 1949 ceasefire (or armistice) line and by accurately depicting the Western Wall.

“The Jewish Quarter is home to the Kotel, or the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood.

Inside the temple was the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site in Judaism.

Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Today, the Western Wall is the closest place Jews can pray to the Holy of Holies.”

However, the article also states that:

“The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four and contains the shrine of the Dome of Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on a plateau known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.”

Jerusalem written 2

The Temple Mount or Haram al Sharif – location of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque – is of course a separate area and it is not located within the Muslim quarter any more than it is situated in the adjacent Jewish quarter, although both those quarters adjoin parts of its walls.   

 

Accuracy and impartiality failures in BBC report on Jerusalem elections

On October 20th we noted here that the BBC has failed to report on the intimidation of potential candidates and voters in the upcoming Jerusalem municipal elections by Palestinian political groups.

On October 21st a feature on the subject of the Jerusalem municipal elections titled “Jerusalem: Communities up-close” by Erica Chernofsky appeared on the BBC News website’s homepage and on its Middle East page.

hp Jerusalem

ME pge Jerusalem

The article opens:

“Jerusalemites are preparing to cast their vote – or abstain in protest – in municipal elections. The city is home to the world’s major religions and a host of social, political and economic issues. Here, the BBC’s Erica Chernofsky looks at some of Jerusalem’s diverse communities and the matters which concern them.”

Moving quickly on from Chernofsky’s poetic descriptions of the city, the article gives an early presentation of the standard BBC mantras:

“Despite its charm, Jerusalem is also a source of bitter disputes. It is a divided city, part Arab, part Jewish, and its ownership is still fought over, as ever.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim it as the capital of their nations. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it, but the international community does not recognise this sovereignty.”

As ever, the BBC presents history as beginning in June 1967, with no proper background provided either about the 19-year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem which divided the city for the first and last time in its history, the expulsion of Jews from neighbourhoods now described as “Arab”, or the background to the Six Day War itself.

Equally predictable is the BBC’s failure to inform audiences that the original PLO Charter of 1964 specifically renounced any territorial claims to areas occupied by Jordan, or that the issue of Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state only surfaced in November 1988 in the PLO’s unilateral Declaration of Independenceor that the Palestinian Authority’s ratification of the law it passed declaring Jerusalem as its capital only took place as recently as October 2002. Likewise, the BBC neglects to inform its audiences of the existence of legal opinions contradicting those held by a supposedly homogeneous “international community”.

In the section of the article supposedly representing the views of the Arab population of Jerusalem, Chernofsky writes:

“There is another sector of Jerusalem society battling to have its voice heard, but most of its population won’t even be voting.

The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens and therefore cannot vote in national elections.”

This misleading claim clearly contravenes BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by concealing both the fact that Arab Jerusalemites have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship if they wish to do so and that increasing numbers of them have already exercised that right. 

The article goes on:

“But they are officially residents of the city, and as such have the right to vote in local elections.

However, most of them will be boycotting the polls out of protest against the Israeli occupation and what they say is discrimination against their community by local government.”

No mention is made of the long-standing campaign of intimidation of potential candidates and voters by the PLO, Hamas and other Palestinian political organisations. 

Chernofsky continues:

“Khaled Saheb owns a small denim shop in the Old City souk just inside Damascus Gate.

He used to be a microbiologist, but took over his family’s business after his father died.

He complains that living conditions are much worse on the eastern side of the city than on the western, mostly Jewish, side, and longs for a day when the Palestinians will be able to govern themselves in a state of their own.”

Chernofsky’s presentation of the views of her interviewee as representative of those of Jerusalem’s Arab population is of course highly misleading and conceals the fact that according to a 2011 poll, that population holds a variety of opinions which are by no means as uniform as the BBC suggests. 

“According to face-to-face surveys conducted according to the highest international standards, more Palestinians in east Jerusalem would prefer to become citizens of Israel rather than citizens of a new Palestinian state. In addition, 40 percent said they would probably or definitely move in order to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule.

SONY DSC

Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem

44 percent of the Palestinians in Jerusalem say they are very, or at least somewhat, satisfied with their standard of living. This is a very high percentage compared to other populations in the Arab world. Only about 30 percent sympathize with either Fatah or Hamas or with the Israeli Arab Islamic movement. Politics is not a major preoccupation.

Three-quarters of east Jerusalem Arabs are at least a little concerned, and more than half are more than a little concerned, that they would lose their ability to write and speak freely if they became citizens of a Palestinian state rather than remaining under Israeli control.”

The omission of any mention of interference in the democratic process by foreign organisations through harassment and intimidation of sections of the Jerusalem electorate, along with the failure to make any mention of the broad range of opinions to be found among Jerusalem’s Arab population, amply indicates that this shallow and stereotypical BBC article is prompted by political motivations rather than journalistic ones, thus clearly breaching BBC editorial guidelines on both impartiality and accuracy.

 

Three simultaneous BBC reports on same subject

Visitors to the Middle East section of the BBC News website on April 11th/12th 2013 may perhaps have been surprised to discover that one of the most important stories going on in the region – at least according to the amount of coverage allocated by the BBC – was one concerning ‘Women of the Wall’.

MEHP WoW

Particularly strange is the fact that two of those reports – one written and one filmed – relate to the April 11th arrest of five members of ‘Women of the Wall’: an event which was already over around the time that these BBC reports appeared, as a Jerusalem judge had ordered their release after a few hours. Neither of those reports makes that fact clear. The third article, written by Erica Chernofsky, also mentions the women’s arrest on April 11th, and it too fails to mention their release, even though it was published several hours after that event. 

Whatever one’s personal view of the 25-year-old campaign by members of ‘Women of the Wall’, it is difficult to understand how the BBC can justify running three remarkably similar reports on the subject simultaneously.