Weekend long read

1) At Mosaic magazine Professor Eugene Kontorovich explains “The Many Incoherences and Hypocrisies of International Law on Jerusalem”.

“Under the uti possidetis principle, then, Israel’s borders at the moment of independence are quite clear: the borders of Mandatory Palestine. Those borders include all of Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria as well. The UN, in its thousands of resolutions to the contrary, flagrantly ignores that principle.

This conclusion is not affected by the UN General Assembly’s partition proposal, adopted as Resolution 181 in November 1947, that provided for the formation in Palestine of two states, Jewish and Arab, with the city of Jerusalem designated a separate internationally-administered entity (the corpus separatum). That is not only because the UN proposal was a non-binding recommendation, but because, having been rejected by the Arabs, it was never implemented and did not in fact result in a partition of the Mandate. Uti possidetis goes by the prior administrative borders as they were, not as they might at various times have been imagined to be.”

2) MEMRI documents the broader background to a speech from a senior Hamas figure which was recently ignored by the BBC: “Hamas Official Fathi Hamad’s Speech Was No Exception”.

“After a July 12, 2019 speech by Hamas political bureau member Fathi Hammad urging Palestinians to kill Jews all over the world sparked outrage, Hamas issued a clarification stating that his statements did not reflect the movement’s official positions and that Hamas’s struggle is against the occupation, not against Jews around the world or the Jewish faith.

However, MEMRI publications from the past two years show that statements by Hamas members and officials, and content published by Hamas’s official media, have been rife with antisemitism. […]

It should be mentioned that all of these statements were made after Hamas published its May 1, 2017 policy document aimed at presenting the movement as pragmatic, democratic, and tolerant. This document was also aimed at distancing the movement from the antisemitic statements that appear in its charter (although it does not supersede the charter), by stating that Hamas does not fight the Jews as such, but only the Zionist occupation.”

3) The ITIC takes a look at a topic serially under reported by the BBC – “Summer Camps in the Gaza Strip”.

“In the past UNRWA organized and funded some of the summer activities for the children in the Gaza Strip. However, in recent years UNRWA suspended its activities because of financial problems. The vacuum was filled by Hamas and the PIJ, which increased their summer camp activities accordingly. In the past Hamas summer camps were organized by the ministries of education and the interior. However, in recent years, with the formal addition of military training to the high school curriculum (“al-Futuwwa”), organizing the summer camps was turned over to the military wings of Hamas and the PIJ (to continue al-Futuwwa training). Apparently the transition had a direct influence on the summer camps’ programs and more emphasis is currently placed on indoctrination and paramilitary training. […]

Hamas’ summer camps are expected to open on July 20, 2019. The camps, called Pioneers of Liberation, are supervised by Hamas’ military wing, and their theme is “Going to Jerusalem”.”

4) Jonathan Spyer analyses the Iraqi prime minister’s announcement of the integration of Shia militias into the Iraqi security forces. 

“The Shia militias are the main instrument of Iranian policy on Iraqi soil.  Not all groups involved in the 150,000 strong PMU are Iran-linked, but the largest and most consequential groupings are.  These include the Badr organization, led by Hadi al-Ameri,  Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Asaib ahl-al Haq, and Hizballah al-Nujaba.

All the above mentioned groupings are franchises of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). All were established by and are controlled by Iran, answering directly to the IRGC’s Qods Force and its leader, General Qassem Soleimani. […]

The militias are powerful players – politically, militarily and economically.  Prime Minister Adel Abd al Mehdi, meanwhile, is a weak figure with no real power base of its own.  Iraq is not a country ruled by law.  The prime minister as a result simply possesses no coercive mechanism for imposing his will on the Shia militias.  He can order their dissolution if he so wishes.  The result will be the further enmeshing and fusing of the militias with the official bodies of the state – without the ceding by the latter of their own vital chain of command.  This chain of command leads to Qassem Soleimani, and thence to the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.”

 

More one-sided Gaza coverage on BBC World Service radio

As we saw in an earlier post, the March 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was titled “Gaza marks Israel march anniversary” and following reports from BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondents in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, listeners heard five full minutes of unchallenged pro-Hamas propaganda from a professor at a university established by Hamas leaders.

Later on in the same programme (from 44:06 here) presenter Lyse Doucet recycled part of that interview. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “A reminder of our top story this hour: thousands of Palestinians have been demonstrating on the border of Gaza on the first anniversary of weekly protests against Israel. Dr Mosheer Amer is professor of the Islamic…at the Islamic University of Gaza. He told this programme why his students were so frustrated with life there.”

Amer: “…there’s a very strong sense of despair because you know there is a high unemployment rate – so over like 60% among the Gaza population – so you can’t expect a student to study 4 years and then he or she ends in, you know, not working. What am I studying for? There is no goal. I mean what kind of job I’m going to find. There is no prospect for a better future in Gaza.”

Given the BBC’s obligation to provide “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”, listeners may have expected that “top story” to go on to include the perspective of residents of the Israeli communities near the border with the Gaza Strip which have been severely affected by the ‘Great Return March’ violence throughout the past year.

However, despite Yolande Knell’s rare visit to one of those communities, rather than balancing Mosheer Amer’s five-minute portrayal of life in Gaza with an equivalent item recorded in Israel, Doucet went on to introduce a commentator from a think-tank heavily funded (see also page 43 here) by the same Gulf state – Qatar – known for harbouring and funding Hamas.   

Doucet: “Back to our top story this hour: today’s one-year anniversary of the weekly Gaza protests along its border fence with Israel. It all comes at a time of mounting tension. This week a rocket attack from Gaza wounded 7 Israelis in a village north of Tel Aviv. Israel launched a wave of airstrikes. There’ve already been three wars between Israel and Gaza in the past decade. Is there a risk of another? I’ve been speaking with Daniel Byman. He’s a foreign policy editor of Lawfare and he’s a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. What are the prospects of another serious escalation between Hamas and Israel?”

Byman: “There is always a prospect of serious escalation. You have a situation in Gaza that is miserable for the Gazans. You have a Palestinian leadership that is divided and competitive and you have Israel that’s very willing to use force to protect what it sees as its security and that combination is very combustible. The good news is that despite having this potential we haven’t seen it spill over into a massive conflict – especially not in the last year or so. No side is particularly eager to begin the fighting but the potential is quite real.”

Apparently the BBC’s supposedly neutral expert does not consider an entire year of weekly violent rioting at the border or the launching of over a thousand rockets into Israeli territory in 2018 or the rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Moshav Mishmeret within ten days as ‘eager to begin the fighting’.

Clearly from her subsequent remarks, Lyse Doucet too does not take over a thousand rocket attacks in twelve months too seriously, given that she went on to describe Israel as suffering from “tension” while Gaza suffers from “violence”.

Doucet: “Now we know there are back-channels to try to de-escalate the tension if not try to move towards some agreement. Egypt, for example, is trying to play this role. Do you see anything happening behind the scenes that Gaza can somehow get out of this endless cycle of violence and Israel can get out of this endless tension along that boundary?”

Erasing the Palestinian terror which has made counter-terrorism measures necessary, Byman replied with a curious claim of a current “state of peace”.

Byman: “In the near term there’s no hope for a deal that’s going to resolve this but there is hope for a deal that will at least ease the conditions in Gaza, that will open some [sic – there are two] of the crossings, that will expand the fishing zone, that will otherwise make life a little better for Gaza and as a result allow Hamas – which is ruling Gaza – to be able to say that they’ve achieved something; that they’ve made life better for Gazans and thus they have a reason to maintain the peace. And so that’s not a final status solution, that’s not something that’s going to resolve it forever but hopefully we could take the current uneasy state of peace and continue it.”

Doucet: “Now Israel of course accuses Hamas of using the people of Gaza as human shields to attack and terrorise Israeli civilians and as you know there were recent rare protests inside Gaza by citizens blaming Hamas in part for the dire state of affairs. Do you see any signs of any kind of shift in Hamas’ position?”

Byman then whitewashed Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and its use of violence to maintain power while bizarrely framing the terror organisation in terms of Western politics.

Byman: “This is very hard to tell. So Hamas has a fairly tight grip on politics in Gaza and certainly dealt with the protesters. There is criticism but it’s hard to tell whether the movement itself is relatively popular as some polls indicate or if people are simply afraid. What makes things much better for Hamas is that it doesn’t have strong Palestinian rivals within Gaza. The Palestinian Authority, its main rival, is weak in Gaza; it’s not particularly popular and in general Hamas has been able to suppress most dissent. Hamas worries about criticism on both its right and its left but it’s been able to navigate that for over ten years now.”

Readers may recall that back in 2017, Lyse Doucet inaccurately claimed on the same BBC World Service programme that Hamas had ‘changed’ its charter. Apparently the BBC’s refusal to correct that inaccuracy at the time has led to Doucet holding on to that illusion.

Doucet: “But you see it as…its posture as being consistently just anti-Israel? There was a lot of attention a few years ago, as you know, that Hamas was changing its posture, looking for another way out in terms of its relationship with Israel. What…how do you see that now?”

Byman: “I would say Hamas is certainly anti-Israel but it’s also pragmatic. It recognises that Israel has military superiority. It recognises that it is diplomatically isolated. So Hamas is hoping that it now might be a time to strike at least a temporary deal. Now might be a time to try to achieve economic expansion in some way that will enable it to have accomplishments and they can claim that it’s doing something for the Palestinian people even if it isn’t achieving liberation through what it would call resistance.”

Doucet did not bother to clarify to listeners that as far as Hamas is concerned, “liberation” means the eradication of Israel and “resistance” means acts of violence.

Doucet: “And does Gaza, Hamas fit in in any way to this expected new American deal for the Middle East – it’s been called the deal of the century – which would focus on…largely on Israel, what’s happening in the West Bank – which of course is not run by Hamas – and the wider region?”

Doucet refrained from informing audiences that the Palestinian Authority has already rejected the US initiative even before its publication.

Byman: “There are a dozen or so reasons to be sceptical of the so-called deal of the century and I think there’s a reason we haven’t seen any real details despite President Trump being in office for quite some time now. On Gaza I would stress that if the deal ignores Hamas, which I think is likely, Hamas can easily disrupt the deal. Hamas attacks in Israel will lead to a very ferocious Israeli response and that back and forth discredits any moderates who are negotiating. It’s very hard to negotiate when rockets are falling. It’s very hard to negotiate when Israel is bombing Gaza. And so Hamas effectively has a veto over a deal and ignoring it is going to be a mistake.”

Byman has been touting that idea of negotiating with Hamas for almost a decade regardless of the fact that the terror group has no interest in making peace with Israel.

Doucet: “So in a situation where you have the UN and many aid agencies and there are some people warning that Gaza’s a ticking time bomb, that its deepening humanitarian crisis and this tension of course, this continuing violence that shows no sign of ending, do you see any way out?”

Byman: “I think the best we can hope for in the near term is that there are fewer crises and the crises that happen involve fewer deaths. From Israel’s point of view it feels that it has achieved some degree of deterrence with Hamas and that even when larger scale conflicts have occurred, that Israel has been able to navigate these with relatively little loss of life on the Israeli side. And as a result Israel feels it can endure the current situation. So I don’t think there’s an answer short of much more comprehensive peace talks and those talks seem likely any time soon.”

Apparently the ‘expert’ brought in by the BBC is unaware of public conversations in Israel concerning ‘deterrence’ and the approach to Hamas. Apparently too he is disinterested in the Israeli citizens that bear the brunt of the terror organisation’s violence.

As we see, while around a quarter of this edition of ‘Newshour’ was devoted to this one story, most of its content focused on the promotion of unchallenged pro-Hamas propaganda concerning a non-existent “siege” on the Gaza Strip and analysis from a person who promotes the idea of negotiations with the same terror group, while not one Israeli voice was heard. So much for ‘balanced’ coverage.

Related Articles:

Unchallenged pro-Hamas propaganda on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

BBC Radio 4 portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ anniversary – part one

BBC Radio 4 portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ anniversary – part two

BBC News sticks to year-old formula of reporting on ‘Great Return March’

BBC refuses to correct an error on a topic it previously reported accurately

 

 

 

BBC’s Middle East editor ‘explains’ Gaza violence

On the morning of May 15th the BBC’s Middle East editor went to the Gaza Strip – tossing an ‘open prison’ quip to his 169,000 Twitter followers on the way.

The Middle East editor’s role was described by the BBC as follows when it was created 13 years ago:

“Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.

Later the same day, the BBC News website published a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen titled “What’s at the root of the protests in Gaza?” and billed:

“The BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen explains the reason why people have been protesting in Gaza.”

Given that above job description, one would therefore have expected Bowen to provide BBC audiences with the information concerning the background to the ‘Great Return March’ that they have been lacking for the past month and a half, such as the involvement of multiple Gaza factions – including Hamas and other terror groups – in its planning, organisation and financing and maybe even clarification of the connections of British Islamists to the project. Likewise, one would of course assume that Jeremy Bowen would have informed BBC audiences that the publicity stunt’s prime aim is to attract attention, with one organiser describing it as “a rally that the whole world and media outlets would watch.”

However, Jeremy Bowen’s entire ‘explanation’ went like this:

“This is the outside wall of Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, celebrating paramedics, fire-fighters. Emergency services were very busy here yesterday and inside the hospital there are a lot of people with gunshot wounds. There is shock here in Gaza at the scale of the killing. Yes, they were of course expecting casualties but more than fifty is a lot. That’s the biggest number killed since the war of 2014.

The thing about Gaza, the thing about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that the issue at the heart of it doesn’t change. And that issue is that there are two peoples on one piece of land and until they can find a way to share it, they will continue to suffer.”

Completely absent from Bowen’s ‘why can’t they just get along?’ narrative was the fact that Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip almost thirteen years ago, relinquishing all territorial claims to it. Also missing was Hamas’ existential commitment to Israel’s destruction – as expressed in its founding charter, in the rationale behind its ‘Great Return March’ and in its continued use of terrorism against Israeli citizens.

The problem, therefore, is not that “two peoples” cannot find “a way to share”. The problem is that major factions within one of those peoples cannot tolerate the existence of the other under any circumstance.

That simple fact is precisely what Jeremy Bowen has avoided telling the BBC’s funding public for the past thirteen years and – as his latest trite report once again demonstrates – he will likely continue to do so.

 

 

Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one

On January 8th the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired (not for the first time) a televised interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar on the BBC World News channel and on the BBC News channel.  An audio version of the same interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio and a clip from the interview was promoted separately.

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of the Islamist movement Hamas. Donald Trump broke with long established diplomatic convention by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His recent tweets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been music to the ears of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So what do the Palestinians do now? Hamas controls Gaza and has been at loggerheads with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for more than a decade. Are the Palestinians staring defeat in the face?”

One noteworthy aspect of that programme was Stephen Sackur’s presentation of terrorism as a matter of conflicting narratives.

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

Sackur: “My guest today was one of the co-founders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Mahmoud Zahar became used to the rigours of violent conflict with Israel. He was imprisoned, deported, his home was targeted, family members – including his son killed. But he and his Hamas colleagues remained committed to an armed struggle whose ultimate objective they characterise as the liberation of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. To Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and Mr Zahar is a terrorist with blood on his hands. To Palestinians he is one player in a prolonged internecine struggle between Fatah – the organisation led for so long by Yasser Arafat – and Hamas.”

And [from 04:56 in the audio version]:

Sackur: “The truth is, since that decision taken by Trump in December on Jerusalem we’ve seen – what? – a dozen or so rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel. The Israelis have responded by targeting weapons dumps. The truth is everything that you talk about in terms of violent military resistance plays into Israel’s hands. It allows them to characterise you yet again as terrorists out to kill Israeli citizens.”

Sackur’s presentation of course would not have surprised anyone familiar with the BBC’s long history of promoting the ‘one man’s terrorist’ narrative that fails to distinguish between means and ends and results in inconsistent BBC reporting on terrorism in differing locations.

Another notable point was Sackur’s adoption of Hamas’ own terminology and his breach [from 20:09] of the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” which, as noted here recently on two occasions, instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.

Sackur: “Is the resistance in Palestine now in the hands of ordinary people – young people particularly – not with veteran leaders like you?”

Viewers and listeners may have noticed that during this interview some of the messaging they have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

For example, the BBC’s long-standing and repeated claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied even though Israel withdrew from the territory over twelve years ago was contradicted by Zahar [from 04:00].

Zahar: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

In September of last year the BBC began reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ and produced a considerable amount of content promoting that topic. However, Zahar dismissed the claim of ‘reconciliation’ proposed by Sackur [from 09:02].

Sackur: “I mean you in Hamas, as of October 2017 – just a few months ago – are committed to a reconciliation agreement with Fatah which is supposed to lead to a reunification of the administration in Gaza and supposed to see Fatah and PA – Palestinian Authority – forces take security control in Gaza. Are you suggesting to me that that deal is now completely off?”

Zahar: “First of all I’d like to address that it’s not a reconciliation. This is a misleading name actually. We in Cairo on 2011 agreed to have a deal and agreement in Cairo. This agreement includes the most important point is to run election for the ministerial level, for the legislative council and for the national council level. And we are dead sure that we are going to win this election. At that time we are going to change the attitude of this authority from cooperating with Israel to the degree as we did with the Israeli in 2005. For this reason we are…”

Sackur [interrupts] “We don’t have time for a long history lesson but the bottom line is just a few months ago you were prepared to talk about a deal with Fatah and Fatah insisted part of that deal would be that you would accept Palestinian Authority security control in Gaza and Hamas would ultimately have to give up its weapons. Are you prepared, in Hamas, as part of a national deal, to give up your weapons?”

Zahar: “It’s not a national deal. It’s between Fatah and other national factions but the Palestinian people in the refugee camps, more than six million people outside, they’ve not shared it. I’m speaking about what is the substantial core of this deal you describe in the last few months. It was implementation of the agreement in Cairo 2011. It’s not a reconciliation.”

Another interesting point arising from this interviewee is the discovery that the BBC does know the purpose of the cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas and other terror organisations – despite its ambiguous description of their purpose in the past.

Sackur: [11:43] “…you’re not prepared – are you? – to give up your weapons based control of the Gaza Strip and your continued determination to fire rockets into Israel and dig tunnels under your territory into Israeli territory in order to conduct terrorist operations inside Israel.”

Last year the BBC amply covered the story of the Hamas policy document published in May with some reports inaccurately describing it as a ‘new’ charter signalling a different approach from the terror group and Yolande Knell, for example, telling BBC audiences that “it really drops its long-standing call for an outright destruction of Israel”. However, when Sackur brought up that topic, Zahar put paid to that claim from Knell.

Sackur [from 18:27] “…in May of 2017 your movement came out with a new policy document. For the first time they…you in Hamas said that you would accept a solution which gave the Palestinians a state on the ’67 lines and it looked as though – with a new leader Mr Haniyah in place – it looked as though Hamas was beginning to search for a way to play a role in the peace process; to become – if I may say so – more moderate. Have you walked away from that now? Are you not interested in being more moderate anymore?”

Zahar: “I’m sorry to understand from you because we are speaking about establishment of an independent state in the area for occupied ’67 but this is the continuation of our argument. But we are not going to denounce a square meter of our land which is Palestine.”

Throughout the interview Zahar was permitted to promote inaccurate claims unchallenged by Sackur, as we will see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Selective BBC framing of Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ continues

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio

 

 

BBC refuses to correct an error on a topic it previously reported accurately

As noted here last month, in a report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet inaccurately informed listeners that Hamas had made changes to its charter.

Doucet: “Well I remember the elections in 2006. Fatah – and indeed the outside world, including the United States – were shocked that Hamas had won these elections and so the talk was let them bring them in to the democratic process; let them show that they can be a legitimate governing force. By the next year, however, they had completely taken over the Gaza Strip and for the last decade there has been that rift. Now since that time, Hamas has constantly been under pressure to change its founding charter which still talks about the destruction of the State of Israel. The listeners may remember that they made some changes to that charter in the last year. It was seen as a huge breakthrough by Hamas but still it fell short for Israel.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“Doucet’s claim that Hamas “made some changes to that charter” is of course inaccurate. The policy document launched in May did not replace or change the existing charter at all – as the BBC News website reported at the time. Unfortunately for BBC World Service audiences, however, this is not the first time that they have heard the falsehood now promoted by Doucet.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue. The response received reads as follows:

BBC’s own photo caption: “Hamas officials say the new document does not replace the group’s 1988 charter”.

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint that there was a factual inaccuracy in Lyse Doucet’s report broadcast in Newshour on 12/10/2017. I forwarded your email to the editor and team at Newshour. Below is the reply…   

The programme was reporting on the emerging deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah that was unfolding as the programme went on air.

This was a significant story.  Lyse Doucet gave a brief historical context to the deal, ranging from the Palestinian elections in 2006 to the military takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and the current problems with electricity supply related to the political rift with the Fatah administration in Ramallah.

Lyse clearly pointed out that Hamas’s founding charter still talks about the destruction of the state of Israel, and that Hamas still sees itself as a resistance movement.

Lyse referred to changes in the Hamas charter last year, which represented a significant shift in the movement’s public stance and were important in that regard.

But Lyse stressed the point that Hamas showed no sign of accepting the legitimacy of Israel.

I hope the above allays the concerns you have raised.” [emphasis added]

As we see, despite one BBC department – the BBC News website – having accurately reported at the time that “Hamas says [the new document] does not replace the charter”, obviously neither the ‘Newshour’ team nor the BBC’s complaints department understands the significant difference between the Hamas charter and the policy document.

In contrast, media organisations that have corrected inaccuracies concerning the same issue include i24, CNN and Newsweek.  

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

BBC’s chief international correspondent claims Hamas changed its charter

On October 12th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ opened with an item concerning the preliminary agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah on that day.

Presenter Rebecca Kesby introduced the item (from 00:45 here) with promotion of the inaccurate implication (also heard in previous editions of ‘Newshour’) that the 2006 PLC elections took place only “in Gaza” and failed to inform listeners of the full complement of countries and bodies (including the EU) that proscribe Hamas or of the violent nature of the terror group’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip.

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

Kesby: “We begin in the Middle East because after a bitter feud lasting a full decade, rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah say they’ve come to a deal over the governing of the Gaza Strip. Hamas – which is described as a terrorist organisation by both the US State Department and Israel – won a landslide victory in elections in Gaza back in 2006. The following year it wrested full control of the territory from Fatah, which controls the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank  and relations between the two groups have been dire ever since. But with the help of Egypt, they’ve now managed to negotiate an agreement which was signed today in Cairo. A senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, Zakariya al Agha, confirmed the signing of the deal.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of statements made by al Agha.

Agha v/o: “We reached an agreement at dawn today regarding all the issues we had been discussing during this current round of talks in Cairo and nearly all the issues on which we had differences have been settled.”

Kesby: “Well Mr al Agha said that Palestinian citizens would see the benefits after the details had been finalised.”

Agha v/o: “All the measures under discussion should be resolved very shortly, whether they are in regards to government employees, electricity or other issues. There will be a breakthrough soon and the citizens of Gaza will feel the results of this agreement.”

With a bizarre reference to “the Middle East” – the vast majority of which would not of course be affected one iota by any reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah – Kesby went on:

Kesby: “So how might this deal change things more widely in the Middle East and will Fatah’s resumption of a partnership with Hamas help or hinder the stalled peace process with the Israelis? Joining us live on the line now is our chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and, Lyse, first of all let’s try to get a bit more detail on exactly what has been agreed ‘cos it seems that Fatah will take over the civilian control of Gaza but Hamas it seems will keep its military wing?”

Doucet: “Well that is exactly one of the issues that we’re still waiting to hear details on. You heard the Fatah representative; he said ‘all the issues’ and then he said ‘nearly all the issues’.  Let’s go by what they have announced in Cairo; the two sides say they have agreed on. And that is that when it comes to what is essentially the only real crossing – aside from the Israeli…the heavily controlled Israeli crossings – the only exit for Hamas, the residents of the Gaza Strip with the outside world is the Rafah crossing with Egypt. By November the first Hamas’ own security…ah…security forces will have left that crossing and will be replaced by the Presidential Guards of the Palestinian Authority. In other words it will underline that there is only one security force and it is under the overall Palestinian Authority. And there was a statement to suggest that those forces would spread to other parts of the other of the edges of the Gaza Strip. We also heard that – yes, as you mentioned – the administrative control, which will be hugely important. He mentioned the electricity shortage. Gazans are living with about two to three hours of electricity a day and that is an impact noxious on Gazan homes, the hospitals don’t have enough electricity so people’s …ah…people’s health is being affected. Cars don’t have enough fuel.”

Doucet did not bother to tell listeners that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is the result of deliberate Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas before she went on to make a curious assertion.

Doucet: “The United Nations has been urging all sides to try to end the rift and this is what we think has pushed Hamas to finally negotiate.”

Who “we” are is unclear but remarkably, Doucet erased both growing domestic dissent and the Dahlan factor from her portrayal. She continued:

Doucet: “But the question you mentioned; 25,000 men under arms in the Gaza Strip – the military wing of Hamas. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has said ‘we don’t want a Hizballah’: in other words, an independent armed group operating in Gaza. But so far we haven’t heard…in fact Hamas has said ‘we’re not going to disband our military wing but we will work more closely with the Palestinian Authority’. Will that be enough? Certainly not for Israel.”

As has been unanimously the case in BBC coverage of the latest potential Hamas-Fatah deal since the story first broke in September, Doucet refrained from telling audiences that any ‘unity government’ which avoids disarming Hamas’ terrorist militia in the Gaza Strip will fail to meet the Palestinian Authority’s commitments under existing agreements with Israel. Instead, the issue was portrayed as being about Israeli ill-will.

Apparently ignorant of the vicious violence that took place in 2007 when Hamas launched its armed take-over of the Gaza Strip and ignoring its subsequently augmented terrorism against Israeli citizens and its brutal abuse of the residents of Gaza, Rebecca Kesby went on to promote a ditsy notion unconnected to reality.

Kesby: “And so when Hamas took over the running of Gaza it did seem – didn’t it Lyse – to be crossing into the mainstream; trying to look a bit more like a legitimate political party. Is this a retreat then for them on the political process? And if so, where does that leave relations with Israel because they have been prepared to speak to Fatah but if Fatah’s now in partnership with Hamas again, does that strain relations again with the Israelis?”

Doucet: “Well I remember the elections in 2006. Fatah – and indeed the outside world, including the United States – were shocked that Hamas had won these elections and so the talk was let them bring them in to the democratic process; let them show that they can be a legitimate governing force. By the next year, however, they had completely taken over the Gaza Strip and for the last decade there has been that rift. Now since that time, Hamas has constantly been under pressure to change its founding charter which still talks about the destruction of the State of Israel. The listeners may remember that they made some changes to that charter in the last year. It was seen as a huge breakthrough by Hamas but still it fell short for Israel.”

Doucet’s claim that Hamas “made some changes to that charter” is of course inaccurate. The policy document launched in May did not replace or change the existing charter at all – as the BBC News website reported at the time. Unfortunately for BBC World Service audiences, however, this is not the first time that they have heard the falsehood now promoted by Doucet. She continued, using the partisan language of terrorist groups that call themselves ‘resistance’:

Doucet: “So there’s still a big question-mark about Gaza [sic – Hamas] whether it is a resistance movement or a governing movement. It says it is both because bear in mind that the so-called peace process is basically going nowhere. So Hamas feels why should we then give in, give up all of our rights or our bargaining positions if in fact that process is going nowhere.”

By now Doucet was obviously making it up as she went along: her attempt to persuade BBC audiences that Hamas continues to be a “resistance movement” because the peace process is stalled is obviously contradicted by the fact that Hamas has rejected any sort of engagement in that process since its founding thirty years ago. She continued:

Doucet: “And you mentioned earlier the question will this help the negotiating process? Well no, because Israel does not want to sit at the same table with Hamas and the United States in the past – and I’ve heard this from Palestinian officials – has tried to stop any reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. It wants them to be brought in, to stop, to end its armed wing, to change its charter, to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and it shows no sign of doing that yet, even though it has said it wants to basically run the Gaza Strip – wants to be part of the Palestinian Authority.”

Such requirements are of course not – as Doucet would apparently have listeners believe –capricious demands made by Israel and/or the United States: they are in fact what is known as the Quartet Principles (recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and adherence to previous agreements) and were endorsed by the UN Security Council in 2008. Had Doucet bothered to clarify that to her listeners, their understanding of why the disarming of Hamas is such a crucial issue and why the peace process cannot progress if a new Palestinian unity government does not adhere to those principles would obviously have been enhanced.

Doucet closed with a curious take-away message:

Doucet: “It [Hamas] doesn’t…it’s not a movement like Islamic State and the other extremist groups.”

Although BBC reporting on the reconciliation in progress between Hamas and Fatah has to date been superficial and has for the most part failed to provide audiences with the information necessary for proper understanding of the issues behind the story, one might have expected that a journalist holding the title of BBC chief international correspondent would have been able to do better.

However, Doucet’s promotion of inaccurate information concerning the Hamas charter and the terror group’s approach to the peace process, along with her failure to properly explain why a Hamas-Fatah unity government which does not adhere to the Quartet Principles will stall the peace process and her often dubious analysis, failed to meet the BBC’s obligation to accurate and impartial reporting.

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BBC News website plays along with the ‘softer’ Hamas spin

On May 6th the BBC News website published an article titled “Hamas chooses Ismail Haniya as new leader” on its Middle East page.

Readers are told that:

“Mr Haniya is seen as a pragmatist who will try to ease Hamas’s international isolation.” 

However, audiences are not informed by whom exactly the new Hamas political bureau leader is regarded as “a pragmatist” and neither are they given any insight into Haniyeh’s record of decidedly unrealistic statements that the people who have suffered under his rule for the past decade might well find less than practical and sensible.

“The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel]… We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.” (Haniyeh, December 2011)

“Brothers and sisters, we were told [during the Gaza War] that if we wanted the war to stop and the siege to be lifted, and if we wanted the red carpet to be rolled out, so that we could reach the White House and other places, we would have to recognize Israel, to curse the resistance, and to release [Gilad] Shalit. We said, from the very heart of the siege, from under the ruins, from the places being bombarded by the F-16 planes… We said then, and I say to you now, in the capital of south Tunisia: We will never ever recognize Israel.” (Haniyeh, January 2012)

“…the resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including al-Quds (Jerusalem), has been liberated and all the refugees have returned.”

“[The] gun is our only response to [the] Zionist regime. In time we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance and no compromise should be made with the enemy.” (Haniyeh, February 2012)

“We think that the path of negotiations and peace talks has reached a dead end. The resistance (i.e., terror campaign, 2000-2005), which liberated Gaza [in 2005] and protected Gaza, can liberate the West Bank and the rest of the Palestinian lands, Allah willing. The liberator of Gaza, with the help of Allah, can liberate Jerusalem, the West Bank and the rest of Palestine (i.e., Israel).” (Haniyeh, May 2014)

“Gaza is part of Palestine and there will be no Palestinian state without Gaza and there will be no state without whole Palestine.” (Haniyeh, March 2017

The BBC’s article links Haniyeh’s unsurprising nomination to the document released by Hamas several days earlier, portraying both events as an attempt to “soften its image” but failing to adequately clarify to readers why neither does any such thing.

“The group published a new policy document this week regarded as an attempt to soften its image. […]

This week, Hamas published its first new policy document since its founding charter.

It declares for the first time a willingness to accept an interim Palestinian state within pre-1967 boundaries, without recognising Israel. […]

The new document stresses it does not mean that Hamas now recognises Israel’s right to exist or that it no longer advocates violence against Israel.”

Readers are told that the Hamas Charter – which a photo caption correctly describes as not being replaced by the new document – includes “anti-Jewish language”.

“It [the new document] also says Hamas’s struggle is not with Jews but with “occupying Zionist aggressors”. The 1988 charter was condemned for its anti-Jewish language.”

Although the phrase “anti-Jewish language” was also seen in an earlier report on the topic of the new Hamas document, there it was clarified what that means.

“For years there has been criticism of Hamas over the language of its charter, in particular articles which were branded anti-Semitic.

The charter speaks of the need to fight “warmongering Jews” and cites a hadith – a report of what the Prophet Muhammad said or approved – that declares “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews)”.

It also refers to the “Jews’ usurpation of Palestine” and accuses Jews of controlling the world’s media and of being behind the French Revolution, secret societies and of controlling imperialist countries.”

No such explanation appears in this latest report.

While journalists at the BBC News website (in contrast to some of their colleagues) clearly understand that Hamas’ latest moves are no more than an attempt to embellish its image for various outside audiences, that its original antisemitic charter still stands and that no significant changes have been made to Hamas policy, curiously they apparently still find it appropriate to provide a platform for the spin of a ‘softer’ Hamas and refrain from informing audiences in clear terms that Ismail Haniyeh is no different to – and no more ‘pragmatic’ than – his predecessor.

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

Part one of this post looked at BBC News website coverage of the launch of Hamas’ new policy document and part two reviewed reports concerning the same topic on BBC World Service radio – in which the document was repeatedly and inaccurately portrayed as a ‘new charter’.

The same story also received coverage on BBC Radio 4, including a lengthy item in the May 2nd edition of ‘The World Tonight’ (from 31:16 here). In contrast to her World Service colleagues, presenter Ritula Shah introduced the item to listeners without falling into the trap of describing the document as a ‘new charter’. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has said it’s willing to accept an interim Palestinian state without recognising Israel’s right to exist. The group’s published a new policy document; the first since its founding charter of 1988. The new document doesn’t mention Hamas’ parent organisation the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist movement banned in Egypt. The text is seen as an effort by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to soften its image. The group as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, the UK and some other powers. Launching the document in the Qatari capital Doha, the leader of Hamas Khaled Masha’al said the aim was to clarify the organisation’s ideology, politics and guidelines but Hamas maintained its view that Israel was established illegally and they wouldn’t recognise its right to exist.”

Listeners then heard a voice over translation of an excerpt from Masha’al’s speech.

v/o: “Hamas is developing without losing the core principles or waiving the established rights and demands of our people. Hamas also believes that our struggle against the Zionist occupation, the Zionist enterprise, is not a struggle against the Jews or the Jewish faith. Hamas is struggling against the Zionist occupiers, the aggressors.”

Shah continued, introducing her first interviewee.

“So just how significant is the move? Khaled Hroub is an expert on Hamas and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University in Qatar.”

Unfortunately, the reasonable portrayal of the story that listeners had so far heard in this item was compromised when Hroub opened his commentary by making the inaccurate claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and promoting the falsehood of ‘1967 borders’ – with no meaningful challenge from Ritula Shah forthcoming.

Hroub: “It’s indeed very significant to acknowledge and accept the idea of the two state solution; to have a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Now we have this kind of in a document; official document.”

The Hamas document states very clearly that it views the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory in part already under Palestinian Authority control as an interim measure rather than a permanent solution to the conflict. It also clearly states its rejection of Israel’s right to exist and therefore obviously does not “accept” the two-state solution that promotes a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel, but rather Hamas obviously sees that as a stepping stone along the route to its aspiration to eradicate Israel.

After Hroub had also promoted the notion that the new document means that Hamas has changed from being “a religious movement with political, national dimensions” to “a national Palestinian movement with a religious and Islamist background” (despite the fact that the text includes the claim that “Palestine is an Arab Islamic land” and “Palestine is at the heart of the Arab and Islamic Ummah”), Ritula Shah interjected, but failed to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression that Hamas now accepts the two-state solution.

Shah: “But crucially the document doesn’t officially recognise Israel or renounce violence. From the view of – the point of view – of Western diplomats, presumably that gives them little room for manoeuvre.”

Hroub’s answer to that question included the inaccurate claim that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state is not a crucial part of the story, along with the falsehood that Israel does not accept the two-state solution and erasure of the fact that the Oslo Accords put the vast majority of Palestinians under PA rule.

Hroub: “Recognising Israel is not really the big issue. From Hamas’ perspective – and I am not defending them but let’s say from a wider Palestinian perspective – they say well, we have been collectively doing this and yet nothing in return we have achieved. The Israeli side did not get on the two-state solution. Nothing whatsoever concretely materialised on the ground so the internal, if you like, Palestinian political spectrum recognised Israel except Hamas. This lack of recognition on the side of Hamas is not the issue. We have so many bigger issues [unintelligible], you know, the process.”

Shah then asked:

“If we accept that Hamas has moved its position somewhat but perhaps not nearly as far as the Israelis would like, who do you think Hamas is aiming to appeal to by changing its stance in the way that it has?”

Hroub’s response once again misled listeners by erasing the Hamas document’s unequivocal references to “Arab Islamic land” and the “Islamic Ummah”.

Hroub: “Number one I think to the Palestinian constituency itself – the Palestinian people – because by saying well we are a national Palestinian liberationist [sic] movement, this means we are kind of cutting off any trans-national Islamist dimensions so we are a purely Palestinian movement.”

He continued:

Hroub: “Number two is maybe the wider regional and international audience to say well we speak politics, we speak diplomacy and now we are going maybe halfway through in fulfilling a number of conditions that have been imposed on Hamas – and even the Palestinians – by the Quartet Middle East committee saying well they have to do this and that. Now I think Hamas is saying now we are kind of going down that road but we cannot go the entire kind of road without having or without receiving in return substantial and concrete steps from the Israeli side and the American side.”

The Quartet’s three principles are renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and adherence to existing agreements. Hamas is nowhere near “halfway” to fulfilling those conditions and – as this new document once again shows – clearly has no intention of doing so. In other words, Khaled Khroub was again allowed to mislead BBC audiences with inaccurate claims that went completely unchallenged.

The editorial decision to broadcast this interview with Khaled Hroub – which clearly not only contributed nothing to audience comprehension of this story but actually muddied any such understanding by promoting numerous false claims – is obviously highly questionable. The fact that the item then went on to broadcast an interview with Michael Herzog in which listeners heard ‘the Israeli view’ of the new Hamas document (together with a few home truths that BBC audiences rarely encounter) does not mitigate that editorial decision.

Shah: “Well Israel’s held Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and has carried out three major military campaigns in Gaza since 2008. The offensives were preceded by escalations in cross-border fighting with scores of rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes against Hamas by Israel. So what do Israelis make of the Hamas document? Michael Herzog is a retired brigadier general in the IDF. He’s participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians since 1993.”

Herzog: “Hamas feels isolated. It’s in economic bankruptcy. There is a huge rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. There are strained relations with Egypt and I think they felt the need to do something in order to extricate themselves from this position of isolation but in terms of what’s in the document itself…”

Shah: “So what would you say that’s new? Just identify what’s new for us.”

Herzog: “What’s different is first they try to present themselves …to go away from antisemitism which characterised their 1988 charter by saying that they are not against Jews but they are against Zionism. However, they reject Israel as it is; they will never recognise it. Another modification is that in the original charter – which by the way was not abrogated; it’s still there – Hamas presents itself as a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it is. In this document this disappeared because they did not want to upset Egypt. Other than that there is willingness to accept a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines – which is not new, by the way; they’ve been saying it over the last few years – but on condition that Israel will withdraw to ’67 lines, accept all refugees – which means the annihilation of Israel – and they will not relinquish their demand for the whole of historical Palestine – including Israel – and they will never give up on what they call armed resistance which we refer to as terrorism.”

Shah, however, insisted on trying to put some positive spin on the story:

Shah: “So, plenty of shortcomings from your point of view but you recognise that there is a move – however incremental – and is that in itself to be welcomed?”

Herzog: “The move is very modest. It does not change the basic ideology of this organisation. It does not turn it into a willing participant in a peace process which espouses recognition between two states. I think it’s more of a tactical move. I of course think that any move in that direction is positive but let’s not delude ourselves about this organisation. At the very same time that they come out with this document they continue to encourage and direct and initiate terrorist activities in the West Bank and inside Israel. You just have to follow what’s happening every week here.”

Listeners to this programme would be unlikely to have the knowledge to enable them to understand Herzog’s words because BBC audiences are of course serially denied information concerning “what’s happening every week” in Israel. Since the beginning of this year, the BBC has not reported any of the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip to its English-speaking audiences and as of March 2017, had reported just 0.3% of the total number of terror attacks that took place.  

Shah continued:

Shah: “So in terms of the bigger picture then, in trying to restart some kind of meaningful peace process, as far as you’re concerned this makes no difference.”

Herzog: “It does not. The partner of the peace process is not Hamas; it is the Palestinian Authority which is rival to Hamas and feels that Hamas wants to undercut it. And I think the context for this document – as well as very harsh measures recently adopted by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas, including cutting of salaries and not paying for electricity and so on – is the upcoming meeting between President Abbas and President Trump in the White House tomorrow. I think that both parties feel Abbas would like to present himself as someone who is a willing partner, while Hamas would like to not be cut out of the picture.”

While the BBC has certainly not been alone in falling for this latest Hamas PR stunt, it is remarkable that the corporation’s various platforms have presented differing portrayals of the Hamas document. Particularly noteworthy is the BBC World Service’s repeated insistence on telling audiences that the document is a ‘new charter’ despite the fact that even Hamas itself says it is not. Given the plethora of inaccurate reporting, it will be important to track the BBC’s portrayal of this topic in the future.

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio

As documented in part one of this post, reports that appeared on the BBC News website on May 1st and 2nd clarified to audiences that Hamas itself had said that the new document it launched in Qatar on May 1st does not replace the terror group’s 1988 Charter.

Nevertheless, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ chose to present the lead story in its May 1st late edition under the inaccurate heading “Hamas Presents New Charter”.

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has set out a new series of policies. It declares for the first time a willingness to accept an interim Palestinian state within pre-1967 boundaries, without recognising Israel.”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced that long item (from 0:44 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“First to the Middle East. One of the nostrums, one of the pieces of received wisdom about the region is that when it comes to one of the oldest conflicts of the lot – the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians – nothing really changes however many people die in the occasional eruptions of war, however much pressure grows inside this congested land, however much effort is expended by presidents of the United States.

Now though comes news – indeed just before we came on air – of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas making what for them is a major announcement. They were bringing out their first new policy document since their founding charter almost thirty years ago and the question we want to ask is whether this marks a potentially significant shift for them, for the Israelis and for the international response. In a moment we’ll hear from a Hamas spokesman and from a member of the Israeli government. First let’s hear from our correspondent Yolande Knell in Jerusalem. Who are Hamas?”

Audiences did not in fact hear an Israeli view at all in this item.

After listeners heard an anodyne portrayal of Hamas from Knell (which of course at no point included the word ‘terror’), Franks asked her the following question.

“What are the major changes that have come out of this new document of general principles and policies, as they call it?”

Knell replied: [emphasis in bold added]

“Well I’ve spent much of the day looking back at the 1988 founding covenant. Ahm…and now we have in front of us the articles of this new policy document and there are some ways in which there’s definitely a lot more moderate, a lot more measured language; some real departures from that earlier document. And it really drops its long-standing call for an outright destruction of Israel and also its association with the Muslim Brotherhood. This appears to be an effort to improve its relations with other Palestinian factions, with Arab countries and the wider world.”

In other words, having read the following clauses from that document, Knell egregiously chose to portray them to BBC audiences as meaning that Hamas has ‘dropped’ its aspiration to erase Israel from the map.

“Palestine symbolizes the resistance that shall continue until liberation is accomplished, until the return is fulfilled and until a fully sovereign state is established with Jerusalem as its capital. […]

Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Ras Al-Naqurah [Rosh HaNikra – Ed.] in the north to Umm Al-Rashrash [Eilat – Ed.] in the south, is an integral territorial unit. It is the land and the home of the Palestinian people. The expulsion and banishment of the Palestinian people from their land and the establishment of the Zionist entity therein do not annul the right of the Palestinian people to their entire land and do not entrench any rights therein for the usurping Zionist entity.

Palestine is an Arab Islamic land. It is a blessed sacred land that has a special place in the heart of every Arab and every Muslim. […]

The following are considered null and void: the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate Document, the UN Palestine Partition Resolution, and whatever resolutions and measures that derive from them or are similar to them. The establishment of “Israel” is entirely illegal and contravenes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and goes against their will and the will of the Ummah; it is also in violation of human rights that are guaranteed by international conventions, foremost among them is the right to self-determination.

There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. Whatever has befallen the land of Palestine in terms of occupation, settlement building, Judaization or changes to its features or falsification of facts is illegitimate. Rights never lapse.

Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. “

Knell continued – contradicting her own previous statement and promoting the falsehood of “pre-1967 borders”:

“We still have in this new document Hamas laying claim to all of historic Palestine which of course includes present-day Israel. It doesn’t recognise Israel in any way; it continues to refer to it as the Zionist project or Israel in inverted commas. But it does now agree to a transitional Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – what’s known as the pre-1967 borders. This of course is the basis of peace talks with Israel.”

At that point Knell was cut off and Franks went on to introduce a frequent BBC interviewee; Ghazi Hamad of Hamas.

Franks: “How significant a shift does he think  this is from the former founding charter which talked about an existential war with Jews?”

Although the interview with Hamad is of very bad quality and barely audible or intelligible, listeners did hear him claim that the new document is “not a shift”, that it represents the evolvement of Hamas’ position over the years and that it shows “what is the real position of Hamas”.  

Repeating the same falsehood as Knell before him, Franks then asked Hamad:

“Can I ask you in particular; one of the big shifts at least from this charter seems to be the acceptance in the first instance of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. So – the West Bank, Gaza and at least part of Jerusalem – if not the whole of Jerusalem as far as Hamas is concerned. I just wonder what then happens after that stage. Even if the Israelis were prepared to accept that – given that there are 6 million Jews who live in this country called Israel who are proud to call themselves Israelis, want to carry on calling themselves Israelis. What happens to them?”

Hamad of course did not answer that question and listeners got another dose of Hamas propaganda instead before Franks went on to introduce his final interviewee while once again promoting the erroneous notion that the new document replaces the old Hamas Charter.

Franks: “Well does this mark a change in approach and does it demand a new response from the international players, this Hamas charter? […] Has the diplomatic weather around the Palestinians and Israelis changed? Daniel Kurtzer was the US ambassador to Israel between 1997 and 2001 and is now professor in Middle East policy at Princeton University.”

Listeners heard Kurtzer inaccurately describe the document too.

“The current Israeli government is not going to see this new charter as anything of importance….”

They also heard Kurtzer advocate the position that the new document “represents a shift” in Hamas which justifies “starting to talk to them”.

Franks closed the item as follows:

“And just within the last few minutes Fatah – the rival Palestinian faction – has said that the new Hamas document is identical to the position of the PLO in 1988. Hamas demands eh…eh…to apologise to the PLO.”

As the BBC News website reported, the demand for an apology to the PLO did not come from Hamas but from Fatah.

“However, Fatah spokesman, Osama al-Qawasmi, criticised Hamas for not altering its stance earlier.

“Hamas should apologise to the PLO after 30 years accusing it of treachery and blasphemy and for causing a sharp split between the Palestinian people,” he said.”

The following day – May 2nd – Tim Franks was still touting to ‘Newshour’ listeners around the world the inaccurate claim that the document is a ‘new charter’ (at 38:11 here):

“On yesterday’s programme we brought you news of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas making a major announcement: a new and apparently less hardline charter.”

As we see, BBC World Service audiences did not hear accurate portrayal of what the new Hamas document is, what it says or what it means. Did BBC Radio 4 listeners fare any better? That question will be answered in part three of this post.

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

Last week we asked “How will the BBC report Hamas’ upcoming botoxed manifesto?” and the answers to that question emerged on May 1st and 2nd after Hamas launched its new document in Qatar.

On the evening of May 1st the BBC News website published a report titled “New Hamas policy document ‘aims to soften image’“. The caption to the image at the top of the article correctly informed readers that:

“Hamas officials say the new document does not replace the group’s 1988 charter”.

In the body of the report itself, that point was further clarified: [emphasis added]

“The new document, which Hamas says does not replace the charter, accepts the establishment of a Palestinian state within territories occupied by Israel in 1967 as a stage towards the “liberation” of all of historic Palestine west of the River Jordan.

This is an apparent shift in Hamas’s stated position, which previously rejected any territorial compromise.

The document says this does not, however, mean Hamas recognises Israel’s right to exist in any part of the land or that it no longer advocates violence against Israel.”

On the morning of May 2nd an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “How much of a shift is the new Hamas policy document?“. The caption to the image at the top of that report told BBC audiences that:

“The founding charter has not been repealed – but the policy document marks a tonal change”.

However, the fact that this new document does not replace Hamas’ charter was not adequately clarified in the article itself and indeed readers may well have gone away with the mistaken impression that it does just that.

“There have long been reports of possible changes to the 1988 founding charter of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, best known by its acronym, Hamas.

Three decades ago, it was referring to itself as part of the Muslim Brotherhood and laying out its aim to obliterate Israel, creating an Islamic state on “every inch” of historic Palestine.

In its 36 articles, the 1988 document often uses anti-Semitic rhetoric to describe its struggle as a confrontation between Muslims and Jews.

Now, after years of internal wrangling, Hamas has produced a new policy document, which softens some of its stated positions and uses more measured language.”

The article goes on to portray the new document as follows:

“There is nothing so dramatic as recognition of Israel.

In fact, Hamas restates the Palestinians’ claim to all the land “from the River Jordan in the East to the Mediterranean Sea in the West”.

However, the new document does formally accept the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – what are known as pre-1967 lines.

This idea has been the basis for previous rounds of peace talks with Israel.”

The implication that Hamas policy is now in line with the principles underpinning years of negotiations between Israel and the PLO is of course inaccurate and misleading. The principles laid down in the Oslo Accords include negotiations on ‘final status’ issues intended to bring the conflict to an end: not to act as an interim agreement for implementation until Israel is eradicated at a later stage.

Knell also told her readers that Hamas has altered its infamously antisemitic position:

“At a press conference in Doha, where he lives in exile, the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal also stressed a change in approach to the Jewish faith.

“Hamas believes our struggle is against the Zionist occupation, the Zionist enterprise. It’s not a struggle against Jews or Judaism,” he said.”

She did not however clarify that denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination in their own state – which is precisely what a ‘struggle’ against ‘the Zionist enterprise’ is – is one manifestation of antisemitism.

Knell also played down the new document’s renewed committal to terrorism:

“They make clear that Hamas remains committed to what it calls “armed resistance” against Israel.”

As we see from these two reports, the BBC clearly understands that this new document does not replace the Hamas Charter from 1988. That makes it all the more difficult to explain the inaccurate reporting heard by listeners to BBC radio which will be discussed in part two of this post.

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