BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

An article titled “Trumplomacy: Are we seeing the end of a close Israel-US relationship?” appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on October 9th. Its writer – Barbara Plett Usher – opened with a scornful account of part of a speech made by Israel’s prime minister.

“There was an element of the bizarre in the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) last week.

Only five months had passed since the last time newly elected members took the oath and, given continued political paralysis after another round of inconclusive elections, they may have to do it all over again soon.

Added to that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grim, almost apocalyptic speech could not have been less festive. He warned of an imminent war with Iran and unprecedented security challenges, saying it was unlike any remembered since the days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Granted, his words were seen by many commentators as familiar campaign rhetoric aimed at making the case for why he should continue to lead the country, even though he failed to win a majority in the September vote.

“Ladies and gents, I give you The Great Iranian Threat,” wrote Ma’ariv columnist Ben Caspit in a sardonic take-down of Mr Netanyahu’s “time-honoured security threat”.”

In fact, Netanyahu’s mention of the Yom Kippur War related to budgetary considerations connected to security needs. [translation: BBC Watch]

“Secondly, [we] need to make budgetary decisions which we have not known for many tens of years. It is possible to go back very many years, maybe to the end of the Yom Kippur War, in order to understand what is demanded of us.”

Plett Usher refrained from informing readers that the Israeli journalist she quoted also wrote the following words:

“Deep concern seems to be spreading among Israel’s top security leadership that a rapid deterioration of the situation on the Iranian front is a distinct possibility. […]

All signs indicate that Iran decided to respond forcefully to the many aerial attacks against Iranian and other Shiite targets in Syria and Iraq, which tend to be attributed to Israel.”

Referring to what she described as “an apparent Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations”, Plett Usher later told readers that:

“The Israelis have been pushing back more aggressively and more openly against Iran’s proxies in the region, determined to halt the proliferation of Iranian missiles near their border. But the Saudi attack rang new alarm bells.

If Iran could directly hit Saudi Arabia with cruise missiles, went the thinking, it could do the same to Israel.”

However, providing audiences with factual information about the activities of Iran and its proxies near Israel’s border has long – to put it mildly – not been a BBC priority. BBC audiences have not, for example, been informed on the topic of the deployment of Iranian missiles in south-west Syria as explained in a backgrounder produced by the JCPA in August.

“Since July 2018, press reports have pointed at Iranian missiles deployed in the area near Suweyda, definitely not within the territorial demarcations announced by the Russians to Israel. According to the reports, Iran deployed missiles that were previously in the T4 airbase to the Ledja (a vast rocky lava area north of Suweyda) and to two additional airbases in the area…”

Neither have they seen any meaningful reporting on the activities of Iran’s partner Hizballah in that area.

“Since 2018, Hizbullah has succeeded in recruiting 3,500 young people in the Daraa Department. Hizbullah has succeeded in establishing a presence through local allies in almost all villages and towns of the Daraa Department […] while in the Suweyda Department, Hizbullah’s main ally is the former deputy commander of the Al ‘Amari brigades (active in the Daraa area) who is deployed along the Jordanian-Syrian border and the Ledja area with his Bedouin fighters. […]

Hizbullah has succeeded in establishing four permanent training bases, which also serve as ammunition depots, and short and medium-range missile bases, three of which are in Daraa and the fourth in the area of Quneitra. […]

Hizbullah commands five Shiite militias in the Golan area, each numbering several thousand fighters, and has been busy preparing a military option against Israel since the recovery of the southern provinces of Syria in case of a surge of hostilities between Israel, Iran, the Syrian regime, and Hizbullah. This deployment in the area facing Israel in the Golan provides Iran (and Hizbullah) the ability to open a second front. […]

Unprecedented until now, in June 2019, new positions manned by Hizbullah Lebanese fighters were deployed adjacent to the Israeli lines. These include positions in Tellet Aldrai’at and Tellet Al Mahir in the vicinity of the two small villages of Rafid and El ‘Isha, approximately 200 meters from the UNDOF checkpoint, controlling the central access from the Israeli Golan through Quneitra and from there to the main highway to Damascus.”

Obviously such information is crucial to anyone trying to put Plett Usher’s portrayal of the Israeli prime minister’s speech into its appropriate context but BBC audiences have instead for a long time had to make do with superficial reporting which all too often includes unnecessary qualification of Iran’s regional military entrenchment.  

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BBC Culture promotes Palestinian pop and a political narrative

h/t AS

On September 17th BBC Culture published an article by freelancer William Ralston titled “The rise of Palestinian pop”. In among Ralston’s long portrayal of the Palestinian (and not Palestinian) music scene readers were served context-free political framing. The article opened by telling readers that: [emphasis added]

“Growing up in East Jerusalem, Bashar Murad turned to music for comfort in a life blighted by fractious political realities and the emotional pressures of being a gay man battling the conservative elements of his society. It also became a way of transcending the borders imposed on his life by the Israeli occupation; a medium to connect with the world outside.” 

As noted when he was previously featured in BBC content, despite those alleged “borders imposed on his life” Murad:

“…was educated in an American school in Jerusalem, attended Bridgewater College in Virginia [USA], and had his work sponsored by the United Nations’ Men and Women for Gender Equality program.”

None of that was however mentioned by Ralston, who went on to promote the notion of “Palestinians with an Israeli passport” even though the majority of Israeli Arabs do not self-identify as Palestinians.

“Since its launch four years ago, the spot has become a second home for Palestinians with an Israeli passport or those with documents allowing them to travel through Israel.”

Readers were told that:

“In cash-stripped [sic] Gaza, the smaller Palestinian territory, there are even fewer opportunities. Recording studios are scarce, and any equipment must be sourced from Egypt or Israel at an extraordinary premium. Hamada Nasrallah, vocalist for Sol, a seven-piece folk outfit from Gaza, explains that he had to sell off his possessions just to afford a guitar, only for it to be destroyed in the August 2018 Israeli bomb attacks on the Said al-Mishal Centre.”

Not only does that promoted link lead to a politicised and partisan report from the Guardian but readers were not informed that the ‘cultural centre’ was located in a building also used by Hamas’ interior security unit or that the strike came in response to over 180 missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians.

The article failed to inform audiences that the reason why the population of the Gaza Strip suffers from a lack of electricity and clean water is internal feuding between Palestinian factions.

“The electricity shortages and lack of drinking water make it “hard to focus on music” because “we don’t have the basics to live”, MC Gaza, a local rapper, says. “

The writer’s failure to mention the decades of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas – which he euphemistically described as “the Islamist organization that governs the territory” – means that readers are unable to put his subsequent descriptions of restrictions on movement into their correct and full context – including the fact that in the week before this article was published 8,673 people used the Erez crossing.

“Exacerbating the problem are the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face, which means that many cannot travel abroad for gigs, or, significantly, meet with industry professionals. Special permits are required to enter Israel, which are rarely granted, especially not quickly. Palestinians have long had no access to airports in the Palestinian territories: those in Jerusalem and Gaza ceased operations around the turn of the millennium, so most Palestinians must travel to Jordan in order to fly anywhere, which costs around US$500 (£400) one-way.

Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively. […] Erez, meanwhile, is also tricky, and, for reasons of security, only Israeli-defined categories of people, mainly those requiring urgent medical attention, are eligible for a permit. Permits are also granted to businessmen, students, and artists, but they are far from guaranteed…”

As is usually the case in BBC content, history in this article began in June 1967, with no mention of the fact that parts of Jerusalem were illegally occupied by Jordan in the 19 years that preceded the Six Day War or that Jordan chose to attack Israel in that conflict.  

“The position of those born in Jerusalem is uniquely complicated. After occupying and annexing East Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel offered Palestinian residents Israeli citizenship but many refused, and instead took permanent residency, allowing them to live, work, and receive benefits in Israel. They have what’s called a ‘laissez-passer’, a travel document that allows them to pass through Israel, but they cannot pass into another country without a visa, which is hard to obtain because they don’t have any citizenship.”

The same lack of historical context appeared in a section in which Druze residents of the Golan Heights were described as ‘Syrian’ and the relevant factor of the closure of the Quneitra crossing because of the civil war in Syria was erased.

“Musicians in the Golan Heights face similar difficulties for the same reasons: Israel annexed the land, seized from Syria, after the Six-Day War. Although Syrian, the local musicians are considered part of the Palestinian scene because they’re subject to similar restrictions: they are not even allowed to travel to Syria, so they can pass through Israel and the West Bank only.”

Yet again Ralston failed to adequately clarify that if some of his featured musicians from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights do not have passports, that is because they have chosen to pass up the opportunity to apply for Israeli citizenship.

“All four members of TootArd, whom promoters regularly label as Palestinian, grew up in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan area, and have permanent residency in Israel, but their official nationality is also ‘undefined’, and they have no passport.”

As we see what could have been an interesting article is seriously marred by the writer’s uncritical promotion of a politically motivated narrative which he advances by failing to provide the relevant background information and key context which would facilitate proper audience understanding of the topic. 

BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

As documented here last month, readers of a BBC News website report headlined “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” which was published on June 16th were told that:

“US Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the settlement “well deserved, but much appreciated”.” [emphasis added]

In fact, Ambassador Friedman said:

“I want to thank you for the extraordinary gesture that you and the State of Israel are making to the president of the United States,” […] “It is well deserved, but it is much appreciated, and we look forward to work[ing] with you and with the government of Israel to continue to strengthen the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccurate representation which included a link to the ambassador’s actual statement. A week later we were informed that “it may take a little longer before we can reply”. Two weeks after the complaint was originally submitted we received a reply which included the following:

“Thank you for writing in with your feedback about the BBC News story “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48656431).

I note your concerns about how Ambassador Friedman’s quote was described […]

We have looked at the quote, and would agree that a change is required to make the meaning clearer. The line now reads: “Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the move “well deserved, but much appreciated”.”

However, no footnote was added to the report to inform readers of that amendment.

The continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that those who read that article between June 16th and July 2nd, when that amendment was made, remain unaware of the fact that they were given inaccurate information.

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BBC misquotes US Ambassador in Golan Heights report

BBC misquotes US Ambassador in Golan Heights report

A report headlined “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the afternoon of June 16th.

Readers could have been forgiven for understanding that a previously non-existent town or village had come into existence. [emphasis added]

“Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled a new settlement in the occupied Golan Heights, named after US President Donald Trump.”

“Israel’s premier pledged in April to name a new settlement after Mr Trump, soon after the president overturned decades of US policy by recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan.”

Readers may hence have been confused when they later discovered that – despite the BBC’s previous claim that a “new settlement” had been “unveiled”, in fact no such place has been constructed.

“Building work has yet to begin but a sign bearing Mr Trump’s name and US and Israeli flags was unveiled.”

“The new settlement is expected to be built near Kela in the northern Golan Heights.”

As was explained here when the BBC’s Tim Franks visited the Golan Heights last month, that “new settlement” is in fact intended to be an extension of a small community that has existed since 1991.

“…the community, which will be a mixed secular-religious settlement that in its first stage will number some 120 families, will be set up in the northern Golan at Beruchim…”

That information was not provided to readers of this report, who were however told that:

“US Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the settlement “well deserved, but much appreciated”.”

In fact, Ambassador Friedman said:

“I want to thank you for the extraordinary gesture that you and the State of Israel are making to the president of the United States,” Friedman said. “It is well deserved, but it is much appreciated, and we look forward to work[ing] with you and with the government of Israel to continue to strengthen the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel.”

Clearly this report does not inform BBC audiences either adequately or accurately.

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Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

The BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra goes north

 

 

 

 

BBC News website removes inaccurate claim from online profile

Back in March we noted that the BBC’s online profile of the Golan Heights informed readers 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.” [emphasis added]

As noted here at the time, that highlighted claim is inaccurate.

“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. […]

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.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that topic (including a link to the relevant document) on March 26th. On April 3rd we received notification that BBC Complaints “had referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On April 22nd we were informed that BBC Complaints had “not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

Nearly three months after the complaint was originally submitted – on June 14th – we received another communication – this time from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our Golan Heights profile (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14724842) and I’m sorry for the long delay in writing back to you.

You raise a fair point and we’ve since removed the reference to the area supplying a “third of Israel’s water supply”.”

The amended paragraph now reads:

“The area is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River.”

No explanation was provided as to why it took nearly three months for the inaccurate claim to be removed and no footnote was added to the profile to inform BBC audiences that they were previously misinformed.

The continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that readers who previously read that profile remain unaware that they were given inaccurate information.

The BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra goes north

Shortly after 8:45 p.m. on the evening of June 1st, two projectiles were fired from Syria towards the Golan Heights with one landing in an open area and the other falling short of the border.

Some 18 hours later the BBC News website published a report with a headline that told readers only of the Israeli response some seven hours after that attack – “Israel strikes Syrian targets near Golan Heights”.

The attack which sparked the incident was given barely half a sentence of coverage, with no details provided.

“Israeli aircraft have struck Syrian army targets after rockets were fired at the occupied Golan Heights, the Israeli military says.”

The report did however include a Tweet giving details of the targets in Syria later struck by Israel.

A previous incident which the BBC did not report at the time – May 27th – was also mentioned.

“On Monday, IDF said it had attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft system that fired on one of its warplanes. Syrian state media said one soldier had been killed in that incident.”

However readers were not informed that this is the second time this year that missiles have been fired from deep inside Syria at the northern Golan Heights – perhaps because that previous incident in January received scant and belated BBC coverage.

The majority of this report (69% of its total word count) is devoted to background including a lengthy section headed “What are the Golan Heights?”.

As usual, the BBC’s accounts of history begin in June 1967 with no mention of what happened before “Israel seized the Golan” or why it did so.

“Israel seized most of the Golan 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.”

A photo caption tells BBC audiences that “Syria will not agree a peace deal with Israel unless it withdraws from the whole of the Golan” and the article goes on to state that:

“Syria has always insisted that it will not agree a peace deal with Israel unless it withdraws from the whole of the Golan. The last US-brokered direct peace talks broke down in 2000, while Turkey mediated in indirect talks in 2008.”

Readers are not told that Syria was offered precisely that in the 1990s and once again we see that the BBC has adopted the Syrian narrative, according to which demilitarised zones established under the 1949 armistice agreement are part of “the whole of the Golan”. 

Since the US recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights earlier this year, the BBC has taken to using the same ‘international law’ mantra that it promotes concerning Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem also in relation to communities on the Golan – see previous examples here and here

“There are more than 30 Israeli settlements in the Golan, which are home to an estimated 20,000 people. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

The report closes with a claim also seen in previous reports:

“The settlers live alongside some 20,000 Syrians, most of them Druze Arabs, who did not flee when the Golan was captured.”

Obviously most of those people were not around 52 years ago “when the Golan was captured” (the total population of the four Druze communities in the northern Golan was around 7,400 in 1967) and so the sloppy claim that twenty thousand people “did not flee” is inaccurate.

Notably, we see that the BBC presumptuously portrays the Alawite residents of Ghajar – who are Israeli citizens – and the Druze residents of the northern Golan who have chosen to take Israeli citizenship as “Syrians”.

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BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part two

In part one of this post we saw how, on a visit to the Golan Heights, ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks purported to interview a resident of the community set to be expanded and renamed after the US president. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

As we showed, the man concerned does not live in Beruchim and that meeting was not with “government officials”.

Following that interview, Franks’ long report (from 30:06 here) in the May 22nd afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ continued with a trip to Majdal Shams which he insisted on describing as a “village” even though it has over 11,000 residents and once again using the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Golan’s Druze residents identify as such.

Franks: “You get a different view further north in the Golan Heights. In this Druze village – Majdal Shams – you literally get a different view because you can see from its slopes into Syria. For decades this frontier marked by this sinuous ceasefire fence was the quietest that Israel had. That changed with the Syrian civil war. Militant Islamist groups and Iran building up a presence just the other side of these hills. […] So what does this leave the Syrian Druze in Majdal Shams feeling? One good place to try to get a thoughtful response is the owner of the local bookshop, Amal Safadi.” […]

Having already signposted his interviewee’s response and once again failing to inform listeners that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights 38 years ago, Franks went on:

Franks: “With the American announcement that they would recognise the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, what’s your attitude towards the idea of the local people here taking Israeli citizenship? Have you taken Israeli citizenship?”

Franks obviously must have known the answer to that ‘question’ before he asked it. Safadi has made her views clear in other media interviews (as have some members of her extended family) and she was obviously selected in advance by his production team to represent a certain side of the story. Listeners heard a translated version of her responses in Arabic.

Translator: “She says I will never think to take the citizenship. Our citizenship as Syrians is historical. We’re here from thousand years. This decision is political: nothing will change on the ground.”

Franks did not bother to try to clarify where “here” is and hence avoided the need to remind listeners that Syria as an independent state came into existence in 1946 or tell them that Majdal Shams was settled in the 18th century.

Franks then brought up imaginary scenarios which have not been proposed by any Israeli official either recently or in the past 38 years since the Golan Heights Law was passed.

Franks: “If the Israeli government decides now that you have to take citizenship or maybe they will say you don’t deserve all the rights of living here.”

Translator: “She is saying we had the same story in 1982 and they tried to force us to take the citizenship. Even we were less educated by then but now we are more stronger and our decision will be more strong these days.”

Franks: “People around the world listening to you might understand that you’ve got a very strong sense of identity – that you are a Syrian Druze – but they’ll also say just look over there inside Syria where there’s chaos, there’s conflict. At least here you’ve got rights and you’ve got relative prosperity as well. Why aren’t you happy to be here and take the advantages that Israel can give you?”

Translator: “She says you have a mother, right? If your mother is sick will you leave her? No, you will stay there and support her. Syria is our mother and we need to support our mother instead of leaving her.”

Making no effort to get beyond Safadi’s slogans and examine factors such as the relevant fact that many Druze residents of the Golan Heights have relations in Syria for whose safety they fear, Franks next told listeners that “elsewhere in Majdal Shams though, the taboo is beginning to crack”.

In fact there has been a rise in the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. 

Majdal Shams

Franks then interviewed a Majdal Shams resident who did so two years ago.

Franks: “He needs it, he says, so he can travel more easily for work and also so that once abroad, he doesn’t get hassled or intimidated for having no declared citizenship.”

After his interviewee had told him that opinions for and against the move among people he knows were “fifty-fifty”, Franks responded:

Franks: “I don’t really need to tell you this but the argument that is used by a lot of people here is that this is occupied territory; it doesn’t belong to Israel. One day it will go back to Syria.”

Following his interviewee’s reply to that and an additional question, Franks took the time to stress to listeners that his decision was “the pragmatic, non-ideological decision to take Israeli citizenship”.

The final section of Franks’ report was introduced with another undated reference to “annexation”, an unexplained reference to “strategic importance” and a misleading statement concerning water.

Franks: “So what’s driving the actions of the Israeli state up here? Given Israel’s decision to annex the territory, given the government’s delight at Donald Trump’s recent support for that annexation, given the Golan’s strategic importance, militarily and in terms of the country’s water supply, has there ever been serious thought to a territorial exchange with the Syrians? Well the answer is yes – all the way from the 1990s until as recently as the start of this decade. […] What stopped everything was – no surprise – the Syrian civil war.”

Franks’ final interviewee was former national security advisor Uzi Arad who explained how the war in Syria had led to “the notion that Israel would now forfeit” the Golan Heights looking “recklessly silly”. Franks was however far more interested in Arad’s assessment of “the American move”.

Arad: “Don’t press the point. Clearly this Assad is a real (bleeped out) as a person, as a leader. Clearly Syria needs something better but he had successfully won the nation and he has support to that from Russia. If you provoke him you would make him insist that for him the liberation of the Golan remains a priority. So why? Why pushing them into that corner? We stay there anyway.”

Franks then closed his report:

Franks: “The Golan is beguiling and beautiful. It’s also deceptive. The struggle with the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in Gaza – that’s the most visible, most frequently violent manifestation of Israel’s uneasy place in the Middle East. But it’s away from them, up in the north, that the potential for the greatest conflict may come.”

In the years since the Syrian civil war began BBC audiences have seen reports from a number of BBC and other journalists visiting the Golan Heights, most of which have presented a drearily monochrome portrait of the Golan Druze that fails to reflect changes in their society. In addition to being blighted by basic inaccuracy and omission of relevant context, Tim Franks’ almost thirteen-minute-long report largely stuck to the same jaded political narrative and even promoted irrelevant and imaginary scenarios concerning the Israeli government.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another long report (from 30:06 here) by Tim Franks in the programme’s May 22nd afternoon edition. The same report was also aired in the May 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ (from 35:30 here).

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

Franks: “Two days ago I was reporting for you from what we tend to think about when we talk about occupied territory: the congested, contested area of the West Bank and Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Today we’re gonna head to the north-eastern tip of Israel – to the Golan Heights. This is a small country so from here – Jerusalem – to the Golan it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive and into stunning landscape.

This is also occupied territory but, my goodness, it feels so different to the West Bank. Despite the signs you come across occasionally as you travel through this place warning you to keep out of minefields, this is quiet, it’s beautiful, in parts mountainous, in parts fertile. It’s the slice of land that separates Israel from south-west Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967 leaving thousands of Syrian Druze this side of the ceasefire line. There’s now about twenty thousand of them who, back in March, heard the news that Donald Trump was – unlike the rest of the world – going to recognise Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory. We’ll find out later what some of those Syrian Druze make of that in a moment.”

Significantly, Franks’ portrayal of history as beginning in June 1967 – a typical BBC practice – failed to inform listeners why Israel “captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War” and what happened in the years before that to prompt such a move. Additionally, while repeatedly referring to “annexation” of the region, Franks failed to clarify to listeners at any point that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights thirty-eight years ago.

Notably, Franks elected to exclusively use the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Druze population of the Golan Heights identifies in that manner.

Franks: “First though, I’m going to meet one of the twenty thousand Israelis who live in the Golan Heights. He’s called Menachem Ender. He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

Although Franks refrained from naming that “tiny hamlet”, as the Jerusalem Post and others reported ten days before his report was aired, the community tapped to be the location of that “new settlement” is Beruchim.

“Makor Rishon reported last week that the community, which will be a mixed secular-religious settlement that in its first stage will number some 120 families, will be set up in the northern Golan at Beruchim, where plans for a previous settlement were approved in 1991, and where there have been unsuccessful efforts over the years to establish a community.”

Ynet added:

“Today, Beruchim is the home of 10 people, and several other newcomers who wish to establish a leadership seminar for pre-army teens in the settlement.

The community was established in 1991, by then-housing minister Ariel Sharon, who sent a group of new immigrants from the Soviet Union to live there. It was established near Qela [Kela Alon] and meant to be a thriving extension of it, but failed to live up to the expectations.

Residents of Qela were outraged about the decision to change their existing community’s name, and hung signs protesting the move on their entrance gate, apparently under the impression that the entire perimeter of Qela and Beruchim will become the new Trump community.

However, the residents had false information, and it was clarified Sunday [May 12th] that the new settlement will not replace Qela, but rather built on top of Beruchim; a draft plan already exists and offers 110 new homes be built in Beruchim, that will house both religious and secular residents.”

An article published by Ha’aretz on the same day that Frank’s report was broadcast shows that he apparently did not bother to check facts adequately in the four days between recording and going on air. The man interviewed by Franks – Menachem Ender – appears in the Ha’aretz report where he is identified as a resident of nearby Kela Alon rather than a resident of the site of the new community to be named after the US president.

“Some 200 meters (650 feet) from Beruchim lies a very different place: The well-tended, middle-class settlement of Kela Alon, home to 85 families. Officially, Kela Alon and Kela-Beruchim are part of the same municipal entity, known simply as Kela. This led to confusion among Kela Alon residents when they heard of the Trump plan through the media, believing their settlement would be expanded and renamed for the U.S. president.

Their unhappiness is still visible on the main road to the neighborhood: Two homemade signs, one leaning against a tractor, read “Kela Alon is not for sale” and “Ramat Trump — not here!”

Mene [Menachem] Ender, 72, says the initial opposition was based on a misunderstanding of the government’s plans.

Ender, who moved to the Golan 45 years ago “out of Zionist motivation — I’m not ashamed to admit it” — after fighting in the Yom Kippur War, has lived in Kela Alon for the past two years. He says members of his community were disturbed by initial details of the plan, about which they had not been consulted. They feared it would transform their town.”

Franks’ claim that “tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials” is also shown to be inaccurate in the same Ha’aretz report.

“In a damage-control effort, the regional council has sought to calm the community, explaining that any new development would take place in Beruchim, not Kela Alon.

On Sunday, leaders of the Golan Regional Council met with 150 concerned residents and assured them that the new “Trump town” would be a separate entity from their own and that they would only benefit from its presence.”

That meeting with local council officials – not “government officials” – took place on May 19th – the day that Tim Franks was in the Golan Heights. We can identify the date of Franks’ visit because later on in the item he tells listeners that:

Franks: “Israel has launched hundreds of air sorties, particularly against Iranian positions [in Syria]. There was an airstrike just last night.”

That incident – which has not been acknowledged by Israel and was not reported by the BBC at the time – took place on the night of May 18th.

The rest of Franks’ report will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

 

 

 

BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

1) As recorded here last week, a report published on the BBC News website on May 10th claimed – supposedly quoting an Israeli news site – that in the Golan Heights vultures have allegedly been poisoned by farmers “whose herds are threatened by the birds”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint pointing out that vultures are scavengers which do not threaten livestock and that the BBC had mistranslated the Hebrew language report which in fact referred to “predators” – in this case, mainly wolves.

The BBC acknowledged that error in its response to our complaint.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that eight vultures on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – about half the birds’ population there – have been poisoned to death, Israeli officials say (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48232078).

You raise a fair point and we’ve since amended the penultimate paragraph to now explain that the herds are threatened by “predators”.”

The article was amended three days after its initial publication.

2) On May 16th the BBC News website posted a podcast produced by BBC Ouch and titled “The rising stars of Eurovision who pulled out of the final” on its ‘Middle East’ and ‘Entertainment & Arts’ pages. The synopsis to that report originally stated:

“The Shalva Band were favourites to represent host country Israel at Eurovision but pulled out when the dress rehearsal was scheduled for Friday – the Jewish holy day of rest.”

The following day BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website and Tweeted BBC Ouch.

The synopsis was subsequently amended and now it reads:

“The Shalva Band were favourites to represent host country Israel at Eurovision but pulled out when the dress rehearsal was scheduled for Friday night – the start of the Jewish Sabbath, the holy day of rest.”

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BBC News website gets lost in (bad) translation

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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BBC gives amplification to Middle Eastern conspiracy theories