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.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

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.   

Related Articles:

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

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.

Related Articles:

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality


BBC Radio 4 promotes politicised narrative about the Golan Heights

The March 10th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 17:02 here) not promoted in its synopsis. After a couple of general sentences concerning the civil war in Syria, presenter Kate Adie introduces the item as follows:FOOC 10 3

“One vantage point – if you can call it that – overlooking the war is the mountain range that rises up about 40 miles south of Damascus; the Golan Heights – an area that was part of Syria before Israel seized it in the 1967 war. The residents include around 20,000 Israeli settlers and a similar number of Syrians belonging to the religious minority the Druze. Diana Darke’s just been to meet some of them.”

As ever in BBC content, the outcome of the Six Day War is presented without background or context. Moreover, listeners are not provided with any relevant background information about the freelance occasional BBC contributor – and self-described Arabist – Diana Darke which would enable them to put her words into their appropriate context.

pic bental

The “bizarre” cafe on Mount Bental

Darke opens with a description of a place once inaccurately described by the BBC as an “army position”.

“Standing in a peaceful spot, high on the volcanic cone of Mount Bental, I am gazing across into war-torn Syria. It is a surreal experience but this is the Golan Heights where anything is possible. Beside me is a bizarre hilltop café called Coffee Anan – after Kofi the former UN Secretary General. Staffed by enthusiastic Israelis from the nearby settlement of Merom Golan; Israel’s first to be built on the Heights. They are selling beer and pizza along with local pomegranate liqueur and skin creams. Sharing the vantage point are busloads of Israeli tourists and a couple of blue-capped UN observers stationed here to patrol the cease-fire line. While rising above the whole conflict is Mount Hermon, whose snow-covered summit still lies inside Syria. Israel controls a listening post bristling with antennae lower down.”

Her use of language such as “bizarre” and “settlement” is obviously part of Darke’s signposting but had audiences been informed of her “particular viewpoint” they may have found that (and the later) politicised categorisation of an Israeli kibbutz in the Golan all the more revealing given that she clearly has no issue with British people living on what she sees as Syrian land, having herself bought a house in Damascus a decade ago.

Darke then turns to her one and only named interviewee – a man who, together with his multilingual customer-tailored sales-pitches, will be familiar to anyone who has visited Mount Bental in recent years. Particularly notable is her repeated use of the word ‘now’ to describe a status quo which has been in place for well over four decades.

Mt Bental

Mt Bental

“In the car park I meet the cheerful Abu Amin; an elder from the Syrian Druze community with a magnificent moustache and the distinctive black baggy trousers that mark him as one of the enlightened uqqal – a spiritual level obtained only with the wisdom of age. He’s here to earn a bit of money in retirement by selling the famous local honey. He lives in one of the four Syrian Druze villages now cut off on the Golan. ‘Down there in Quneitra is where I was working as a maths teacher’ he explains philosophically, pointing out the now destroyed town. ‘When the Israelis captured it I fled back up here to Buqata. Now the border crossing is closed and our apple and cherry orchards are farmed by the kibbutz of Ein Zivan’.

Education is tremendously important to the Druze – a proud religious minority living mainly in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon. Syria’s ruling Assad family was good to the Golan Druze and earned their loyalty by allowing them to study free of charge at Syrian universities even after the ’67 war, giving them a small monthly stipend. The Quneitra crossing was opened to allow several hundred students a year to continue their courses. The current war has put an end to that so many now go to Germany instead. Interrupted by periodic explosions from the direction of Damascus, Abu Amin and I exchange poignant memories of the Syrian capital where he studied for four years. ‘Although the Israelis pressure us, we will never give up our Syrian nationality’ he assures me. ‘This war will end one day and our families will be joined again’.”

Darke of course does not provide any source to support that specious paraphrased claim of Israeli “pressure” on the Golan Druze population and neither does she tell her listeners that since the civil war in Syria began increasing numbers of them have applied for Israeli citizenship, to which they have been entitled since 1981. Notably too, Darke avoids all mention of the topic of the Druze population in Syria – many of whom have family in the Druze villages on the Golan – and the topic of the connection between the support for the Assad regime voiced by some Golan Druze and their obvious concern for the welfare and safety of their relatives in Syria does not come up in her monologue. She continues:

“His certainty is admirable but the realities on the ground are different. Israel has built over thirty settlements here, thirty wineries with names like Chateau Golan and devised nature reserves to market its tourism potential. It has built a ski resort on Mount Hermon and laid out hiking trails beside the waterfalls of Banias – the ancient city of Pan. Israeli maps increasingly show the Golan as theirs, making it even harder to remember that under international law all this is Syria, whose border once reached right down to the eastern shore of Lake Galilee.”

That latter statement is of course inaccurate: the 1923 agreement between the British and the French which predated the creation of Syria left the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee under the control of the British mandate authorities. Darke goes on to promote another inaccuracy:

“Israel is quietly drilling for oil on the Golan; rewarded last autumn with a major find. It has recently completed a big barrier along its border with Syria – similar to that on the West Bank – citing security concerns and the need to bring stability to the region.”

Israel not drilling for oil on the Golan: a private American company is currently carrying out exploratory drilling in part of the area and although that company’s PR has indeed included optimistic messaging to the media, the exploratory process is set to continue for the next two years and the viability of production remains at this stage unclear.  Darke refrains from reminding her listeners that the new fence along the border between Israel and Syria was constructed after repeated violent breaches of the old one in 2011. Failing to mention that all four of the Druze villages in the Golan have run their own local councils for decades, she closes:

Ein Kinya

Ein Kinya

“But the Golan Druze are determined to maintain their identity and govern themselves. Ein Kinya – the smallest and most beautiful of the Druze villages – has its own local council. Numbers are steadily increasing and they are building more homes. Two Christian families live in their midst. The young Druze women I see appear free from inhibition, dressed in hot pants, ripped jeans and tight tops; strong and equal to their men. Abu Amin’s generation still treasures memories of Damascus but the Golan’s younger Druze – deprived of such cherished dreams – have found their own uniquely non-political vision of their future. Key to the Druze faith is reincarnation of souls – male to male, female to female – always into a newborn child. They simply believe they will be reincarnated in their next lives into the right part of Syria.”

Which exactly is the “right” part of Syria today for members of the Druze minority, Darke does not reveal.

Diana Darke’s account is not only trite, one-dimensional and in parts inaccurate – it is clearly rooted in the echo-chamber of a political ideology which – despite the geopolitical tremors which have taken place in Syria in the last five years – has not changed since she wrote a similarly themed piece for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign over three years ago. Clearly the safety and welfare of the Druze residents of the Golan Heights spared the turmoil and violence in Syria is far less important to Darke and her fellow travellers than political point scoring on “settlements” and “international law”.

This of course is far from the first time that audiences have seen the BBC amplifying the jaded narrative which promotes the notion that all 20,000 Golan Druze homogeneously aspire to return to live under Syrian control. In the five years of the Syrian civil war, however, that narrative has unravelled and a curious journalist free from the baggage of a political agenda could find much more interesting, unexpected and complex stories to report from the foothills of Mount Hermon. 


BBC explains why it can’t always report history accurately

Readers no doubt recall the audio report from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which – despite including inaccurate portrayals of both Israeli and British history – was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on October 24th.FOOC Connolly 24 10

A member of the corporation’s funding public who wrote to BBC Complaints about that report received a response which includes the following ‘explanations’. [all emphasis added]

“I fully appreciate your concerns surrounding BBC reporting of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians during From Our Own Correspondent broadcast on 24 October 2015.

There are lots of newsworthy events happening the world over that deserve just as much time spent on them as that dedicated to the Middle East. We’ve to make difficult decisions based on the evidence and independent verification our news teams can gather in order to report on the news we do. This does lead to subjective decisions being taken on what news we report on and as is often the case the lack of reporting on any issue lays the BBC open to criticism from interested groups/supporters who accuse the BBC of deliberately failing to tell the whole story. This is never our intention.

We’re subject to ensuring our news coverage is of national interest to our domestic audience and there isn’t the time or resources available to cover every current or historical aspect of a conflict that some sections of our audience would like.

As a public service broadcaster and ingrained in our Royal Charter all journalists and news teams have a firm commitment to impartiality and we cannot be seen to be taking the word of interested groups and we always aim to verify all stories we receive before we give airtime to them. The situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories is fraught with difficulties, two sides with opposing views, each seeking to undermine the other. It is a difficult path our journalists take, they’ve to bury their emotions as much as possible to remain impartial when reporting on the attacks that take place in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and any other conflict. They come under intense pressure to report on what one side is saying but they’ve to keep a clear head and remain committed to reporting events as they happen to avoid emotional language.

I can tell you feel very strongly that the BBC has failed to properly convey the impossible situation that Israelis are in. Our only goal is to report truthfully and honestly the situation faced by both Israelis and Palestinians without bias. “

Common sense would of course dictate that if indeed “there isn’t the time or resources available to cover every current or historical aspect of a conflict”, then it would be prudent to avoid featuring sloppy and inaccurate accounts which mislead the BBC’s “domestic audience” about its own (and others’) history so prominently in BBC reports. The “national interest” of that audience is surely not served by misrepresentation of Britain’s administration of the Mandate for Palestine and one must also ask just how much “time or resources” are required in order for BBC correspondents to portray the well-recorded events of decades ago accurately.

Perhaps if the BBC focused more on reporting facts rather than promoting narratives, it would find the presentation of historic events, which in this case are crucial to audience understanding of the context of a news story, far less time and resource consuming. 

BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative

The BBC’s reputation as a reliable source – underpinned by a supposedly unwavering commitment to cast-iron accuracy and impartiality in its reporting – means that members of the public, researchers and educators regard its content as being an authoritative record. The BBC itself relates to its online archive content as “historical record” and its Director of Editorial Policy and Standards has stated that “[h]owever long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”.

Mr Jordan might therefore care to consider a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available from 00:43 here) which was broadcast in the October 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”.FOOC Connolly 24 10

Ostensibly providing listeners with a historical angle to the current wave of terror in Israel, Connolly’s report is remarkable for the fact that it once again promotes the notion that the attacks are of a “random and spontaneous nature”, ignoring the issue of incitement and the growing number of cases in which perpetrators have been shown to have links to terrorist organisations.

Concurrently, Connolly’s messaging for listeners includes the employment of statements such as:

“…the readiness with which Israel’s security forces resort to lethal force against Palestinians”

And, referring to checkpoints outside the Jerusalem neighbourhoods from which a very significant proportion of the attackers have come:

“….the sense that restrictions on movement are a form of collective punishment”.

But Connolly’s politically motivated framing of the story reaches its zenith in his inaccurate portrayal of the history of Jerusalem.

“Even the British – eternally torn between the desire to have an empire and the desire to have an empire on the cheap – left some kind of mark.”

“British rule lasted more than thirty years in the Holy Land.”

Mandate Palestine was not of course part of the British Empire, as Connolly implies in those two proximate statements. Britain indeed administered the Mandate for Palestine, but that mandate was established (along with several others) by the League of Nations with the specific aim of reconstituting a Jewish national home: a task which the administrator did not complete in the years before it returned that mandate to the League of Nations’ successor, the United Nations, on May 14th 1948.

Having distorted one very relevant part of the history by erasing the Mandate for Palestine from audience view, Connolly then goes on to promote a blatant factual inaccuracy.

“The British left in 1948, leaving the Arab kingdom of Jordan in control of East Jerusalem and the Old City and West Jerusalem in Israeli hands.”

The uninformed listener would obviously take that statement to mean that Jordanian control over parts of Jerusalem was both recognised and perfectly legitimate: the result of their having been handed over to it by the previous ‘landlord’.

Despite having erased from the picture the fact that Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem actually came about by means of a belligerent invasion of Israel by Jordan (together with four other Arab nations) immediately following Britain’s abandonment of its role as administrator of the League of Nations mandate and Israel’s declaration of independence, Connolly goes on to include a demilitarized zone (surely unexplainable according to his version of events) in his story.

“The route I follow crosses what was then an edgy and dangerous DMZ – a demilitarized zone across which Israel and the Arab world contemplated each other in mutual hostility.”

He proceeds, erasing yet another episode of Jordanian belligerence from his account:

“In the war of 1967 Israel crossed the DMZ and drove the Jordanians out of the Old City and out of East Jerusalem. The victory brought the holy places – the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jewish Western Wall and the Islamic al Aqsa compound – under Israeli control, where they remain to this day.” [emphasis added]

Here we have yet another example (previous recent ones can be seen here, here and here) of the BBC’s adoption and promotion of the inaccurate narrative whereby all of Temple Mount is al Aqsa and Connolly even portrays the site as exclusively “Islamic” – despite the fact that it is of significance to members of three religions.

He continues:

“…the victory of 1967 brought the Arab population of East Jerusalem and dozens of outlying villages which had belonged to Jordan under Israeli military occupation.” [emphasis added]

Of course those locations were in fact under Jordanian occupation and their later annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community, meaning that Connolly’s claim that they “belonged to Jordan” is inaccurate and misleading.

The take-away message promoted to listeners to this report is that the roots of the current wave of violence are to be found in the Israeli occupation of areas that previously belonged to “the Arab kingdom of Jordan”. Not only is that an inaccurate portrayal but in order to frame the story in such a way, Connolly distorts and erases the history of the region in a manner which actively hinders audience understanding of the wider issue.

Given that this report potentially risks wasting public resources by becoming the subject of editorial complaints, the BBC clearly needs to issue prompt corrections to the plethora of inaccuracies promoted by Kevin Connolly.


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More conspiracy theory amplification from BBC’s Yolande Knell – and why it matters

“No-one becomes a terrorist from a standing start. It starts with a process of radicalisation. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists.

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination. […]

First, any strategy to defeat extremism must confront, head on, the extreme ideology that underpins it. We must take its component parts to pieces – the cultish worldview, the conspiracy theories, and yes, the so-called glamorous parts of it as well.

We must demand that people also condemn the wild conspiracy theories, the anti-Semitism, and the sectarianism too.”  (PM David Cameron, July 2015)

Over the past few weeks a particularly inflammatory conspiracy theory has been repeatedly amplified on a variety of BBC platforms. According to that conspiracy theory, Israel seeks or intends to change the status quo on Temple Mount and whilst assorted versions of that libel have been published and broadcast by the BBC, the corporation has to date not told its audiences in its own words that they are baseless. At best, it has opted to tell them that “Israel says” it has no intention of changing the status quo at the site. At worst, it has lent the BBC’s reputation of reliability to such lies.

One example of unchallenged amplification of that conspiracy theory came in a filmed report by Yolande Knell on October 13th. Two days later, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ broadcast an item by Knell (available from 00:44 here) which – among other things – again promoted the words of the same interviewee.FOOC 15 10 Knell

Presenter Kate Adie’s introduction to the item was notable for her use of qualifying terms to describe terrorists and violent rioters – including minors.

KA: “The Israeli army has been deploying hundreds of troops across the country to try to combat the worst surge in violence there in months. Yesterday police in Jerusalem shot dead two Palestinians who they say tried to stab Israelis in separate incidents. So far this month, seven Israelis have been killed in attacks and at least thirty Palestinians have died – including alleged assailants and several children.” [emphasis added]

Adie continued, failing to provide listeners with the full story behind Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks.

“The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of executing Palestinian children in cold blood – a remark denounced as lies and incitement by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yolande Knell says the violence if fueling a sense of panic in Israel and raising fears of a new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.”

Yolande Knell’s relatively long account began as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

YK: “It’s a scene so familiar that it could be from almost any time over the past three decades. Palestinian teenagers wearing jeans and T-shirts and checkered keffiyeh scarves fling stones and marbles at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. And today there’s a swift response: an army jeep tears down this hotel-lined road in Bethlehem, firing out white ribbons of tear gas. Soon we hear the crack of gunfire. Recently there’ve been almost daily battles like this across the occupied Palestinian territories.

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

The anger’s fueled by a row over access to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City which is built in a place that’s both sacred to Muslims and Jews. Despite official Israeli denials, many Palestinians believe there’s a plan to change long-standing rules and give Jews the right to pray openly at the site they call Temple Mount.

‘This started because Israelis entered our al Aqsa Mosque and disrespected it’ a young protester Ahmed tells me, referring to an incident last month. During a Jewish holiday, Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli troops after the forces went briefly inside the mosque in response – they say – to stone-throwing rioters.”

Knell’s description of violent rioters as “worshippers” is obviously misleading, as is her attempt to claim that the rioting was caused by the actions of the Israeli police. All the incidents in which the police have been obliged to keep order at the site over the last weeks began because of organised Palestinian attempts to violently disrupt visits by non-Muslims to the site. This of course is not the first time that Knell has misrepresented those events. The report continues with Knell once again amplifying the particularly inflammatory falsehood that Israel is conducting a “fight” against Islam.

“‘It’s a red line’ Ahmed goes on. ‘All our lives we’ve been dealing with Israel’s occupation as a political struggle but now they’re turning it into a fight against our religion’. The activist has already spent four years in an Israeli prison for rock throwing. Now he hopes for a third Palestinian uprising and tells me he’s ready to go back to jail. On a nearby street I also meet Mustafa who’s 25 and says he’s prepared to die for the nationalist cause. ‘I like to go and throw stones and whatever happens, happens’ he remarks. ‘It’s for al Aqsa, it’s for our martyrs and all our humiliations’.”

Demonstration in London, UK, 2010

Demonstration in London, UK, 2010

Next, Knell revisits one of her regular themes: misrepresenting the anti-terrorist fence in the vicinity of Bethlehem whilst failing to clarify to audiences that it exists because of Palestinian terrorism.  

“The shop worker describes a daily life where he’s hemmed-in by checkpoints, by the concrete wall that surrounds much of Bethlehem – part of Israel’s separation barrier – and expanding Jewish settlements near his home on the edge of the city. Despite his university education, his career prospects are limited. Mustafa connects his feelings of anger to local unrest in the West Bank and the recent spate of knife attacks and shootings across Jerusalem and Israel. Amateur video of almost every assault is posted on social media and he watches them all. ‘Maybe this will be the stabbing Intifada’ he says.”

Downplaying the violence of the first Intifada – during which around a thousand Palestinians were murdered by Palestinian vigilantes – Knell goes on:

“The first Palestinian Intifada which began in 1987 was marked by coordinated popular unrest while the second, starting from 2000, produced suicide bombings by militants. Together, they claimed the lives of over 5,000 Palestinians and over 1,100 Israelis. The latest stabbings have so far caused several deaths and dozens of injuries. Police blame most on lone-wolf attackers making personal decisions to act. But while the intensity and pattern of the violence may not match the experience of previous uprisings, it’s stirred up old fears for Israelis.” […]

Knell’s closing words include whitewashing of the incitement coming from Mahmoud Abbas and completely ignore the issue of incitement from official PA and other Palestinian sources. 

“The Israeli authorities have struggled in their response to the recent crisis. Some far-right politicians are demanding action over Temple Mount. Meanwhile, security officials and the Israeli prime minister have largely held back – worried about exacerbating the troubles. On the Palestinian side, Islamist groups have declared the attacks heroic while the ageing secular president says he supports popular protests but not violence. The current unrest isn’t organized in any meaningful sense. It has no clear and unified goal. It comes as a generation of young Palestinians have lost faith in their leaders. They’ve watched peace talks fail to deliver a promised independent Palestinian state. For all those reasons, it’s very hard to predict what will happen next and whether those who are trying to bring the situation under control really can do so.”

Of course listeners to this programme would be incapable of putting Knell’s makeover of Mahmoud Abbas into its appropriate context because the BBC has studiously refrained from informing its audiences of what “secular” Mahmoud Abbas says to his people in Arabic.

This message, for example, was broadcast on PA TV nineteen times in three days during October 2014.

More recently, this was shown on official PA TV:

Obviously, the fact that the BBC gives unchallenged amplification to conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount is a problem. The fact that it also refrains from clarifying to its audiences in its own words that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo at that site is another, as is the fact that the BBC has consistently concealed from its audiences the religiously themed rhetoric and incitement fueling the conspiracy theories surrounding Temple Mount.Al Aqsa UK FOAA  

Those problems do not just raise questions about the BBC’s ability to report on this Israel-related topic accurately, impartially and responsibly. They also have the potential to affect British domestic issues because conspiracy theories about Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque are by no means confined to the Middle East – as this page from the website of the Leicester-based group ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ and scenes from the anti-Israel rally held in London just last weekend demonstrate.

Prime Minister David Cameron clearly understands that a vital part of combating extremism in the UK is confronting and exposing conspiracy theories.  With its unrivalled outreach, the BBC is of course well placed to play a part in contributing to that aim – should it so choose. 

BBC’s Keyworth mainstreams an inaccurate political narrative

Listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on July 11th heard a prime example how a one-sided, inaccurate, politically motivated narrative can be mainstreamed into the public consciousness even in content which is not overtly political.

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 22:40 here) as follows, adhering to the now standard BBC practice of presenting last summer’s conflict between Palestinian terrorist organisations and Israel as an affair which took place exclusively in one location.

“It’s been a year now since the war in Gaza. Seven weeks of fighting, Israeli shells and Palestinian rocket attacks and much destruction in Gaza. Eighteen thousand properties there were destroyed, many people are still homeless today. Several hundred people crowded into a square in the centre of Gaza City on Wednesday to watch the armed wing of Hamas stage a rally marking the occasion. What were described as new missiles were put on show. Marie Keyworth recently spent the day with a Gaza family, watching them at work, going shopping with them at the market and joining them for lunch.”

If readers are curious about that Gaza City rally, which was not reported by the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau staff, more information can be found here.

As readers will recall, Marie Keyworth visited the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas in May on behalf of the BBC’s business department. Her latest report  – which also appeared as a written article titled “Love in a time of conflict” on the BBC News website’s ‘Magazine’ and Middle East pages on July 13th – is not about business matters but ostensibly tells a whimsical tale of romance. In among, however, listeners and readers are fed statements which are presented without any context or qualification.Keyworth FOOC

“Gaza is more often associated with conflict than love …”

“Of course it doesn’t take a genius to work out that some palm leaves trussed together with twine would do nothing to protect Ahmad and his siblings from the shells that fall on Gaza whenever a conflict erupts there.”

 “But what the shelter does provide is something equally important – a kind of psychological security. Something painfully absent from Gazan lives, and something Ahmad clearly craved.”

“You could almost forget you were in one of the most densely populated and frequently bombed places on earth.”

“But of course the reality for Gaza is the constant threat of war.”

“After all, it’s far more fun to talk about stolen kisses than it is to talk about bombs.”

Keyworth’s narrative is one of entirely passive “Gazan lives” in a place where “conflict erupts” – apparently all by itself – and where “the shells that fall” when it is “frequently bombed” do so for no discernible reason. In Keyworth’s world there is no cause and effect, no responsibility and no agency. And of course, there is no terrorism.

That banal and inaccurate portrayal obviously not only does nothing to meet the BBC’s remit of building understanding of “international issues” but even deliberately entrenches a politically motivated false narrative which is already disturbingly prevalent.


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