Twenty-nine hours later – BBC News reports Golan cross-border attack

At around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of November 27th an incident took place along the border in the south Golan Heights.

“Soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit had crossed the security fence with Syria to conduct an “ambush operation,” while remaining inside Israeli territory, when they came under attack from small arms fire, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

They returned fire, but soon came under attack from mortar shells.

In response, the Israel Air Force targeted a truck “that had some sort of machine gun on top of it” and killed the four terrorists who were riding in it. […]

According to the IDF, the four men were members of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, formerly known as the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist group in Syria that is connected with the Islamic State. […]

The incident was the first major confrontation between Israeli forces and Islamic State affiliated terrorists in the Golan, though Israel has clashed with other fighters on the Syrian side of the border several times.”

The incident received coverage on the BBC Arabic website on the same day. Bizarrely, the article was tagged “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” even though it obviously has nothing to do with that subject matter.

During the night between November 27th and 28th, a building used by the ISIS linked terrorist group was struck by the Israeli air force.

“The IDF said Monday that the target in the overnight airstrike was an “abandoned UN building that has been used by the Islamic State as an operations center along the border in the southern Syrian Golan Heights,” adding that “the compound was the base for yesterday’s attack against IDF forces.”

“This is an additional response to yesterday’s attack, and it is aimed at preventing the terrorists from returning to the installation which poses a significant threat,” the IDF said.”

In the early afternoon of November 28th the BBC News website published a report concerning that strike and the previous day’s incident – which had hitherto gone unreported in English.golan-incident-report

Headlined “Israeli aircraft target IS position in Syrian Golan Heights“, the article opens with an account of the last of the story’s events.

“The Israeli Air Force has bombed a building used by Islamic State (IS) militants in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights, Israel’s military says.

The air raid targeted an abandoned UN peacekeeping facility used as a base for an attack on Sunday against Israeli soldiers on Israeli-occupied territory.

The four militants behind that attack were killed in an earlier strike.”

Readers are not provided with any explanation as to why the UN building was “abandoned” and are not reminded that the so-called ‘demilitarised zone’ has long since ceased to meet that definition, with UNDOF forces having largely retreated from the area. Moreover, towards the end of this report readers find the standard – but now irrelevant – BBC mantra concerning the Golan Heights.

“Israel seized the region in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which a UN peacekeeping force was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.”

Only in the sixth paragraph do readers find out about the attack that sparked events.

“In Sunday’s incident, Israeli soldiers came under machine-gun and mortar fire, according to the Israeli military.

The air force bombed a vehicle carrying the assailants, whom the military said were members of the IS-linked Khaled Ibn al-Walid Brigade, a Syrian group formerly called the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade.” [emphasis added]

Not only did the IDF ‘say’ that the four terrorists were members of the ISIS linked group: the BBC refrains from informing its audiences that ISIS later published their photographs.

Readers are not provided with any further information concerning Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed or its recent internal conflicts. Neither are they reminded that one of the groups making up that organisation – the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade – kidnapped UN forces in 2013. Readers are not given any information concerning the size of the area controlled by the ISIS affiliated group adjacent to Israel’s border and the Syrian civilians living in that region have not been the topic of any BBC coverage.

BBC’s news from southern Syria front: for Arabic speakers only

With the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen on the ground in northern Syria, audience attentions have been focused on that region where, according to the corporation’s reports, the ceasefire which came into effect on the evening of September 12th is “largely holding“. However, another front is currently rather less quiet.

Throughout the past week or so, multiple incidents of mortar fire from Syria into the Israeli Golan have taken place – attributed to spill-over from the heavy fighting between opposition groups and regime forces and their supporters near the border which continued under the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

On September 13th, after Israel responded to one of the incidents of cross-border mortar fire, the Syrian regime claimed to have shot down two Israeli aircraft. That claim was swiftly refuted by the IDF.

“The statement from the Syrian army said one aircraft was downed over the skies of the Syrian town of Quneitra, near the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, and the other, a drone, was shot down closer to Damascus.

“Our air defenses blocked the attack and shot down the military aircraft in (the southern province of) Quneitra and a drone west of Sa’sa” in the province of Damascus, said the statement carried by state news agency SANA.

The alleged achievement was highlighted widely in Syrian state media.

The IDF in a statement confirmed it had been shot at, but said aircraft used to target Syrian positions overnight were safe.bbc-arabic-plane-golan

“Two surface-to-air missiles were launched from Syria after the mission overnight to target Syrian artillery positions,” an IDF statement said. “At no point was the safety of IDF aircraft compromised.””

Once again, the degree of reliability of information put out by the Syrian regime – which the BBC has in the past unquestioningly amplified and promoted – is glaringly apparent.

The Syrian regime’s claim was the subject of a report – “Syria says it shot down an Israeli airliner and Israel denies” – which appeared on the BBC Arabic website on September 13th. The BBC’s English-speaking audiences, however, have not been informed of that incident or the recent tension-raising uptick in cross-border mortar fire from Syria into Israel.

Weekend long read

1) With the British government having this week announced that it will not fund ‘World Vision International’ until its investigation into alleged diversion of funds to Hamas is complete, readers may find a background article on the organisation by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile useful. “Five Things You Need to Know About World Vision” is available here.Weekend Read

2) An interesting post about the Israeli perspective of the civil war in Syria is found at the IDF blog.

“In 2011, the population of the Syrian Golan numbered 1.2 million. The Syrian side of the border was fully functional with its farms, UN bases, towns and forests. […]

As of 2016, the population of the Syrian Golan is a mere 750,000 – 63% of its pre-war residents. 50,000 Syrians from the Golan alone have been killed, and the rest have fled inland or to other countries. Those who remain live in dire circumstances. Because of the fighting, they have little access to medical care, public works, food, and other basic necessities.”

3) Following on from this week’s rare BBC coverage of an internal Palestinian story, Khaled Abu Toameh provides some related background and context.

“Palestinians refer to Nablus as the “Mountain of Fire” — a reference to the countless armed attacks carried out against Israelis by residents of the city since 1967. Current events in Nablus, however, have shown how easily fire burns the arsonist. The Palestinian Authority is now paying the price for harboring, funding and inciting gang members and militiamen who until recently were hailed by many Palestinians as “heroes” and “resistance fighters.” Unsurprisingly, most of these “outlaws” and “criminals” (as the PA describes them) are affiliated in one way or another with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.

Nablus, the so-called Mountain of Fire, is now threatening to turn into a volcano that is set to erupt in the face of Abbas and his PA government.”

Read the whole article at the Gatestone Institute.

4) Matthew Levitt has written a very interesting essay titled “Hezbollah’s Pivot Toward the Gulf”.

“Hezbollah’s status in the wider Sunni Arab world has dropped precipitously since its height a decade ago after the 2006 Lebanon War. In the wake of that conflict, Hezbollah rode a wave of popular support across the region. A decade later, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group and the Gulf States have cracked down on Hezbollah supporters and financiers within their borders. The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have issued statements condemning Hezbollah as well, leading to a war of words between the group and Gulf officials. In January 2016, the Saudi government released a report on Iranian-sponsored terrorism that focused heavily on Hezbollah, spanning the group’s militant activities from the 1980s to the present.

But increasingly tense relations—and the larger regional context of a proxy war between Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and sponsor, and the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia—may now be moving this schism from words to actions, threatening more overt violence between Hezbollah and its Shi`a allies and the Gulf States and their Sunni partners.”

Read the whole essay here.

 

Golan Heights residents bust the BBC (and UN) obsolete narrative

In March of this year a BBC News website report failed to tell audiences the whole story behind a UN Human Rights Council anti-Israel resolution.

“Knell does not however inform BBC audiences that the resolution was initiated by the Palestinians and promoted by various Arab and Muslim countries. Despite her use of the term “Palestinian lands” and the fact that the report opens by telling readers that “Israel has criticised the UN Human Rights Council for voting to establish a database of firms doing business in settlements in the occupied West Bank”, Knell does not tell readers that the resolution also includes the Golan Heights.

Readers are not told that at the same session – which took place during the week in which five years of civil war in Syria were marked – the UNHRC also passed a resolution calling on Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syria along with condemnation of alleged ‘human rights abuses’ against the Druze population of the Golan.”

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

The Mayor of the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams recently gave an interview in which he addressed one of the persistent and perennially predictable UN resolutions concerning the Golan Heights and its Druze population.

“A leader of the Druze population of the Golan Heights disputed the assertion of a United Nations committee that accused Israel of imposing economic and social hardships on his community.

Dulan abu-Saleh, the mayor of Majdal Shams, the largest Druze town in the Golan, told Makor Rishon that the UN Economic and Social Council’s recent statement on the area was “a total joke,” the daily reported Friday. […]

“I don’t understand what they’re talking about, it’s laughable,” abu-Saleh said. Druze in the Golan “don’t serve in the IDF and so far are only receiv[e] from the state.” Referencing the war in Syria, he said: “Why don’t they condemn the horrors in Syria, where dozens of children are killed daily? Golan residents have a good life.”

He also said: “Although we weren’t included in some major cabinet decisions on budgets, when we build and make up plans we never felt discrimination. On the contrary, we always found an attentive ear.”

Prior to the eruption in 2011 of a civil war in Syria, only 1,700 of the Golan’s Druze claimed Israeli citizenship offered to them. Hundreds have applied since then.”

In addition:

“Karim Batkhish, a resident of the town of Masa’ada, is quoted as saying: “The war in Syria is irrelevant to us. Some may say they support [Syrian President Bashar] Assad but it’s a lie to show Syria we’re with them. They’re lying, no one wants to see Syria here.””

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, BBC reporters have periodically produced reports from the Golan Heights, all of which have presented an outdated and monochrome portrait of the Golan Druze which fails to inform audiences of the changes that events of recent years have brought about.

In 2013 it was Bethany Bell who reported that:

“Traditionally the Druze have had close religious and political ties to the family of the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. The secretive Druze religion, like Mr Assad’s Alawite sect, draws on branches of Shia Islam and strong Syrian nationalism has tended to mean loyalty to the Assads.”

In 2015 Kevin Connolly told BBC audiences:

“Most of the Druze of the Israeli-occupied Golan continue to regard themselves as Syrians. They follow the television news from Damascus and await the reunification of a country from which they were cut off by the wars of 1967 and 1973.”

In 2016 BBC audiences were told by Diana Darke that:

“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’. […]

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.”

There is a very interesting story to be told about the ways in which the Syrian civil war has affected residents of the four Druze villages on the Golan Heights and their relationship with Israel. It is a story, however, which the BBC continues to overlook, preferring instead to adhere to its long outdated narrative. 

BBC News website recycles previous Golan Heights inaccuracies

Hot on the heels of his audio report from the Golan Heights which was broadcast on June 15th on BBC Radio 4, Andrew Hosken produced a written article on the same subject for the BBC News website’s Middle East page’s ‘Features’ section on June 20th – “Syrian conflict: The view from Golan Heights” –  which suffers from many of the same factual inaccuracies.Hosken Golan written

Hosken’s report opens with a description of his visit to a chocolate factory. Seeing as that factory is located in Kibbutz Ein Zivan, it is reasonable to assume that he would have noticed the nearby border fence and, just beyond that, the town of Quneitra.

When the Six Day War ended with the ceasefire of June 10th 1967, Quneitra was left under Israeli control and remained so until the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Under the terms of the 1974 agreement between Israel and Syria, Israel evacuated territory it had captured during the Yom Kippur war as well as some 60 square kilometers in the Quneitra area, captured in 1967. Following the 1974 agreement, ITN reported that “Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad personally hoisted the Syrian flag over the ruined town of Kuneitra [Quneitra] on Wednesday (June 26) to mark the end of seven years of Israeli occupation”.

Nevertheless, readers of this report by Hosken were again told that the Israeli Golan is 54.5 square miles larger than is actually the case and that the border is “the 1967 ceasefire line” rather than the 1974 line.

“Territory encompassing most of the Golan Heights, approximately 500 square miles, was captured by Israel in the last stages of the so-called Six Day War of 1967.

Israel effectively annexed the land in December 1981 when it officially extended Israeli law and government to the Golan.

The “border” between Israeli-occupied land and Syria is now the 1967 ceasefire line that is enforced by the United Nations.”

The mandate of the UNDOF forces in the area is to “maintain” and “supervise” – rather than ‘enforce’ – the 1974 agreement.

The article portrays Hizballah as “Islamist militants” rather than an international terror organization.

“Assad has been heavily supported by Iran and, in particular, the Islamist militants funded and backed by Tehran, Hezbollah. Hezbollah has vowed to destroy the state of Israel.”

In common with the audio report, the population of the Golan Heights is inaccurately portrayed as being over a third smaller than is the case and the location of the Druze residents of the Golan is described in confusing terms.

“Of the 30,000 or so people in Israel-occupied Golan, fewer than half – about 14,000 – are Jews. The rest are mainly Druze Arabs, who straddle the 1967 ceasefire line.”

Visiting Moshav Yonatan, Hosken tells readers that:

“The village lies in south-eastern Golan just four miles from the ceasefire line. On the other side, so-called Islamic State is believed to be fighting Assad’s Hezbollah-backed forces.”

In fact, Yonatan is located in the central Golan and the ISIS affiliated groups (which have of late been fighting other rebel groups more than Assad and his allies) are positioned further to the south.

Despite the existence of documentation, Hosken once again tells BBC audiences that:

“…Israel believes a small number of Syrian Druze are being used in sporadic attacks against Israelis in the Golan Heights by Hezbollah” [emphasis added]

As noted here previously, the topic of Hizballah and Iranian activity on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights has been under-reported by the BBC in the past and so it is good to see a journalist finally giving some air-time and column space to that issue. It is however a pity that such long overdue reporting is marred by very basic factual inaccuracies.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Airbrushing Hizballah: BBC News report on Nasrallah speech

BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

As regular readers will be aware, it is extremely rare for BBC audiences to be provided with the background information necessary for their understanding of the events which preceded Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.

All the more refreshing, therefore, was Andrew Hosken’s introduction of some context into the opening of his June 15th report for BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ (from 14:07 here), although the rest of his report was dogged by factual inaccuracies.

Reporting from a lookout point in the south Golan Heights, Hosken told listeners that:

“Before 1967 Syrian troops positioned their artillery here and used it to devastating effect to shell Israeli positions down below.”

Kibbutz Ha'on from the Golan Heights

Kibbutz Ha’on from the Golan Heights

Those “positions” were of course the civilian communities lying at the foot of the Golan Heights such as Tel Katzir, Ha’on and Ein Gev, as was noted in the recording from a tourist information point which followed Hosken’s introduction.

“Syria took advantage of its topographical superiority on the Golan Heights and for nineteen years relentlessly attacked the northern Israeli communities below.”

Hosken continued:

“So now tourists come to enjoy the view of the Sea of Galilee. The Israeli army captured most of the Golan Heights – some 500 square miles – from Syria in the last stages of the Six Day War and Israelis have occupied it ever since.”

The actual area of the Israeli Golan Heights is 1,154 square kilometers or 445.5 square miles. Listeners then heard the same tourist information recording again:

“An entire generation of children spent part of their childhood in bomb shelters and as a result was nicknamed ‘the bomb shelter children’.”

Hosken next proceeded to Moshav Yonatan which for some reason he described as being “not far from the shores of the Sea of Galilee” even though it is a 28 km drive away.

“But just four miles away from where we are, across the ceasefire lines of the 1967 Six Day War, there is the so-called Islamic State actually fighting the forces of President Bashar al Assad…”

The ceasefire lines are actually those which came into being in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War. After having asked a local resident the somewhat bizarre question of whether he prefers to have ISIS or Hizballah on his doorstep, Hosken continued:

“Of the thirty thousand or so people in the Israeli occupied Golan, less than half – around 14 thousand – are Jews. The rest are mainly Druze Arabs who straddle the 1967 ceasefire line.”

As of 2014 the population of the Golan Heights was actually 45.7 thousand – 19,900 of whom were Jews and 21,900 Druze. The claim that the Druze “straddle the 1967 ceasefire line” is presumably intended to mean that in addition to Druze residents of the Israeli Golan Heights, there are also Druze communities in Syria. Hoskens went on:

“But Israel believes that a small number of Syrian Druze are being used in sporadic attacks against Israelis in the Golan Heights by Hizballah – the militant Islamist group that is backed and funded by Iran.” [emphasis added]

The involvement of some Syrian Druze in attacks along the border is not a matter of ‘belief’ and it is of course notable that Hosken refrained from using the more accurate term ‘terrorist organisation’ when describing Hizballah.

An unidentified contributor then correctly told listeners that Hizballah’s activity along the Israel-Syria border “has nothing to do with the Syrian civil war – that’s part of Hizballah’s war against Israel” but – despite being serially under-reported by the BBC – that topic was not explored further.

After a contribution from an additional interviewee, Hosken closed his report as follows:

“For many IS remains the most immediate security threat but concern about the growing influence of Iran is now being felt across the region. But possibly with serious consequences for the world, it is being felt most acutely in Israel.”

One can of course reasonably assume that there are people in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere who are feeling “the growing influence of Iran” at least as acutely as Israelis. Apparently though, the BBC believes that their concerns will not have “serious consequences for the world”.

Related Articles:

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Airbrushing Hizballah: BBC News report on Nasrallah speech

 

BBC fails to tell the whole story of UNHRC anti-Israel resolution

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 25th under the headline “Israel rejects database of settlement-linked firms” pertains to a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council the previous day.UNHRC art

The BBC’s report is notable both for what it does and does not tell readers.

In the former category we see the standard insert which breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform audiences of alternative views to the narrative on ‘international law’ adopted by the BBC.

“Settlements built on territories occupied by Israel in 1967 are considered illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this position.”

We also see employment of the term “Palestinian lands” to describe locations in Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria which, prior to being under Israeli rule, were occupied by Jordan and have never been under the control of a Palestinian entity. Significantly, the BBC previously ruled that the employment of that term “appropriately reflected the language of UN resolutions”, despite the fact that it is obviously confusing and misleading to audiences aspiring to understand the factual background to the dispute over those locations.

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the database will provide a resource for any organisation wanting to divest from companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

It will potentially include a number of Israeli and international firms working in industries from banking to construction and security services, our correspondent adds.”

Knell does not however inform BBC audiences that the resolution was initiated by the Palestinians and promoted by various Arab and Muslim countries. Despite her use of the term “Palestinian lands” and the fact that the report opens by telling readers that “Israel has criticised the UN Human Rights Council for voting to establish a database of firms doing business in settlements in the occupied West Bank”, Knell does not tell readers that the resolution also includes the Golan Heights.

Readers are not told that at the same session – which took place during the week in which five years of civil war in Syria were marked – the UNHRC also passed a resolution calling on Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syria along with condemnation of alleged ‘human rights abuses’ against the Druze population of the Golan.

Neither does Knell tell BBC audiences of the response to the UNHRC blacklist from the organisers of the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

 “In a official [sic] statement, the BDS Committee stated:

This is a welcome step but the UN Human Rights Council must go further to hold Israel to account for its violations of international law including by supporting a full ban on trade with illegal Israeli settlements and a two-way military embargo.”

Although the article includes a quote from the Israeli prime minister concerning the resolution, it predictably fails to provide readers with any objective information concerning the UNHRC’s habitual disproportionate focus on Israel and its anti-Israel bias.

A media organisation which genuinely aspired to enable its audiences to understand the context behind this story and the narrative it promotes would of course have ensured that it supplied readers with that crucial background.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ dodges the issue of UN bias against Israel  

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. 

 

How Pavlovian BBC responses can lead to inaccurate reporting

On January 22nd the BBC News website published a report titled “Syrian arrested in Germany over UN kidnapping” which opens as follows:Syrian arrested art

“A Syrian has been arrested in the south German city of Stuttgart on suspicion of helping to kidnap a UN peacekeeper in Damascus, prosecutors say.

The peacekeeper escaped in October 2013, eight months after being captured in Syria’s capital.

Germany’s federal prosecutors say al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group affiliated to al-Qaeda, was behind the kidnapping.”

The article goes on to state:

“The peacekeeper, whose nationality was not named, had been based in the demilitarised zone on the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights and it is not known why he was in Damascus.” [emphasis added]

As anyone familiar with the region will know, the area still known as the demilitarized zone (although it long since ceased to meet that description) is not “Israeli-occupied” at all and has not been throughout more than four decades of its existence.Camp Faouar

But a closer look at this story demonstrates even further how the Pavlovian response “Israeli-occupied” to the term “Golan Heights” from a BBC journalist led to inaccurate reporting.

Whilst the German authorities may indeed not have mentioned the UN peacekeeper’s identity and nationality, as other reports on the story note, the only person of that description to have escaped his kidnappers in October 2013 after eight months in captivity was the Canadian national Carl Campeau who acted as a legal advisor to UNDOF.

And – as noted in several interviews given by Mr Campeau after his ordeal – at the time of his kidnapping he was actually based in Syria – at UNDOF’s Camp Faouar which is located to the east of the demilitarised zone.

In other words, there was no reason whatsoever for the term “Israeli-occupied” to appear in this report.  

BBC radio stations mangle Samir Kuntar story – part two

h/t DK

The December 20th edition BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Rebecca Kesby – included an interview with Smadar Haran Kaiser (from 04:11 here) which was promoted as follows at the start of the show.

“Coming up on the programme today we’ll have reactions to the death of the Hizballah leader from a woman whose entire family was killed in a raid he took part in. It’s a compelling story from a woman with every reason to hate but who refuses to do so.”Newshour 20 12 Kesby

The synopsis appearing on that programme’s webpage promotes the item as follows:

“Israeli widow remembers Hezbollah attack”

Kuntar and his three associates did not of course carry out the terror attack in Nahariya in 1979 on behalf of “Hezbollah” (which – according to the BBC’s own profile of the organization – did not even exist at that time) but as Palestine Liberation Front operatives.

In her introduction to the item, Kesby upgraded Kuntar’s status within Hizballah ranks and predictably failed to inform listeners that it is an internationally designated terrorist organization.

“Now, one of the most senior leaders of the Shiia militant group Hizballah has been killed in Damascus. Samir Kuntar died when missiles hit a residential building in the Syrian capital. The Lebanese-based group blames Israel for the attack. They haven’t confirmed or denied it, although an Israeli minister did welcome the news of his death earlier today. Several rockets were later fired into northern Israel – perhaps in retaliation for the assassination – and we understand mortars were then fired from Israel into Lebanon.”

The subsequent part of the introduction indicates that Kesby had no idea who she was interviewing and her ignorance concerning the circumstances of the Nahariya attack obviously misleads listeners.  

“Well Samir Kuntar had previously been jailed by the Israelis for a notorious attack on a police officer and his family back in 1979. We’ll be hearing from that policeman’s widow in just a moment…”

Smadar Haran Kaiser is of course the widow of Danny Haran who was murdered by Kuntar and his group together with their four year-old daughter Einat. The murdered policeman was Eliyahu Shahar.

Kesby continued:

“… but first, Rami Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University in Beirut. He told me more about Samir Kuntar.”

Khouri was given a platform from which to whitewash terrorism against Israelis by means of inaccurate rebranding.

“He joined a Palestinian group in Lebanon called the Palestine Liberation Front and in 1979 he was involved in a guerilla operation in Israel which the Israelis called a terrorist operation…” [emphasis added]

A “guerilla operation” would by definition be directed against regular military forces. Kuntar’s cell targeted a civilian apartment building after killing a policeman who happened upon them by chance and then murdered a father and his small daughter. Kesby made no attempt to relieve audiences of the inaccurate impression given by Khouri and notably listeners were not told of the circumstances of Einat Haran’s death.

“Well Smadar Haran Kaiser’s husband was murdered by Samir Kuntar and her two daughters were also killed in that attack.”

Fortunately, Smadar Haran Kaiser proved to be more than capable of dealing with Kesby’s statements-cum-questions – several of which do not relate to the terror attack itself.

“The Israeli authorities haven’t confirmed or denied that they were responsible for this assassination today. Do you think they were and do you support it?”

“Is there a danger that this kind of attack provokes yet more violence?”

But in addition to the inaccurate information given to listeners, what is notable about this item is that (like most of the corporation’s coverage of this story) it focuses audience attention on the past, avoiding all mention of Kuntar’s more recent activities as an operative for Hizballah and Iran in Syria. That information is of course much more relevant to BBC audiences trying to understand the story.

Related Articles:

BBC radio stations mangle Samir Kuntar story – part one

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