BBC News website gets lost in (bad) translation

On May 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel probes Golan Heights mass vulture poisoning”.

Towards the end of the article readers found the following:

“The Golan Heights are home to a range of wildlife, including types of birds of prey, although the vulture population of the Israeli-occupied part has dropped precipitously over the past 20 years.

Many have been poisoned, allegedly by local farmers whose herds are threatened by the birds, Israeli news website Walla says.” [emphasis added]

Anyone with even minimal understanding would know that vultures are scavengers and do not pose any threat whatsoever to livestock such as the beef cattle and sheep that are raised in the Golan Heights.

Obviously then no fact-checking was done before that statement was printed but did it actually come, as claimed, from the “Israeli news website Walla”?

By the time this BBC article was published Walla had posted one report on the story in which the writer, Eli Ashkenazi, states:

הסיבה המרכזית להיעלמות הנשרים מרמת הגולן היא הרעלות לא חוקיות שנעשות בעיקר על ידי מגדלי בקר המנסים לפגוע בטורפים הפוגעים בעדריהם

 “The main reason for the disappearance of vultures from the Golan Heights is illegal poisoning done mainly by cattle ranchers trying to hurt predators which harm their herds.”

In the Golan Heights, those predators are mainly wolves

In other words a combination of bad translation and failure to check facts led to the BBC misinforming its audiences even on this straightforward story. So much for “news that you can trust”.

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Yom HaZikaron

יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ולנפגעי פעולות האיבה

This evening the Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism begins. 

On April 4th 1951 Israeli forces including 19 soldiers from the Armored Corps set out to investigate intelligence reports concerning the infiltration of Syrian soldiers in civilian dress into the El Hama valley which was part of a demilitarised zone according to the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Syria. 

The force was attacked by Syrian forces stationed in a bunker on the hill above the road to El Hama (Hamat Gader) and seven of the soldiers were killed in the exchange of fire. In 2015 a memorial was created at the site.

 

Nissim Laub aged 24, born in Morocco, immigrated to Israel in 1950

Itzhak Israeli aged 24, born in Iran, immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1934

Shimon Cohen aged 19, born in Morocco, immigrated to Israel in 1948

Shimon Balas aged 19, born in Yemen, immigrated to Israel in 1949

Simcha Cohen aged 29, born in Tunisia, immigrated to Israel in 1950

Mordechai Cohen aged 18, born in Turkey, immigrated to Israel in 1949

Kalman Salonikov aged 19, born in Bulgaria, immigrated to Israel in 1948

May their memories be blessed. 

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

Visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 23rd were informed that: “Israel to name Golan town after Trump”.

Those who bothered to click on the link discovered in the report itself report  – “I will name a Golan town after Trump, says Israel’s Netanyahu” –  that the story is distinctly less cut and dried than that headline claims.

“Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says he intends to name a new settlement in the occupied Golan Heights after US President Donald Trump.

Mr Netanyahu said the move would honour Mr Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in March. […]

“I intend to bring to the government a resolution calling for a new community on the Golan Heights named after President Donald J Trump”, he said in a video message.”

In other words, such a proposal would first have to pass a vote in the cabinet and then – assuming the community was indeed a new one – go through years of planning permission before a new town or village bearing the name of the (by then most likely former) US president could come into being. 

Seeing as there was obviously not much meat to a story based on two similar videos in Hebrew and English together totaling less than one and a half minutes, over 60% of the BBC’s report was given over to background information and as usual the BBC’s portrayal of history began in June 1967.

“Israel seized the Golan from Syria in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981. The move has not been recognised internationally. […]

Israel seized most of the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East war, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake the region during the 1973 war.”

Obviously that framing tells BBC audiences nothing at all about what happened before “Israel seized the Golan” or why it did so.

“In the years and months leading up to the 1967 war, Syria had played a crucial role in raising tensions by engaging in acts of sabotage and incessantly shelling Israeli communities. The second half of 1966 and spring of 1967 saw increasing friction and incidents between the IDF and Syrian forces. […]

By 1967 more than 265 artillery pieces were aimed down at Israel, and on the plateau itself Syria had constructed a dense network of fortifications, trenches and concrete bunkers with overlapping fields of fire, all sitting behind dense mine fields. Just before the outbreak of the war the Syrians forces in the Golan totaled over 40,000 troops with 260 tanks and self-propelled guns, divided up among three armored brigades and five infantry brigades. Facing them, the Israelis were heavily outgunned, with just one armored brigade and one infantry brigade. […]

During the first day of the war, on June 5, Syrian planes attacked communities in the north of Israel, including Tiberias, and attempted to attack the Haifa oil refineries. The Israeli air force responded later that day with an attack on Syria’s airbases, destroying 59 Syrian aircraft, mostly on the ground.

In the early morning hours of June 6, however, Syria intensified its attacks, launching a heavy artillery barrage against Israeli civilian communities, and then sending two companies of infantry across the border to attack Kibbutz Dan. […]

On June 8, the fourth day of the war, Syria accepted a UN cease-fire, and for five hours there was a lull in the shelling. But then the barrages resumed, and state radio announced that Syria did not consider itself bound by any cease-fire.”

The public purposes set out in BBC’s Royal Charter oblige it to “build people’s understanding” and “offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available…so that all audiences can engage fully with major…global issues”. 

Obviously the omission of the background to the Six Day War that is so often seen in BBC content and the employment in its place of simplistic statements such as “Israel seized the Golan from Syria” do not contribute to meeting those public purpose obligations. 

 

Weekend long read

1) At Tablet Magazine Shany Mor discusses “The Golan Heights and the Depths of Hypocrisy”.

“…beyond the alarmism and facile bromides inflamed by Trump’s announcement, what the Golan situation actually illustrates is that the whole gamut of international “norms,” when they are applied injudiciously and for political ends as so often happens with Israel, can be reduced to blunt cudgels. The norms used to adjudicate land claims and challenge Israel’s rights to the Golan are not only selectively applied, they are mutually incoherent—their real power is not as legal precedents but as political instruments. To understand this we have to start with a survey of the norms in questions and their historical basis.”

2) At the INSS Carmit Valensi looks at “The Survival of Assad’s Regime and the Challenges to Syria’s Stabilization”.

“On March 10, 2019, hundreds of residents of Daraa in southern Syria protested against the erection of a statue of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. The restored statue of Assad the father, which was toppled when the rebellion that sparked the civil war began, is a symbol of the victory of the son, Bashar al-Assad, who, while bruised and battered, remains in power. And yet, current protests alongside other leadership challenges, including the fact that Assad controls only about 60 percent of Syrian territory, indicate that the situation in Syria is far from stable. Against this backdrop, and following eight years of tragic fighting, the factors leading to Assad’s victory, their current validity, and their future repercussions invite examination.”

3) The ITIC sums up the March 30th ‘Great Return March’ events.

“Despite the large number of participants (similar to the number at the first march and the one held on May 14, 2018), during the events there was a low level of violence and a show of relative restraint. As opposed to former return marches, Hamas closely supervised the demonstrators, who were requested to keep a distance of several hundred meters from the fence. The IDF spokesman reported on several hundred Hamas operatives wearing orange vests who prevented demonstrators from reaching the fence. According to the Hamas ministry of the interior, 8,000 operatives of the security forces and policemen were deployed in the various Gaza Strip districts. At the same time, members of the Egyptian security mediators’ delegation were on the ground at a number of demonstration sites. Apparently their presence was also a moderating influence. The members of the delegation were accompanied by Isma’il Haniyeh.”

4) At the Fathom Journal, Jonathan Spyer asks “To what extent is the current Israeli election campaign dominated by national security issues, as has historically been the case?”

“The Israeli public still primarily seeks a leadership it perceives able enough to provide security. The interesting element of the 2019 campaign is that while ‘security’ and the perception of a credible stance of security remains the key attribute to which parties wish to attribute themselves, there is in fact an absence of deep and substantive difference on the main issues comprising Israel’s challenges in this field among the major parties contending the election. This absence leads to a lack of focus on substantive security issues and instead efforts by each party to portray the other as untrustworthy and lacking integrity.”

 

Inaccurate and misleading BBC WS radio report on Hamas rocket attack

The March 25th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ purported to inform listeners “Why tensions in the Gaza Strip are rising again”.

“Hours after a rocket hit a house near Tel Aviv and injured seven people, Israel is carrying out strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Could this be the start of a full-scale conflict?”

While able to inform audiences who was carrying out strikes in the Gaza Strip, the ‘Newshour’ team evidently chose not to clarify who had fired the rocket that brought about those strikes.  

Presenter James Coomarasamy’s introduction at the start of the programme included the following:

Coomarasamy: “Tensions rise in the Middle East as President Trump recognises Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights and rockets are fired in both directions between Gaza and Israel.”

Not only do we see a specious suggestion of linkage between the US president’s signing of a proclamation and a rocket fired by terrorists hours earlier but Coomarasamy also promoted false equivalence with the inaccurate claim that rockets were being fired from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Introducing the item itself (from 00:54), Coomarasamy added the topic of the upcoming election in Israel to his mix of ‘explanations’. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “First though to the Middle East and with Israel’s general election just a couple of weeks away, are we seeing the start of a major conflict in the Gaza Strip? A rocket strike from that territory injured several people and destroyed a house today in a neighbourhood [sic] north of Tel Aviv – the furthest that a rocket fired from Gaza has reached since Israel’s last war with the group – the militant group – which controls the territory, Hamas, five years ago. Spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces Captain Libby Weiss said there was no doubt who was to blame.”

After listeners had heard a recording of Captain Weiss explaining that the rocket in question was produced and launched by Hamas, Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “In the past few hours Israel has closed all [sic – actually two] crossings with the Gaza Strip including access to the sea and has launched a series of retaliatory airstrikes.”

The relevant announcement from COGAT actually referred to “a reduction of the fishing zone in Gaza” rather than closure of “access to the sea” as claimed by Coomarasamy, who then changed the subject.

Coomarasamy: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cut short his visit to Washington to oversee the operation but not before President Trump had officially broken with the international consensus and recognised Israel’s claim to the occupied Golan Heights. The Arab League has condemned this move as illegitimate. At the White House Mr Trump said the attack near Tel Aviv today showed how important it was for Israel to be able to defend itself.”

After listeners had heard a recording of the US president’s remarks, Coomarasamy went on to introduce the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 02:51) with “the latest”.

Bateman: “What’s happened tonight is that the Israeli military has carried out now numerous airstrikes in locations in the Gaza Strip. There have been powerful explosions seen and heard in Gaza City, in the centre of the Strip in Khan Younis, in the south. The Israeli military says that one of its targets has been a headquarters for Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, which housed, it says, its general security forces and general intelligence, also military intelligence: the place where it believes that military sites in Israel are gathered by Hamas’ intelligence forces. And it’s also now reported that the offices of Ismail Haniyeh – who is the political leader of Hamas – have been targeted in an Israeli airstrike as well.”

Did “the Israeli military” really say that it believes that those targeted Hamas headquarters are “the place” where the terror group’s military intelligence gathers information on “military sites in Israel”? Here is the relevant IDF Tweet in English, stating only that “Hamas collected intelligence for planning attacks against Israel” and with no mention of “military sites”.

Here is the equivalent Tweet in Hebrew. It states that “Hamas’ military intelligence department is responsible for gathering and studying intelligence against the State of Israel”.

Again we see no evidence to support Bateman’s claim that the IDF said that Hamas’ military intelligence gathers information exclusively about “military sites in Israel”. Moreover, another IDF statement clarified that:

“In response to the attack, the IDF has begun striking Hamas buildings which were utilized to plan and carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The IDF has struck Hamas’ previously secret military intelligence headquarters, its Internal Security Service offices, the office of Hamas Chairman Ismail Haniyeh, and a number of other military compounds.” [emphasis added]

That unsupported claim from Bateman is particularly pernicious given that not only does the BBC refuse to use the words terror and terrorist when describing Hamas, but Bateman has now implied that its targets are – as Hamas itself often claims – exclusively military rather than predominantly civilian.

No less significant is the fact that an hour before Bateman came on air, the IDF had already reported some 30 rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against civilian communities in the border region (with a further 30 later on through the night). Bateman however elected to erase that deliberate targeting of civilians from view.

Bateman went on to describe the rocket attack on the house in Moshav Mishmeret early the same morning before once again bringing up the topic of the April 9th election in Israel.

Bateman: “This kind of strike, which hasn’t happened since the war between Hamas and Israel of 2014 and comes at a very sensitive time because there are Israeli elections due to take place in two weeks’ time. Some of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals have been saying that he hasn’t taken a forceful enough approach in the last year or so when it comes to Gaza and so there has been political pressure on him.”

Coomarasamy: “Meanwhile, he’s been getting political support from the US president.”

Bateman once again told listeners about the US president’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and “criticism” from Syria “as well as other Arab and Muslim states” before Coomarasamy asked whether the US decision is “likely to have an impact on the election”.

With Bateman having replied that “it gives prime minister Netanyahu an electoral lift” and “it does help him to some degree”, the item closed.

With a very significant proportion of this item having focused on the Israeli election and the US proclamation concerning the Golan Heights, BBC World Service radio audiences could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that the answer to the programme’s question of “why tensions in the Gaza Strip are rising again” (rising tensions in southern Israel were obviously considered to be of less interest) lies in those two topics rather than in the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by terrorist organisations armed with military grade projectiles.

Related Articles:

BBC unquestioningly amplifies unsubstantiated Hamas claims

Improved BBC News website reporting on Sharon rocket attack

 

 

 

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

As documented here at the time, earlier this month the BBC chose to ignore the release of information concerning Hizballah operations in the Syrian Golan Heights.

BBC ignores revelation of Hizballah’s Golan network

Not only have BBC audiences been given very little factual information about the efforts of Iran and its proxies to establish a foothold in south-west Syria in recent years but the BBC has on repeated occasions even steered them towards the view that Iran’s military build-up in Syria is primarily a claim touted by Israel.

That framing was again promoted by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barabara Plett Usher in several recent reports concerning US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

In an article titled “Trump: Time to recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory” that appeared on the BBC News website on March 21st, readers saw superfluous scare quotes attached to the phrase military entrenchment.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has warned about the “military entrenchment” of his country’s arch-enemy Iran in Syria and has ordered air strikes in an attempt to thwart it…”

Subsequent analysis from Plett Usher suggested to readers that the subject of the Iranian build-up of force in Syria is not only open to debate but a tactic used by Israel to advance its interests. [emphasis in bold added]

“Israel has gained traction in the White House and parts of Congress by arguing that Iran is using Syria as a base from which to target Israel, with the Golan Heights as the front line.”

The same ‘analysis’ from Plett Usher appeared in a report published on March 22nd under the title “Golan Heights: Syria condemns Donald Trump’s remarks”.

“Israel has gained traction in the White House and parts of Congress by arguing that Iran is using Syria as a base from which to target Israel, with the Golan Heights as the front line.”

In an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means” which first appeared on March 22nd and was then posted in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 25th as well as promoted in a report titled “Golan Heights: Trump signs order recognising occupied area as Israeli” published on the same day, Plett Usher wrote:

 “…Mr Trump said he made the decision for strategic and security reasons, by which he means Iran.

His administration is convinced Iran is using Syria as a base to target Israel, and the Golan Heights are the front line.”

In the March 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 12:17 here) listeners heard Plett Usher claim that:

“Mr Netanyahu had stepped up lobbying for such a move since Mr Trump took office. He’s gained traction by arguing that Iran is using Syria as a base from which to target Israel and the Golan Heights is the front line.”

The week before she produced those reports Barbara Plett Usher had been at a press briefing given by the US Secretary of State and had asked a question concerning the Golan Heights.

“MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to BBC, Barbara.

QUESTION: […] And then secondly, if I could on Golan, the human rights ambassador said on Wednesday that removing the word “occupation” or “occupied” from the Golan and the West Bank was not a policy change, but we know that Israel is afraid of Iran and Hizballah threatening Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan, so in your view, does that strengthen the Israeli case for annexing the occupied bit?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t have anything to add about the change in language that we used. It was characterized properly. There is a real risk. The proxies that are in the region, in southern Syria and in the vicinity of the Golan Heights, are presenting risk to the Israelis, and we’ve made clear the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”

Not only did Plett Usher herself sound significantly less sceptical about “Iran and Hizballah threatening Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan” in that question but she got a very clear answer from the US Secretary of State.

Nevertheless, in her reports to BBC audiences Plett Usher’s framing includes promotion of the notion that there is room for doubt with regard to the actions and intentions of Iran and its proxies in Syria.

Related Articles:

Iranian military activity in southern Syria under-reported by BBC

BBC inconsistency on Iran’s Syria build-up continues

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

BBC News cuts out the infiltration part of Syrian drone infiltration incident

BBC Radio 4 manages to report on Iran without the usual distractions

 

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

All three of the BBC News website’s March 21st and March 22nd reports concerning the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights included links to the BBC’s profile of that area which was last updated on March 14th.

In that profile BBC audiences are told that:

“The area [Golan Heights] is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.”

While that may have been the case in the past, does the Golan Heights really currently provide “a third of Israel’s water supply”?

A document produced by the Knesset Research and Information Center last year shows that three main natural sources – one of which is the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) basin – currently together provide just 40% of Israel’s water.

“The Israeli water sector has natural and artificial sources of water. The main natural sources are the Kinneret Basin, which includes aquifers and rivers that flow into the Sea of Galilee, the Coastal Aquifer, and the Mountain Aquifer. Natural fresh water makes up some 40% of water consumption. In addition to the sources of natural water, two sources of artificial water play a vital role in the water sector: desalinated water (mostly seawater), which in 2016 provided 25% of water consumption, and reclaimed wastewater, used mostly for agriculture, which in 2016 provided 25% of the water consumed across all sectors.”

Moreover, rainfall on the Golan is just one of several sources of water supply to the Sea of Galilee and, as the Knesset report goes on to say:

“For years, Israel has faced a water crisis, which has manifested itself in low precipitation and dwindling natural resources (groundwater and sources of surface water, primarily the Sea of Galilee). The drought in Israel’s north, an area that usually receives greater precipitation, is particularly severe.”

“…the volume of water flowing into the Sea of Galilee in the past four years is the lowest ever on record: in August 2017, water flow to the Sea of Galilee reached a record low—that month, the Sea of Galilee lost 26 MCM of water (the previous record was set in August 2014). As a result, the water level in the Sea of Galilee is expected to drop and may break the record low set in 2001, despite the fact that almost no water has been pumped from the Sea of Galilee in recent years.” [emphasis added]

With the Sea of Galilee being only one of the three main natural sources which together currently provide just 40% of Israel’s water supply and the Golan Heights being only one of several severely reduced sources of water to the lake, the BBC’s claim that a third of Israel’s water supply comes from the Golan Heights is clearly inaccurate and misleading.

Readers of this profile also find the following:

“Syria wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. In late 2003, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was ready to revive peace talks with Israel.

In Israel, the principle of returning the territory in return for peace is already established. During US-brokered peace talks in 1999-2000, then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak had offered to return most of the Golan to Syria.

But the main sticking point during the 1999 talks is also likely to bedevil any future discussions. Syria wants a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border. This would give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee – Israel’s main source of fresh water.

Israel wishes to retain control of Galilee [sic] and says the border is located a few hundred metres to the east of the shore.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no such thing as a “pre-1967 border”. There is however a 1923 border set out by the then mandatory powers Britain and France.

“The territorial aspects of the Syrian-Israeli dispute date to 1920–23, when Great Britain and France devised a boundary between Syria (then including “Greater Lebanon”) and Palestine, two entities that would fall under League of Nations mandates. Often referred to as the “1923 international boundary,” the line was drawn to keep the upper course of the Jordan River (between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee) and the Sea of Galilee itself entirely within Palestine and to give Palestine a few kilometers of frontage on the Yarmouk River. Between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, the boundary ran between fifty and four-hundred meters east of the Jordan River, just below the Golan Heights. Along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, it ran parallel to the shore and ten meters from the water’s edge. Sovereignty over these water resources was vested in Palestine.” [emphasis added]

There is also a 1949 Armistice Agreement Line, which was specifically defined as not being a border. Article V of the agreement states:

“1. It is emphasized that the following arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement.

2. In pursuance of the spirit of the Security Council resolution of 16 November 1948, the Armistice Demarcation Line and the demilitarized Zone have been defined with a view toward separating the armed forces of the two Parties in such manner as to minimize the possibility of friction and incident, while providing for the gradual restoration of normal civilian life in the area of the Demilitarized Zone, without prejudice to the ultimate settlement.” [emphasis added]

As documented by Frederic C. Hof:

“During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syrian troops penetrated Palestine-Israel in several areas. When an armistice was signed in July 1949, Syrian forces still held blocs of territory west of the 1923 international boundary. The parties agreed to a compromise: Syrian forces would withdraw from the farthest extent of their advance (the truce line—later the Armistice Demarcation Line [ADL]) to the 1923 international boundary, and Israel would refrain from introducing military forces into areas vacated by Syria. Thus was created a demilitarized zone consisting of three, non-contiguous blocs of land in what had been mandate Palestine totaling 66.5 square kilometers. In some places the ADL corresponded to the 1923 international boundary, and in others it penetrated into the former Palestine mandate. The demilitarized zone was everything between the ADL and the 1923 international boundary. Syria — quite inexplicably — agreed that the ADL along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee would correspond to the 1923 international boundary (i.e., the 10-meter strip), even though its soldiers and civilians enjoyed access to the sea’s waters before, during, and after the 1948 fighting. Therefore, any time a Syrian national—military or civilian— crossed the invisible line to swim or fish an armistice violation occurred. Israel claimed sovereignty over the entire 66.5 square kilometer zone. Syria did not, reserving its claims for a future peace conference.” [emphasis added]

There is also what is termed the Line of June 4, 1967 (link includes map). That line is also not a border: it represents the positions – despite the Armistice Agreement – held by Israel and Syria on the eve of the Six Day War.

“Neither side lived up to its [Armistice Agreement] obligations. Syria retained pieces of the demilitarized zone, including the Palestinian Arab town of El Hamma on the Yarmouk River, and treated the 10-meter line paralleling the northeastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee as if it did not exist. […] Secret talks in 1952–53 to partition the demilitarized zone failed. Between 1954 and 1967 there was a “game of inches” for control of the zone, always fought to the advantage of Israel. On the eve of war in June 1967, Syria still controlled the 10-meter strip and some 18 of the zone’s 66.5 square kilometers, including El Hamma (along with a small salient to its west along the Yarmouk River), the east bank of the Jordan River between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, some high ground overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and a small patch of land overlooking the Hula Valley.” [emphasis added]

Hof goes on:

“As a result of American shuttle diplomacy, Syria came to believe, by July 1994, that Israel would seriously contemplate full withdrawal “to the line of June 4, 1967” in return for a peace treaty satisfactorily addressing Israel’s core concerns. Syria demanded that all land wrested by Israel from Syrian control in June 1967—18 square kilometers of demilitarized zone in the Jordan Valley and the 10-meter strip along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights—be returned to Syria in its entirety. […] Syria wanted a line that had, for the most part, not been demarcated: a line that, in several key areas, corresponded neither to the 1923 international boundary nor to the 1949 ADL. Syria wanted the eve of war (1967) status quo restored and a boundary drawn reflecting, in effect, a snapshot of who was where on June 4, 1967.”

In other words, the BBC falsely claims the existence of a “pre-1967 border” and its assertion that the existence of a border to the east of the shore of the Sea of Galilee is something that only “Israel says” exists is untrue.  

The claim that a return to a “pre-1967 border” would “give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee” is inaccurate, seeing as the only border in existence prior to 1967 was the one agreed upon in 1923 by France and Britain which left access to the lake within the borders of Mandate Palestine. 

Related Articles:

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC gets Golan Heights population wrong again

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ on March 21st heard (from 17:47 here) the following report: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “President Trump has said it’s time for the United States to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – territory which was captured from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. The announcement – in the form of a Tweet – has been welcomed by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu but is highly controversial as our world affairs correspondent Paul Adams explains.”

Adams: “Not for the first time Donald Trump has chosen Twitter to make a foreign policy announcement with huge ramifications. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war – the same conflict which saw it occupy East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It never formally annexed the Golan but passed a law in 1981 which had much the same effect. Twelve thousand Israeli settlers have moved there. Now President Trump says it’s time to recognise what he calls Israel’s sovereignty. The Golan, he said, was of critical strategic and security importance to Israel. If he follows through, Israel will be delighted – as it was when he decided to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year. Bit by bit Mr Trump seems determined to change the course of long-established American Middle East policy.”

The population of the Golan’s one town, Katzrin, is currently around 8,000. The combined population of the other smaller Israeli communities on the Golan Heights (not including the four Druze communities and the Alawite village of Ghajar, where the residents are also Israeli citizens) is around 17,600. The total number of what Paul Adams terms “settlers” in the Golan Heights is therefore around 25,600 – i.e. more than double the number of people he claims “have moved there”.

With nearly 52 years have passed since the Golan Heights came under Israeli control, a significant proportion of the people living in the region did not ‘move there’ at all but were born as second and third generation Golan Heights residents. Seeing as it is however highly unlikely that Paul Adams was seeking to differentiate between those who came to live in the Golan Heights after 1967 and those residing there since birth, we can conclude that Adams’ inaccurate claim of 12,000 “settlers” is once again the result of inadequate research.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

 

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

In recent days visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page have found three reports relating to the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

One of those reports was written by the BBC’s State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher and the other two included inserts of her analysis. All three promoted specific messaging on the topic of international law.

1) Trump: Time to recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory March 21st:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump. He said such recognising Israeli sovereignty would violate a UN Security Council resolution, “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

So critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election.

If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

2) Golan Heights: Syria condemns Donald Trump’s remarks March 22nd:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump and that the decision would violate a UN Security Council resolution “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

Critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election. If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

3) Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means March 22nd, Barbara Plett Usher:

“First and foremost is one of international law: in recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, Mr Trump is in effect endorsing its seizure of the territory. By what moral authority then could he challenge others who do the same, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea?”

As Professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in testimony given to the US House of Representatives last year:

“The widely-repeated view that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be contrary to international law is based on one fundamental assumption: that at least since the adoption of U.N. Charter, international law prohibits any acquisition of foreign territory by force. While such a formulation of the rule is largely accurate, it omits crucial exceptions quite relevant to the case of the Golan Heights.

Whatever the current status of an absolute prohibition on territorial change resulting from war, there was certainly no such blanket prohibition in 1967, when the territory came under Israeli control. At the time, international law only prohibited acquisition of force in illegal or aggressive wars. This is evident from the source of the prohibition in the UN Charter, post-Charter state practice, and the understandings of international jurists at the time. There is simply no precedent or authoritative source for forbidding defensive conquest in 1967.

The U.N. Charter prohibits war for most purposes. When the use of force is illegal, it is natural to conclude that any territorial gains from such aggression cannot be recognized as well. Thus the illegality of conquest arises from the presumptive illegality of the use of force. But crucially, the U.N. Charter does not make all war illegal. Indeed, it expressly reaffirms the legality of a defensive war. Since defensive war is not illegal, it follows that the defender’s territorial gains from such a war would not be illegal.”

Notably, readers of the first report were also told that:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

The second article likewise stated:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

Under the heading “How will this affect the West Bank?” readers of the third article were informed that:

“The occupied West Bank is different from the Golan Heights. It was also captured by Israel in the 1967 war, from Jordan.”

As usual the BBC’s presentation of history commences in June 1967 with no mention of the relevant fact that in 1948 Jordan launched an attack on the regions included in the Mandate for Palestine which the BBC terms “the West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” and subsequently illegally annexed both areas.  

Predictably, while amplifying Palestinian claims to parts of Jerusalem which were under Jordanian occupation for 19 years, the BBC has nothing at all to tell its audiences about the legality of that particular case of seizure of territory by war.

Weekend long read

1) At Foreign Policy Jonathan Spyer discusses how “Syria’s Civil War Is Now 3 Civil Wars”.

“In place of the old wars, however, three new ones have started. They are taking place in the three de facto independent areas whose boundaries are becoming apparent as the smoke from the previous battle clears: the regime-controlled area, guaranteed by Russia; the area east of the Euphrates River controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are primarily composed of Kurdish fighters protected by the United States and Western air power; and finally the area controlled by the Turks and their Sunni Islamist allies in Idlib province. The regime area consists of about 60 percent of the territory of the country, the SDF has around 30 percent, and the Turkish-Sunni Islamist area is around 10 percent. Each of these areas is now hosting a civil war of its own, supported by neighboring enclaves.”

2) Following the exposure of Hizballah operations in the Syrian Golan, the ITIC has produced a profile of the head of those operations.

“The military network in the Syrian Golan Heights is headed by a senior Hezbollah operative, Ali Mussa Abbas Daqduq, codenamed Abu Hussein Sajed, from the village of Ayta al-Sha’ab in southern Lebanon. Starting in 1983, he held a series of operational positions in the fighting against the IDF in southern Lebanon and then in the security zone. In 1988-1990, he participated in the internal Lebanese power struggles. In 2006, he was sent to Iraq to assist the Shiite militias in their fighting against the US army and the coalition countries. He was captured by the Americans, imprisoned, handed over to the Iraqi administration, released and returned to Lebanon (where he returned to routine military activity in Hezbollah). According to the IDF spokesman’s report, after his return, he was placed in charge of the training of Hezbollah’s Special Forces until 2018, when he was appointed commander of the “Golan Portfolio.””

3) At the INSS, Yohanan Tzoreff asks Is the PLO Still the “Sole Representative of the Palestinian People”?.

“Despite ongoing efforts to improve relations between Fatah and Hamas, there is no serious hope of reconciliation between them in the foreseeable future. Noteworthy against this background are the attempts by Hamas and other opposition organizations to challenge both the PLO’s standing as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and the senior standing of Fatah within the PLO. The Palestinian public, which saw the PLO as its sole representative, understands that it can no longer ignore the dominance of Hamas, which has competed with Fatah for their hearts and minds since 1987. For its part, Fatah is very concerned about this development, and sees this very way of thinking as an existential threat to the “great enterprise” that it has created.”

4) Thomas Joscelyn reports on one aspect of the political unrest in Algeria at The Long War Journal.

“On March 9 and 10, al Qaeda social media channels publicized a new speech by Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, a high-ranking official in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Al-Anabi’s talk, entitled “Algeria…Getting Out From the Dark Tunnel,” is intended to take advantage of the wave of protests against President Abelaziz Bouteflika and his corrupt government. AQIM did not spark the protests, but the group seeks to inject its jihadist agenda into the story. […]

In the past, al-Anabi has called for violence against France, as well as others. But in his latest address, al-Anabi struck a different tone. He seeks to capitalize on the widespread anger directed at Bouteflika and his security forces. Al-Anabi describes the president as a “mummy,” arguing that he is an illegitimate ruler whether he is judged according to Islamic sharia or “the supposed Algerian constitution.” He points to the poor political and socio-economic conditions in the country as an indictment of the “tyrant and his criminal gang.””