BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

The May 31st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by freelance journalist Robin Denselow which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 17:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Adie: “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long, complicated and contentious. And both sides want their version of that history to dominate as they try to win over foreign diplomats, politicians and the wider world. Violence brings one set of headlines. Cultural events and exchanges are seen as another way of achieving that. A festival was held in the West Bank recently aiming to give the growing Palestinian music scene a major boost and to amplify the voices of ordinary Palestinians. Robin Denselow was in Ramallah.”

Listeners certainly did hear one dominant, context-free narrative during the next five minutes with Denselow repeatedly referring to ‘Palestine’, thus breaching the BBC’s ‘style guide’ which states:

“…you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Audiences were told that Palestinians are “so isolated from the rest of the world” and of course no BBC report from PA controlled territory would be complete without a mention of “checkpoints”.

“The young audience had travelled to the Palestinian Music Expo – or PMX – from right across the West Bank, negotiating the Israeli checkpoints on the way.”

Listeners were told that foreign visitors to that music festival:

“…were welcomed by the Palestinian minister of culture, Ihab Bseiso, for whom PMX clearly had political significance. Promoting culture in Palestine is absolutely crucial, he told me. It’s a form of resistance, protecting the national heritage. The minister, who enthused about the years he spent studying at Cardiff University, gave us a personal tour of an uncompleted but palatial new building on a Ramallah hilltop. Originally intended as a grand guest-house for visiting dignitaries, it’s to be Palestine’s new national library and cultural hub.”

Denselow refrained from telling listeners that the building originally had another function too:

“Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.

However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.”

Again paraphrasing his host Bseiso, Denselow told listeners that:

“He claimed that what is happening on the cultural front in Palestine is a miracle it’s exceptionally hard to achieve under occupation. And he went on to recite the everyday problems of checkpoints and restrictions on movement.”

Denselow of course did not bother to remind Radio 4 audiences that checkpoints and “restrictions on movement” did not exist until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada terror war. He went on to describe excursions without clarifying whether the organisers were the Palestinian Authority or his PMX hosts.

“They organised a trip to show their foreign visitors their side of the conflict. We were driven out through Qalandiya checkpoint, where Israeli troops looked through out passports, and then taken to the bitterly divided city of Hebron.”

At that point it would of course have been helpful to listeners to have been reminded of the fact that Hebron is “divided” because twenty-one years ago the Palestinian Authority agreed to divide it into two areas: H1 under PA control and H2 (roughly 20% of the city) under Israeli control. That reminder was not forthcoming and neither was any mention of the ancient Hebron Jewish community or the massacre of 1929.

“In the Israeli-controlled sector settlers live alongside the Palestinians who complained to us how many of their shops have been closed, how they need nets to protect their market from rocks thrown by settlers and about the streets where they claimed they’re now banned from walking.”

The fact that those shops – located on one street – were closed due to Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada was not communicated to listeners. With a nod towards the BBC’s supposed editorial standards on impartiality, Denselow then inaccurately told listeners that the victims of Palestinian violence in Hebron have been exclusively “Israeli soldiers”.

“Over the years of conflict Palestinians have attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and rocks too and the small settler community says it also fears for its safety.”

Stories such as that of ten month-old Shalhevet Pass – murdered by a Palestinian sniper – or thirteen year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel clearly do not fit into Denselow’s narrative. His story then took a bizarre turn:

“But being seen here with a Palestinian guide was clearly dangerous. A car – apparently driven by an angry settler – narrowly missed our group then did a U-turn and drove back at us again at speed. One record industry executive would almost certainly have been hit if he hadn’t been pulled back.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian media outlets have any record of such an event having taken place in Hebron around the time of the PMX event between April 11th and 13th.  Denselow provided no evidence to support his guess that the car was “driven by an angry settler” but promoted it to BBC audiences regardless.

Interestingly, a similar claim is to be found in a post shared on the PMX Facebook page on April 18th. That post was written by one Younes Arar – who was apparently guiding Denselow’s group on their visit to Hebron.

Younes Arar is involved with an NGO called ‘Frontline Defenders’ and the co-founder of a campaign against what it calls “illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron” under the slogan ”Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron”. According to the NGO’s website he is also “the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – a grass-roots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs”. As can be determined by a quick perusal of the activist’s Twitter account, Younes Arar is not particularly committed to accuracy, facts or a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.

Interestingly, the prolific Tweeter Younes Arar made no mention on his Twitter account of that alleged incident in Hebron at the time.

Denselow went on to describe another trip, again erasing from his story the Palestinian terrorism that made the building of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

“Other excursions included a visit to the overcrowded Shuafat refugee camp hidden away behind walls and a checkpoint in Jerusalem.”

When he finally got round to describing the music festival itself, the earlier motif of Palestinian “national heritage” went somewhat awry.

“From jazz to satirical political rock songs, Balkan-Palestinian fusion and angry hip-hop. Musicians from Gaza had been refused travel permits to attend but there was an extraordinary video from a rapper who calls himself MC Gaza filmed amid the violent and bloody ‘Great March of Return’ protests on the border with Israel.”

Denselow did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that the video he described as “extraordinary” advocates the destruction of Israel. Describing another band, he went on:

“‘This is the only way to fight back against the occupation’ band member Adnan Jubran commented on stage. Later he told me ‘it’s trying to delete our culture. This is how we say no’.”

Near the beginning of his report Denselow stated that one of the festival’s purposes is:

“…to give those [foreign] visitors a distinctively Palestinian view of the place and its problems.”

There can be no doubt that Denselow and the other foreign visitors got exactly that. Unfortunately however, so did BBC Radio 4 listeners – with no provision of essential context and no regard for the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

 

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BBC’s Knell deletes history in Jerusalem walkabout on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondentclaims to provide listeners with “insight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world” but which of those was intended to apply to the item by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell that appeared in the programme’s December 23rd edition is unclear.

After all, no journalist can truly be said to have offered ‘insight’ and ‘analysis’ on the subject of Jerusalem if he or she refrains from providing audiences with the relevant context of the city’s historical background – not least that pertaining to the circumstances under which the city was divided for the only time in its history by a nineteen-year long Jordanian occupation.

Nevertheless (but, given the BBC’s record on that issue, not surprisingly) Yolande Knell did just that.

Programme presenter Kate Adie set the scene (from 06:52 here), ironically ignoring the issue of the BBC’s weighty contribution to the phenomenon she described in her opening sentence.

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

Adie: “Jerusalem has rarely been out of the news this month since Donald Trump announced that the US now recognises the ancient holy city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. This week a large majority at the UN General Assembly backed a resolution effectively calling on Washington to reverse its decision – despite threats from Mr Trump to cut off aid to those voting in favour. The international view has long been that any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement. But what do ordinary Israelis and Palestinians think of all this? Yolande Knell has been to the Old City where she found plenty of food for thought.”

Notably, Adie failed to inform listeners that the resolution passed at the UN GA is non-binding and of course refrained from mentioning the absurdities that lie behind “the international view”.

Having set the scene with descriptions of Hanukkah donuts and sahlab, Knell got down to business.

Knell: “But I’m here to get a taste of public opinion. The future of the city, with its sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is one of the most intractable issues in the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict. High up in the Tower of David – an ancient citadel – I find Ayelet with her sons who are off school for the Jewish holiday. She praises Mr Trump as bold and honest, although her mother Yirat [phonetic] exclaims, ‘generally speaking we don’t need his statements. We’ve known for three thousand years that Jerusalem is ours’. Most Israelis say the same. Religiously and culturally they see the city as their eternal, undivided capital. And since the creation of the modern state, Jerusalem has been Israel’s seat of government and home to its supreme court.”

Knell then described the Old City – which of course includes the ancient Jewish Quarter – as ‘East Jerusalem’ while making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the relevant topic of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from that part of Jerusalem (and others) as a result of Jordan’s belligerent invasion in 1948.

Knell: “But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognized – a fact that pains Yirat and Ayelet. They hope the new US decision will lead to what they call more important steps. ‘We have to come here to look at the place where the story of Hanukkah happened’ says Yirat as she points across the Old City rooftops. ‘Over there; that’s Temple Mount’.”

Knell went on to put history supported by archaeological evidence on a par with religious belief.

Knell: “The site where two biblical temples are believed to have stood is the holiest place on earth for Jews. But it’s also the third holiest site for Muslims who believe the prophet Mohammed rose to heaven from the spot under the gleaming Dome of the Rock next to al Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslims can visit but can’t pray in the compound.”

She then paraphrased her next Israeli opinion:

Knell: “It’s awareness of all these religious sensitivities that worries Rob, a British Israeli who’s also climbed the tower with his children.”

After a brief description of the Hanukkah story, Knell repeated a practice that has previously been seen on numerous occasions in BBC coverage of this story in recent weeks. Rather than informing listeners of the US Embassy Act passed by Congress in 1995 and its reaffirmation in the Senate just months ago, she portrayed the US president as having ‘gone rogue’.

Knell: “Rob doesn’t dismiss the idea that Mr Trump’s pronouncement on Jerusalem – breaking with decades of previous US policy – could end up being a turning point in the Middle East peace process. But at the same time he sees the president as ‘a bit wacky’ and warns his gesture could provoke Arab extremists.”

Knell continued, following the standard BBC formula of amplifying Palestinian claims even after audiences have been told that Israeli claims are null and void because the ‘international community’ says that “any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement”. The BBC’s repeated employment of that formula of course suggests to its audiences that recognition of Jewish sovereignty represents a ‘change in the status of Jerusalem’ while Palestinian demands regarding Jerusalem do not.  

Knell: “Palestinians have reacted furiously to the change in the US position. They still want East Jerusalem as the capital of their desired future state and say that Washington can no longer claim to act as an honest peace broker. There have been protests and clashes with Israeli security forces across the Palestinian territories.”

Knell then moved on to Damascus Gate, again describing the food on sale nearby before bringing in the Palestinian side of “public opinion”.

Knell: “I ask Nasser, who’s carrying his prayer mat on the way back from al Aqsa, for his reaction to recent events. ‘Trump’s a crazy man’ he sighs ‘he says he wants to make peace but he’ll just make war’. ‘Jerusalem’s in our hearts’ he goes on ‘this is our land, it’s an Arab city. What about the rights of Muslims and Christians?'”

Knell of course did not bother to inform audiences that only under Israeli rule have all three religions been able to visit and worship at their holy sites in Jerusalem. She went on:

Knell: “Another Palestinian I speak to, Dahlia [phonetic], is a Christian tour organiser who says she can trace her family’s presence in Jerusalem for centuries. She tells me she was disgusted but not surprised by the US president’s declaration.”

Notably, we next learn that – despite having failed to produce any meaningful reporting on the topic over the last weeks – Yolande Knell is aware of the incitement to violence coming from PA officials and various Palestinian factions.

Knell: “But she admits that despite her expectation that all hell would break loose, so far there hasn’t been anything like the uprising that some leaders were calling for. Her fear now is that regional alliances are shifting and that despite recent shows of support at the UN, the Palestinian nationalist cause is no longer an international priority – even for some of its traditional backers in the Middle East.”

Knell closed her item:

Knell: “Returning along the winding streets takes me away from modern politics. I find myself listening to a guide recounting stories of prophets, kings and caliphs of ages past to awe-struck tourists. What’s not yet clear is the extent to which Donald Trump will go down as an important name in the long, rich history of this holy city.”

For over three weeks the BBC has been promoting a monochrome – and hyperbolic – portrait of the story of the US announcement concerning Jerusalem that fails to provide audiences with the historical background necessary for full understanding of the issue, whitewashes US legislation that has existed for over two decades and promotes a partisan narrative. This item from Yolande Knell made no effort to get beyond that template and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with anything remotely different to what they have been hearing repeatedly since early December.  

 

Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio recently heard four different radio reports on the same topic.  The maker of those reports, Linda Pressly, described one of them as “a different window on the region” – but is that actually the case?

In fact, all four of those reports repeated politicised themes frequently seen in BBC content.

One of those themes is promotion of the umbrella term ‘occupied West Bank’ without any distinction being made between the places under complete Palestinian Authority control (Area A), those where the PA administers civilian life and Israel is responsible for security (Area B) and those under Israeli administration (Area C) – as laid out in the Oslo Accords agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians.

The first of Pressly’s reports about Arabian horses was aired on November 25th in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”. Presenter Kate Adie told listeners (from 12:22 here) that:

“In the occupied West Bank though, among ordinary Palestinians, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these horses.”

In that report, Pressly visited two locations: Al Bireh – in Area A and under complete PA control since 1994 – and Anata in Area B.

The second report was broadcast on November 30th in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Presented James Menendez’s introduction (from 18:00 here) included both use of the term ‘occupied West Bank’ and another increasingly seen theme: portrayal of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Israelis”.

“In the occupied West Bank equestrian sport has been growing in popularity over the past decade and the breeding of Arabian horses […] is a passion shared by both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as well as those who live in the West Bank…”

In that report Pressly visited Silwan in Jerusalem which she described as follows:

“The area known as Silwan by Palestinians and as the City of David by Jewish Israelis tumbles down the hillside in East Jerusalem. It’s one of the most heavily contested parts of this city…”

Pressly also visited a riding centre in Jericho – located in Area A and also under complete PA control since 1994. Despite that fact, listeners heard a young show-jumper say that:

“My goal is to represent Palestine and tell people that we’re there, we can do things while we are occupied, that we don’t give up.”

Also on November 30th, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ heard a much longer version of the same report – titled ‘Pride, Passion and Palestinian Horses’ – in which Pressly’s “journey in the occupied West Bank”, as she termed it, included visits to Al Bireh (Area A), “East Jerusalem”, Anata (Area B), Turmus Ayya (Area B) and Hebron (Area A).

“In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?”

As can be seen from that synopsis, another theme promoted in this report and in the very similar one broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment on November 30th and December 3rd was that of “Israeli checkpoints”.

Early on in the report (06:53), Pressley told listeners that in what she calls the West Bank, “the geography’s complicated; carved up as it is between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli control and punctuated by Israeli military checkpoints”.

During her visit to Anata, listeners heard her local fixer say that since the second Intifada “the Israelis are not allowed to come into Palestinian areas” but no explanation was given.

At 12:04 listeners heard Pressly’s sketchy portrayal of the paperwork needed for the horse breeder from Turmus Ayya – Ashraf Rabi – to show his horses in Kibbutz Alonim in the Galilee district.

Pressly: “To go to Alonim in Israel from the West Bank through one of the military checkpoints his horses need certificates issued by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. And Israel is closed to Palestinians from the West bank with no travel or work permit.”

Rabi: “As I’m a Palestinian so sometimes they don’t give me permit to go. Sometimes my horse doesn’t pass because the soldier who’s on the checkpoint he will return the horse back. […]

Whether or not those “certificates” needed by the horses include medical/vaccination paperwork was not made clear and so listeners were left with the inaccurate impression that passage through crossings between PA controlled areas and Israel depends on the caprice of those staffing them.

Pressly later introduced another element into the checkpoints theme:

Pressly: “Ashraf Rabi’s anxiety about Israeli checkpoints is shared by the Palestinian horse owning community and it’s compounded by the absence of specialised veterinary facilities and equine vets on the West bank, especially if there’s a medical emergency.”

She then visited a person in Hebron identified only by his first name – ‘Rashad’ – and listeners heard a story concerning his horse, Burak.

Pressly: “At the age of four Burak developed colic. He needed an operation. The only option was to get him to a hospital in Israel.”

Rashad [translated]: “We ordered a horse-box, got to the checkpoint. The horse-box waited six to eight hours and they wouldn’t allow him to go to the hospital. I asked them at the checkpoint why aren’t you allowing him to go? He has his papers, everything is correct. They wouldn’t. So I called the hospital. An Israeli vet he came and he took him to the hospital.”

Pressly: “It was too late. Burak died as he arrived at the hospital.”

The possibility that it was not the horse’s paperwork – but rather than of the person accompanying it – that was problematic was not raised. Pressly continued:

Pressly: “Israel’s restriction on free movement is a source of huge antipathy among West Bankers – not just horse owners. For Israel, insecurity and the recent wave of killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians in attacks at checkpoints justify the constraints. In 2015 the National Arabian Horse Show in Alonim was cancelled at the height of what’s been called the stabbing intifada. As far as we know, Burak’s the only horse to die after being held at a checkpoint.”

Remarkably, that highlighted sentence was Pressly’s sole attempt to explain to listeners why security measures are necessary at crossings and checkpoints – and it even misled listeners by claiming that Palestinian attacks during the past two years took place “at checkpoints” and implying that security measures commenced relatively recently. Listeners heard nothing whatsoever about the Palestinian violence during the second Intifada that actually made such security measures necessary and the word ‘terror’ was – predictably – completely absent from all of her reports.

In all four of her reports Pressly told BBC audiences that “love for Arabian horses trumps the divided politics of this troubled region”. More is the pity then that Pressly deviated from reporting on those animals and the people who raise them and ventured into just such politics by promoting well-worn, context-free, politicised themes seen all too often in BBC content.

BBC’s Knell paints a partial picture of Gaza woes

The lead item in the July 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 00:33 here) as follows:

Adie: “Today’s headlines from the West Bank once again tell of violence. Meanwhile in Gaza the UN has warned of increasingly unlivable conditions. The narrow strip of land has long been a place of tension: tension between Israel and the Palestinians and between the Palestinians themselves. For the past ten years the Islamist group Hamas has governed there and in the summer of 2014, over 50 days of fighting with Israeli forces caused widespread death and destruction. Yolande Knell was in Gaza during that conflict and this week she’s been back.”

 Yolande Knell begins her report on the beach before introducing an interviewee previously seen in one of her 2014 reports. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Knell: “Along the golden sand a few girls and boys squeal with delight as the waves lick their feet – much as on any other Mediterranean beach except that I’m in Gaza City where an energy crisis means that sewage treatment plants aren’t working properly. The sea is contaminated. It stinks. So as much as they’d love to plunge into the cool water to escape the sticky heat this summer, many families are avoiding it. ‘Gaza’s blessed with its long coast but I can’t take my children swimming’ says Naim al Khatib, a father of six whom I met 3 years ago during the last conflict between Hamas militants and Israel. Back then, Naim tried to keep up his kids’ spirits as they spent seven long weeks hiding in their apartment. Now, although everyone’s safe, he says every day remains a struggle. ‘The war’s over but the war-like situation is still going on’ he tells me. ‘The siege goes on, we’re still prisoners. The quality of life gets worse’.”

There is of course no “siege” on Gaza but Knell nevertheless chose to amplify that falsehood. She goes on, confusing Palestinian Legislative Council elections with “local elections”, giving a typically whitewashed portrayal of Hamas’ violent coup in 2007 and of course failing to mention that it is a terror organisation sworn to the destruction of Israel.

“It’s ten years since Hamas, having previously won local elections, ousted the Palestinian Authority – the PA – in Gaza and seized control of the small strip of land. In response Israel and Egypt ramped up restrictions on the flow of people and goods in and out to isolate the militant group and stop weapons reaching it. The blockade still cripples the economy. And now Gaza’s being squeezed even more as the PA – which controls only parts of the West Bank – piles pressure on Hamas to try to force it to hand back the territory.”

While the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip was exacerbated in April when the PA declared that it would only foot part of the bill for power supplied by Israel, the dispute between Hamas and the PA on that issue actually goes back much further, originating in the PA’s levying of tax on fuel for the Gaza power plant. That part of the story was omitted from Knell’s report.

“Some of Gaza’s electricity supply comes from Israel with the PA footing the bill. But recently the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas asked for this to be reduced as the PA was no longer willing to provide services for Hamas. Since last month mains electricity, already limited here, comes on for just 2 to 3 hours a day. Naim shows me how he relies on a generator and even solar panels mounted by a chirping canary’s cage on his balcony. Just maintaining a water filter and refrigerator – both essentials in Gaza – takes up a lot of his time and money. Adding to the strain, like thousands of other civil servants who had continued to collect salaries from the PA even if they weren’t actually working, he’s just had his income slashed.”

As readers may recall, the PA cut the salaries of its employees who have been paid to stay at home for a decade by 30% in April. After a quote from Khatib’s daughter, Knell goes on to mention a report previously promoted in BBC content.

“But a new UN report says Gaza is increasingly unlivable for its 2 million residents and that conditions are deteriorating further and faster than previously predicted. As the population continues to grow, there’s 40% unemployment and signs of decline in education and healthcare. At the Shifa hospital an ambulance screeches past and it transports me back once again to the bloody battles and terrible destruction of 2014.”

Notably, Knell’s recollections do not include the fact that the Hamas leadership used that hospital’s staff and patients as human shields – as she well knows.

“Back then, staff here worked around the clock to treat overwhelming numbers of casualties but when I see the familiar face of Dr Ayman al Sahbani, the head of emergencies, he looks as stressed as ever.  ‘Our state isn’t bad or very bad – it’s catastrophic’ he blurts out. ‘We lack essential drugs and supplies. The hospital is running on big generators and all the time I’m worried’. Dr al Sahbani explains that he depends on fuel donations and that there are no spare parts if generators break down. ‘If they stop we may lose patients in operation rooms, intensive care, kidney dialysis, the neo-natal unit’ he says breathlessly. On top of their usual work load, medics here are now also treating more sickness caused by poverty and bathing in the filthy sea. And it’s becoming more difficult to get Israeli permits to transfer seriously ill patients out of Gaza, partly because the PA is giving fewer guarantees it will cover their medical costs elsewhere. The doctor tells me how, days ago, he broke this news to the parents of a newborn with a congenital heart condition who went on to die. ‘How did I do this?’ he asks me. ‘I’m speaking to you not as a doctor but as a human being’.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch checked Knell’s allegation that the acquisition of permits is “partly” attributable to PA policies with the body that coordinates those permits for patients from the Gaza Strip. COGAT told us that:

“To our regret, an internal Palestinian dispute harms the residents of Gaza – instead of the regime in Gaza helping them – but Israel has no connection to the issue. We would highlight that in cases in which the Palestinian Authority sends requests, and particularly those classified as urgent, COGAT coordinates the immediate passage of patients at any time of the day in order to save lives. This activity is carried out on a daily basis at the Erez Crossing, through which residents of Gaza enter Israel for medical treatment.” [emphasis added]

Moreover, while Knell does not give the name of the baby who died of congenital heart disease, she apparently did not check whether or not “Israeli permits” actually have any connection to that case. The local media recently covered three such stories.

“Earlier in the week three children under the age of 1, all suffering from heart disease, died in Gaza hospitals.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Tuesday blamed the Palestinian Authority for the deaths, saying that Ramallah had refused to give medical referrals for the babies to be treated in the West Bank. The PA then blamed Israel.

Dr. Bassam al-Badri, who heads the Palestinian Authority department responsible for authorizing treatment for Gazans outside of the Strip, claimed Israel had refused to grant exit permits to guardians of the children.

But the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry branch that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs, said no such request had been made.

“No request was received from the Palestinian Authority to coordinate medical treatment in Israel for the three infants,” COGAT wrote in a statement to The Times of Israel.”

Knell closes her report with opaque references to a story the BBC has so far failed to cover and listeners would hence not understand.

“On this trip I meet some Gazans clinging to rumours of political solutions involving the return of exiled figures or improved relations with Egypt. But mostly there’s just frustration and despair. And there are warnings too that troubles in Gaza will spill across its borders – and not just in terms of the sewage that’s already reaching southern Israeli beaches.”

The picture of Gaza painted by Yolande Knell in this report is of course devoid of some very important context. Nowhere in her grim portrayal does she make any mention of the fact that if it wished to do so, Hamas could solve not only the electricity crisis but numerous additional issues plaguing ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas could, if it wanted to, pay for enough electricity to significantly improve power supplies. But it prefers to spend tens of millions of shekels a month digging attack tunnels into Israel and manufacturing rockets.

According to various estimates by the PA and Israel, Hamas raises NIS 100 million ($28 million) every month in taxes from the residents of Gaza. A significant part of that amount covers the wages of its members. But a large portion is diverted for military purposes. Estimates say Hamas is spending some $130 million a year on its military wing and preparations for war.”

However, the terror organisation’s prioritisation of tunnels, missiles and additional types of military build-up over the welfare of Gaza’s residents has no place in Yolande Knell’s story – just as was the case in her reporting from the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict. 

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ listeners get warped view of Gaza electricity crisis

Revisiting the BBC’s 2013 PA funding audit story

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

BBC reports on Lebanese presidential election omit relevant information

October 31st saw the appearance of two BBC News website reports concerning the long-awaited election of a president in Lebanon.aoun-art-1

A report currently going under the headline “Lebanon: Michel Aoun elected president, ending two-year stalemate” underwent a series of amendments throughout the day but all versions of the article informed readers that:

“Mr Aoun was backed by the powerful Shia Islamist group, Hezbollah.

His candidacy was blocked by the rival, Sunni-dominated Future Movement until a deal was struck earlier this month.”

An additional report by Carine Torbey titled “Lebanon: Will new president end political crisis?” portrays the story of the 30 month-long failure to elect a president as follows:

“For almost two-and-a-half years, Lebanon – politically split along sectarian fault lines – has been without a president.aoun-art-2

Michel Aoun, Christian leader and founder of the Free Patriotic Movement, and for a long time one of the main contenders, has since 2006 been an ally of the Iranian-backed Shia party, Hezbollah – formerly a bitter political opponent of Mr Aoun.

That alliance was sufficient to make him persona non grata for the main Sunni political group in the country, the Future Movement, led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and with strong links to Saudi Arabia.

A standoff, which became known as the “presidential vacuum”, ensued, effectively paralysing the country since May 2014.

On Monday, Mr Aoun was finally elected to the presidency with, remarkably, the support of the Future Movement.”

BBC audiences would therefore be likely to go away with the impression that the Future Movement is responsible for the fact that Lebanon was without a president for nearly two and a half years.

Just days before, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ and BBC World Service radio’s ‘The Essential’ had heard a BBC journalist visiting Lebanon – James Longman – suggest that the inability to elect a president was linked to corruption.

“The contempt for this country’s politicians is palpable. Unable to elect a president for over two years, they’re widely considered to be corrupt businessmen sharing the spoils of government contracts which rarely benefit the population.”

Back in August 2015, Carine Torbey portrayed the same issue as follows:

“The 27th parliamentary session to elect a president in August was as ill-fated as the previous 26.

Lebanon is caught in deep political divisions mirroring the regional fault lines. The MPs who are deeply allied to one player or another in the region, have been unable to decide on a president, a mainly ceremonial role, reserved for a Christian in a sectarian power-sharing system.”

And readers may recall that in June of this year, BBC Monitoring produced a backgrounder on the topic of the failed attempts to elect a president which similarly refrained from informing BBC audiences of the fact that the parliamentary sessions aimed at dong so were repeatedly boycotted by Hizballah and its allies – as Yalibnan reported in April:

“Since Sulaiman ended his presidential term in May 2014, Hezbollah and most of its March 8 allies boycotted 38 parliamentary sessions that were allocated for electing a president

Without a two-thirds quorum, parliament sessions led to bickering, as Iran-backed Hezbollah insisted that it would only participate if it received solid guarantees that its candidate, Aoun, would be elected.”

In September Yalibnan reported that: 

“Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem (usually referred to as No. 2) admitted on Sunday that it his party is behind the obstruction of Lebanon presidential election when [he] called on The Future Movement to “end its hesitation” and agree to back Free Patriotic Movement founder MP Michel Aoun’s presidential bid claiming that Hezbollah’s MPs would immediately end their boycott of the electoral sessions in order to vote for Aoun. […]

The Lebanese parliament failed again September 8th and for the 44th time in a row to elect a president to replace Michel Suleiman whose term ended on May 25, 2014.

As in the past sessions the parliament was unable to reach a quorum because the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group and its ally MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc MPs boycotted the session, because they could not reportedly guarantee Aoun’s election as a president.”

The BBC’s failure to report on those two and a half years of Hizballah arm-twisting does not only leave its audience lacking relevant background concerning the process of the election of the Lebanese president but also affects their ability to comprehend the context to Aoun’s stances and policies – some of which were already revealed in his first address as president.

“For the untrained ear, President Michel Aoun’s inaugural speech sounded like a mishmash of old chewed slogans about Lebanese “national unity”, harmony and patriotism. But between the lines, Aoun loaded his speech with code words that gave away the nation’s policy under his tenure.

First, according to Aoun, Lebanon will stay diplomatically neutral, thus giving Iran the advantage over Saudi Arabia. Second, Lebanon will sponsor “resistance” to “liberate” Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory. Third, Lebanon will “fight terrorism preemptively” inside Syria, and — in coordination with Assad — will deport Syrian refugees. […]

Right after giving Iran what it wanted, President Aoun delivered what Hezbollah wanted. “In the conflict with Israel, we will not spare any effort or resistance to liberate what remains of occupied Lebanese land,” Aoun said, thus trashing UNSC Resolution 1701, which calls for diplomatic resolution for disputed border territory between Lebanon and Israel.”

Since Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon over 16 years ago, the myth of “occupied Lebanese land” in the Mount Dov area has of course been used by Hizballah as an excuse for defying UN resolutions demanding its disarmament – despite the fact that the claim has been rejected by the UN.  

“In 2005, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan rejected the Lebanese government’s claim that Shebaa Farms was Lebanese territory in a report (.pdf) to the Security Council:

‘The continually asserted position of the Government of Lebanon that the Blue Line is not valid in the Shab’a farms area is not compatible with Security Council resolutions. The Council has recognized the Blue Line as valid for purposes of confirming Israel’s withdrawal pursuant to resolution 425 (1978). The Government of Lebanon should heed the Council’s repeated calls for the parties to respect the Blue Line in its entirety.'”

Obviously the BBC has not made sufficient effort to provide its audience with the full range of information required to meet its remit of enabling understanding of this particular issue.

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Hizballah official admits what BBC Monitoring didn’t tell

 

Casually reinforcing the narrative on BBC Radio 4

Kate Adie’s introduction to an item about rock-climbing which was broadcast in the July 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 17:09 here) sounded promising.FOOC 16 7

“In sixty years this programme has broadcast many dispatches from the Middle East – particularly the West Bank. They’re often about religion or politics and all too often about violence. Many journalists have written about the scene in Ramallah; just six miles from Jerusalem. But Ed Lewis has found something different: a sports centre that’s opening up new horizons.”

So was that item about a Palestinian rock-climbing club really “something different” and did it indeed manage to avoid politics? Not quite.

Tourism consultant and freelance journalist Edward Lewis managed to get a gratuitous, context-free mention of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence into his introduction – but without of course informing listeners why the construction of that fence (only a small percentage of which is actually “wall”) was necessary.

“Ramallah has a new wall. Not a vertical grey concrete wall but a bright blue, green and white one. It has no look-out posts, razor wire or steel gates. Instead there are bungee ropes, crash mats and colour. Far from emitting a message to stay away, this wall is encouraging Palestinians to approach and explore.”

The context of Palestinian terrorism was also erased from later remarks made by Lewis, as were the Oslo Accords arrangements which divide the region into Areas A, B and C.

“Despite the challenges of mobility in the West Bank…”

“In the wake of a rash of violent incidents since October 2015, tension with Israel has risen and it has become harder for single Palestinian men to get work permits in East Jerusalem.”

“The West Bank has not become an adventure playground overnight – nor will it anytime soon. Israeli restrictions and the designation of many parts of the West Bank as military zones or nature reserves severely restrict the scope for more outdoor activity.”

Could Lewis have reported on that climbing club in Ramallah without the insertion of that unnecessary and context-free mention of the anti-terrorist fence which contributed nothing to his report? Of course he could. But as we all too often see, even the most seemingly benign subject matter can be opportunistically used by self-conscripted journalists to casually reinforce an adopted narrative.  

BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly moves on to new pastures

After some five years at the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau, Kevin Connolly is moving on to take up a new post in Brussels – but not before making a final contribution to the mission he describes thus:

“I came here just to play the smallest of parts in writing one chapter of Jerusalem’s story”.

As those who have followed Connolly’s work over the past few years will be aware, it has not infrequently included subtle (and not so subtle) re-writing of past and present chapters of “Jerusalem’s story” and his concluding musings on the June 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 16:27 here) are no exception.FOOC 16 6 Connolly

For example, Connolly uses the ambiguous term “line of demarcation” which implies far more permanency than was intended by those who drafted the 1949 Armistice agreement which produced the ceasefire line he is actually describing.

“A stone’s throw from the house lies the line of demarcation which separated the armies of the Arab world from the forces of the newly independent Jewish state back in 1949.”

In Connolly’s account, no belligerent invasion or occupation by the British-backed Jordanian army is evident.

“When the fighting ended in 1949 Jerusalem was grudgingly divided between Israel and the neighbouring Arab Kingdom of Jordan.”

Only one population suffered “dispossession and disinheritance” according to Connolly: the ethnic cleansing of the Old City of Jerusalem has apparently not come to his attention in the past five years.

“Many Zionists were filled with despair. What was the point of this long dreamed of Jewish state if it didn’t contain the place of prayer at the Western Wall or the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives? It was a time of bitterness and loss too for many of the Arabs of West Jerusalem and beyond who fled their homes never to return, beginning a story of dispossession and disinheritance that still has no ending.”

While refraining from mentioning the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem, he does later find a use for that term:

“The war of 1967 left Israel in control of East Jerusalem, binding together the fractured fragments of Jewish hearts if you’re a Zionist, beginning 49 years of military occupation if you’re not.”

And Connolly even invents a Jordanian “claim” – and a dubious consensus – on belligerently occupied territory which the international community refused to recognise as Jordanian.

“The Palestinians who inherited the Jordanian claim on the east of the city believe it will be the future capital of their independent state and that is what the wider world wants too.”

Not for the first time, Connolly misleads listeners with regard to British history in the region, inaccurately suggesting that Mandate Palestine was a British colony.

“The British mandatory authority was a good government as colonial governments went – but like all colonial governments, it went.”

As we already know, Kevin Connolly thinks those who take issue with inaccuracy and omission in his and his colleagues’ reporting are driven by the wish to promote a “narrative” and his post-factual theory is again amplified in his parting shot.

“Supporters of the Palestinians and of Israel scrutinise everything that’s written about the city, alert for any terminological hint of bias or ignorance or both. Each side has its own lexicon and watches suspiciously for any hint that the news has been written in the words of the other. Is a young Palestinian who stabs an Israeli soldier a terrorist? Or a normal teenager goaded beyond endurance by generations of humiliation? Is an Israeli soldier who shoots a wounded and helpless Palestinian in such an incident a murderer or a young man defending his comrades and his country when they are under attack? There are no answers of course, beyond the answers you favour yourself. Reporting Jerusalem means finding words that convey what has happened and why – but also remembering that neither side recognises the truth of the other. The scrutiny is a legacy of the sense built up over centuries of how the unsettled future of this place matters to millions of people who have never seen it. These words aren’t exempt from that process either; ad nauseam maybe.”

Obviously Mr Connolly finds any examination of his five years of attempts to dictate “one chapter of Jerusalem’s story” tiresome and annoying and so he may be relieved to be moving on to pastures new. Given that the BBC does not refuse to respect the Belgian people’s choice of their own capital as it does in Jerusalem, we might perhaps expect to find Connolly less frequently engaged in negating the Belgian nation’s sovereignty over the City of Brussels.

“Jerusalem in general feels like it belongs to the world…”

“Jerusalem belongs to the ages and it belongs to the world.”

There are of course many of us who are not going anywhere and for whom the way in which the “story” of Jerusalem and Israel is told by brief sojourners such as Kevin Connolly has very real consequences. We remain charged with the task of trying to make certain that the “historical record” promoted by the world’s biggest and most influential broadcaster is both accurate and impartial in order to ensure that public opinion and foreign policymakers who take it upon themselves to intervene in that story are informed by facts rather than politicised journalistic activism.

And if Mr Connolly finds that tiresome, that perhaps says all that needs to be said about the motivations behind his wish to write – rather than observe and record – the story of the city and the country which hosted him for the last five years.   

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

h/t GB

The May 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 22:55 here) described in the synopsis thus:FOOC 28 5

“And the news media may love an anniversary, but some of its senior correspondents have dates they’d sooner forget …”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the piece as follows:

“Anniversaries are a regular feature of news coverage these days. Words like ‘it’s 12 months since’ or ‘100 years ago today’ preface many a tale. This can be useful for editors: it provides not only an opportunity to revisit and reassess a story but also, of course, a way to fill up space and airtime. But some anniversaries – as Jeremy Bowen knows – are marked more quietly, away from the public gaze.”

There is nothing “away from the public gaze” about the anniversary Jeremy Bowen chose to mark by broadcasting this particular item on national radio and – as can be seen in the examples in the related articles below – Bowen does not mark that anniversary “quietly”: he in fact makes a point of recounting the story annually.

But whilst the story and its yearly narration by the BBC’s Middle East editor are not novel, it does provide some insight into why the corporation’s coverage of Israel is as it is because it reveals what lies behind the long-standing approach to that country adopted by the gatekeeper of BBC Middle East content.

JB: “Sixteen years ago this week my friend and colleague Abed Takkoush was killed by the Israeli army. Abed was Lebanese from Beirut. He’d worked for the BBC since the [Lebanese] civil war started in the 1970s. Abed was in his early 50s with three boys and a wife. His business card said ‘driver producer’. He was a fixer: the kind of person without whom foreign correspondents could not function. We rely on people like Abed around the world, though he was exceptional because of his experience, his sense of humour and his bravery. He used to pick me up in his battered Mercedes taxi when I arrived at Beirut airport and accelerate away into the traffic, boasting that he was a better driver than Michael Schumacher. Istill miss him when I arrive at the airport and he isn’t there. I’ve never had the heart to delete his phone number from my contacts book.

On the day Abed was killed the Israelis were ending a long occupation of southern Lebanon. They were driven out by Hizballah – the Shia militia that also became a political and social movement. We kept a safe distance from the Israeli forces as they retreated. My big mistake was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera near the Lebanese border with Israel. I didn’t think they’d shoot from the other side of the wire. I asked Abed to pull over. He stayed in the car making a phone call while the cameraman Malek Kenaan and I got out. A couple of minutes later an Israeli tank about a kilometer away on their side of the border fired a shell into the back of the car. Somehow Abed forced his way out of the window and then dropped down onto the road. Malek told me not to go up to the remains of the car, which was on fire, because Abed was dead and the Israelis would kill me too. A colleague on the Israeli side heard the tank crew saying they’d got one of us and they’d kill the other two with a heavy machine gun. When I stuck my head out of the place where Malek and I had taken cover, they opened fire as they said they would. I’m as certain as I can be that the Israelis would have tried to kill me too if I’d gone up to find him. But I still feel guilty that I didn’t.

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

A few weeks later when I was back in Israel where I was based at the time, I went to see a General in Tel Aviv whom I’d been promised would explain their version of events. He said they’d thought we were terrorists about to attack them. Hizballah did not drive Israel out in 2000 by sauntering along a road in the midday sun of South Lebanon. They’re way cleverer than that. When I said that to the General he shrugged and said there were frightened boys in the tank who’d been warned they might be attacked.

 I believe the soldiers in the tank could see us clearly for what we were – harmless civilians. It was a bright, blue sky day and the optics in Israeli tanks are excellent. I think, for them, Lebanese lives were cheap and they assumed we were a Lebanese news team – not the BBC. […] Reporting wars is a dangerous business, obviously. I think it’s more dangerous now than it was when I went to my first war in 1989 or in that dreadful week in 2000. The reason is the 24/7 news cycle. Killing journalists is a good way of sending a message about power and ruthlessness.

I gave up going to wars for a while after the awful few days sixteen years ago. But it would be impossible to report the Middle East as it is now without accepting a degree of risk. I try to stay away from the front lines but sometimes they’re part of the job. Many of my working days in the Middle East involve men with guns. If I get an easier job I won’t regret saying goodbye to them. But for now they’re part of my working life and of increasing numbers of journalists in our troubled world.”

In short, the BBC has allowed Jeremy Bowen to use this item to once again promote the unsupported, unproven and unfounded allegation that Israel deliberately targets and kills journalists/civilians. And yet, for the last decade (since the creation of the position of Middle East editor in 2006) the man shooting that accusation from the hip at every opportunity has also been the person entrusted with ensuring that BBC coverage of Israel is accurate and impartial.

That, sadly for the BBC’s reputation, says it all.

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BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part two

In part one of this post we discussed some of the issues arising from Yolande Knell’s filmed and audio reports titled “Death at the Junction” which were broadcast on BBC World News television and on BBC Radio 4 on April 23rd.Knell Our World TV

An additional feature of both reports is Knell’s employment of PLO terminology and messaging. In the audio report she tells listeners:

“Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements are often cited as reasons for Palestinian anger but [interviewee] Daniel believes incitement is driving the upsurge in attacks.”

Cited by whom? That Knell does not reveal but a guidance document for members of the media which was issued by the PLO in November 2015 tells foreign reporters that “The main issue is the Israeli Occupation” and in relation to the current wave of terrorism, journalists are informed that:

“The Israeli government attempts to shift the focus away from their colonization enterprise and illegal occupation, which is the root cause of the continuous uprisings of the Palestinian people who have for decades endured an Apartheid regime. Though Israeli spokespeople have claimed that the main issues are Al-Aqsa and “Palestinian incitement”, the fact of the matter is that Israel continues to systematically deny Palestinian rights.”

Knell later goes on to say:

“The current escalation was partly triggered by Palestinian fury over restricted access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. The site is holy to Muslims and Jews, who call it Temple Mount.” [emphasis added]

In the filmed report viewers are told that:

“The Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third holiest place in Islam. Jews call it Temple Mount and it’s also their holiest site. It lies at the heart of the conflict. Last year, with hopes of a political solution further away than ever, the latest round of violence began right here. Clashes broke out between Israeli police and Palestinians. As Jews visited during religious holidays, fears grew that Israel had plans to change a rule that forbids non-Muslims from praying at the site.”

In November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. That directive is of course part and parcel of the PLO’s habitual negation of Jewish history and the BBC – which used to use the term ‘Haram al Sharif’ – has since frequently been found complying with that attempt to promote the inaccurate notion that the whole of Temple Mount “forms the Mosque” and amplifying baseless Palestinian claims of alleged Israeli intentions to change the status quo at the site.

Knell’s filmed report also includes extensive promotion of falsehoods which go completely unchallenged. During her interview with the father of a terrorist who was shot and killed whilst in the process of carrying out a stabbing attack at Gush Etzion junction on October 27th 2015, Knell tells viewers:

“Nadi [the terrorist’s father] himself is a former militant who spent 10 years in an Israeli jail but he says his son wasn’t politically motivated in the way that he was. He was impulsive, inspired by social media.”

Knell fails to tell audiences that Izz al-Din Abu Shakhadam’s accomplice had served a 16-month prison term in Israel for Hamas activities and that Hamas issued death notices for them both.

Viewers then see the following unqualified statements from the father in the sub-titles on screen:

“Izz al-Din was always keeping up with events on Facebook. He used to see the raids of the settlers on Al Aqsa, to see the Occupation army executing our girls and boys. Of course this affected him a lot and made him determined to stand up to this horrible occupying force. If we let them do what they want, tomorrow they’ll stamp on us.” [emphasis added]

Making no effort to relieve viewers of the inaccurate impressions given by those false statements, Knell goes on to showcase another terrorist who carried out a car-ramming attack on March 4th.

“But many deadly incidents at the Gush Etzion junction are not so clear cut. Instead there are conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives that reflect the deepening mutual distrust. Israel’s army says the woman driving this car ploughed into soldiers and was shot dead. A knife was found on her dashboard. […] But in her village the mourners tell a different story. Mohammed Sabatin says his wife was scared and took a wrong turn at the junction.”

Viewers see the following unchallenged claim in the sub-titles translating an interviewee’s response to Knell’s question concerning the knife.

They planted it there. We haven’t got a knife like that and that is always what the occupation does. They planted the knife by the windscreen. It’s not logical; why would she put the knife where everyone could see it?” [emphasis added]

That false theme has been repeatedly seen during recent months and it is part of the incitement spread by Palestinian Authority officials. Viewers of this programme are not however informed of that crucial context before Knell goes on to show a gory display.

“The family claims Israel used excessive force to stop Amani and I’m shown her clothes, riddled with bullet holes.”

“The circumstances surrounding Amani’s death remain uncertain.”

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do not share Knell’s uncertainty with regard to the circumstances which brought about the death of the ‘martyr’ as she was termed in the PA president’s condolence letter to her family.

Towards the end of the filmed report Knell tells viewers that “for Palestinians […] Gush Etzion is a symbol of Israel’s occupation” and audiences then see the following on-screen translation of the words of Nadi Abu Shakhadam:

They enjoy killing our children – only God knows why.”

Like the other lies highlighted above, that too goes unchallenged by Yolande Knell.

Both the half-hour long film and the radio report presented an opportunity for Knell to provide BBC audiences with more wide-ranging background and context than news reports on the terror attacks which have plagued Israel for over half a year allow. Instead, the corporation’s funding public was fed politicised messaging by means of the use of terminology such as “Palestinian land” and “illegal” settlements, undiluted PLO propaganda and downright lies which went entirely unchallenged by a journalist supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting.   

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BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part one

On April 23rd the BBC World News television channel aired a half-hour long filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell on its ‘Our World’ programme. Titled ‘Death at the Junction’ (available for a limited period of time on iPlayer here and also here), the report was broadcast four times on that particular day, with a further eleven repeats scheduled. Its synopsis reads as follows:Knell Our World TV

“Over the past year, a new wave of violence has brought terror to the streets of Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians have attacked Israelis in apparently random acts. In some cases the attackers have been young teenagers, armed with kitchen knives. The Gush Etzion junction is one site of many attacks. It’s on the main road between Jerusalem and Hebron and is used by thousands of Jewish settlers. The junction used to be a place where Palestinians would also shop and work. Now people are scared that being there could cost them their lives. The film contains disturbing images from the start.”

An audio version of the report (from 05:41 here) was also aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on April 23rd with the synopsis reading:

“In the West Bank a roundabout encapsulates what’s going on, and going wrong, in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

Both reports raise a number of issues – including the following claims from FOOC presenter Kate Adie in her introduction to the audio item:

“In the past six months young Palestinians have carried out a series of stabbings, shootings and car rammings. Some 30 Israelis have been killed and the state response is usually lethal with about 200 Palestinians killed; most of whom – Israel says – were carrying out attacks.” [emphasis added]

With ‘usually’ meaning what typically or normally happens, it is worth taking a closer look at that claim from Adie. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center produced an overview the seven months of violence between mid-September 2015 and mid-April 2016 which does not support Adie’s use of the term ‘usually’ or her employment of the qualifier “Israel says”.

“Two hundred forty terrorists were involved in the 204 significant terrorist attacks, that is, most of the attacks were carried out by single attackers. In addition, at least 59 terrorists were detained during preventive activities, so that the total number of terrorists who carried out or planned to carry out terrorist attacks was at least 299.

Of the 240 terrorists who carried out significant terrorist attacks, 138 were killed during the attacks. Two were killed in “work accidents” (one in a car crash and one when an IED blew up in his hands). One hundred and two terrorists were apprehended and detained while carrying out attacks, or escaped.

What is the overall number of Palestinians killed during the current terrorist campaign? Dozens of Palestinians who were killed rioting against the Israeli security forces can be added to the 138 terrorists killed while carrying out significant terrorist attacks. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent (April 2, 2016), the total number of Palestinians killed is 204. That figure may indicate that 66 Palestinians were killed during riots, of whom 27 were killed in the Gaza Strip (according to an NGO calling itself the “National Association of Shaheed Families”). Therefore, 39 were killed in Judea and Samaria (Note: Since the count was not carried out by the ITIC, there is no certainty that the numbers are correct, but in ITIC assessment they accurately reflect the situation).”

Adie also tells listeners that:

“Yolande Knell has been to a previously peaceful junction in the occupied West Bank that’s become a flash point.”

Was the Gush Etzion junction really “previously peaceful”? In fact numerous fatal and non-fatal terror attacks have been perpetrated at that location over the years.

Notably, both the audio and filmed reports include some exceptionally rare – if brief – BBC reporting on the history of the location. In the audio report Knell tells listeners that:

“In the early 20th century Jews bought land in this area but in fighting with Arab armies in 1948 they were forced out or killed. After Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, Jews returned. Settlements are seen as illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

A similar portrayal is given in the filmed item, with Knell concluding her short excursion into history by telling audiences that following the Six Day War, Israelis:

“…began to rebuild Kfar Etzion. It was the first settlement in the occupied West Bank after the war. Settlements are Jewish communities built on occupied land. They’re considered illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

Revealingly, Knell does not provide any explanation – or logical legal argument – to support her claim that communities built on land purchased by Jews and then belligerently occupied by the invading Jordanian army for a period of 19 years are now “illegal”. As ever, audiences are not informed that the interpretation of ‘international law’ adopted and promoted by the BBC is contradicted by additional legal opinions or that past peace proposals have included Gush Etzion in areas which would remain under Israeli control.

Moreover, Knell goes on to encourage her audiences to view the location as ‘Palestinian land’, telling viewers that:

“Gush Etzion – Hebrew for the Etzion bloc – is now thirty times larger than the original sites. Ninety thousand people live in more than 20 settlements and much of it is built on confiscated Palestinian land.” [emphasis added]

And telling Radio 4 listeners that:

“Now Gush Etzion is thirty times larger than it was historically. Areas of Palestinian land have been added to it causing deep resentment.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to contribute to her audiences’ understanding of the factors – including Ottoman land laws – which form the basis for land classification in Judea & Samaria and neither does she inform them of the 1979 Israeli government decision according to which new communities in Judea & Samaria would be constructed exclusively on state land, the resulting land surveys intended to prevent construction on land privately owned by Palestinians or of the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel is responsible for zoning and planning in Area C – which includes Gush Etzion. Instead, Knell dumbs down the picture presented to listeners and viewers of these reports by use of the inaccurate, misleading – and politicised – term “Palestinian land”.

The use of inaccurate and misleading language is also seen in the filmed report’s portrayal of the topic of Palestinian building:

“Khirbat Zachariah is surrounded by the Gush Etzion settlements and Mohammed Saad says life has become harder and more risky with new security measures at the [Gush Etzion junction] roundabout. […] Already Palestinians here feel great resentment. They’re forbidden from building by the Israelis whilst the neighbouring settlements are allowed to expand.”

Knell refrains from clarifying to her audiences where “here” is exactly and fails to prevent confusion by informing audiences that the vast majority of Palestinian towns and villages in Gush Etzion are located in Area A or Area B – meaning that their requests for planning permission and building permits are submitted to the Palestinian Authority. Khirbat Zachariah (also Sakariya) is indeed located in Area C and hence falls under Civil Administration planning laws but Knell’s report does not include any mention of the help Saad and his fellow villagers have received on that front from their neighbours in Gush Etzion.

In the filmed report Knell goes on to tell viewers that:

“The villagers (of Khirbat Zachariah) have lost parts of their land to the settlements. Most can no longer earn a living from their own farms.”

And in the audio version listeners hear the following:

“‘It’s difficult’ says Mohammed Saad, a farmer, as he prunes his grapevines.’Israel forbids us from building and we’ve lost some land’.”

BBC audiences are not told that the residents of Khirbat Zachariah were originally tenant farmers who rented land from an Arab Christian family from Bethlehem. The land was sold to a subsidiary company of the Jewish National Fund in 1944 before the family emigrated to America and when one resident of the Khirbat Zachariah claimed ownership of the land after the Jordanian occupation of the area in 1948, he lost the case in a Jordanian court and subsequently, in 1980,  his claim of ownership of the land was also rejected by the Israeli High Court of Justice.

Additional aspects of Knell’s reports will be discussed in part two of this post.

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