BBC ME correspondent: Jewish history in Hebron is a ‘view’

BBC reporting on last week’s UNESCO resolution concerning the old city of Hebron – including the Tomb of the Patriarchs – has consistently failed to adequately clarify to audiences both the real reasons for Israel’s objections to the motion as well as the fact that the professional body assessing the proposal submitted by the Palestinian delegation did not recommend its adoption and criticised it for ignoring Jewish and Christian heritage in the city, “even though extensive remains testify to these links”.

Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio, 2/7/17

BBC erases the real story in report on UNESCO’s Hebron resolution BBC News website, 7/7/17

The missing word in BBC R4 reporting on UNESCO Hebron resolution ‘The World Tonight’, BBC Radio 4, 7/7/17

An additional report concerning that story was broadcast (from 30:07 here) on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on July 7th. In his introduction to that item, presenter James Coomarasamy once again failed to clarify to listeners in the BBC’s own words that Israel’s objections are actually rooted in UNESCO’s declaration of the old city of Hebron a ‘Palestinian’ site – and the consequent erasure of its Jewish history and heritage – rather than in any objection to conservation per se. 

Coomarasamy: “Israel has denounced a decision by UNESCO to declare the old city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank a protected world heritage site. The resolution passed by a committee of the UN’s cultural agency also put it on a list of sites considered to be in danger. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a delusional decision.”

Listeners next heard a voice-over translation of the Israeli prime minister speaking in Hebrew.

“This time they have determined that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian site – in other words, not Jewish – and that the site is endangered. Not a Jewish site? Who’s buried there? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah: our forefathers and mothers. And that this is in danger? Only where Israel is present like in Hebron is freedom of worship ensured for everybody. Throughout the Middle East mosques, churches and synagogues are being blown up. Places where Israel is not present. So we will continue to guard the Cave of the Patriarchs to ensure religious freedom for everybody and we will continue also to guard the truth.”

Coomarasamy then told listeners that they were about to hear information concerning “the history” behind the story.

“So what is the history behind the Israeli prime minister’s clear annoyance at this decision? Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman is in Jerusalem.”

The history of the Tomb of the Patriarchs is of course well documented, with Abraham’s purchase of the site appearing in the Book of Genesis. While one can of course choose to believe that biblical story or not, what is not disputed is that the site was of such importance to Jews that Herod built a structure over the burial caves that is described by UNESCO’s professional team as having been “built in the 1st century BCE” – i.e. hundreds of years before the Islamic conquest of the region.

However, instead of providing audiences with a factual account of the site’s history, Tom Bateman preferred to give a narrative based portrayal of the story that cites ‘views’ – with views of course by definition being open to question and debate. [emphasis added]

Bateman: “Well he’s upset because Hebron, which is in the occupied West Bank, in his view and in the view of many Israelis has a connection to Judaism that goes back thousands of years. And the Cave of the Patriarchs that he talked about there, whilst the site itself is revered by all three of the monotheistic religions, to Judaism it is the burial-place of Abraham. Ah…and so it is his view that what’s happened here is that the Palestinian delegation has gone to UNESCO and has effectively used it for a politically motivated decision to try and enshrine Palestinian sovereignty over the entire city. Now for the Palestinians the view is rather different. It is that they believe that the site is endangered because of what they see as threats from occupation, from the Jewish settlements that are there in those…right in the centre of the old city and so they have for some time now been pushing for this vote and it went their way at UNESCO in Krakow at the meeting by 12 votes to 3.”

Bateman also refrained from providing audiences with any information concerning the history of the Jewish community in Hebron up to the 20th century or the more recent history – the Hebron Protocol – that would help listeners understand that there are “Jewish settlements …right in the centre of the old city” because the Palestinians agreed to that arrangement twenty years ago. He did however find it important to describe “pretty chaotic scenes” at the UNESCO vote before Coomarasamy made a vague reference to some more history: that of the Palestinian delegation’s repeated exploitation of the UN’s cultural forum for the denial of Jewish history and delegitimisation of Israel.

Coomarasamy: “And Israel’s going to reduce its funding to the UN; as you say there’ve been a number of decisions by the UN that Israel is unhappy about. This is just going to make, I guess, that relationship even worse.”

Bateman: “Yeah that’s right. I mean we’ve heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say repeatedly that parts of the UN, and particularly UNESCO, are biased against Israel; they’re politically motivated, they’re in hock to Israel’s adversaries. And when he said – as we heard in the clip there – that this was delusional yet again by UNESCO after a vote that they felt severed Judaism’s historic ties to Jerusalem itself – to the Western Wall – ah…earlier this year, so he has said after this vote that he’s gonna withdraw another million dollars of funding to the United Nations and instead, he says, he will put that money into a heritage museum in Hebron.”

Like the rest of the BBC’s coverage of this story, Bateman’s equivocal ‘he said-she said’ account and his refusal to even provide historical facts without introducing false equivalence and ‘narratives’ obviously does not meet the corporation’s mission of providing “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

 

 

The missing word in BBC R4 reporting on UNESCO Hebron resolution

h/t DS

On the evening of July 7th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard extensive coverage of that day’s UNESCO resolution declaring the old city of Hebron an endangered ‘Palestinian’ world heritage site – but with one word critical for audience understanding of the story repeatedly omitted.

The programme’s synopsis reads: [emphasis in bold added]

“Israel has strongly criticised UNESCO’s declaration that Hebron is a World Heritage site.”

Presenter Razia Iqbal gave listeners the headlines at the start of the programme (from 00:40), including:

“Israel has strongly criticised a UN decision to declare Hebron a world heritage site. We’ll get the Palestinian response.”

Listeners then heard what it later became apparent was an edited and spliced statement from Manuel Hassassian:

“I’m not only pleased but I’m thrilled that UNESCO is preserving the culture and the identity of the Palestinian people in Hebron.”

The programme continued with a news bulletin read by Charles Caroll in which (at 05:32) listeners heard the following:

“The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the decision of the UN cultural body to declare the old city of Hebron a protected world heritage site. He called it delusional. Palestinian diplomats had urged UNESCO to fast-track the site’s addition to the list of world heritage sites in danger. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman has more details.”

Bateman: “There were heated scenes during the meeting of the UN’s cultural body in Krakow as delegates asked security to remove the Israeli ambassador who’d confronted the chair on the platform. The vote, which followed a submission from the Palestinian delegation, designated the old city of Hebron an endangered world heritage site. The city is holy to all three monotheistic faiths. Rising from its ancient centre is the imposing site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque. The city is also one of the West Bank’s most acute flash points. Several hundred Jewish settlers live in the centre, surrounded by 200,000 Palestinians.”

In other words, in the first six and a half minutes of this programme listeners heard three portrayals of the story, all of which omitted any mention of the highly relevant fact that Israel’s objections are actually rooted in UNESCO’s declaration of the old city of Hebron a ‘Palestinian’ site – and the consequent erasure of its Jewish history and heritage – rather than in any objection to conservation per se. 

The same story was the topic of a long item broadcast later on in the programme (from 30:12) and Razia Iqbal’s introduction to that item likewise failed to inform listeners of the real reason for the controversy. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Iqbal: “The ancient city of Hebron is significant for all three monotheistic faiths and it’s often been a contested city. Today it finds itself at the centre of controversy because the UN’s cultural agency has voted to declare the old city of Hebron, which is in the West Bank, as a protected world heritage site. The Palestinians had urged UNESCO to fast-track the process, alleging that Israel was carrying out a number of violations in Hebron where a small community of Jewish settlers lives in the middle of more than 200,000 Palestinians. Israel was deeply opposed to the move and its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned UNESCO’s decision as delusional.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of the Israeli prime minister’s statement in Hebrew.

“This time they have determined that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian site – in other words, not Jewish – and that the site is endangered. Not a Jewish site? Who’s buried there? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah: our forefathers and mothers. And that this is in danger? Only where Israel is present like in Hebron is freedom of worship guaranteed for everybody.”

Iqbal next introduced an interviewee who appeared days before in a BBC World Service item relating to the same topic and like her colleague, she too presented him as a “tour guide”, failing to inform audiences of the fact that he is an activist in a ‘peacemaking’ group registered in the US.

Iqbal: “The words of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Elihau McLean is a Jerusalem based tour guide who runs what are described as dual narrative tourist visits to Hebron. He’s been telling me why Hebron is such a…so historically significant.”

McLean: “Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world. We understand it to be the second oldest city in the holy land after Jericho. Hebron is at least 4,000 years old. There’s an archaeological site in a hilltop called Tel Rumeida or Tel Hebron that dates back to the early Bronze Age about 4,500 years ago and that’s the site of the biblical city of Hebron that’s mentioned in the Bible. That’s also where King David established his kingdom – the kingdom of Judea – over 2,500 years ago. There’s ancient history in Hebron.”

Iqbal: “And it’s significant and important to Jews as well as Muslims and Christians.”

McLean: “That’s right. It’s…first of all Jews have four holy cities in the world. The first holiest city is Jerusalem and our second holiest city is Hebron. Muslims have four holy cities; Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Muslims consider Hebron their fourth holiest city after Jerusalem. So it’s holy to Jews and Muslims, certainly, as well as Christians.”

Iqbal: “And politically, how is it currently divided between the Palestinians and Israeli ownership?”

McLean: “So Bill Clinton invited Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997 to a small river in the state of Maryland called Wye River and they negotiated the Hebron Accords where Israel agreed to withdraw from 80% of the city and hand it over to Palestinian Authority control. That 80% is called the letter H one – Hebron 1. H2 – 20% of the city – where 30,000 Palestinians live and about 1,000 Israeli Jews live in that 20%. It’s called H2 and that is the heart of the old city where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is, the Kasbah – the old Arab market. So that’s where most of the tension is; in the old city and in the middle of a region called H2 under Israeli control.”

Iqbal: “What’s your view today in the context of what you do – but also just generally – that UNESCO has declared the old city that you’re talking about as a protected world heritage site? What do you make of that?”

McLean: “I run weekly dual narrative tours and we bring the tourists to Hebron. We have a Palestinian partner organisation so they get a Palestinian tour guide to hear the Palestinian narrative and then they hear the Israeli narrative. So they hear Palestinian speakers, they get to meet soldiers, they get to meet settlers, they get to meet and hear all voices. Our tour is the only nuanced tour of Hebron. With that in mind, I would say that it’s…I feel it’s a bit absurd the UNESCO decision. From what I understand it acknowledges the old city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs specifically and exclusively as Islamic heritage sites which is a bit absurd considering the Tomb of the Patriarchs is the foundation of Jewish history. It’s the longest standing holy site of Judaism – even more than the Temple itself. That building was never destroyed. It was built by King Herod two thousand years ago: hundreds and hundreds of years even before the arrival of Islam. So how can…even from an Islamic or historical or archaeological point of view… anyone who understands biblical history understands that this is an ancient heritage site. And then it was a church and then it was a mosque. So if we can acknowledge that all three faiths are connected there, I think UNESCO would have a lot more credibility.”

Iqbal: “That was Eliyahu McLean; a Jerusalem tour guide. I’ve also been speaking to Ambassador Manuel Hassassian who is the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK. I asked him for his reaction to UNESCO’s decision.”

Observant audience members would then have realised that they were hearing the first part of the ‘quote’ promoted at the beginning of the programme – as well as what the BBC preferred to edit out of its headline.

Hassassian: “I am not only pleased but I’m thrilled that there is acknowledgement by the international community through UNESCO that Hebron is an occupied city and it should be under the sovereignty of the Palestinian leadership.”

Iqbal: “Well, the UN recognises that Hebron is in the West Bank so that’s not the issue. The issue is the resolution pointing out the committee sees that those areas inside the old city of Hebron that are deemed to be in danger are now protected under a kind of world heritage site notion. What does that mean to the Palestinians?”

Listeners then heard the second half of that spliced quote:

Hassassian: “It means that UNESCO is preserving the culture and the identity of the Palestinian people in Hebron.”

Iqbal: “There has been concern voiced that the application made by the Palestinians to UNESCO only focused on the Islamic period in Hebron’s history and didn’t acknowledge the Christian and Jewish history of key sites in the area. What’s your view of that?”

Seeing as so far listeners had only heard of such concerns from the Israeli prime minister and from an Israeli interviewee, they would be unaware that similar concerns were also raised by the professional body that examined – and recommend not to accept – the Palestinian proposal as well as by several Western countries present at the debate.

Hassassian: “Well you know nobody can deny the fact that…I mean the site in itself also there is of course a tacit agreement and acknowledgement to the Tomb of the Patriarchs there. Nobody is denying that factor and it has been said explicitly in the document that this is, you know, a site that is Muslim, Christian and…err…of course Jewish.”

Iqbal: “Are you saying though that the sites that are clearly of value and significance to all three monotheistic faiths are not being taken care of?”

Hassassian: “Well because Israel controls – we have to understand this – Israel controls the site and Israel has accepted the 300 settlers to reign supreme in that part and to take over, you know, by sheer and brute force the control of that area. Now this resolution comes to say that there is no monopoly, especially using religion, as an excuse to control that part of Hebron.”

Failing to challenge Hassassian’s blatant lie or to remind listeners – and him – that there are Israelis living in that part of Hebron because the Palestinian Authority agreed to such an arrangement twenty years ago and while refraining from clarifying that this latest Palestinian stunt is precisely intended to use religion as a means of controlling that part of the city, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “What difference is it going to make on the ground?”

Hassassian: “It makes a big difference. The difference is is [sic] the fact that this is part and parcel of a city that has 200,000 population. They have the right to go there, to practice their religion. It is under the sovereignty of the Palestinians with accessibility to other religions to practice their rights.”

Iqbal: “But hasn’t that been the case already?”

Hassassian: “No it has not been. If you go there, and I was there, ma’am, like six months ago, I had to go through hell in order to enter, you know, the Abrahamic mosque. I had to go through intensive security search and I had to show that I am a Muslim or not. You know: just allow me to enter.”

Iqbal did not bother to ask Hassassian if the security search he had to endure has anything to do with the prevalence of Palestinian terrorism in Hebron or whether the need to show whether he is a Muslim is related to the fact that certain areas of the site – which is run by the Waqf – are open to Muslims but off-limits to Jews for all but ten days a year.  

Iqbal: “And, and you are now saying that it will be absolutely the case that those Israelis and those people who practice Judaism will have access to those sites also, without the kind of treatment that you’re alleging you have to go through when you want to visit the mosque?”

Hassassian: “When there is peace and when is our state not only recognised by the United Nations General Assembly but hopefully by the Security Council and when Israel accepts the Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, I think everything is negotiable.”

Although that would obviously have been a good time – especially in light of that revealing response – to inform listeners of the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority is supposed to “ensure free access” to Jewish holy sites in areas under its control – and that already that clause is not properly upheld – Iqbal closed the item there.

Iqbal: “Ambassador Manuel Hassassian who is the head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom.”

As was the case in two other BBC reports on this story (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences were not provided with the relevant context of the PA’s repeated efforts to erase Jewish history and heritage by tabling politicised motions at the UN’s cultural body and neither were they informed that the professional body that examined the Palestinian proposal did not recommend its adoption.

In this report, however, the BBC also failed to present the crux of the story accurately to Radio 4 listeners by repeatedly refraining from including the word ‘Palestinian’ in its description of the UNESCO resolution.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt

BBC’s erases the real story in report on UNESCO’s Hebron resolution 

 

Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt

As readers may know, the old city of Hebron is on the agenda at a UNESCO conference that opened this week.

“The meeting will run through July 12 and debate contentious issues like a Palestinian motion to deny Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem and have the West Bank city of Hebron designated as a “World Heritage Site in Danger.” […]

Given the Arab nations’ automatic majority in international forums, the Palestinian proposal is likely to be accepted. […]

The Tomb of the Patriarchs could become the third cultural site on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger” that is registered as located in the “State of Palestine.” The other two are the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the “cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem,” around Battir.”

Of course this is far from the first time that UNESCO has been exploited for politically motivated denial of Jewish history since the Palestinian Authority joined that UN body in 2011. As in previous cases, professionals have not recommended adoption of the PA’s latest proposal.

“UNESCO experts have warned the Palestinian Authority that it has overly focused on Hebron’s Muslim history at the exclusion of the Judeo-Christian heritage in its request that the West Bank’s city’s “Old Town” be inscribed on the “World Heritage in Danger” list. […]

The PA’s written proposal had focused on Hebron’s “Old Town” history from the Mamluk period of 1250 and onward, which includes the Tomb of the Patriarchs, whose Herodian structure houses both Jewish sanctuaries of worship and the Ibrahimi Mosque. […]

“This means that the association of Hebron with Jewish and early Christian societies is given little recognition, and Tell Rumeida [an area of Biblical Hebron] and other sites are excluded from the boundaries,” the report continued.” […]

This is the third time in a row that ICOMOS has failed to recommend a Palestinian Authority proposal for inscription on the “World Heritage in Danger” list; it rejected both the 2012 proposal to put Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and 2014 request to place the ancient agricultural Terraces of Battir on the list.”

However, that professional view is once again unlikely to have any influence over the politicised proceedings at UNESCO, which is why Israel did not cooperate with the ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) process.

On the past occasions in which the BBC has produced coverage of PA proposed UNESCO resolutions concerning Israel it has consistently failed to provide its audiences with the relevant information concerning the long-standing Palestinian campaign to erase Jewish heritage and history as part of its tactical delegitimisation of Israel. 

Israel freezes Unesco ties for ‘denying Jewish holy sites’ – discussed here

Unesco passes contentious Jerusalem resolution – discussed here

Jerusalem reference found on ancient wine ledger – discussed here 

So how did the BBC World Service present this latest story to listeners to ‘Newshour‘ on July 2nd? Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item (from 14:07 here) as follows:

“A UN committee is beginning to consider a Palestinian request to classify the old city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank as an endangered world heritage site. Israel is opposed to the plan.”

With no further explanation, Coomarasamy then gives an inadequate introduction of his sole interviewee, describing an activist in a ‘peacemaking’ group as a tour organiser.

“Eliyahu McLean runs regular dual-narrative tourist visits to Hebron.”

McLean begins by noting that Hebron is “an ancient city” with “at least four thousand years of history” before clarifying that “it’s a holy city to Jews, Christians and Muslims”. He goes on:

“It’s the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. It’s a centre of the Palestinian economy. It’s also the burial place of our shared ancestor for Jews, Christians and Muslims – Abraham. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Leah and Rebecca; all buried in Hebron.”

Coomarasamy then asks a question which might appear less relevant to an item supposedly discussing a proposal to designate part of that city as a world heritage site but nevertheless, listeners do get to hear about a subject – the Hebron Protocol – which is all too often absent from BBC reporting on that city.

“An ancient city but what has its modern history been like?”

McLean: “…It’s also a very divided city. It’s one of the most divided cities in the holy land and if not the world. Here we have a Jewish side of the old city of Hebron and you have a Palestinian side. Now Hebron itself was divided as part of the Hebron Accords in 1997 signed by Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu with Bill Clinton presiding. Israel negotiated the withdrawal of 80% of the city. So 80% of the city has been handed over to the Palestinian Authority and that is now called H1 – H for Hebron 1. H2 – 20% of the city – is still controlled by Israel and the Israeli army. Within that 20% there are about twenty to thirty thousand Palestinians and about 1,000 Israeli Jews living there.”

Coomarasamy: “What is life like for both those communities?”

McLean: “H1 is a thriving metropolitan city; there’s industry, there’s three universities, there’s hospitals […] Now within the old city is where there is tensions and conflict. In the old city you have the Tomb of the Patriarchs. I’m Israeli and I help run a weekly dual-narrative tour to Hebron and we take travelers from around the world to go to Hebron and for half a day I hand them over to a Palestinian guide and they hear the Palestinian narrative of victimisation, of occupation. They feel that they’re living under oppression; violence by settlers, violence by soldiers. The Israeli Jews who live there feel that they’re not just occupying and stealing other people’s land – Palestinian land – but that the Jews in fact have an ancient historical connection. In fact Jews lived in Hebron from ancient times; from the time of Abraham through the Roman period, into the Byzantine early Christian period, early Islamic period, the Crusader period. Throughout all of these periods there was an ancient Jewish community that always lived side by side with their Arab Muslim cousins in peace and harmony.”

Glaringly absent from that account is of course any mention of the murder of 67 Jews in the 1929 Hebron Massacre – the event that brought hundreds of years of Jewish life in Hebron came to an abrupt end.

Coomarasamy then finally asks a question related to the item’s supposed subject matter.

“So what are the claims then of the Palestinian Authority that the old city is an endangered place and it needs to be on the World Heritage in Danger list?”

Unfortunately, listeners do not hear a proper answer to that question.

McLean: “The UNESCO decision about making it a world heritage site should take into account not only the very valid and legitimate Islamic historical connections there but the Christian and of course the ancient Jewish connection. Now I think Israel is making a mistake not allowing in some of the committee members so they can see the reality for themselves because I believe that Israel has a valid, legitimate case to make that there is an ancient and legitimate Jewish history and presence that has nothing to do with endangering Muslims. It is true there are a handful of violent settlers who live there who make life miserable and ruin the reputation of the wider community and people that I know in Hebron, they condemn the action of a minority in their midst that do some violent things.”

Coomarasamy ends the item there.

“Hebron tour guide Eliyahu McLean.”

So although BBC audiences around the world do get to hear references to “violent settlers” who are supposedly “occupying and stealing […] Palestinian land” (despite their presence in Hebron being part of an agreement willingly signed by the Palestinian Authority), they do not actually get to hear anything about the substance of the PA’s latest UNESCO bid.

They are not, for example informed that on the PA’s list of complaints:

“…was the placement of security barriers by the Tomb of the Patriarchs and in Hebron’s Old City, as well as an attempt by Jewish residents of the city to purchase property. The Palestinian delegation also protested the use of tear gas in the Old City.”

Neither are they told that Hamas has a major foothold in Hebron, that the city has a new mayor who is a convicted terrorist or that dozens of terror attacks against Israelis have been carried out in the city: a fact obviously relevant to some of those factors claimed by the PA to be ‘endangering’ Hebron.  

And of course, as usual in BBC coverage of such stories, the all-important context of the Palestinian Authority’s repeated attempts to delegitimise Israel and erase Jewish history and heritage at the UNESCO forum is glaringly absent from this BBC World Service report.

Related Articles:

UNESCO and the Denial of Jewish History (CAMERA)

BBC R4 programme on UNESCO omits negation of Jewish heritage