Sunday morning political propaganda on BBC Radio Scotland

BBC Radio Scotland has a programme called “Sunday Morning with…” which is described as providing listeners with “Two hours of music and stimulating conversation from a faith and ethical perspective”.

The August 11th edition of that programme included an item billed in its synopsis thus:

“Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson live in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. They’re both writers and campaign for Palestinian civil and political rights. They talk to Sally about their writing and their life together.”

The hook for that item was the couple’s participation in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with links to a site selling tickets provided on the programme’s webpage and those links promoted by presenter Sally Magnusson at the end of the item.

However what listeners mostly heard throughout the twelve-minute item (from 1:08:30 here) was political propaganda which went totally unchallenged by the presenter even though – as the synopsis and her introduction showed – the BBC is well aware of the fact that both interviewees are political campaigners.

Although the BBC Academy’s style guide on Israel and the Palestinians clearly states that “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today” and “you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” because “it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”, listeners heard both Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson repeatedly refer to “Palestine” with no comment from Magnusson.

“You know in Palestine we don’t get rain from April until November…”

“Well we met in Palestine…”

“I came to Palestine…”

Having asked Johnson about what she termed their “intifada wedding” – because it took place in 1988 – Magnusson went on:

Magnusson: “And just remind us; the, you know, the intifada – of which there have been more than one of course – tell us…tell us about…about that.”

Unsurprisingly, listeners heard whitewashed and romanticised accounts of those two periods of intense Palestinian violence.

Johnson: “Well the first intifada which was mass civil resistance, pretty much led by the young but involving everybody. The second intifada was violence-racked: a very difficult period and a very difficult time, a very difficult kind of struggle. So if it’s the first intifada we probably go back to, sometimes perhaps with maybe too much nostalgia but also with all the lessons we learned.”

Shehadeh: “There was so much hope during the first intifada that we were building a new society, that we were coming to an end of the conflict through negotiations and indeed the first intifada did lead to the negotiations. But unfortunately the outcome of these negotiations was not good and we’re still suffering that terrible outcome.”

With no clarification of the fact that the premeditated second intifada put paid to any positive outcome to those negotiations, listeners next heard Magnusson claim that Ramallah – which has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 – is “occupied”.

Magnusson: “And indeed your latest book, Raja, ‘Going Home’, is a kind of homage to Ramallah after fifty years of Israeli occupation and a reflection on what it’s meant.”

The nineteen-year-long Jordanian occupation of Ramallah was of course not mentioned in the conversation but listeners did hear that the scarcity of gardens in the city can be blamed on Israel, despite the city having been under PA control for nearly a quarter of a century.

Shehadeh: “…Ramallah used to be very attractive with houses with gardens. Almost every house had a garden around it and now having a garden is a great luxury and there are no open spaces because of the restrictions that the Israelis have put. It’s very crowded and people build high up – high rises – rather than having houses that are surrounded by open space and a garden.”

Listeners later heard Magnusson opine that “home of course has been a complicated and agonising matter for you, as for every Palestinian, over the years…” before going on to ask Johnson about her book’s claim that “the lives of animals help us to understand what’s happening to the humans in the West Bank”.

Johnson: “…we used to walk in the valleys near Ramallah and one of the heart-lifting sights was always a mountain gazelle picking her way up the olive groves. Those gazelles are largely gone and they are now endangered; on the red list of endangered species. But what I think we share is both a common life and a common fate. We share a frightening loss of habitat because in the 61% of the West Bank that is Area C and under Israeli control and the home of a hundred settlements, the shepherds and their flocks and the villages that they live in are not…it’s not their own development. It’s not Palestinian development. It is restrictions because of a land grab. Of a grab of water, grab of grazing land. And a desire to get the Palestinians out.”

The mountain gazelle (which suffered from reduced numbers in the mid-1980s due to foot and mouth disease) is not on the WWF 2019 list of endangered species but it does appear on a “red list” drawn up by an organisation called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The factors cited by the scientist who recommended the gazelle’s inclusion on that list four years ago include construction, paving of roads and erection of fences as well as growth in the number of predators and feral dogs. Those factors are of course not limited to what the three participants in this item call the West Bank: the gazelle’s numbers have also fallen elsewhere.

Magnusson made no effort to challenge her interviewee’s equally tendentious claims of “a land grab”, “grab of water” and “a desire to get the Palestinians out”.

Listeners next heard Shehadeh complain about rising urbanisation during the past two and a half decades.

Shehadeh: “We were so fortunate until the mid-90s to be able to leave our home and just immediately be walking in the hills away from the noise of cars and people and take long walks as we like without encountering any difficulties and any settlements. And this is mainly gone now. If we want to walk we have to take the car to a distant place to start a walk and then we often encounter settlers and settlements and problems and it’s not the same as it used to be so we had a golden period in the 70s and 80s that we often reminisce about…”

In fact the Israeli communities in the vicinity of Ramallah – for example Beit El, Psagot and Kochav Ya’akov – were established during that “golden period” of the 70s and 80s and – as the BBC well knows – construction of new communities did not take place after the Oslo Accords were signed.

Magnusson then gave the cue for some overt political comment:

Magnusson: “What’s your sense of the political situation now and where might it be heading next?”

Shehadeh: “It’s a very difficult time now because of, you know, the American government is giving Israel a carte blanche to do whatever it wants and the Israeli government, which is dominated by settlers, is taking that licence to grab as much land as it can and destroy as much of the landscape and the beauty of the landscape by building more and more settlements.”

Not only is the currently inactive cabinet not “dominated by settlers” but Shehadeh’s allegations of ‘land grabs’ and “building more and more settlements” – along with a subsequent claim that Israel makes “attempts at making [Palestinian] people leave” – are patently false.

Magnusson however again failed to make any effort whatsoever to challenge those blatant falsehoods and closed the item shortly afterwards with yet another misleading reference to “fifty years of occupation”.

In short, BBC Radio Scotland audiences heard twelve minutes of entirely predictable yet totally unquestioned political propaganda which not only failed to “help people understand” the subject matter but actively hindered that BBC obligation.

Related Articles:

Desert Island distortions on BBC Radio 4

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ mainstreams anti-Israel delegitimisation

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

 

 

 

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Reviewing BBC coverage of 2017 anniversaries

2017 was a plentiful year for Middle East related anniversaries but BBC audiences did not see reporting on all of them.

In June the BBC gave generous coverage to the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War – often without provision of relevant context but with uniform promotion of the BBC’s chosen narrative.

BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short

Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

BBC Arabic’s Sally Nabil promotes more uncorroborated Six Day War hearsay

A third feature promotes the BBC’s chosen Six Day War narrative

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

BBC’s Six Day War messaging continues on R4’s ‘Today’

BBC News endorses its Six Day War narrative by celebrity proxy

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part two

In contrast, later the same month the tenth anniversary of the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by the terrorist organisation Hamas did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

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

Neither the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress nor the 40th anniversary of President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel received any BBC coverage.

In contrast, copious cross-platform coverage was given to the Balfour Declaration centenary throughout October and November. While much of that coverage focused on the promotion of a particular political narrative, the question of whether Britain fulfilled the pledge made in that declaration was largely ignored.

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary programming continues

With the exception of one Radio 4 item aired in June, the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan in November did not receive any BBC coverage.

No Partition Plan anniversary coverage from the BBC

The BBC produced one item relating to the 30th anniversary of the first Intifada in December.

BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

As we see, the BBC chose to focus on just two of those 2017 anniversaries, producing reporting that primarily promoted specific political narratives rather than providing the full range of information and historical background that would enable audiences to put the events into context.

With the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s independence on the horizon, we can no doubt expect that the coming year will see similarly politicised messaging promoted under the banner of ‘history’.

BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

December 9th marked thirty years since the beginning of the first Intifada and on December 20th the BBC News website published a filmed report on that topic made by Eloise Dicker and Nida Ibrahim and headlined “‘It was an uprising from the heart’“.

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour became iconic and the woman’s identity remained a mystery, until now.

Thirty years on, she has spoken to the BBC about the photograph.”

Whether or not that photograph can really be described as “iconic” – i.e. widely recognised – is of course debatable. BBC audiences are told that:

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone was taken almost 30 years ago but the woman’s identity was not known. The stone was aimed at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour, a village in the occupied West Bank.”

The woman – Micheline Awwad – then identifies herself in the photograph.

Awwad: “This is Micheline. It’s me. Of course it’s me.”

Viewers are then told that:

“In 1987, Palestinians began an “intifada”, or uprising, against Israeli rule. It lasted until 1993. Violent clashes led to the deaths of around 1,400 Palestinians and 271 Israelis.”

Although those statistics are credited to B’tselem, a look at the political NGO’s website shows that the total figures it gives for Palestinian casualties between December 9th 1987 and December 31st 1993 are lower by 196 than the number presented by the BBC. The subject of the nearly one thousand Palestinians killed by other Palestinians in those years did not make it into this BBC film.

The film goes on to give more statistics credited to B’tselem, with the number of Israelis killed during the second Intifada lower than those provided by official sources.

“There was a second intifada in 2000. Around 3,392 Palestinians and 996 Israelis were killed.”

The film then returns to Awwad.

Awwad: “I was wearing a black skirt and top, a yellow scarf and yellow heels. There was a special Mass at the church. Otherwise I wouldn’t have worn that outfit for a protest. When I saw the Israeli army approaching young men and confronting them, I followed the young men. When I started running – I couldn’t run with those shoes – I took them off and carried them. I didn’t know someone was taking a picture. It was an uprising from the heart. Young men and women passionately took to the streets. But not anymore. Young men and women today don’t want this.”

The BBC then inserts the following:

“There were calls for another intifada after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians want the east of the city to be a capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Notably, viewers were not told that there were also “calls for another intifada” on numerous other prior occasions too. The film closes:

Awwad: “I have two sons. If, God forbid, one of them gets injured and dies, I’ll be heartbroken for life. Let my son stay at home – I’ll go out. Of course I would go out.”

“Micheline Awwad now works in a hotel. She doesn’t have the yellow heels any longer.”

In addition to the wording in this film, its visuals are also worthy of note. Throughout much of the film viewers see close-up shots of Awwad. However, they also see seven different images of photographs taken during the first Intifada – four of which show women in passive poses. None of the images including men – one of which features a priest – depict Palestinian acts of violence. Israeli soldiers with truncheons and guns are however shown in three of the images.

In the past the BBC has promoted the myth that the first Intifada was ‘non-violent’ (see ‘related articles’ below) and has completely erased Israeli casualties from its accounts. While it is therefore good to see those casualties finally acknowledged, this film nevertheless perpetuates the BBC’s long-standing romanticisation of type of Palestinian violence all too often euphemistically portrayed (if at all) as ‘protest’.

Related Articles:

BBC promotion of the myth of a non-violent first Intifada

Romanticising rocks and stones: BBC on the first Intifada

 

 

BBC’s Bowen resurrects the ‘Arafat was poisoned’ canard on Radio 4

Episode 14 of the ongoing BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was devoted entirely to Jeremy Bowen’s portrayal of Yasser Arafat.

“The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen looks back over the life of Yasser Arafat. Thousands of his supporters turned out when the Palestinian’s body was flown back into Ramallah on the West Bank. “Love him or hate him, he was Mr Palestine,” says Bowen. “In death as well as in life he was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence – much more than a politician.” The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s view was that Arafat was ‘ a murderer and a pathological liar’.”

Originally broadcast on June 15th under the title “Guns and Olive Branches“, the programme now opens with notification that “this programme has been edited since broadcast” – but BBC audiences are not informed what that editing entailed and the BBC’s ‘corrections and clarifications‘ page does not include any related information.

The programme begins with Bowen’s recollections from November 2004 and an interpretation of Arafat’s sartorial propaganda that unquestioningly endorses the notion that the State of Israel is actually “Palestine”. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

“Even his keffiyeh – his black and white headscarf – carried a message. Arafat always wore it pushed back behind his left shoulder and down the front of his chest on the right, broad at the top, tapering down to the south: the shape of Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Listeners repeatedly hear Bowen refer to a Palestinian “struggle for independence” with just one brief and inadequately explained reference to the fact that the said “struggle” was actually intended to wipe Israel off the map and with no mention made of the absence of any claim to “independence” during the nineteen years that Palestinians lived under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation.

“Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinians since the 1960s, was one of the world’s most famous or notorious people – depending on you view of Palestinian nationalism. Love him or hate him, Yasser Arafat was Mr Palestine.”

“In death as well as life, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence; much more than just a politician.”

“Yasser Arafat’s position as the human embodiment of Palestinian hopes for independence were [sic] sealed in 1974 when he was invited to address the United Nations.”

“Yasser Arafat was born in 1929 and spent most of his childhood in Cairo. He fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and went on to found Fatah – a group that wanted to destroy what it called the colonialist, Zionist occupation of Palestine.”

“His [Arafat’s] last three years, spent under siege by Israel in the wrecked Muqata in Ramallah, made him even more of a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom. Palestinians still don’t have a state.”

Listeners also hear repeated references to an ‘unequal’ conflict – with no explanation of the fact that the Palestinians were junior players in a wider conflict between the Arab states and Israel.

“Other, more cautious Palestinians called Arafat a madman at first because of his desire to take on the much stronger Israelis.”

“His critics said a wiser leader might have finished the job. But a wiser man might not have started such an unequal fight.”

Bowen erases the Arab League’s role in the creation of the PLO.

“Egypt’s president Nasser had founded the PLO to control Palestinian nationalists. Arafat used it to unite Palestinian factions, to campaign for international recognition and most of all, to fight Israel.”

Throughout the item Bowen refrains from describing Palestinian attacks against Israelis as terrorism in his own words and promotes the ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ myth.

“Many Israelis regarded Arafat as an unreformed terrorist. They blamed him for decades of attacks, including the suicide bombs that had killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last few years.”

“Arafat was a prime mover behind many attacks. Fatah and other Palestinian factions shot, bombed and hijacked their way into the headlines. In 1972 Fatah gunmen calling themselves Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the Munich Olympic games.”

“Some Palestinians believed they were winning the argument that their cause was just. Other Palestinians said the armed struggle – terrorism in Israeli eyes – meant they could no longer be ignored.”

Listeners hear context-free references to the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war and the first Lebanon war.

“His [Arafat’s] first attacks in the mid-1960s weren’t more than pin-pricks. But his moment came in 1967 in the months after Israel inflicted a crushing defeat in only six days on the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.”

“The Middle East was boiling. The Palestinian-Israel conflict was at a new pitch and there was a full-scale war in 1973. Israel narrowly came out ahead.”

“They [Israel] invaded Lebanon in 1982 where the Palestinians had established what amounted to a mini-state.”

Bowen misrepresents the first Intifada as ‘non-violent’, erasing from audience view the Israelis murdered during that period of PLO orchestrated violence as well as some 1,000 Palestinians executed by their fellow Palestinians – with Arafat’s approval.

“What changed everything was entirely unexpected. In December 1987 an Israeli truck collided with a car, killing 4 Palestinians. Protests exploded into a full-blown uprising: the Intifada. Images of Palestinian children taking on tanks with stones went around the world and became a symbol of the oppression inherent in the occupation.”

“Palestinian rage and frustration exploded again in 2000 but this time there were armed clashes and unlike the first Intifada, the Palestinians lost the propaganda battle when suicide bombers killed many Israeli civilians.”

Bowen’s portrayal of the Oslo Accords era erases the Palestinian terrorism that immediately followed the signing of the agreement and fails to inform listeners of Arafat’s role in the pre-planned second Intifada terror war.

“But Israel and the Palestinians signed an historic peace deal and Arafat was allowed to live in the occupied territories.”

“The peace process was flawed for both sides but for a few years there was a lot of hope. Then the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who wanted to kill the chance of peace as well.”

A recording of Saeb Erekat speaking in 2004 which further gives listeners an inaccurate impression of Arafat’s role in the campaign of terrorism that surged in the autumn of 2000 was selected by Bowen for inclusion in this programme..

Erekat: “I’m afraid if Mother Theresa were to be our president, Nelson Mandela were to be our prime minister, Martin Luther King to be our speaker and Mahatma Gandhi would be our chief negotiator, the Israelis would find a way to link them to terrorism and some voices in Washington would echo that. The question wasn’t Arafat.”

Throughout the item Bowen repeatedly promotes a romantic image of Arafat as a charismatic “revolutionary”.

“As Israelis settled into their occupation of the West Bank, Arafat took the fight to them, moving around in disguise and organising hundreds of attacks. Israel hit back in 1968 with a major military operation at the Karameh refugee camp in Jordan which had become a big Fatah base. […] The battle established Arafat’s legend. He was on the cover of Time magazine and the young revolutionary gave countless interviews.”

“For the first time posters of Arafat started appearing wherever there were Palestinians. They’d never had a leader with his charisma. By the summer of 1969 Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”

“Arafat swaggered into the General Assembly in New York wearing combat fatigues and sunglasses. He delivered his most famous lines: ‘I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand and a freedom-fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand’. Arafat repeated that last warning three times. He was offering Israel a choice: peace or war.”

“The General Assembly gave him a standing ovation though among Arab leaders Arafat had plenty of enemies. He’d wanted to carry a pistol into the hall to make his point and had to be persuaded that an empty holster would do just as well. I remember the outrage among Jewish friends at my school in Cardiff that he’d even been allowed to speak. For Israelis, Arafat was an arch-terrorist and his olive branch was a joke.”

“Arafat was caught between his obligations under the peace process – satisfying the Israelis and the Americans – and his self-image as a revolutionary focusing the frustration and anger of his people.”

“It was always strange being in the same room as one of the most famous faces in the world. His legend was always there with him to be deployed at all times for his dream of Palestine. If being the human form of so many people’s’ hopes was a burden – and it must have been – he didn’t show it.”

Bowen’s own view of Arafat is further clarified at the end of the item.

“Back in 2004 outside the hospital in Paris where Arafat was dying, I felt that for all his weaknesses, his unique position as the father of his nation gave him a strength that genuine peace-makers would miss.

Recording Bowen: Yasser Arafat may have been part of the problem over the years but he’s also been part of the solution as well. And when he finally goes, his enemies – the Israelis and the Americans who’ve tried to isolate him – may find that far from it being easier to reach some kind of stability in the Middle East, it may even be more difficult.”

Bowen completely whitewashes Arafat’s cultivation of the culture of personal and organisational corruption that hallmarked the Palestinian Authority under his rule, as well as his funding of terrorism.

“Arafat preferred yes-men to straight talkers, tolerated corruption and he wasn’t much interested in the nitty-gritty of building a state. But for most Palestinians he was a national icon.”

Similarly, Bowen whitewashes Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and glorification of terrorism.

“Abbas has never had Arafat’s charisma and even though he’s condemned Palestinian violence many times, the current Israeli government says he’s not a partner for peace.”

One of the more egregious parts of this programme comes towards its end when Bowen resuscitates an old canard:

“Some say Arafat was poisoned by Israel. His body was exhumed and tests found high levels of radioactive Polonium in his remains. The results were not conclusive but most Palestinians are convinced.”

As Bowen knows full well, those “high levels” of Polonium were pronounced by experts who tested them to be “of an environmental nature”. Both the French and Russian investigating teams ruled out foul play and the investigation closed two years ago, with the French prosecutor saying “there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. 

Nevertheless, the man whose job description is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” dishonestly promotes the notion that “the results were not conclusive”, thereby suggesting to BBC audiences that long-standing but entirely unproven Palestinian messaging on that topic may not, after all, be baseless propaganda.

Once again, Jeremy Bowen’s standards of adherence to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are on full view in this programme – together with some revealing insights into his own views of a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.

Related Articles:

BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

BBC News report whitewashes Arafat’s terrorism

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory

 

 

 

Stealth political activism on BBC Radio 4

h/t OR

On December 14th BBC Radio 4 broadcast an edition of its programme ‘Archive on 4’ titled “Prisoners of Conscience Revisited”.

“Twenty five years ago, the film-maker Rex Bloomstein began producing human rights appeals for BBC television. ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ ran for five years and Bloomstein asked many high profile figures, including James Callaghan, Judi Dench and Tom Stoppard, to tell the stories of prisoners of conscience from all over the world.

More than sixty cases were featured – journalists, politicians, academics, writers, clerics as well as ordinary people – all imprisoned unjustly or for their beliefs.

Now Bloomstein revisits some of those stories and discovers what has happened since. When were the prisoners released? How did they recover? And what have they done since?”

The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time or, in the UK only, on BBC iPlayer

Archive on 4

Dotted among the stories from Malawi, Vietnam, Bahrain and Syria are two others which raise questions regarding the editorial decisions behind their inclusion in the programme.

Given that Israel is the only country in the Middle East categorized by Freedom House as ‘Free’, listeners might be somewhat puzzled to hear Rex Bloomstein say at 28:45:

“One part of the Middle East we could not ignore was Israel and Palestine.

 Listener puzzlement will only increase with the next sentence.

“Rabbi Julia Neuberger presented the case of Abie Natan – an Israeli peace activist.”

(Where the BBC Pronunciation Unit was when this programme or the original were recorded is unclear, but Abie Natan’s first name is not pronounced the same way as the first half of the title of the former British building society Abbey National.)

Listeners then hear the archive recording of Neuberger saying:

“His crime is that he went to talk to Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Abie Natan is a remarkable eccentric who refuses to give up. He’s been fighting for peace in the Middle East ever since 1966.”

The programme goes on to describe Abie Natan’s well-documented activities, but what is important here is to remember that this programme bills itself as addressing the issue of people “imprisoned unjustly or for their beliefs”. 

In August 1986 an addition (proposed by Shimon Peres) was made to the anti-terrorism laws in Israel which made meeting with members of a terrorist organization – and specifically the PLO – either within Israel or abroad an offence. Six and a half years later, with the Oslo Accords just round the corner, that clause was annulled but when Abie Natan was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment as a result of his meetings with Yasser Arafat, the law was still in force, as Natan well knew, having gone on a forty-day hunger strike to protest it just months beforehand. Natan chose not to appeal against his sentence, but was released early due to the intervention of Israel’s president at the time, Haim Herzog.

Whatever one thinks of Abie Natan’s various campaigns, one thing is clear: he was not imprisoned for his “beliefs” or “unjustly”. He was imprisoned because he broke a law – knowingly and publicly – with which he disagreed, but which nevertheless was at the time the law. Bloomstein’s attempt to paint Natan as a ‘prisoner of conscience’ imprisoned by some dark regime is not only disingenuous, but revealingly completely airbrushes from the picture any mention of the PLO’s terrorism and the danger it presented to Israel at the time. Revealingly too, he has nothing to say apparently about the human rights of the victims of the terror organization with which Abie Natan chose to meet. 

But Bloomstein is by no means done. His next subject is introduced using an archive recording of Yehudi Menuhin saying dramatically:

“The story I’m about to tell you would be an indictment of the human race at any time. Perhaps you will understand why, as an old Jew, it saddens me particularly”.

Menuhin goes on:

“Dr Jad Ishaq is a Palestinian and the former Dean of the Faculty of Science at Bethlehem University on the West Bank. He has a PhD from the University of East Anglia.”

Bloomstein interjects:

“Yehudi Menuhin to me was the perfect choice to tell the story of Jad Ishaq, a Palestinian academic that we profiled in 1988.”

Jad Ishaq is then heard saying:

“It seems so far away twenty-five years ago.”

RB: “We managed to track down Dr Ishaq in Jerusalem.”

JI: “But still the memories of those days are imprinted in my brain.”

RB: “He began by telling me of the campaign of civil disobedience that led to his arrest during the intifada [background recording of voices chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’] – the Palestinian uprising in 1988.” 

JI: “We decided that it might be a good idea to try to go back to the land, to start planting their gardens to produce the necessary food needed to their families.”

The programme then cuts to archive recording of Menuhin saying:

“From a small shed Dr Ishaq gave advice about how to grow crops and vegetables, especially to the people who were out of work.”

JI: “This empowered people. They became very proud and this was a very strong message to tell them we do not want the occupation to continue. We want to have a free Palestine. We want you to be our good neighbours, but we don’t want you as our occupiers.”

Back to Menuhin:

“Dr Ishaq found himself subjected to growing military harassment. His phone was cut off, soldiers parked their jeeps outside his house and spent the night revving their engines and sounding their horns.”

JI: “We decided that we will have Israelis stay in Palestinian homes and the Israelis came to Beit Sahour – about 25 families – they stayed with 25 Palestinian families in Beit Sahour. We broke the bread together, we had dinner together.”

RB: “There were no violent protests?”

JI: “Nothing! Not one single stone to be thrown or any violent thing to happen, not to give the army the excuse to say that we are violent people.”

RB: “Why were you arrested? What happened?”

JI: “Well, there is a military order regime which says that you can put people up to six months for administrative detention – in other words without showing the charges implicating why they were arrested – and this was used against me and I was put in jail for six months.”

RB: “Why were you a danger to them?”

JI: “Because I think the reason is that demonising the Palestinians and labelling them as terrorists this is the easy thing to be able to justify actions against them, but when you have someone like me who hates even killing a fly and who adopts peaceful ways of expression…”

RB: “Yeah..”

JI:”..this is very dangerous because it undermines the Israeli propaganda machine that all Palestinians are genetically modified objects.”

RB: “You mean programmed for terrorism?”

JI: “Exactly.”

RB: “The six months Dr Ishaq spent in detention he told me changed his life.”

JI: “For me it was a learning experience. Remember before I was arrested I was the Dean of Science at Bethlehem University. In other words I was living in an ivory tower. I never got to know the grass-roots, the masses, the people. But in Ansar 3 I met people from all different backgrounds…”

RB: “Yeah…”

JI: “…and I came to realize that there is a big gap between the university and the street and it made me feel very close to the people.”

RB: “And since his release he has moved away from academia and dedicated his life to researching water, environment and agriculture to help increase self-reliance for the Palestinian people. I was encouraged that Dr Ishaq’s experience in prison had inspired him to work for human rights for his people…”

Notably, Bloomstein makes no attempt whatsoever to adequately inform audiences with regard to the strict rules governing administrative detention – also practiced in the UK, Ireland, the US and Australia – and his portrayal of the first Intifada as a benign “campaign of civil disobedience” of course conceals its violent nature and the fact that Israelis were killed in Molotov cocktail attacks, shootings, explosions and attacks with hand-grenades. Neither does he challenge Ishaq’s ridiculous portrayal of an “Israeli propaganda machine” which supposedly depicts Palestinians as “genetically modified objects”. And yet again, the human rights of the victims of terror do not appear to interest Rex Bloomstein.

Of course it is difficult to establish the exact grounds upon which Jad Ishaq was detained in the pre-internet days of 1988, but it is safe to assume that it was not the horticultural tips he dispensed to Palestinians from his “small shed” which were the reason for his arrest. 

In contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, Bloomstein also neglects to tell the whole story behind Ishaq’s (also spelt Isaac) current day activities, avoiding making clear that he heads the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) – a politically motivated NGO which is:

“Among the leaders of the political warfare against Israel, seeking to further boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), false accusations of Israeli “apartheid” and “racism,” and support for a Palestinian “right of return”, which is inconsistent with two-state solution.” 

Then again, neither is Bloomstein upfront on the subject of his own political affiliations. But for those still wondering why the stories of Abie Natan and Jad Ishaq made it into this BBC programme on the subject of ‘prisoners of conscience’, perhaps the knowledge that Bloomstein is a signed up member of ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ will help clarify how this broadcast became a platform for stealth delegitimisation of Israel cloaked in the language of human rights. 

Romanticising rocks and stones: BBC on the first Intifada

Exactly twenty six years ago, on December 9th 1987, this writer and a colleague were driving to a meeting when – after turning a blind bend on one of the minor roads near Beit Sahur – we suddenly found our route blocked by a group of some fifteen to twenty young men, their faces concealed by keffiyahs and large concrete blocks or rocks in their hands. 

The ensuing incident lasted seconds only. As soon as they saw the car’s Israeli number-plate, the pre-prepared rocks and concrete blocks were hurled at our vehicle. My colleague, who had instinctively braked in order to avoid driving into the people standing in the road, quickly got hold of himself, slammed his foot on the accelerator and we sped through the mob and the hail of rocks until we were out of range.

Thanks entirely to my colleague’s quick reaction, there was only minor damage to the car and although very shaken, we (including the baby I was carrying at the time) had escaped unharmed. Only after we arrived home much later in the evening and watched the news did we realise that what we had witnessed was part of the beginning of the first Intifada. 

Several weeks ago we noted here that an article by Tarik Kafala promoting the myth of a non-violent first Intifada still appears on the BBC News website. Members of the public searching for information on the first Intifada on that website will also find two additional items (here and here), one of which is notable for the fact that it also promotes the myth that ” the Palestinians were largely unarmed”.

First Intifada 1

First Intifada 2

Another notable feature of both those articles is the way in which stone-throwing is misleadingly described as having been directed solely at Israeli soldiers.

“Protest took the form of civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts on Israeli products, graffiti, and barricades, but it was the stone-throwing demonstrations against the heavily-armed occupation troops that captured international attention.” [emphasis added]

That deliberate ‘David and Goliath’ style portrayal of course conceals the fact that stones were also thrown at civilians who were not “heavily-armed” or indeed armed at all. The same erroneous picture is also painted in the second article:

“The Palestinians were largely unarmed, so the enduring picture of the intifada is one of young men and boys throwing stones and rocks at Israeli troops.”

The BBC’s romanticisation of stone-throwing through the use of language such as “unarmed”, “captured international attention” and “enduring picture” conceals the fact that stones and rocks are potentially weapons which can be lethal to human beings – whether soldiers or civilians.  But that BBC backgrounder makes no mention whatsoever either of Israelis killed during the first Intifada or of the thousand or so Palestinians killed by other Palestinians during those years, stating:

“The Israeli Defence Forces responded and there was heavy loss of life among Palestinian civilians. More than 1,000 died in clashes which lasted until 1993.”

Of course the use of rocks and stones to attack Israelis did not stop twenty years ago with the end of the first Intifada and such attacks still occur on an alarmingly regular basis. But like much of the international media, the BBC is now in its third decade of ignoring and downplaying of the potentially lethal aspects of stone-throwing and misleadingly presenting such attacks to its audiences as romantic ‘non-violent’ protest. 

Interestingly though, when rocks, stones and other projectiles are thrown at British civilians the BBC’s portrayal is decidedly less empathic, rightly describing resulting fatalities as murder and the perpetrator as a killer. Stone-throwing at members of the UK security forces is frequently termed rioting and the stones themselves described as “missiles“. A BBC article from January 2013 notes that:

“For many people living in east Belfast, life has become a nightmare marked by the fear of a brick smashing through a car window or a hijacking.” [emphasis added]

So – what is a “nightmare” in Northern Ireland is dressed up as an iconic “enduring picture” in Israel.  The all too obvious double standards at play in BBC reporting on stone-throwing in the UK and stone-throwing in the Middle East can only be understood as stemming from political motivations which clearly compromise the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. 

BBC promotion of the myth of a non-violent first Intifada

As can be seen in the list of twenty-six Palestinian prisoners convicted of violent acts and scheduled to be released in the framework of ‘confidence building’ measures which we recently published, fifteen of them carried out their acts during the time period between December 9th 1987 and the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 – considered by many observers to be the extent of the first Intifada. Seven of those prisoners were found guilty of murders carried out by shooting. 

That small sample is indicative of the broader picture.

“The intifada uprising that started in 1987 was, from the start, far more violent than commonly reported. Televised images of youths with rocks defined the violence for many, but during the first four years of the uprising, more than 3,600 Molotov cocktail attacks, 100 hand grenade attacks and 600 assaults with guns or explosives were reported by the Israel Defense Forces.”

Now consider the statement below which comes from an article written in December 2000 (over two months into the second Intifada) by the former BBC Online Middle East Editor Tarik Kafala – now head of BBC Arabic – which is still available on the BBC website. Kafala art 1

“When the 1987 intifada broke out in the Jebalia refugee camp in Gaza, it spread like wild fire to all areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It lasted, with varying levels of intensity, until 1993.

It came as a complete surprise to both the Israelis and the PLO, at the time in exile in Tunisia.

It also kept the Israeli occupation army at full stretch. Youths confronted the soldiers with stones and petrol bombs – but unlike the current violence, the demonstrators were at no stage armed with guns.” [emphasis added]

Beyond the blatantly political use of the phrase “Israel occupation army” which is obviously inappropriate for an organization which professes to adhere to standards of impartiality, Kafala clearly intentionally misleads audiences by inaccurately stating – very insistently, one notes – that those involved in perpetrating the violence of the first Intifada were “at no stage armed with guns”.

Adopting the Palestinian narrative of “resistance”, Kafala goes on to state:

“Much of the Palestinian resistance was non-violent. It included demonstrations, strikes, boycotting Israeli goods and the civil administration in the occupied territories, and the creation of independent schools and alternative social and political institutions.”

In addition to between 160 – 185 Israelis killed (depending on the time frame chosen) and thousands more wounded by that “non-violent resistance”, the first Intifada also of course saw the murders of around a thousand Palestinians by vigilantes accusing them of being ‘collaborators’ or ‘immoral’, but Kafala is apparently not interested in informing his audience about that aspect of the first Intifada.

The promotion of the myth of a non-violent first Intifada is of course by no means limited to the BBC: the same myth is promoted by both anti-Israel activists and lazy journalists. They, however, are not bound by editorial guidelines of accuracy and impartiality.

Despite clearly breaching BBC editorial guidelines, this article has remained on the BBC website for nearly thirteen years. It is time for that to be rectified.