BBC WS radio programme on Hebron omits vital background

The September 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Heart and Soul’ was titled “Hebron’s Cave of Sacrifice“.

“Abraham of the Old Testament, or Ibrahim of Islam, is a vital figure across Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

His prophetic fame, arises from the story of his offering of one of his sons to God, because He commanded him so. God however, spared the son and a sacrificial lamb was offered instead.

In the city of Hebron, are the Caves of The Patriarch [sic] where Abraham is said to be buried and above them stand a Mosque and Synagogue where Jews and Muslims pray. It is an uneasy understanding between two communities that share this ancient city and this home of worship.

Lipika Pelham explores Hebron, the caves that are central to it and the faith of the people who live in this tense, disputed city.”

While Lipika Pelham went to great lengths to present differing versions of the story of Abraham as equally valid narratives, her use of language when describing her visit to Hebron was distinctly less impartial. Areas of Jewish residence in Hebron were exclusively described as “settlements” and the people who live there “settlers”, while Pelham chose to use the Jordanian political terminology for the area in which the city is located. [emphasis added]

“I’m in Hebron in the West Bank – an ancient city at the centre of the religious, tribal and political dispute which dominates this part of the world and far beyond.”

“The current political conflict goes back to 1968; just under a year after Israel occupied the West Bank.”

“He [Abraham] settled in Canaan which included the area we know now as the West Bank, with Hebron at its centre.”

“…Hebron, where some 800 Jewish settlers live in gated communities guarded by about three times as many Israeli soldiers, right at the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods.”

“Step outside of Beit Hadassa and Avraham Avinu settlements, walk through the checkpoints and turnstiles and you are in a typical Middle Eastern souk.”

Describing the Cave of the Patriarchs, Pelham misrepresented the mission of the security forces stationed there to prevent terror attacks.

“Heavily armed soldiers are guarding the entrance to the Jewish side to make sure that visitors are not Palestinian or visibly Muslim. On the left are the wide stone steps into the Ibrahimi mosque – also watched by Israeli soldiers.”

When Pelham visited a museum, listeners heard an account of the 1929 Hebron Massacre which whitewashed the fact that “violence broke out” because of incitement by Arab leaders against Jews and gave listeners to understand that the death toll in Hebron alone was the total number of Jews murdered “all over the country” while highlighting the fact that people who did not describe themselves as “Palestinian” at the time stepped in to help their neighbours. Notably, the record of the ruling British administration was erased from Pelham’s account.  

[14:19] “The story ends with massacre in Hebron of the Jews in 1929. This was a watershed moment in Jewish history as the riots ended the continuous Jewish presence which had lasted in Hebron for millennia. In August 1929 violence broke out all over the country. Sixty-seven Jews were murdered and over a hundred wounded. Bodies were mutilated, 350 Jews were saved by their Palestinian neighbours. During the Passover of 1968 when the Jews reentered Hebron…they wanted to reestablish a Jewish presence in the West Bank city. So in a way, the reality of hostility and separation really started then.”

Perhaps most significantly, listeners to this programme around the world were denied an explanation of the 1997 agreement which brought about the division of the city into two areas – H1 (80% of the city) under Palestinian Authority control and H2 (20%) under Israeli control.

[19:30] “In this tug of war over who Abraham belongs to and who should live in the city of the patriarchs, life goes on on both sides as it has been since the 1997 Hebron Protocol. It followed one of the bloodiest events in Hebron’s current history. In 1994 Baruch Goldstein turned a machine gun on Muslim worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs. The Jews and the Muslims until then prayed together in the Mosque-Synagogue without the barriers and checkpoints.”

In other words, in her entire 27 minute report about “this tense, disputed city” Lipika Pelham did not bother to clarify to BBC audiences that Israelis live in specific areas of it because the Palestinians agreed to that arrangement over twenty years ago.

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BBC Complaints says it would not be ‘appropriate’ to correct an inaccuracy

As readers may recall, last month BBC Radio 4 chose to feature a book titled “Where the Line is Drawn” by Raja Shehadeh in its ‘Book of the Week’ programme.

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

Among the many issues arising in those five programmes, one factual inaccuracy stood out in particular.

“…in episode five listeners heard a long section relating to an incident in Hebron in March 2016 which was inaccurately portrayed as having begun when:

“Abdul Fattah al Sharif, 21, from the occupied old city of Hebron lay on the ground shot after he allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

As the BBC’s own reports on that incident show, the words “allegedly” and “tried to” are completely superfluous and materially misleading.

“Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that point and has now received the following reply.

If – despite BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy which state that even in factually based drama “we should ensure it does not distort the known facts” – the BBC is of the view that “[i]t wouldn’t be appropriate for us to edit it”, then the obvious conclusion is that the corporation needs to be more careful with its choice of material and that politically motivated polemics that intentionally distort facts and materially mislead BBC audiences are clearly not the best choice for Radio 4’s “[s]erialised book readings, featuring works of non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel, diaries, essays, humour and history”.

 

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Book of the Week’ is described as:

“Serialised book readings, featuring works of non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel, diaries, essays, humour and history”

Last week’s five episodes featured a book titled “Where the Line is Drawn” by Raja Shehadeh.

Episode One – July 23rd:

“Raja Shehadeh is an award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human right’s [sic] organisation, Al Haq. In Where the Line is Drawn he reflects on his forty year friendship with Henry, a Jewish Israeli. As idealistic young men when they first meet in 1977, they connect over shared interests in literature, writing and walking. As the years pass, their friendship is challenged by history, politics, enmity and violence, but it also points the way to a common future. Raja Shehadeh’s books include Occupation Diaries; Language of War, Language of Peace and Palestinian Walks which won the 2008 Orwell Prize. He has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian and Granta.”

Episode Two – July 24th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq, visits Jaffa, the city from which his father was exiled during the Nakba in 1948 when 750,000 were forced from their homes with the end of the British Mandate and the creation of Israel. It’s now 1978 and he is staying with Jewish friends who moved into one of the old Arab houses in Jaffa. He is curious about their choice of home.”

Episode Three – July 25th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq recollects a humiliating experience on his way home to Ramallah.”

Episode Four – July 26th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq, remembers a terrifying night time drive. Meanwhile, tense times lie ahead for Raja and Henry as the new millennium dawns.”

Episode Five – July 27th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq receives shocking news and he comes to a new understanding about the value of his friendship with Henry. He also reflects on the controversial killing of a young Palestinian attacker by a teenage Israeli soldier who was later jailed for manslaughter.”

Although the NGO ‘Al Haq’ is mentioned in each and every one of those five synopses, BBC Radio 4 audiences were given no information about the political agenda of that so-called “human rights organisation” or its alleged ties to a terror group.

Despite the frequent references to “illegal occupation” and “occupied territories”, no proper historic context was provided to listeners throughout the entire series. In episode one listeners were told that “Israelis…in 1967 had taken the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan” without any mention of the fact that Jordan illegally occupied those areas for 19 years.

Listeners to episode one heard a partisan description of the circumstances in which Palestinians including Shehadeh’s father – also a lawyer – left their homes which left them with the inaccurate impression that they were universally “forced out”.

“In 1948 during the Nakba, where around 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes with the establishment of Israel, he lost his practice, his home, and all his properties. And he had to start all over again in Ramallah.”

In episode two listeners heard a reference to Jaffa as “my father’s city from which he was exiled” and were again told that in 1948:

“…with the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of Israel, around 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. The Palestinians who managed to stay were placed in the Ajami quarter surrounded by barbed wire. It was like a ghetto.”

Listeners also heard that in 1967 “I drove with my parents to visit the city they had been forced to leave 19 years earlier.”

Notably, when Raja Shehadeh appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 2014, he told a rather different version of that story: a version in which his parents were not “forced to leave” Jaffa but decided to relocate to their second home.

“Jaffa it’s very hot and humid in the summer and so they had a summer-house in Ramallah. When hostilities began they decided it’s safer in Ramallah because it was getting rather dangerous actually – physically dangerous – so they decided, towards the end of April, to take that short drive down to Ramallah – short drive from Jaffa – and my father always thought that if the worst happens – that is the partition – Jaffa was going to be on the Arab side so they will always be able to go back. And they took very few things with them and they were never able to go back.”

Throughout the five episodes listeners heard Israelis described as “settlers” (regardless of their place of residence in Israel) and “colonisers”. Notably, all the Israeli voices in the dramatisation were done in a bizarre quasi-American accent – regardless of where they were born – which implied that they were ‘foreigners’. In episode two listeners heard the story of Shehadeh’s visit to a plant nursery in which he asked how the owner – described as a woman from Canada – “could establish her nursery on land expropriated from villagers who were now forced to live in crowded refugee camps with no land to cultivate for themselves” and accused her of ‘exploiting’ the land.

Listeners also heard a context-free account of the beginning of the second Intifada – described as “futile” rather than wrong – and justification of terrorism:

“Israel was fighting for the retention of this land. We were fighting to end the occupation in accordance with international law which gave us the right to resist.” [episode three]

“…the human and political issues that led these young men to brutally kill themselves, and others, in despair.”

In episode three listeners were told that Shehadeh’s father had been “murdered…by a collaborator working for Israel” even though it was later admitted that “no-one was ever charged”.

In episode five listeners heard the wave of Palestinian terrorism which began in the autumn of 2015 described thus:

“This uprising was different. There was no unified leadership guiding these young men and women. They had no political platform or concrete demands. They simply improvised ways of resisting. Some of these were non-violent, others violent involving the stabbing of not only soldiers but also innocent Israelis. The Israeli government responded with violence, defining all resistance as terrorism.”

Also in episode five listeners heard a long section relating to an incident in Hebron in March 2016 which was inaccurately portrayed as having begun when:

“Abdul Fattah al Sharif, 21, from the occupied old city of Hebron lay on the ground shot after he allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

As the BBC’s own reports on that incident show, the words “allegedly” and “tried to” are completely superfluous and materially misleading.

“Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.”

There is of course much more on which to comment in these 75 minutes of entirely one-sided stories which completely erase Palestinian agency and responsibility and prompted Sunday Times journalist Rod Liddle to write to the BBC.

“A nice man called Andrew in the BBC Press Office is kind enough to send me a list of stuff the corporation is doing each week. […]

I have never replied to Andrew’s email, but I did last week because I had been listening to the book that Radio 4 was serialising. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Andrew,

Many thanks for your weekly bulletins about what the BBC is up to. I wonder if you could answer my inquiry below, or pass it on to someone who can.

Here’s the thing. I am hugely enjoying the serialisation on Radio 4 of the Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh’s entertaining book, How My People Were Robbed, Murdered and Crushed by the Vile Occupying Fascist Israeli State. I may have got the title slightly wrong, for which apologies. I was wondering if the BBC intended, at any point, to serialise a book that might give a contrary point of view on this disputatious issue — perhaps by an Israeli?

All the best,
Rod

I got a friendly acknowledgment from Andrew — and later a two-line reply from the BBC, stating that the corporation’s coverage is impartial. Mr Shehadeh has spent most of his life railing against Israel and Jews, while claiming to be a moderate. And his book is serialised by Radio 4. Of course, it will not serialise a book by an Israeli to provide the political balance that the corporation is duty bound to strive for (even if, frankly, it doesn’t strive terribly hard).”

That just about sums it up.

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BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, after over six months and three complaints, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) finally acknowledged that a claim aired in the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ in December 2017 was “materially misleading”.

However two additional points made in the same complaint by BBC Watch were rejected by the ECU. As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received on those points.

The second point raised concerned a claim made by Danny Boyle while being filmed in Hebron. As was documented here at the time:

“Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. […]

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.”

In our initial complaint BBC Watch pointed out that Boyle had presented pure conjecture as fact and that:

“Boyle’s claim that the graffiti ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’ is unfounded and inaccurate.”

Although we did not raise the issue of Boyle’s apparent Nazi analogy in that complaint, in the reply received at Stage 1a we were informed by BBC Complaints that what appeared to be the case was in fact so.

“In the course of making the film Danny Boyle spent some time in Hebron (visiting both Hebron 1 and Hebron 2) and saw for himself properties formerly owned by Palestinian residents which were now claimed by Israeli settlers, and he saw that the Star of David was used to mark these properties. His comments in this section of the film are a reflection on what he had seen throughout his visit and on his awareness, as someone who loathes anti-Semitism, of what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s.” 

In our Stage 1b complaint submitted on January 22nd 2018 we noted that:

“The response provides no proof for the inaccurate claim that the shops on Emek Hevron street “were now claimed by Israeli settlers” – that allegation is simply untrue and unless the BBC can provide factual evidence must be withdrawn. Additionally the response states that Boyle was reflecting on “what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s”. The BBC – and Mr Boyle – should be aware that such a Nazi analogy is considered anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition of antisemitism adopted by the UK government.”

The relevant part of the response we received to that complaint was as follows:

“As stated previously, on his trip Danny Boyle saw properties formerly owned by Palestinians that had been claimed by Israeli settlers and marked with the Star of David.  It is your contention that the buildings in this specific scene have never even been considered for the purpose of settlement homes. Nonetheless we believe it was appropriate for Danny to comment on a practise that he had seen throughout his visit.”

Needless to say, no details were provided to support the claim that Boyle had seen Star of David graffiti expressing a claim by “Israeli settlers” to “properties formerly owned by Palestinians” in any other location “throughout his visit”.

In our complaint submitted to the ECU on February 28th 2018 we noted that:

“With regard to the second point raised in my complaint, the BBC once again provides no evidence to support the claim that the Star of David graffiti painted by unknown parties on doors on  Emek Hevron Street ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’. Moreover, it again justifies Boyle’s anti-Semitic Nazi analogy while ignoring the fact that other types of graffiti are in evidence on doorways on the same street.”

We included photographs of that additional graffiti, which includes (see here) Arabic writing and an anarchist symbol.

The reply received from the ECU four months after that Stage 2 complaint was submitted is as follows:

In other words, while admitting that Boyle’s remark was “conjecture” which may have been “mistaken as to the motive behind the particular graffito shown”, the BBC ECU still claims that audiences were not materially misled. The “evidence” cited by the ECU consists of three media reports: one from the Palestinian media outlet ‘Maan News’ dating from 2012, one from the New York Times dated 1997 and one from the Times of Israel dated 2014. While those articles may indeed support the ECU’s claim that graffiti can be a “declaration of…hostility to Palestinian residents”, that was not the claim put forward by Boyle in that part of the programme.

The third point raised in our Stage 1a complaint related to a statement made by the narrator at 33:11: [emphasis added]

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

BBC Watch pointed out that the claim is inaccurate and misleading, that even according to B’tselem just four Israeli communities are served by roads upon which vehicles with Palestinian plates cannot travel and that:

“Obviously “most” of the people the BBC chooses to call “Jewish settlers” do not live in those four communities.”

The response received at Stage 1a was as follows:

“Jewish settlements in the West Bank are increasingly connected and served by roads inaccessible to Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates. This is a result of the ongoing Israeli policy of expanding the settlements and their infrastructure.”

When we challenged that response – obviously irrelevant to the point made in the original complaint – at Stage 1b, this was the reply received:

“It is not disputed that the majority of West Bank settlers live in settlements. It is also the case that these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates.”

In our Stage 2 complaint to the ECU we pointed out that:

“With regard to the third point made in my complaint, the claim that “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads” is simply untrue and the BBC’s claim that “these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates” is only applicable to the entrance roads to a small number of communities – totaling at most less than 60 kms.”

Four months later the ECU replied with no small amount of ‘whataboutery‘, quoting a report from the politicised UN agency UNOCHA.

Readers can judge for themselves whether six months is an acceptable time-frame for the resolution of a complaint to the BBC and whether or not the practices of outsourcing complaints to a private company and basing responses to complaints on information supplied by political NGOs serves the interests of the public that funds the corporation. 

Related Articles:

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How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

 

 

BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

The May 31st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by freelance journalist Robin Denselow which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 17:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Adie: “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long, complicated and contentious. And both sides want their version of that history to dominate as they try to win over foreign diplomats, politicians and the wider world. Violence brings one set of headlines. Cultural events and exchanges are seen as another way of achieving that. A festival was held in the West Bank recently aiming to give the growing Palestinian music scene a major boost and to amplify the voices of ordinary Palestinians. Robin Denselow was in Ramallah.”

Listeners certainly did hear one dominant, context-free narrative during the next five minutes with Denselow repeatedly referring to ‘Palestine’, thus breaching the BBC’s ‘style guide’ which states:

“…you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Audiences were told that Palestinians are “so isolated from the rest of the world” and of course no BBC report from PA controlled territory would be complete without a mention of “checkpoints”.

“The young audience had travelled to the Palestinian Music Expo – or PMX – from right across the West Bank, negotiating the Israeli checkpoints on the way.”

Listeners were told that foreign visitors to that music festival:

“…were welcomed by the Palestinian minister of culture, Ihab Bseiso, for whom PMX clearly had political significance. Promoting culture in Palestine is absolutely crucial, he told me. It’s a form of resistance, protecting the national heritage. The minister, who enthused about the years he spent studying at Cardiff University, gave us a personal tour of an uncompleted but palatial new building on a Ramallah hilltop. Originally intended as a grand guest-house for visiting dignitaries, it’s to be Palestine’s new national library and cultural hub.”

Denselow refrained from telling listeners that the building originally had another function too:

“Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.

However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.”

Again paraphrasing his host Bseiso, Denselow told listeners that:

“He claimed that what is happening on the cultural front in Palestine is a miracle it’s exceptionally hard to achieve under occupation. And he went on to recite the everyday problems of checkpoints and restrictions on movement.”

Denselow of course did not bother to remind Radio 4 audiences that checkpoints and “restrictions on movement” did not exist until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada terror war. He went on to describe excursions without clarifying whether the organisers were the Palestinian Authority or his PMX hosts.

“They organised a trip to show their foreign visitors their side of the conflict. We were driven out through Qalandiya checkpoint, where Israeli troops looked through out passports, and then taken to the bitterly divided city of Hebron.”

At that point it would of course have been helpful to listeners to have been reminded of the fact that Hebron is “divided” because twenty-one years ago the Palestinian Authority agreed to divide it into two areas: H1 under PA control and H2 (roughly 20% of the city) under Israeli control. That reminder was not forthcoming and neither was any mention of the ancient Hebron Jewish community or the massacre of 1929.

“In the Israeli-controlled sector settlers live alongside the Palestinians who complained to us how many of their shops have been closed, how they need nets to protect their market from rocks thrown by settlers and about the streets where they claimed they’re now banned from walking.”

The fact that those shops – located on one street – were closed due to Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada was not communicated to listeners. With a nod towards the BBC’s supposed editorial standards on impartiality, Denselow then inaccurately told listeners that the victims of Palestinian violence in Hebron have been exclusively “Israeli soldiers”.

“Over the years of conflict Palestinians have attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and rocks too and the small settler community says it also fears for its safety.”

Stories such as that of ten month-old Shalhevet Pass – murdered by a Palestinian sniper – or thirteen year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel clearly do not fit into Denselow’s narrative. His story then took a bizarre turn:

“But being seen here with a Palestinian guide was clearly dangerous. A car – apparently driven by an angry settler – narrowly missed our group then did a U-turn and drove back at us again at speed. One record industry executive would almost certainly have been hit if he hadn’t been pulled back.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian media outlets have any record of such an event having taken place in Hebron around the time of the PMX event between April 11th and 13th.  Denselow provided no evidence to support his guess that the car was “driven by an angry settler” but promoted it to BBC audiences regardless.

Interestingly, a similar claim is to be found in a post shared on the PMX Facebook page on April 18th. That post was written by one Younes Arar – who was apparently guiding Denselow’s group on their visit to Hebron.

Younes Arar is involved with an NGO called ‘Frontline Defenders’ and the co-founder of a campaign against what it calls “illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron” under the slogan ”Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron”. According to the NGO’s website he is also “the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – a grass-roots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs”. As can be determined by a quick perusal of the activist’s Twitter account, Younes Arar is not particularly committed to accuracy, facts or a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.

Interestingly, the prolific Tweeter Younes Arar made no mention on his Twitter account of that alleged incident in Hebron at the time.

Denselow went on to describe another trip, again erasing from his story the Palestinian terrorism that made the building of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

“Other excursions included a visit to the overcrowded Shuafat refugee camp hidden away behind walls and a checkpoint in Jerusalem.”

When he finally got round to describing the music festival itself, the earlier motif of Palestinian “national heritage” went somewhat awry.

“From jazz to satirical political rock songs, Balkan-Palestinian fusion and angry hip-hop. Musicians from Gaza had been refused travel permits to attend but there was an extraordinary video from a rapper who calls himself MC Gaza filmed amid the violent and bloody ‘Great March of Return’ protests on the border with Israel.”

Denselow did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that the video he described as “extraordinary” advocates the destruction of Israel. Describing another band, he went on:

“‘This is the only way to fight back against the occupation’ band member Adnan Jubran commented on stage. Later he told me ‘it’s trying to delete our culture. This is how we say no’.”

Near the beginning of his report Denselow stated that one of the festival’s purposes is:

“…to give those [foreign] visitors a distinctively Palestinian view of the place and its problems.”

There can be no doubt that Denselow and the other foreign visitors got exactly that. Unfortunately however, so did BBC Radio 4 listeners – with no provision of essential context and no regard for the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

 

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, much of the first half of the BBC Two commissioned ‘documentary’ titled ‘Alternativity’ which was aired on December 17th presented audiences with an overwhelmingly one-sided portrayal of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence.

The only explanation of why the structure had to be constructed came nearly a quarter of the way into the programme in the grand total of twenty-seven words from Danny Boyle. Viewers saw no images of any of the dozens of suicide bombings which brought about public demand for that counter-terrorism measure and did not hear from even one Israeli whose life was affected by Palestinian terrorism.

That first part of the programme also focused on the Bethlehem area, although interestingly – given the film’s declared subject matter – the problems facing Christians in that city and the sharp decline in their numbers since the PA took control of Bethlehem were not among the topics addressed. At 22:07 narrator Olivia Colman set the scene as Danny Boyle was taken to another location.

Colman: “Bethlehem has the largest Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories. But the nativity isn’t just a Christian story and Danny’s nativity needs to be relevant to all so he’s visiting the mainly Muslim city of Hebron. Peace talks in the mid ’90s carved the West Bank up into areas A, B and C under Palestinian, combined and Israeli control respectively. But Hebron is especially contested with Jewish settlers occupying specific streets and sometimes specific houses. Here, the heavily defended settlers come and go as they please. But Danny’s guides – Fadi, a Christian and Saeed, a Muslim – are both Palestinians. And neither of them are allowed into the parts of Hebron claimed by the settlers.”

Obviously no viewer lacking background knowledge on Hebron (i.e. the majority) would understand from that ‘explanation’ that the agreement concerning that city signed by Israel and the Palestinians almost twenty-one years ago divided it into two parts: H1 – under Palestinian control – and the smaller H2 – under Israeli control. Not only does this programme fail to explain that the presence of Jews in Hebron is the result of that agreement, but the history of Jews in Hebron – including the fateful 1929 pogrom by Arabs – is completely erased.

At 23:15 viewers see Boyle on a street in H2 on what we later learn is Shabbat – Saturday.

Boyle: “It’s like a ghost town, isn’t it? It’s like a Western, isn’t it? It’s like a showdown or something. It’s crazy to think like that but it makes you feel like that, doesn’t it?”

Having later come across a family out walking, Boyle – clearly no firearms expert – tells viewers:

Boyle: “So that’s extraordinary to see a man out walking peacefully on the Sabbath with his wife and his child in a buggy and he’s got a AK47 [sic] or whatever the machine gun [sic] is…it’s a machine gun [sic]. So his statement that he’s making about what he expects to find, to protect his family – which is a natural instinct – is terrifying really.”

Boyle does not however bother to give viewers any idea of the scale of terror attacks in that area either in the past or in recent months. Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. Additional examples of graffiti on the same street can be seen in the photographs here on the right. 

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.

Again failing to provide crucial context, the narrator subsequently tells viewers that: “Not all of Hebron has been settled”.

Later on in the film viewers see footage of preparations for the Balfour Declaration centenary ‘street party’ at the Walled Off hotel that was generously covered by the BBC at the time. That segment includes the following statement from the hotel manager:

Salsaa: “This [the Balfour Declaration] is the origin of the modern conflict in the Middle East. Millions became refugees, thousands died and hundreds of thousands suffered because of this.”

At 33:11 the narrator tells viewers that:

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

That claim is of course inaccurate and misleading: there are no restrictions whatsoever on the roads leading to the vast majority of communities in Judea and Samaria. She goes on:

Colman: “There are virtually no Jewish people in Bethlehem and Israeli citizens are warned that entering any part of the city is dangerous.”

Boyle then further displays the level of his ‘regional expertise’, telling BBC Two viewers (33:31) that Israelis and Palestinians are “the same nation”.

Boyle: “It’s very difficult, clearly. Certainly I think that one of Banksy’s purposes is to try and illuminate that actually, although this is the same nation, the chances to interact are reduced so enormously by this wall and everything that comes with this wall. So that kind of division means that it’s very, very difficult to get Israelis to come and visit openly and certainly obviously to speak on camera about it. So that’s a big, big problem that we have.”

Needless to say, that problem was not overcome: viewers of this hour-long programme did not hear even one Israeli view.

In a segment of the film about the children participating in the nativity play (in which it is implied that parents might not want their children to take part because of the ‘risk’ of them being shot by the IDF), viewers see a seven year-old child presented only as Sofia and are told that “her father got arrested two days ago”. The narrator then informs BBC audiences (43:07) that all of Israel is “occupied” land and reinforces the previously promoted inaccurate notion that ‘millions’ of Palestinians became refugees in 1948.

Colman: “Over a million Palestinians live in camps which they were settled in when their lands were occupied after 1948. It’s been alleged that Sofia’s father leads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Dheisheh camp where her family lives.”

Viewers are not informed that the PFLP is a terrorist organisation and although Sofia’s mother is seen giving her tearful account of her husband’s arrest and the story is promoted again later in the film, the mother is not named and so the story remains unverifiable.

It is blatantly obvious that the aim of this BBC commissioned film was not – as BBC Two’s controller claimed in the PR – to present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story. Rather, the seasonally relevant topic of Christmas was merely a hook upon which to hang an hour of serially inaccurate and politically biased amplification of an anti-Israel narrative, made all the more attractive to British audiences by the inclusion of ‘national treasure’ names such as Banksy, Olivia Colman and Danny Boyle.

The methodology behind this film can in fact be summed up by one of its scenes (from 34:15) in which an unnamed woman with a British accent who is helping organise Banksy’s Balfour Declaration ‘street party’ agitprop tells the camera that:

“The global news outlets will pick this up a) because it’s Banksy b) because it’s Palestine. People love stunts. They love big, brash stunts. They love it!”

And indeed a big, brash star-studded stunt is exactly what the BBC’s funding public paid for in this BBC collaboration with the agitprop of an anonymous political activist. What they did not get, however, was anything resembling an accurate and impartial programme that would contribute to their understanding of the complex topics that are the components of this story – including that of the issues facing Christians living under Palestinian Authority rule.

Related Articles:

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

BBC News website twice reports convicted soldier’s rank inaccurately

On November 19th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israeli president rejects pardon for soldier Elor Azaria“.

“Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has rejected an appeal for a pardon for a soldier jailed for 18 months for killing a wounded Palestinian attacker.

Elor Azaria was found guilty in January of manslaughter over the March 2016 shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.”

The report continues:

“In January, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Azaria, a sergeant, to be pardoned. Azaria submitted a formal request last month.” [emphasis added]

In the penultimate paragraph readers are provided with a link to an article from July 2017 – one of the BBC’s many previous reports on the same story – in which the following statement appears:

“Azaria – a sergeant and military medic – had appealed against the verdict, while the prosecution was demanding an increased sentence.” [emphasis added]

However, the claim that Azaria is “a sergeant” is inaccurate: as was widely reported at the time, the sentence handed down in February 2017 included demotion to the rank of private.

“Based on the majority opinion, the Court sentenced the defendant to imprisonment for a period of eighteen months (minus nine days in which he was placed in close confinement and not including the period in which he was under open imprisonment). In addition, the defendant was sentenced to a period of twelve months if he committed another manslaughter offense within three years of the sentencing and to an additional six months if he unlawfully used a weapon within two years of the sentencing.  The Court also ordered the demotion of the defendant from the rank of a sergeant to a private.”

Even the BBC’s own report on Azaria’s sentencing in February of this year states that:

“Azaria, who was also ordered demoted from his rank of sergeant, sat smiling broadly, embraced by his mother, as the judgment was read out, says our correspondent.” [emphasis added]

Clearly both this latest report and the previous one were not adequately fact checked before publication.

BBC Watch has contacted the BBC News website requesting corrections to both those reports.

Update:

Following communication from BBC Watch, the BBC News website amended both the above reports.

The article published on July 30th 2017 now reads:

The article published on November 19th 2017 now reads:

 

Background on a recurrent BBC interviewee

Over the last three and a half years the Hebron-based professional activist Issa Amro and his group ‘Youth Against Settlements’ have from time to time appeared in content produced by various BBC departments.

May 2014 – Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

June 2014 – Yolande Knell’s ‘analysis’ of teens’ kidnappings breaches BBC editorial guidelines

November 2015 – Absurdity of BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra exposed by Yolande Knell

November 2015 – BBC World Service ‘Newshour’: using ‘alleged’ and ‘fact’ for framing

September 2017 – BBC News squeezes ‘settlements’ into internal PA affairs story

In none of those cases, however, did the BBC meet its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying to audiences the political agenda – or as the BBC terms it, the “particular viewpoint” – of Amro and his group.

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The NGO ‘Youth Against Settlements’ has been described by the BBC as a group that “train[s] activists and locals in how to use cameras and social media – in order to highlight abuses at the hands of Israelis” and Issa Amro has been portrayed in BBC reports as “a local activist”, “a Palestinian activist”, “a prominent human rights activist” and “a prominent human rights defender”.  

Researcher Petra Marquardt-Bigman has compiled a detailed backgrounder on Issa Amro and his group in which she examines what actually lies behind the media and NGO portrayal of him as a ‘human rights activist’. The study underscores just how deficient the BBC’s partial portrayal of Amro has been to date.

 

BBC News squeezes ‘settlements’ into internal PA affairs story

As regular readers know, the BBC does not as a rule cover internal Palestinian affairs and so – as was noted here in July – the absence of any reporting on a new Palestinian Authority “Cyber Crime” law came as no surprise. 

“The controversial Cyber Crime Law, signed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on July 11, permits the imprisonment of Palestinians for “liking” or sharing published material on the internet.

Critics say the law paves the way for the emergence of a “police state” in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. They also argue that the law aims to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA leadership.

The new law comes on the heels of the PA’s recent decision to block more than 20 Palestinian websites accused of publishing comments and articles critical of the PA leadership.

The law was approved by Abbas himself, without review by the Palestinian parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The PLC has been paralyzed for the past decade, as a result of the power struggle between Abbas’s PA and Hamas — the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.”

Likewise, the BBC did not produce any English language coverage of the recent spate of detentions and arrests of Palestinian journalists and social media users by both the PA and Hamas.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 6th may therefore have been rather surprised to find a highly unusual article with the oddly punctuated headline “Palestinian Authority ‘detains rights activist over criticism’“.

“The Palestinian Authority is reported to have extended the detention of a prominent human rights activist who called on it to respect free speech.

Issa Amro, 35, was detained on Monday by Palestinian Preventive Security in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian officials have not commented, but a local non-governmental organisation says prosecutors have accused him of “causing strife”.”

However, rather than informing readers of the context to this story in its own words, the BBC assigned over half of this article’s word count to uncritical amplification of statements made by political NGOs, including a link to the Amnesty International website.

“Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the move.

“It is outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online. Criticising the authorities should not be a criminal offence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s deputy Middle East director.

Amnesty said Mr Amro, the co-ordinator for Youth Against Settlements group, had posted comments on his Facebook page criticising the arrest by Palestinian security forces on Sunday of a local radio journalist who had called for the resignation of President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We have seen an alarming escalation in the Palestinian authorities’ clampdown on freedom of expression in recent months,” said Ms Mughrabi.

“Instead of continuing to step up their efforts to quash dissenting voices, the Palestinian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Issa Amro and stop harassing and intimidating activists and others for daring to speak their minds freely.””

Readers are not told that the man portrayed as “a prominent human rights defender” is actually an anti-Israel political activist with links to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). No information is provided concerning the agenda and activities of the non-transparently funded ‘Youth Against Settlements’ group which has in the past – along with Amro himself – been promoted in BBC reports (see ‘related articles’ below).

The absence of that background information is particularly relevant given that in the later paragraphs of this report the BBC chose to deviate from its supposed subject matter.

“Mr Amro is also currently being tried by an Israeli military court on several charges that include calling for illegal protests and obstructing the official duties of soldiers.

He has rejected the charges, which Amnesty has described as “baseless”.”

The charges against Amro also include several counts of assault, incitement and damage to property. As in any country, it is of course the role of the court – rather than a political NGO that the BBC elects to amplify – to decide whether or not those charges are “baseless”.

The final paragraph of the report is similarly gratuitous and unrelated to the story supposedly being told in this report.

“In Hebron, where Mr Amro is based, several hundred Jewish settlers live in heavily-guarded enclaves surrounded by some 200,000 Palestinians. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The Israelis living in Hebron of course do so according to the terms of the 1997 Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron which was signed by the representatives of the Palestinians within the framework of the Oslo Accords but the BBC chose to omit that all-important context from its portrayal.

With 25.7% of the word-count of this report promoting Israel-related subjects unrelated to the story it purports to tell and 52.5% devoted to repetition of statements from a political NGO, the BBC can hardly be said to have deviated from its usual policy by taking the opportunity to provide its audiences with meaningful and comprehensive reporting on what the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau chief described as a human rights issue.

Related Articles:

Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

Yolande Knell’s ‘analysis’ of teens’ kidnappings breaches BBC editorial guidelines

BBC editorial guidelines breached in report on Hebron incident

Absurdity of BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra exposed by Yolande Knell

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’: using ‘alleged’ and ‘fact’ for framing

 

BBC News passes on Hamas terror financing story

On August 3rd the Israel Security Agency announced the exposure of a complex Hamas money laundering ring involving former security prisoners.

“Through this plot, which began in early 2016, the group [Hamas] managed to transfer approximately $200,000 (NIS 720,000) into its Hebron offices from Turkey, with help from Gaza, in order to fund terrorist activities, the Shin Bet said. […]

The head of the operation was identified by the security service as Muhammad Maher Bader, a senior member of Hamas in Hebron and a member of the Palestinian parliament.

Bader, who was arrested in June, enlisted the help of two couriers, Muasseb Hashalmon and Taha Uthman, both of them residents of Hebron, the Shin Bet said.

Hashalmon and Uthman would travel to Turkey, where they would receive tens of thousands of dollars from a Hamas operative named Haron Nasser al-Din.

According to the Shin bet, the two Palestinian men used the money to purchase commercial goods, which they would ship back to Hebron and sell. The money from the merchandise, save for a small percentage that was their cut, was then used to pay the salaries of Hamas’s high command in the West Bank city and was also given to active members of the terrorist group and to operatives who had been released from prison.”

The BBC has for a long time avoided providing its audiences with any serious reporting on the topic of Hamas’ presence in Palestinian Authority controlled areas and the connection of past and present Hamas operatives in Turkey to efforts to build up that presence. It was therefore not surprising to see that this latest story did not get any coverage at all.

However the BBC News website did have the space and inclination to publish a story it described as being about a “social media row over dog poo”.  One can only conclude that story was deemed by editors to contribute more to audience understanding of Middle East issues than the one about Hamas terror financing.

Related Articles:

Hamas terror cash shoes not news for the BBC