BBC World Service history show recycles one inaccuracy and adds more

As readers may recall, on June 5th listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ heard that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.

The day after that programme was aired BBC Watch submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue but to date has received neither acknowledgement nor a response to the request to correct that obvious inaccuracy.

Moreover, on June 11th that same report by Simon Watts was recycled in its entirety (from 10:09 here) in another BBC World Service radio history programme – ‘The History Hour’ – where the item was described as being about “an assassination attempt that sparked Lebanon’s war”.

Once again, after Watts asked had the son of the former Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father in London in June 1982 by a Palestinian faction and Gideon Argov had gone on to say “and then the war broke out”, listeners heard Simon Watts interject:

[14:55] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”

As in the previous programme, listeners heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.

“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]

After which Watts told listeners that:

Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”

As was noted here previously, remarkably BBC audiences did not hear a single word about the additional – and highly relevant – background to those plans and Operation Peace for Galilee.

However listeners to ‘The History Hour’ did hear an addition to Watts’ report from an interviewee he was keen to present as “respected” and having “accolades”.

Watts: “So just how far did that shooting, that attempted assassination in London in 1982, mark a watershed moment for the Middle East? Well joining me now is Rami Khouri – professor at the American University in Beirut – who’s covered the region as a respected journalist for many decades. So from the Israeli perspective, was the attempt to kill Shlomo Argov the catalyst or the excuse for that move into Lebanon?”

Khouri: “It was certainly both but the evidence from historical reports by both Israelis and others is that the defence minister then – Ariel Sharon – had been planning for years probably to do a major attack on Lebanon and his aim was to get the PLO out of there, destroy the PLO’s facilities, get the Syrians out of Lebanon and force a peace treaty with the Christian-led government that the Israelis hoped to install in Lebanon and the assassination attempt was basically the excuse that gave the government the ability to say go ahead with this.”

Once again BBC World Service audiences were not informed why Sharon would have needed plans to “get the PLO out” of Lebanon. They were told nothing of the fact that the PLO had thousands of terrorists – including foreign mercenaries – based in Lebanon at the time and that Palestinian terrorists had committed hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilians in which 29 Israelis had been murdered and over 300 wounded in the eleven months before June 1982 alone.

Watts: “So Lebanon was a tinder box anyway which was ready to blow.”

Despite earlier having told listeners himself that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, Watts did not appear to notice that American-born Rami G Khouri contradicted his claim – or that he whitewashed Palestinian terror attacks such as those in Ma’alot and Misgav Am by describing them as “clashes”.

Khouri: “Lebanon had been experiencing internal civil war for some years and the civil war in Lebanon coincided with the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict between Zionism and Arabism and that was just the latest episode at that moment. But there was also a continuous legacy of a decade or two at least of clashes between the Israelis and Palestinian groups, Syrian groups, other Leftist nationalist groups in Lebanon who were against Israel and this fighting had been going on for years and years but this incident happened in the midst of an intense war that was getting worse, not better.”

Watts: “But from ’82 onwards things ratcheted up. As we heard in the piece just now, Gideon says that his father…eh…would not have been pleased by what the war did to Israel’s image abroad. So how would you characterise what it did to Israel’s image?”

Listeners next heard Khouri misrepresent the circumstances of the founding of Hizballah while using the term ‘Palestine’ contrary to BBC guidelines and seeming to claim that Lebanon is “part of Palestine”.

Khouri: “Really 1982 was a pivotal year. You had the birth of Hizballah in Lebanon to fight the Israeli occupation and the birth of Hamas in Palestine. So unilateral Israeli military action in any part of Palestine has tended to generate a reaction that has made conditions for Israelis worse in security terms.”

Watts: “And from your point of view, the move by Israel into Lebanon in ’82 – what were your memories of what happened and how has it affected your life?”

Listeners then heard a monologue which went completely unchallenged by Watts despite its blatantly partisan and often inaccurate portrayal of the first Lebanon war.

Khouri: “Well there was a very powerful moment. I had left Lebanon just before that in the late ’70s when I was in Lebanon working as a journalist. When the war broke out it became very dangerous so I moved to Jordan and I followed there events of course intensely with day-to-day news reports. And I remember at one point feeling so bad, so weak, so repulsed by the fact that the Israelis and others – sometimes it was the Syrians, sometimes it was some Lebanese forces, different people – but mostly the Israelis attacking helpless Palestinians in most cases and then various massacres like the Sabra and Shatila one that happened later in 1982. And then at one point I remember driving home from the newspaper late at night saying I can’t just sit here and see my fellow Palestinians being massacred like this. I’m not a fighter but maybe I can go there and write press releases or do what I do which is writing and journalism. And so there was a sense that I wanted to figure out how can I help and this is what every Palestinian in the world feels. And of course this is what most Jews in the world have felt over the years about their vulnerability around the world.”

Israeli forces of course fought armed Palestinian terrorist militias in southern Lebanon – not “helpless Palestinians”. While Khouri carefully avoided stating directly that Israel was responsible for Sabra and Shatila, he certainly steered listeners in that inaccurate direction.

Khouri continued – deliberately failing to distinguish between the armed Palestinian terrorists expelled from Jordan in 1970/71 and from Lebanon in 1982 and the ordinary Palestinians who were not “driven out” of either country. In Khouri’s one-sided narrative there is of course no place for the thousands of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists and no mention of Hizballah’s endless violations of UN resolutions.

Khouri: “But there was a sense that the Palestinians in 1982 had a pivotal moment because they had previously been driven out of Jordan and now they were being driven out of Lebanon and their political situation was increasingly vulnerable and weak. So the feelings since 1982 continue I think with every Palestinian and with many Israelis – as we heard from Gideon Argov. You know there is a decent side to Israeli sentiment that we understand but there’s also a bloody side that has killed thousands of Palestinians and we saw the bloody side affirmed in 1982 in a very dramatic way but also in a way that I think we have to register as a failure. It did not bring peace to Galilee because what happened was Hizballah came out of this and Hizballah is the only force in the Arab world that has twice forced Israel to accept a ceasefire at the UN and end military fighting. So the ironies I think are plenty for everybody to consider.”

Watts: “That’s the writer and academic Rami Khouri who, among other accolades, is a fellow of Harvard’s Kennedy School.”

Despite this extended version of Watts’ report including ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ points of view, it by no means gave BBC audiences a balanced account. While Gideon Argov was asked primarily about the attack on his father’s life, Rami Khoury was given free rein to promote inaccuracies and falsehoods to enhance his partisan narrative. That would have been bad enough in any BBC show but in one that purports to provide audiences with “historical reporting” it is obviously unacceptable.

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BBC WS history programme claims Israel started the Lebanese civil war

The Lebanese civil war began in 1975 and lasted fifteen years. Listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ were however recently told that it began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.

The June 5th edition of ‘Witness’ was titled “The Assassinaton [sic] Attempt that Sparked a Middle East War“.

“In June 1982, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov, was shot and critically injured by a Palestinian gunman outside the Dorchester Hotel in London. The attack was the trigger for the start of the devastating war in Lebanon just days later. Simon Watts talks to Shlomo Argov’s son, Gideon Argov.”

Simon Watts introduced the programme as follows:

Watts: “Today I’m taking you back to the summer of 1982 and a gun attack on the Israeli ambassador to London which started a war in the Middle East.”

Listeners later heard the perpetrators of that attack described as a “Palestinian hit squad” but only six minutes and fourteen seconds into the nine-minute programme were they informed of the name of the faction responsible.

At 04:56 Watts asked Gideon Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father. Having mentioned the “outpouring of shock and sorrow and support” from the general public, Argov went on to say “and then the war broke out”.

Watts interjected:

[05:17] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.

“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]

Watts went on:

[05:49] Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”

Remarkably, listeners to this ‘history’ programme did not hear a single word about the additional – and highly relevant – background to those plans and Operation Peace for Galilee.

“In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel. After murdering an American tourist walking near an Israeli beach, they hijacked a civilian bus. The terrorists shot through the windows as the bus traveled down the highway. When Israeli troops intercepted the bus, the terrorists opened fire. A total of 34 hostages died in the attack. In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases in the southern part of that country, pushing the terrorists away from the border. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew after two months, allowing United Nations forces to enter. But UN troops were unable to prevent terrorists from reinfiltrating the region and introducing new, more dangerous arms.

Violence escalated with a series of PLO attacks and Israeli reprisals. Finally, the United States helped broker a cease­fire agreement in July 1981. The PLO repeatedly violated the cease-fire over the ensuing 11 months. Israel charged that the PLO staged 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Twenty-­nine Israelis died and more than 300 were injured in the attacks.

Meanwhile, a force of some 15-18,000 PLO members was encamped in scores of locations in Lebanon. About 5,000-6,000 were foreign mercenaries, coming from such countries as Libya, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Chad and Mozambique. Israel later discovered enough light arms and other weapons in Lebanon to equip five brigades. The PLO arsenal included mortars, Katyusha rockets and an extensive anti­aircraft network. The PLO also brought hundreds of T­34 tanks into the area. Syria, which permitted Lebanon to become a haven for the PLO and other terrorist groups, brought surface-to-air missiles into that country, creating yet another danger for Israel.

Israeli strikes and commando raids were unable to stem the growth of this PLO army. The situation in the Galilee became intolerable as the frequency of attacks forced thousands of residents to flee their homes or to spend large amounts of time in bomb shelters. Israel was not prepared to wait for more deadly attacks to be launched against its civilian population before acting against the terrorists.”

Obviously the BBC World Service needs to correct its inaccurate claim concerning the Lebanese civil war immediately.

 

 

BBC News promotes Hizballah’s lexicon and a false narrative

An article published on the BBC News website on May 7th under the headline “Lebanon election: Hezbollah leader declares ‘victory’” includes uncritical use of the lexicon employed by that terror organisation.

“Hezbollah’s leader says the Iran-backed militant Shia group and its allies have achieved “victory” in Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections since 2009.

Although the official results have not been announced, Hassan Nasrallah said their gains guaranteed the protection of the “resistance” against Israel. […]

In a televised address a day after the elections, Hassan Nasrallah declared what he called a “great political and moral victory for the resistance option that protects the sovereignty of the country”.” [emphasis added]

Moreover, the report does not confine itself to using the unexplained term ‘resistance’ in quotes and paraphrasing but promotes the same terminology itself.

“Formed as a resistance movement during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s, Hezbollah is today a political, military and social organisation that wields considerable power in the country.” [emphasis added]

This is of course far from the first time that the BBC has adopted the terror group’s language without clarifying to audiences that ‘resistance’ is actually Hizballah’s euphemistic term for its commitment to the obliteration of Israel and that the “Israeli occupation of Lebanon” ended eighteen years ago.

Moreover, this is also not the first time that the BBC has promoted the inaccurate notion that Hizballah came into existence as a response to the first Lebanon war in 1982. As recently documented by Amir Toumaj, Hassan Nasrallah himself in fact refuted that myth in a speech made to a friendly audience.

“Nasrallah touted that the organization was born after the success of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. That highlights that the network that later became Hezbollah in 1985 was active and had a defined ideology prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.” 

As well as failing to clarify that Hizballah instigated the 2006 war with Israel, the article gives an inaccurate portrayal of the extent of Hizballah’s terror designation by failing yet again to clarify that it is also proscribed by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.

“It is designated a terrorist group by Western states and Israel, with which it fought a war in 2006, and several of its members are accused of being behind the 2005 assassination of Mr Hariri’s father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister.”

The simplistic narrative according to which Hizballah came into existence because Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 is undoubtedly more palatable to Western audiences than the actual theological background to the relationship between Hizballah and the Iranian regime. However, the BBC’s continued promotion of that erroneous claim does not serve the interests of members of its funding public trying to understand the terror group’s role in Lebanese politics or in the wider Middle East.

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BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

The November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ was titled “The Battle for Lebanon“.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country when he recently resigned while in Saudi Arabia citing fears for his safety. The move plunged Lebanon into a crisis as Lebanese leaders accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to go. It has also stoked fears of major showdown between Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunnis and the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah. On his return to Lebanon this week, Hariri agreed to withdraw his resignation and seek ‘dialogue’. So who is ultimately driving events in Lebanon, Hariri, Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah and Iran? On Newshour Extra this week Owen Bennett Jones and his guests discuss what Saudi Arabia wants in Lebanon and whether it’s gearing up to take on Hezbollah at all costs.”

Owen Bennett Jones’ guests were American-Iranian journalist Azadeh Moaveni, Lina Khatib of Chatham House, Fahad Nazer – a consultant to the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US capital and the Lebanese academic Amal Saad who – as was the case when she appeared on two editions of ‘Newshour’ a fortnight before – was inadequately presented to listeners as an “author”.

The first topic of discussion was the background to Hariri’s resignation and in Amal Saad’s contribution listeners heard her dismiss Hariri’s claims of threats to his life, whitewash Hizballah involvement in the murder of his father and yet again – despite Hariri having returned to Lebanon by the time this programme was aired – repeat Hizballah spin concerning his supposed ‘abduction’.

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

03:46 – Saad: “Well first of all to address the threats, the Lebanese security services – all three of them – issued different statements saying there was no threat on his life. So that was clearly a bogus threat charge to be honest. And as to what Fahad is saying about all signs point to Hizballah being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you know Hizballah hasn’t actually been charged with anything yet so I wouldn’t really, you know, use that of evidence of anything. If anything, you know, Saad al Hariri’s abduction by Saudi Arabia which – and I think there’s a virtual international consensus on this, including the German foreign minister – was indeed kidnapped by Saudi Arabia and is still a political hostage. His family are still there – clearly used as collateral – and I think, you know, the very fact that Hariri rescinded his resignation was done in concert with Saudi Arabia who realised – specially Mohammed bin Salman – that he overplayed his hand and had to back down basically.”

Later on in the programme (from 12:00) Bennett Jones asked Saad to explain Hizballah to listeners.

Bennett Jones: “…and Amal Saad; you’ve written a book on the organisation. I think it would help – just for people, you know, who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah – can you explain? First of all, it’s both a military and a political outfit, right?”

Listeners consequently heard a highly airbrushed portrayal of Hizballah that misrepresented its origin as being rooted in the (completely unexplained) First Lebanon War and – unsurprisingly – failed to tell those listeners “who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah” anything at all about the reasons for its designation as a terror organisation by many Western and Gulf countries as well as by the Arab League.

Saad: “That’s right. Hizballah arose as a response to the Israeli invasion of 1982. It’s a popular grassroots movement. So in the first sense it is a resistance movement. And over time Hizballah’s constituency expanded to encompass the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shia. And obviously it has supporters in other sects as well: Christians and some Sunnis. And Hizballah in 1992 contested parliamentary elections. It’s had a parliamentary role since then and a government role since 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. So I would say yes, Hizballah is a military organisation. I would call it a resistance army actually. It has also the tactics and weapons and strategy of a conventional armed force. So yes, it’s both.”

Without bothering to clarify to listeners that Hizballah actually has had nothing to ‘resist’ since Israel disengaged from southern Lebanon seventeen and a half years ago, Bennett Jones went on:

Bennett Jones: “Now it’s a very unusual organisation but what you’ve just touched on is a key point. There is a Lebanese army and yet you’ve also got this – as you say – almost like an army but without the normal political control or command structures.”

Saad: “Well there’s a very close relationship between the Lebanese army and Hizballah actually that’s been going on for well over a decade now. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese army coordinate, cooperate vis-à-vis Israel on Lebanon’s southern border and they’ve been cooperating a lot more recently in terms of the takfiri jihadis from Syria. So there’s ongoing cooperation in that sense and at the same time, if you’ve noticed that Lebanon has suffered far fewer terrorist attacks; especially since 2014 we haven’t seen any terrorist attacks in Beirut and that’s thanks to the very close coordination between Hizballah’s intelligence, Lebanese military intelligence, internal security. So there’s that kind of ongoing cooperation on homeland security issues as well.”

Obviously that evasive and highly partisan reply did not provide listeners with any understanding of the role played by Hizballah’s foreign-funded, heavily armed militia in its imposition of a state-within-a state model in Lebanon.

Later on in the programme (from 19:14) listeners were told by Saad that Hizballah “hasn’t had any kind of role in Yemen in terms of sending weapons” but she did clarify that Nasrallah admitted to sending “weapons to the Palestinians”. When Bennett Jones asked her about the possibility of Hizballah “pull[ing] back from the regional stuff] her response was again to repeat Hizballah talking points.

Saad: “Obviously Hizballah’s regional role in terms of…if we’re talking about regional role…Palestine, Syria is not up for negotiation because these are existential issues for Hizballah. Hizballah fighting Israel is existential, supporting the Palestinian cause is both ideological and existential – it’s strategic. And also, you know, continuing with its military role in Syria is also existential in the sense that it was not a spillover. These groups were actually attacking Lebanese civilians who were residing in Syrian villages, in Syrian towns across the border from Lebanon. There were thousands of Lebanese and this is why Hizballah intervened; they had to protect themselves.”

Bennett Jones refrained from questioning or challenging that debatable representation of events.

At 31:02 Saad made two additional references to “Hariri’s arrest” in Saudi Arabia and at 34:24 – following a question from Bennett Jones concerning the likelihood of the use of economic pressure on Lebanon by Saudi Arabia, listeners heard Saad present speculation as fact:

Saad: “I think that’s the Saudis’ only card at this point. Their other card…well initially their card was that Israel would, you know, do the fighting for them and that didn’t work out for them.”

Towards the end of the discussion (from 48:25) listeners heard Saad misrepresent the origins of Hizballah once more, together with an airbrushed presentation of the relationship between the terror group and Iran.

Saad: “Another thing is I think we’ve got to stop looking at…you used this term yourself, Owen – you said proxy. […] Hizballah is not a proxy. None of Iran’s allies are actually proxies. And we have to look…try to be a bit more academic here in terms of defining what do we mean by proxy warfare. What does a proxy…you know, what’s the definition?  You know Hizballah was born as a result of the Israeli invasion. That doesn’t make it a proxy at all. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Iran does not control it. Proxies are controlled by their benefactors. This is not happening. There is an alignment of interests, an ideology and there is financial support but then that happens with the US’s allies. They receive funding and arms from the US. No-one calls them proxies. So there’s a difference between a proxy and a junior partner. I would say Hizballah is a junior partner of Iran.”

If, as one must assume, the purpose of this programme was to enhance audience understanding of the complex story of Hariri’s resignation, his subsequent backtrack and the wider regional background, then clearly an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hizballah’s history, ideology and activities should have been one of its essential components.

While Amal Saad was on occasion challenged by some of the additional contributors on various other points, the fact that Owen Bennett Jones assigned the task of ‘explaining’ Hizballah to an obviously partisan contributor, intent only on repeating the terror group’s own propaganda and messaging, actively hindered audience comprehension of this story.

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BBC WS history programme fails to disclose interviewee’s anti-Israel activism

The September 15th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ was titled “Sabra and Shatila – A Massacre in Lebanon“.

“A doctor working in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon recalls the massacre there in September 1982. Over the course of three days, Lebanese Christian militiamen killed and raped hundreds of the Palestinian inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut in revenge for the assassination of their leader, Lebanese president elect, Bashir Gemayel. Dr Swee Ang treated the wounded in the basement of the only hospital in the camp; she tells Louise Hidalgo her story.”

The interviewee’s background is described to listeners by Hidalgo as follows:

“Dr Swee Ang was working in the hospital in Sabra and Shatila during those days.”

And:

“Dr Swee Ang is an orthopedic surgeon originally from Singapore who moved to Britain in 1977.”

A significant proportion of the programme relates to Israel rather than to the Lebanese Christian militia that actually carried out the massacre in Sabra and Shatila with Hidalgo referring to the findings of the Kahan Commission and providing some rather sketchy background to the first Lebanon War and her interviewee adding other statements.

“I grew up a very staunch fundamentalist Christian and I’ve always been supporting Israel. In 1982 […] I saw on television aerial bombardment of Beirut in Lebanon and I just couldn’t square it with my religious upbringing…”

“My understanding of the situation – because I was brought up with a lot of friends who are pro-Israel – was that the PLO was the cause of all the trouble.”

“Tanks were coming northwards into Beirut city and a contingent came for Sabra and Shatila. So by nightfall the shelling became so close and we knew that we were surrounded by Israeli tanks.”

At the end of the programme listeners are told that:

“After Sabra and Shatila she and her husband set up a medical charity for the people of the camp.”

That charity is called ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) and – far from being a neutral “medical” charity – its politicised anti-Israel bias is notorious.  Dr Swee Ang herself is frequently seen at anti-Israel events such as ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ and in 2014 she co-authored a highly politicised open letter promoting unsubstantiated allegations and accusing Israel of ‘massacring’ Palestinians that was published in the Lancet.

None of that information was made available to listeners to this programme despite the fact that BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Given the programme’s focus on Israel, full disclosure of its sole interviewee’s political activism in line with BBC editorial guidelines was obviously necessary.

More narrative-driven ‘history’ from the BBC World Service

The August 8th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ is titled “The Murder of Naji al-Ali” and it is described as follows in its synopsis:

“The acclaimed Palestinian cartoonist was gunned down in London in 1987. His attackers have never been identified. Naji al-Ali’s cartoons were famous across the Middle East. Through his images he criticized Israeli and US policy in the region, but unlike many, he also lambasted Arab despotic regimes and the leadership of the PLO. His signature character was called Handala – a poor Palestinian refugee child with spiky hair, who would always appear, facing away with his hands clasped behind his back, watching the events depicted in the cartoon. Alex Last has been speaking to his son, Khalid, about his father’s life and death.”

Despite that synopsis, listeners actually hear very little about the substance of Ali’s criticism of Arab regimes and the Palestinian leadership and even less about how that may have been connected to his murder. They do however hear promotion of the familiar context-free narrative of displaced Palestinians with no responsibility for or connection to the events that resulted in their displacement.

Erasing the essential words ‘British Mandate’ from his use of the term Palestine, presenter Alex Last introduces his guest:

Last: “Some fifty years earlier Naji al Ali was born in a village in Galilee in 1936 in what was then Palestine. Khalid al Ali is Naji’s eldest son.”

 Ali: “The village had Muslims, Christians and Jews and they’re all playing together and sharing things together, I mean, in the village square, so he had a happy life, a normal life.”

The 1931 census shows that the village concerned – al Shajara in the sub-district of Tiberias – had at the time 584 residents: 556 Muslims and 28 Christians – but no Jews. A similar demographic make-up appears in the 1945 census. In contrast to the idyllic impression created by Ali, the villagers of al Shajara frequently attacked their Jewish neighbours in the moshava Sejera (known today as Ilaniya) during the ‘Arab Revolt‘ that began in 1936.

Listeners then hear Last say:

Last: “But in 1948, following the creation of the State of Israel and in the fighting that ensued, at least three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs either fled or were driven from their homes. Naji, his family and the other Palestinian Arabs in their village were among them. They became refugees. Naji ended up in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. It was an experience that would define him.”

Contrary to the impression given by Last, the fighting did not break out after and because of “the creation of the State of Israel” but had begun well before that event took place following Arab rejection of the Partition Plan in November 1947. Listeners are not informed of the all important context of the infiltration of the Arab League’s ‘Arab Liberation Army’ into the Galilee in early January of 1948 and the series of attacks it launched against Jewish communities in the region, including the moshava Sejera. The fighting in Naji al Ali’s village of al Shajara actually took place on May 6th 1948 – eight days before Israel declared independence.

The narrative of passive victims with no responsibility for the conflict that saw them displaced is then further promoted by Ali.

Ali: “Being used to your surroundings, being part of the family, the wider villages, this overnight ended completely and that was a great shock. And suddenly [they] became refugees in a tent. There’s no income. They lost their land. They’ve lost their businesses. No end of [in] sight in a way. It was imprinted on them. I mean my father, his main agenda is Palestine. For him, till the last day of his life he wanted to go back to his village, he wanted to go back to Palestine. It’s very straightforward, it’s very simple. He could not see why not.”

A similarly context-free representation comes at 05:05 when Last tells listeners:

Last: “In 1982 Naji was in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; events which, says Khalid, had a profound effect on his father.”

Audiences are not informed that – despite the impression they may very well have received from Last’s portrayal – the Sabra and Shatila massacres were carried out by a Lebanese Christian militia.

The programme ‘Witness’ purports to provide BBC World Service audiences with “the story of our times told by the people who were there”. All too often, however, we see that when the story relates to Israel, narrative takes priority over history.

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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

 

 

 

As Sharon’s health deteriorates, BBC updates profile claiming he sparked second intifada

News of a serious deterioration in the health of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon prompted the appearance of an article on the subject on the BBC News website’s Home, Middle East and Europe pages on January 1st.

Titled “Ariel Sharon’s health suffers ‘serious deterioration’“, the report offers a link to a profile of Ariel Sharon – updated on January 1st 2014 to replace an older version  – from which many of the biographical details in the report appear to have been taken. 

art Sharon with link

Profile Sharon

In the profile, some context is given regarding the background to the 1982 Lebanon war:

“In the wake of shelling of northern Israel by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in southern Lebanon, Mr Sharon masterminded Israel’s invasion of its northern neighbour in 1982.”

In the article, however, any such context is omitted:

“While serving as defence minister in 1982, he masterminded Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.”

The profile gives slightly better context to the building of the anti-terrorist fence which began in 2002 when Sharon was prime minister:

“Following a spate of suicide bombings and attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel in the 1990s and beyond, Mr Sharon sought to fortify the state by building the controversial West Bank barrier.”

The report lacks any such context and merely states:

“Mr Sharon was a keen promoter of the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. He also initiated the construction of the controversial West Bank barrier.”

In fact, the idea of an anti-terrorist fence was first proposed by Yitzhak Rabin a decade earlier and in 1995 Rabin appointed the Shahal Commission to study such a proposal. As Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians reached new heights in the second Intifada, a non-partisan grassroots group called ‘Fence for Life’ was formed which urged the Israeli government to construct a protective barrier. Eventually, overwhelming public opinion caused the Likud government headed by Sharon which had previously opposed any such move, to begin construction.

The BBC’s claim that Sharon “initiated” the construction of the anti-terrorist fence is hence at best a very partial and selective representation of the facts. 

On January 2nd, that article was replaced by another at a different URL titled “Israel ex-PM Ariel Sharon ‘critically ill’“. In that report, which has undergone several changes since its initial publication, a better presentation of the context of the First Lebanon war and the reasons behind the construction of the anti-terrorist fence is provided.

“While serving as defence minister in 1982, he masterminded Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the wake of shelling of Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organisation which was based there.”

“Mr Sharon was a keen promoter of the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. He also initiated the construction of the controversial West Bank barrier following a wave of deadly attacks by Palestinian militants who were able to get into Israel.”

art Sharon vers 2

As can be seen in the screenshot above, that article also links to the newly updated profile of Ariel Sharon which – despite its recent amendment – features repetition of the long-promoted BBC myth that the second Intifada began because of Sharon’s pre-coordinated thirty-four minute visit to Temple Mount in September 2000.

“In 2000 Mr Sharon paid a controversial visit to the holy compound in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims.

Palestinians rioted and the second intifada (uprising) ensued.”

That BBC myth has been previously addressed on these pages and readily available statements by numerous Palestinian figures relating to the fact that the intifada was pre-planned have been presented.

Especially in light of the fact that it appears that this updated profile may sadly be put to considerable use in the near future, it should be immediately corrected.