BBC’s Middle East editor warns against premature claims yet makes one

The September 26th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Who Will Lead Israel?” and the synopsis to the programme’s lead item reads as follows:

“Last week’s general election in Israel produced an indecisive result, but President Rivlin has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the country’s next government, after Mr Netanyahu and his main political opponent Benny Gantz failed to agree a deal on a unity government.

Many observers suggested this election would be the end of an era for Israel’s longest-serving PM, but as the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen points out, the pre-emptive writing of Mr Netanyahu’s political obituary has proved premature before.”

That synopsis resembles the introduction given (from 00:23) by presenter Kate Adie. Listeners then heard the BBC Middle East editor’s reminiscences from Israeli elections in 1996 and 1999, with Jeremy Bowen providing a crude and unhelpful caricature of Israeli politics:

“In Israel, the more opposed you are to concessions to the Palestinians, the more Right-wing you are and vice-versa.”

Later on in his monologue, listeners were told that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“He [Netanyahu] will repeat his conviction that he is the only man who can protect Israelis against Iran and its allies and against the Palestinians – both those in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza and the Palestinians who make up around 20% of Israel’s population.”

Not only did Jeremy Bowen continue to amplify his new narrative defining Arab-Israelis as Palestinians regardless of how they self-identify but Palestinian terrorism – the reason why Israelis require ‘protection’ – was whitewashed from the Middle East editor’s simplistic analysis.

Radio 4 listeners also heard the following claim (from 04:32) from the man tasked with providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.

“Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” [emphasis added]

That, however, is not the case: “next month” – i.e. October 2019 – pre-indictment hearings before the attorney general will take place over four working days commencing on October 2nd. As the Times of Israel notes:

“The hearings, which will see Netanyahu’s lawyers argue his conduct was entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law, will stretch over four days and wrap up before the start of the Yom Kippur fast on Tuesday evening.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.”

In other words, Bowen’s claim that allegations against Netanyahu will “come to court next month” is inaccurate and misleading to audiences both from the point of view of the time frame presented and with regard to the implication that indictments have already been made. Any potential indictment is dependent upon the outcome of the ongoing hearings and as we see above, that process will take time

One would of course expect the BBC’s main gatekeeper of Middle East news to be sufficiently familiar with the story so as to avoid making such a “pre-emptive” and “premature” false claim.

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Revisiting a BBC correspondent’s claims on gay marriage in Israel

Back in June listeners to two BBC radio stations heard three different broadcasts from the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell about a gay pride march in Jerusalem.

June 6th 2019: BBC World Service radio ‘Newshour’ and BBC Radio 4 ‘The World Tonight’

Knell: “And there are serious messages here. In Israel civil marriages aren’t legal – let alone gay marriages – and making political change is difficult, especially with recent coalition governments made up of Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties.” [emphasis added]

June 13th 2019: BBC Radio 4 ‘From Our Own Correspondent’

Knell: “But while same-sex marriages are increasingly recognised around the world, here in Israel they’re still not legal. The state doesn’t permit any civil marriages – only religious ones – and there’s no religious gay marriage option.” [emphasis added]

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Knell did not bother to inform listeners that while civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”) for either heterosexual or homosexual couples, ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state.”

Our colleagues at CAMERA recently secured a correction on the same topic from the Reuters news agency.

“CAMERA has prompted correction of a Reuters article which incorrectly reported that gay marriage is illegal in Israel. […]

While the state does not recognize gay marriages performed in Israel, it is incorrect to describe such marriages as “illegal,” since the couple is not in violation of any Israeli law. There is no law against holding the ceremony in Israel, nor in maintaining marital life in the country. Ha-Aguda, a leading NGO which advocates for recognized same-sex marriage in the country, explains (CAMERA’s translations and bracketed notes):

‘…the State of Israel recognizes same sex couples as Yedu’im BeTzibur [lit. “known in public”, i.e. unregistered cohabitation in the form of common-law marriage]. Following a Supreme Court ruling, the State is now obligated to include couples who provide a recognized [i.e. foreign] marriage certificate in the Ministry of Interior’s registry. Another ruling forced the State to enable a divorce process to such couples’ – Ha-Aguda, Association of LGBTQ Equality in Israel (link in Hebrew)

Notably, Ha-Aguda does not characterize same-sex marriages carried out in Israel as “illegal.”

Gay marriages, like all marriages involving Jewish citizens which are performed outside the Rabbinate (including intermarriages, non-Orthodox weddings, and even traditional weddings carried out by a rabbi not recognized by the Rabbinate) are not recognized by the state, but are not illegal.”

Reuters swiftly corrected the inaccuracy as follows:

“Gay marriages are not against the law, but neither are they legally recognised as valid in the country of 9 million, although weddings performed abroad are recognised.”

Yolande Knell – please take note. 

Half a story time with the BBC’s Middle East editor

The August 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“The humanitarian disaster in Syria continues to unfold but there’s little pressure from outside to stop the killing of civilians. Our correspondent considers the contradictions.”

And:

“Television footage from Idlib in northern Syria continues to provide distressing evidence of civilian suffering. But the world’s leading nations are unwilling or unable to intercede. Jeremy Bowen recalls his visits to the region in former, peaceful times but sees no end to the current violence.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 00:38 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Events in Idlib province in Syria in 2011 led to a devastating war and Idlib still remains a centre of resistance to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Civilians there are enduring appalling conditions as the Syrian army has driven rebel groups out of other towns and villages elsewhere in the country. Idlib is now the last major bolt-hole against Assad but, says Jeremy Bowen, that may not be for much longer.”

The following day – August 4th – a slightly different version of the same item was aired on BBC World Service radio’s version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As President Bashar al Assad’s forces advance on Idlib province, one of the last pockets of armed resistance to his regime in Syria, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen weighs up what is really at stake, and what course the civil war might take from here onwards.”

Presenter Anu Anand introduced the item (from 06:20 here) as follows:

Anand: “In recent weeks there’s been a surge of violence in the civil war still tearing away at the fabric of Syria and particularly at the country’s north-west and the province of Idlib. This is a part of the Middle East that’s seem millennia of human history and been witness to many an autocratic regime, to countless bloody conflicts and innumerable fighting forces. And since the protests broke out in the Spring of 2011 it’s always been a centre of resistance to the regime of Bashar al Assad. By 2017, as President Assad’s military drove rebel groups out of one urban centre after another elsewhere in Syria, Idlib became the last major bolt-hole for his opponents. But, as Jeremy Bowen explains, that may not be true for much longer.”

Both those introductions – including the highlighted sentences – fail to adequately clarify to listeners that the Assad regime methodically ensured that ‘evacuation agreements’ reached after fighting in other parts of the country often included the transportation of rebels and their families to Idlib province. For example in March 2018 in eastern Ghouta near Damascus:

“Fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, which holds Harasta, agreed to lay down arms in return for safe passage to opposition-held northwestern Syria and a government pardon for people who wished to stay, the opposition sources said.

Some 1,500 militants and 6,000 of their family members will be transported to rebel-held Idlib province in two batches starting on Thursday, the Hezbollah military media unit said.”

In April 2018 civilians and rebel fighters from southern Damascus were also sent to Idlib and in July 2018 some 4,000 people were evacuated from south-west Syria to Idlib, with AP noting at the time that:

“The U.N. and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as forced displacement. More than half of Idlib’s population of two million is of displaced Syrians from other parts of the country, following similar military offensives and evacuations.”

In August 2018 the Independent similarly reported that:

“Backed by Russia, the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have conquered swathes of territory in recent months. In a now-familiar pattern of evacuation agreements, they have effectively corralled fleeing civilians, moderate rebels and also hardline jihadis into the northern province. The battle Assad is expected to launch on Idlib will likely be one of the final showdowns against the embattled opposition, and possibly mark a bloody end to the civil war.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern for the nearly 3 million people trapped in Idlib. […]

The UN said this week it was bracing for “the most horrific tragedy” in Idlib and dubbed it a “dumping ground” for fighters and civilians. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, warned on Thursday that as many as 800,000 people could be displaced if the fighting does begin. He said he feared the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime and al-Qaeda.” 

That important context – along with the fact that in September 2018 Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province – was likewise absent from the account given by Jeremy Bowen, which began with a description of his own family trip to the district in 2010 before going on:

Bowen: “Since the [Syrian] regime and its Russian allies launched an offensive against the province three months ago, 450 civilians have been killed. Idlib is the last big piece of land and major population centre they still haven’t recaptured. A few days ago, in a speech overflowing with frustration and anger, the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that 440,000 people had been displaced within the Idlib enclave and the biggest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century was in the making. ‘Are you going to shrug your shoulders?’ he asked them ‘or are you going to listen to the children of Idlib and do something about it?’. But the Security Council will not, cannot act. The five permanent members are deeply divided over Syria. The result is a deadlock that discredits an organisation that’s only as strong as the political will of its members.”

Bowen however stopped short of clarifying to audiences that his euphemistic portrayal of a “deeply divided” UN Security Council in fact means Russian vetoes – as reported by AP in June.

“Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council on Monday from issuing a statement sounding alarm about the increasing fighting in and around Syria’s Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a council diplomat said. […]

The Security Council has struggled to speak with one voice on Syria in recent years. In one notable example, a 2017 Russian veto put an end to an initiative that determined accountability for chemical attacks in Syria. That effort was run jointly by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

In April 2018 the Guardian had already noted that:

“Russia has used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria.”

After reminiscing about another trip to the Idlib region in 2012, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “Turkey and Russia are the outside powers that matter in Idlib. The regime needs Russia’s power. Turkey wants a big say in the future of land just across its border and to destroy the power and national aspirations of Kurds who did the hard fighting on the ground against IS. And caught in the centre of it all are three million people in Idlib province. That includes tens of thousands of armed men loyal to a range of militias under an alliance led by a Salafist jihadist fighting group, some of whose leaders come from Al Qaeda. The regime and the Russians say they’re fighting terrorists. Many in the West would not disagree even as they deplore their methods.”

Just as was the case when he reported from Syria in 2015, Bowen made no effort to balance that promotion of a Syrian regime talking point by clarifying to BBC audiences that many more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes.

And so, once again, BBC audiences get a carefully framed story on Syria which omits relevant information essential for its proper understanding from the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.  

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BBC Radio 4 listeners are told of ‘Palestinian air’

The July 11th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“More than 25 years on from the Oslo Peace accords, close friendships between Palestinians and Israelis are still rare. Charlie Faulkner attends a Shabbat meal in Jerusalem where an Israeli woman invites a former Palestinian prisoner to her home.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 11:25 here) with an inaccurate portrayal of the aims of the Oslo Accords, a one-sided explanation of factors supposedly making a two-state solution “more remote” and the same unevidenced claim about friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “It’s more than 25 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed, aiming to fulfil the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The accords led to the creation of a Palestinian Authority with limited self-governance of the West Bank and Gaza and raised hopes for a more peaceful future. But now the ultimate goal of establishing a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution seems more remote than ever amid rocket attacks and air strikes and an Israeli government taking a hard-line approach. Close friendships between Palestinians and Israelis are rare but Charlie Faulkner has come across a personal attempt to bring people together.”

Charlie Faulkner is not a BBC employee: she describes herself as “an independent journalist” currently located in Amman and has written for several Qatar-linked outlets includingMiddle East Eye’, ‘The New Arab’ and ‘Al Jazeera’.

Faulkner’s story was about what she claimed was “a very unusual dinner party” at the home of someone described as “Jewish American” despite having lived in Israel for twelve years.

“In just a few moments Susan – a Jewish American in her 60s – would be inviting Suli – a former Palestinian prisoner – into her home for Shabbat dinner even though she’d never had a conversation with a Palestinian before. It was Susan’s daughter, 33-year-old Noa, who’d orchestrated this unusual get-together.”

Although family names are absent from Faulkner’s account, Noa appears to be Noa Yammer – communications director for ‘Hand in Hand’ – and ‘Suli’ is apparently Sulaiman Khatib who has previously appeared in BBC content. Carefully avoiding the word terror, Faulkner told listeners:

“Suli, now in his mid-forties, was imprisoned for 10 years at the age of 14 after attacking two Israeli soldiers. Having informally joined the Fatah movement, one day he and a friend decided to steal the soldiers’ weapons. During the attempt – and in a moment of blind fury – Suli and his friend stabbed them. Luckily the soldiers survived, he said, and after his release from prison he focused on achieving peace. He’s the founder of a group called ‘Combatants for Peace’ and gives speaking tours around the world. This year he’ll publish a book he hopes will humanise both sides of the conflict.”

Radio 4 listeners were given no factual information about the activities, agenda and funding of the political NGO ‘Combatants for Peace’.

Again with no evidence provided to support the claim, listeners were told that:

“Encounters between Israelis and Palestinians like this are incredibly rare, set against an often tense political background. […] The conversation quickly turned serious. Israel’s Independence Day was taking place the following week and Suli’s organisation had planned a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day service the evening before. He invited Susan to attend. Immediately she bristled but answered very honestly. She said she felt that attending would be disrespectful to the sacrifice made by Israeli soldiers who had died for the country.”

Faulkner made no effort to explain to listeners that that annual event – held on what is Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism – is considered by many to be controversial with “critics accusing it of legitimizing terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers and those who attacked them”.

Listeners heard Faulkner’s descriptions of her protagonists’ “attachment to the land”, with one including superficial references to the Six Day War and the Palestinian refugee issue – and promoting the notion of “Palestinian air”.

“Having spent most of her life teaching religious studies, Susan explained that through her faith she felt a real attachment to the land. She also emphasised that the family had sacrificed some quality of life to be there.”

“Suli pointed out his own family’s attachment to the land and how his cousin in Jordan, whose parents were among the thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the 1967 war, is not allowed to return. His cousin often longs to breathe in Palestinian air, said Suli, and on those days he climbs Mount Nebo from which he can see Jerusalem and the village where Suli’s family still live.”

More one-sided framing followed:

“He talked about how his village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, called Hizme, has continued to suffer under what he describes as an ever-tightening grip of the Israeli authorities.”

Terrorist incidents in and around that village were of course not mentioned in Faulkner’s account.  

Israelis, however, were painted as largely intolerant.

“We talked about a social media post Noa had shared showing empathy for innocent Israelis and Palestinians caught up in the 2014 Gaza conflict. It had unintentionally sparked a highly emotional backlash from some friends and relatives. ‘We’re talking about these people’s children on the front lines’ Susan exclaimed. These people had seen Noa as siding with the enemy. […] Susan said she was proud of the way her daughter could hold both sides in equal esteem, suggesting she maybe wasn’t able to do so herself.”

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ promises BBC audiences “[i]nsight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world”. This report did not include any of those elements and was remarkably superficial and uninformative. It did, however, promote an inadequately portrayed political NGO, marginalise Israeli concerns and contribute to the inaccurate framing of the Oslo Accords and the supposedly ever “remote” two-state solution that has been quite frequently evident in recent BBC reports.  

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell recycles her Jerusalem pride report – with a little help

A week after her audio report about the Jerusalem pride march had been broadcast on BBC World Service radio and BBC Radio 4, Yolande Knell recycled the same material in an item aired in the June 13th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As Pride events take place all over the world this month to recognise LGBT communities and to highlight ongoing campaigns for equal rights, Yolande Knell reports on Pride in Israel.”

With listeners once again not informed that the only country in her Middle East patch where Knell could produce such a report is Israel, presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 05:54 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “It’s the month of campaign and celebration for LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender – communities. Equal rights are by no means recognised universally and in Israel tomorrow tens of thousands are expected at the Tel Aviv pride parade. Last week the country appointed its first openly gay cabinet minister but a staged mass wedding for gay couples and trouble at the pride march in Jerusalem highlight unresolved tensions according to Yolande Knell.”

Exactly how Knell defines “trouble” would emerge later on in the report. She began however with an event which took place in the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv on June 4th. Interestingly, Knell’s account included messaging and motifs seen in an AP report about that event.

Knell: “Beaming, Nikita stomps on a glass wrapped in foil to cries of muzl [sic] tov – congratulations. But this isn’t a traditional Jewish wedding: it’s a symbolic one. Nikita and his long-time partner Roy are in a row of 23 gay couples hugging and kissing. All walked down the aisle and took vows at an open-air mass ceremony in Tel Aviv.”

Although the Sarona complex is an open-air venue with no “aisle” to walk down, that phrase was also found in AP’s report.

AP: “Tuesday’s event involved an unofficial wedding ceremony for 23 gay couples, who walked down the aisle, took vows and danced at a banquet, cheered by friends, family and supporters.”

Knell went on:

Knell: “But while same-sex marriages are increasingly recognised around the world, here in Israel they’re still not legal. The state doesn’t permit any civil marriages – only religious ones – and there’s no religious gay marriage option. ‘We participated so everyone would see us and know we exist’ Nikita says. ‘We love each other, we want to be married and have a normal life’.”

As was the case in her earlier report, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that while civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”) for either heterosexual or homosexual couples, ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state.

The AP report states:

AP: “The annual pride parade, set for June 14, draws flocks of foreign visitors to Israel, which flaunts itself as one of the world’s most gay-friendly tourist destinations.”

Yolande Knell told Radio 4 listeners that:

Knell: “Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly reputation – which it recently flaunted while hosting the Eurovision Song Contest – draws many same-sex Israeli couples to live here as well as lots of foreign visitors. Every year its pride parade along the beach has a carnival atmosphere. Young and old, gay and straight join the huge party, many dressed in flamboyant outfits or skimpy swimming costumes.”

The AP report goes on:

AP: “Yet political rights for Israel’s gay community lag behind increasingly widespread cultural acceptance.”

Yolande Knell went on:

Knell: “But in Israel rights for the gay community fall behind rising cultural acceptance in society.”

AP readers were told that:

AP: “Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties, which wield significant influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government and have a monopoly over matters of religion and state, have rejected legislation that condones homosexuality, which they see as defying Jewish law.”

Yolande Knell’s listeners were told that:

Knell: “In the Right-wing coalition governments of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties have had an influential role. They reject any proposed legislation which they see as condoning homosexuality, saying it defies Jewish law.”

Describing Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government” rather than its capital – in accordance with BBC editorial policy – Knell went on:

Knell: “That makes the pride march in Jerusalem – the holy city and Israel’s seat of government – feel more like a protest, although there’s still fancy dress. ‘I can do whatever I want in Tel Aviv and that’s great’ says Shlomit who’s with her gay friend, wearing a unicorn hat. ‘But if I’m not marching in Jerusalem, doing leg-work to demand the rights some people still don’t have, then I don’t have the right to call myself an ally’.

As was the case in her earlier report, Knell made no effort to inform Radio 4 listeners what rights LGBTQ people do have in Israel such as the fact that same sex couples who married abroad enjoy all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.

Listeners then learned that Kate Adie’s previous reference to ‘trouble’ in fact means a protest which received an advance permit.

Knell: “Near the start of the parade there’s a reminder of the strong opposition faced by Israel’s gay activists. A small group’s demonstrating against what it calls LGBT terrorism. Its leader Bentzi Gopstein belongs to a far-Right political party which struck a controversial deal with Mr Netanyahu ahead of the last election to shore up conservative votes. ‘This isn’t pride; it’s an abomination’ he shouts over a loudspeaker. ‘It’s not pride if someone can’t contain their lust. Keep Jerusalem holy’.”

In fact, prior to the April election Gopstein’s party ‘Otzma Yehudit’ joined the Jewish Home and National Union parties to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties. 

Knell: “With hundreds of police officers lining their route, the marchers pass the spot where a girl of 15 was fatally stabbed by an ultra-orthodox Jewish man during the parade four years ago. Many like Ronni stop to lay a red rose. ‘It’s very sad. It really shows what happens when you allow hatred to flourish’ she says. This crowd brings together secular and religious activists, all calling for greater tolerance even as they reveal conflicting currents in Israeli society. I meet liberal orthodox rabbis and their followers upset at how Jerusalem’s chief rabbi wrote to the mayor asking him to stop rainbow flags being displayed in the city. ‘Judaism’s a pluralistic religion’ says Ze’ev who wears a kippa or skullcap. ‘We’re here for the alternative’.”

Apparently for Knell, religious and secular people automatically ‘conflict’ rather than being simply diverse and co-existing “currents in Israeli society”. Once again she resurrected the story about the city’s chief rabbi’s letter without clarifying that the Jerusalem municipality rejected his request.

Next we discover that – in contrast to the impression given in her previous report – Knell did see the protests against MK Amir Ohana which took place at the Jerusalem march. She did not however bother to inform listeners which organisation was behind those protests and the pre-prepared placards – or of its political leanings.

Knell: “Then, there’s a decidedly mixed reaction to the appearance of Amir Ohana, the newly appointed openly gay justice minister who’s a loyalist of the prime minister. While some shake his hand, others yell ‘shame’ and ‘go home hypocrite’, accusing him of doing little for the LGBT community.”

As in her previous report, Knell amplified inadequately attributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.

Knell: “There are also strong differences of opinion among gay Palestinians. Social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality mean they don’t have their own pride events so some with access to the Israeli parades embrace them, like an East Jerusalemite drag queen in a tight black dress and bright red lipstick. Others, like Zizou, choose to boycott. ‘Pride week just helps Israel pinkwash its image’ he complains, accusing the country of presenting itself as progressive, liberal and LGBT friendly to distract from its conflict with the Palestinians.”

Before closing her report Knell managed to get a reference to the ‘peace process’ into an item ostensibly about pride marches in Israel while giving an imaginative portrayal of the country’s current “political climate”.

Knell: “This year pride in Israel takes place in a febrile political climate. After a recent bitterly fought election, Mr Netanyahu looked set to form a new government but failed to do so. Now the country must vote again. The campaign’s unlikely to see much talk of peace with the Palestinians but issues of religion and state will be hotly contested once more. Many of those flying rainbow flags this month will be hoping for political changes but they won’t have to look far for proof of how tough those will be.”

And so, for the second time in a week, Knell’s message to BBC audiences in the UK was that the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Jewish ultra-orthodox parties” – with no mention of how Arab parties in the Knesset relate to that issue. Yet again Knell failed to inform Radio 4 listeners what LGBTQ rights in Israel do include, while the issue of “social and legal prohibitions on homosexuality” in Palestinian society and the wider region is obviously of no real interest to the BBC’s Middle East correspondent.   

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BBC’s Bateman promotes false equivalence with Gaza report

The May 11th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Airstrikes and Sirens”. As listeners would soon learn, the word ‘airstrikes’ refers to the Gaza Strip and the word ‘sirens’ (rather than ‘rocket attacks’) refers to Israel. A photograph depicting damage at an unnamed site in the Gaza Strip was used to illustrate the programme’s web page.

The synopsis to the programme’s lead report by Tom Bateman reads as follows:  

“In Israel and Gaza, Tom Bateman hears how rocket and air strikes are ruining lives. With no end to the conflict in sight, what has the impact of the latest violence been?”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 00:31 here) using the standard BBC euphemism for terrorists.

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

Adie: “But first, a ceasefire between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip has been holding, after one of the worst flare-ups in recent years. Two days of fighting erupted after a Palestinian sniper shot and wounded two Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. In the intense military exchanges that followed, at least 25 Palestinians and four Israelis were killed. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman has been hearing from some of those caught up in it.”

Four days before this programme was aired the ITIC had published a report showing that the majority of the Palestinians killed were terrorist operatives or members of terrorist organisations. The BBC chose to ignore that information, instead creating a false sense of equivalence between the Israelis killed in attacks targeting civilians and the Palestinian terror operatives killed in attacks on terror related targets.

Bateman opened his report with an emotive description of events at one site in the north of the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “When Rafat Nasser [phonetic] ran into his apartment block he feared the worst. Masonry dust rained down in the darkness. The building, in a packed neighbourhood of the northern Gaza Strip, had partially collapsed. In the wreckage he looked hard and shouted out. There, among the rubble calling back, were his two teenage daughters Amira and Yaara [phonetic]. They were covered in debris, grey and unrecognisable, but they were alive. Rafat told me the block had just been targeted by an Israeli war plane. Its missiles struck the fifth floor, he said, completely destroying two apartments. Outside, Anas Abu Jidiyan [phonetic] raced to the scene. His uncle and aunt and their eleven-year-old son lived on the fifth floor. Anas used his bare hands to search through the rubble. He found the boy’s body lying in the street. He said it wasn’t until the morning after that other people found the remains of the child’s parents. ‘It is hard to describe’ says Anas – and he speaks more slowly – ‘that’s why we pray that no-one else will have to experience what we are going through’.”

While Bateman refrained from providing the name of the building and its exact location, we can obviously conclude that he is referring to a strike in northern Gaza in which a couple and their 11-year-old son were killed. The ITIC’s report includes casualties answering that description.

Photo credit: ITIC

“Talal Atiya Muhammad Abu al-Jadyan, 46, killed in an attack on the Sheikh Zaeid Towers in the northern Gaza Strip (al-Quds, May 6, 2019). The PFLP issued a mourning notice for him, indicating he was member of the organization (PFLP website, May 6, 2019). […]

Abd al-Rahman Talal Atiya Abu al-Jadyan, 12, killed in an attack in the northern Gaza Strip (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Facebook page, May 5, 2019). Son of Talal Atiya Muhammad Abu al Jadyan, PFLP member, who was also killed.

Raghda Muhammad Mahmoud Abu al-Jadyan, 40 (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Facebook page, May 6, 2019). Wife of Talal Atiya Muhammad Abu al-Jadyan, PFLP member.”

In other words the man described by Bateman merely as the “uncle” of one of his interviewees was in fact a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.

Bateman however went on to tick the ‘impartiality’ box using the BBC’s classic ‘Israel says’ qualification and dutifully avoiding the word terrorist.

Bateman: “Israel said it targeted only legitimate military sites in Gaza. There were more than 300 strikes over the two days. Buildings were levelled, usually after being emptied. Where targets were residential blocks the army said this was because they were being used for militant activity. The escalation was sparked when two Israeli soldiers were shot and wounded, apparently by a gunman from Islamic Jihad. The militant group has been growing more audacious in Gaza, with a new leader seeking perhaps to carve out an even more hard-line image against that of the dominant force there, Hamas. At the funerals of the two militants killed by Israel in response there was a wave of anger and a barrage of rockets.”

Listeners were then given a misleading time frame for the rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists which have been a regular occurrence for almost two decades, with Bateman claiming that the latest barrage was “fired at Israel” rather than at civilians.

Bateman: “The scream of the air-raid sirens in southern Israeli towns has become frequent in the last year. In the city of Ashdod I met Ephraim Cohen who lives in a six-storey block in a busy ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood. ‘Look’ he said, showing me the blown-out window in his children’s room ‘how can kids grow up like this?’. Glass cracked underfoot as we walked through his ruined flat. Some 700 rockets were fired at Israel over the two days. Ashdod is about 20 miles north of the Gaza Strip. Ephraim described hurrying his children into the shelter. They sat inside reciting psalms as the sirens wailed. Six alarms went off and they sang more loudly each time. After the final one, he said, they chanted at the highest pitch and then there was a huge blast. A neighbour – 21-year-old Pinchas Pashwazman – had tried to run from the building to shelter. He was hit by shrapnel and killed. ‘Forget the politicians’ urged Ephraim ‘they are full of slogans’. ‘We just want results’ he said, ‘an end to this’.”

Failing to mention that in addition to the homes of civilians the terrorists also struck a hospital treating many of those injured in the attacks, educational facilities and a synagogue, Bateman returned to his main topic – Gaza – but avoided telling listeners why the general population there has “no shelters”.

Bateman: “In Gaza you can almost become numb to the cycle of destruction. The Israeli air strikes when they get close send shockwaves through surrounding buildings and create a feeling of total vulnerability. The drones buzz incessantly in the sky, searching out targets. There are no air-raid sirens or shelters for ordinary residents of Gaza; only the militants, it is said, can escape to their underground bunkers.”

Bateman then returned to his usual practice of describing the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests”. He failed to clarify that what he described as “a series of…flare-ups” have in fact been exclusively the result of the decision by Gaza Strip based terrorists to attack Israeli civilians with military grade projectiles.

Bateman: “I have been in and out of the Strip over the past year as one story of Palestinian protests at the fence evolved into another; a series of ever more intense military flare-ups. While Israel and Hamas exchanged blows, they have also exchanged demands. Israel wants quiet. Hamas wants the blockade eased. These are old enemies: they don’t talk. So the head of Egyptian intelligence tries to broker calm one day and cash from Qatar via Israel to help relieve Gaza’s appalling poverty the next. The situation feels as desperate as it is lethal and there are few realistic political solutions on the horizon. Some say Islamic Jihad calculated that Israel wouldn’t go to war in the days leading up to the Eurovision Song Contest being held in Tel Aviv. So the moment was chosen to extract maximum concessions.”

Failing to mention the fact that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is backed by Iran and choosing to ignore statements and threats made by its leader days before his report was broadcast, Bateman went on to tell listeners of ‘ominous’ warnings from Israel’s prime minister.

Bateman: “The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned ominously that Israel’s campaign is not over. Few can feel optimistic. Rafat Nasser, struggling to find work, told me he had taken out a mortgage to buy his apartment in Gaza. Now he no longer has a home but he still has the loan to repay. In Ashdod I asked Ephraim Cohen, in his wrecked apartment, whether the ceasefire would hold. ‘It will hold’ he told me. ‘It will hold when the messiah comes’.”

Tom Bateman’s main messaging in this report was obviously a false sense of equivalence between events in Israel and events in the Gaza Strip. That was achieved by the use of euphemisms such as “flare-ups” and avoiding the fact that all the recent rounds of conflict have been sparked by rocket attacks by terror groups in the Gaza Strip. In addition Bateman failed to adequately clarify to listeners that while Israel targets terror related sites in its response to rocket attacks, the Palestinian terrorists’ rocket attacks are aimed at civilian targets. Moreover, he failed to inform BBC audiences that while all four Israeli victims of the latest round of conflict were civilians, some 74% of those killed in the Gaza Strip were members of terror factions.

 

 

BBC WS radio tries to do Arab-Israeli conflict demographics

During her recent visit to Jerusalem the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi found time to produce a report for the BBC World Service radio edition of the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

Aired on March 10th, the item was described in the programme’s synopsis as follows:

“Zeinab Badawi’s been to Jerusalem – and heard from carers and parents at a mixed pre-school where Palestinian and Jewish children grow up together and learn to talk out their differences.”

However the introduction (from 06:59 here) given by host Pascale Harter went beyond the topic of Badawi’s afternoon at the YMCA’s bilingual Peace pre-school, with listeners steered towards the facile and downright false view that the only obstacle to “peace in the Middle East” is the Arab-Israeli conflict. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Harter: “Peace in the Middle East is a dream which diplomats have struggled to make a reality for decades now. The question of how Israelis and Palestinians can best live together has tormented the world. With so much bitterness and suffering inherited from the past, how does one begin to sow the seeds for peace in the future? Even though it’s small, one initiative Zeinab Badawi visited recently in Jerusalem is not to be dismissed.”

In among her portrayal of the Jerusalem pre-school, Badawi also chose to give listeners a superficial portrayal of the topic of demographics.

Badawi: “Having a baby in Israel is strongly encouraged by the authorities. There are all sorts of tax incentives and other benefits for new mothers. And the more children you have, the more the benefits accrue.”

Indeed Israeli parents are eligible for tax credits and child allowances similar to some of those received by parents in the UK. Whether or not Zeinab Badawi believes that the British government also “strongly” encourages people to have children by means of such financial benefits is unclear but she does not appear to have considered the possibility that the governments of many countries similarly support their citizens’ life choices. She went on:

Badawi: “Fertility treatment like IVF is made easily available, even to same-sex couples.”

Israel does indeed lead the world in IVF treatment. Badawi however neglected to point out that the treatment – like the financial benefits – is of course available to all eligible Israeli citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. She went on to present her main point:

Badawi: “The demographics of Israel and the occupied territories feed directly into the debate about the future. The Jewish population in these lands is about six and a half million, with an equivalent number of Palestinians.”

At the end of 2018 the population of Israel was made up of 6,668,000 Jews, 1,878,000 Arabs and 426,000 others. The most recent figures (2017) from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cite a population of 4,952,168 in the PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip while the CIA Factbook suggests a lower figure. In other words, in order to present her portrayal of “equivalent” numbers of Jews and Palestinians in “these lands”, Badawi has added the entire Israeli Arab population to the Palestinian population, regardless of whether they identify as such or not.

Making no effort to explain the obviously relevant issue of the hereditary refugee status given to descendants of Palestinian refugees, Badawi went on:

Badawi: “If you add the Palestinian refugee population in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria then even by the lowest estimates the Israeli view is that any right of return for these people would pose a threat to Israel because Palestinians would far outnumber Jews. The birth rate is still high by global standards among both Jews and Palestinians here. In my afternoon at the Peace pre-school I spotted no fewer than four pregnant women.”

Notably, Badawi refrained from clarifying that the core aim of the demand for ‘right of return’ is to eliminate the Jewish state and that such a move would also eliminate the two-state solution that is supported by the international community.

And so, what BBC World Service radio audiences heard in Zeinab Badawi’s account of her brief visit to Jerusalem was in fact a context-free, simplistic and predictably jejune portrayal of a complex conflict which contributed nothing to audience understanding of the issue.

Omissions in the BBC Jerusalem correspondent’s story of ‘fanaticism’

Back in July the BBC published a number of items on different platforms which clearly communicated to audiences what they should think about the Nation State law passed by the Knesset that month after seven years of deliberation.

BBC News website framing of Israeli legislation

How BBC radio programmes misled by adding one letter and a plural

Inaccurate BBC WS radio portrayal of Israeli legislation

BBC producer breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality yet again

Two months later the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman returned to that topic in two reports – mixing in a partially told, unrelated story from an Israeli town with a name he could not be bothered to learn to pronounce properly.

On September 19th viewers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ saw a filmed report by Bateman.

On September 22nd listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 heard an audio version (from 06:24 here) of the same report which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie at the beginning of the programme as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Today we’re in Israel on the hunt for the finest falafel while hearing what Arab and Jewish Israelis think of the controversial new law which characterises the country as principally a Jewish state.”

Adie’s introduction to the item itself included overt signposting.

Adie: “In July Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – narrowly voted in favour of a new Nation State law. It promotes Israel’s Jewish character and has been celebrated by religious nationalists, among other supporters, and not just within Israel itself but in the USA and Europe. It’s also sparked condemnation at home and internationally. Among its harshest critics have been the country’s nearly 2 million Arab-Israeli citizens who say it underlines their second class status, as Tom Bateman’s been finding out.”

Bateman’s report began in a falafel shop in Afula and listeners were told that he has “set out to gauge reactions to one of Israel’s most controversial new laws” before Bateman introduced his linkage of a local story to his main agenda.

Bateman: “My lunch companion wants to tell me about that. This is the world’s only Jewish state says Ilan Vaknin, a local lawyer turned mayoral candidate. Israel is surrounded by Arab nations and needs protecting, he asserts. He supports the new Nation State law. The legislation is an emblem for the Israeli Right, championed by Benjamin Netanyahu – a prime minister with an eye on elections next year, trying not to be outflanked by more hardline nationalists in his coalition.”

Bateman went on to give a particular view of the legislation.

Bateman: “The single-page law is stacked with symbols of Jewish sovereignty. It states that Jews have the unique right to national self-determination in Israel. That what it calls Jewish settlement is a national value. That Hebrew is the state’s official language – a statement seen as downgrading Arabic. But what of the central complaint from the law’s many critics, I ask, that it shreds Israel’s founding pledge of equality for all the inhabitants regardless of their religion or race?”

Given that account, uninformed listeners could of course be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that Jewish self-determination in Israel is an innovation that first appeared in the Nation State law. What Bateman refers to as “Israel’s founding pledge” is of course the Declaration of Independence which does indeed pledge “equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” but also – he refrains from clarifying – clearly defines Israel as “a Jewish state”.

Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Ilan Vaknin says that the Jewish people in Israel must safeguard their land. There has certainly been a struggle among the people of Afula. When 48 Arab-Israeli families tried to buy plots of land on the edge of this Jewish majority town, there were protests by Jewish residents. Mr Vaknin acted for those who wanted to stop the sales. He claimed the Arab families had illegally coordinated bids. The courts ultimately threw out much of that argument and most of the sales went ahead. Many such land disputes elsewhere have not always gone the way of Arab citizens. Afula’s story seemed to echo a desire in the Nation State law to assert Jewish identity.”

Presuming to tell audiences what Israel “is supposed to stand for”, in his filmed report Bateman described the same story thus:

Bateman: “An empty space to be filled – but by whom? There has been a struggle among the people of Afula. What should this town in northern Israel look like? Who should live here? From whose past should it seek its character? Afula isn’t a story of troops and teargas filling the foreign news but a less visible confrontation between Jews and Arabs that goes to the heart of what the State of Israel is supposed to stand for. Ilan Vaknin wants to be the mayor. The lawyer told me how he tried to stop the sale of land to nearly 50 Arab families in this majority Jewish town. The dispute, which started well before the row over Israel’s new Nation State law, provides an example of the tensions that led to the law’s drafting and why its supporters think Israel’s Jewish character needs protecting. […] He [Vaknin] fought the sale of this land to Arab-Israeli families, saying they illegally coordinated bids But, after two years, Israel’s High Court allowed most of the sales to go ahead.”

The only Israeli politician mentioned by Bateman in these two reports is the current prime minister and so BBC audiences could be forgiven for concluding that it was he who proposed the Nation State law. In fact, the legislation was originally proposed in 2011 by Avi Dichter – who was at the time a member of the Kadima party – together with 39 other MKs. In contrast to the impression given by Bateman, the Afula building plots story began in late 2015.

While some of those who demonstrated against the sale of plots to 48 families from Arab villages in the district may have had racist motives, there are relevant parts of the story that Bateman did not bother to tell BBC audiences – not least the fact that the full complement of tenders in the proposed new neighbourhood was won by Arab applicants.

“The protesters claimed that the winning tender applicants may have coordinated their bids to ensure the neighborhood is populated mainly by Arab residents. They also charged that the tenders were poorly publicized within the city, and only announced in two local newspapers.

Many of the protesters have previously expressed their opposition to having an all-Arab neighborhood in the city.

The tender was run by the Israel Land Administration, which accepted bids on almost 50 plots for homes in a planned community next to the Afula Illit neighborhood. The results, published last month, showed that none of the plots had been won by current residents of Afula and all had been awarded to residents of Arab villages in the area.”

In April 2016 the Nazareth District Court revoked the tenders.

“Court president Justice Avraham Avraham said in his decision that the 48 Arab families violated housing tender rules by coordinating their bids on several of the 50 lots for homes in a planned neighborhood next to the Afula Illit neighborhood in an effort to fix prices for the homes.

“The coordination between bidders severely damages the principle of equality,” Avraham said in his decision. “The bidders joined forces to coordinate their proposed prices in an effort to unfairly divide the market among themselves.””

In August 2017 the High Court found that while a bidding group which had won ten of the 27 available plots had indeed coordinated bids, the other applicants had not. The court ruled that, rather than cancelling all the tenders as the Nazareth court had ruled, only the tenders of those shown to have coordinated bids would be cancelled.

While those parts of the story are missing from Bateman’s account, he did make sure to tell his radio audience of statements made by another interviewee – Ghayadad Zoabi.    

Bateman: “She says when Jewish protests took place against families like hers buying plots in Afula the sense of division felt overwhelming. She worries for her children who she fears have harder days to come. As long as the Right-wing controls Israel, she claims, it is heading for fanaticism. She believes the Nation State law sends a message to people like her that they are citizens second to Jews.”

And that of course is the agenda behind Bateman’s sudden interest in a local story that the BBC has ignored for nearly three years. Despite the fact that Arab-Israelis won tenders organised by a government agency and the 63% of bidders who were shown not to have coordinated bids had their tenders upheld in Israel’s High Court, The BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent still has a tale of “fanaticism” to tell about just one of the 22% of the world’s countries – including the UK – that have a religion enshrined in their constitution or basic law.  

 

 

 

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.  

 

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.