Another chapter in a story ignored by the BBC for two years

Since the summer of 2017 we have periodically documented the absence of BBC coverage of a story concerning Palestinian citizens which falls outside the corporation’s usual framing.

BBC News ignores an unusual legal story from Israel

Story of PA torture continues to be side-lined by BBC

PA torture case still being ignored by the BBC

Last week the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian citizens who won a legal battle against the Palestinian Authority in Israeli courts are to ask the ICC to take up their case.

“A group of over 50 Palestinians is expected to request that the International Criminal Court probe the Palestinian Authority for war crimes of torturing them.

Represented by Uri Morad, director of International Law at the Jerusalem Institute for Justice (JIJ), and lawyer Barak Kedem of the law firm Arbus, Kedem and Tzur, the group of Palestinians is trying to capitalize on legal judgments they have already won in Israeli civil courts on the issue.

The JIJ issued a statement on Sunday that they would file their complaint with the ICC in The Hague on Monday. […]

In the first case of its kind, an Israeli court in July 2017 ruled that 51 Palestinians who were tortured by the PA for cooperating with Israel could sue the Authority for damages.

That 1,860-page ruling, based on dozens of witnesses over several years, was one of the most bizarre in years, as it involved Palestinian citizens coming before the courts of the Israeli “occupation” to get justice for their mistreatment by their own Palestinian law enforcement.”

Israel HaYom added:

“On Monday, the filmed testimonies of the former prisoners are slated to be shown at the International Criminal Court. Attorney Uri Morad, head of the international law department at the JIJ, explained that “In February, we contacted the ICC at The Hague and asked for a criminal probe into PA President Mahmoud Abbas on suspicion of crimes he [allegedly] perpetrated against his own people, including an ongoing and extensive spree of murder, torture, and illegal imprisonments against the Palestinian population.

“The testimonies that will be presented tomorrow [Monday] demonstrate a well-oiled system that uses violent means to oppress the civilian population,” Morad said.”

Notwithstanding the BBC News website’s publication eight months ago of a recycled version of a report published by an external organisation on arbitrary arrests and torture by Palestinian forces, BBC audiences continue to be denied serious, original BBC reporting on this story as well as on other aspects of internal Palestinian affairs.

 

 

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Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has published an assessment of “The impact of the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria on the campaign against ISIS“.

“From a military perspective, the end of American activity in Syria is liable to be detrimental to the campaign currently being waged by the Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates against last important ISIS-controlled area in Syria. The blow is expected to be particularly hard if America stops its aerial support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, in ITIC assessment, the most serious impact of the American pullout is expected to be its influence on morale and the political situation: the Kurds, who control extensive areas in the northeastern part of the country, feel betrayed and their cohesiveness may be harmed. Thus they can be expected to look for new strategic support, especially from the Syrian regime and Russia. The Kurds’ motivation to continue fighting ISIS may be reduced and they may retreat to the heart of their area of control in northeastern Syria and stop clearing the lower Euphrates Valley of ISIS fighters.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at the Turkish aspect of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

“The contradiction between the western attempt to appease Turkey, and the tentatively emergent strategy vis-a-vis Syria had been apparent for some months. It now looked set to be resolved – one way or the other.

If the US indeed now follows through with the rapid withdrawal of the American military presence in Syria in its entirety, as a number of news outlets have reported and the President appears to have confirmed, then we have an answer. It means that the US has indeed blinked first, and is set on reversing course in Syria – by embarking on a hurried exit from the country. This will be interpreted by all sides as a strategic defeat, an abandonment under pressure of allies, and a debacle.”

3) MEMRI reports on recent criticism of Hizballah in Lebanon.

“Since the parliamentary elections in May 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Sa’d Al-Hariri has been trying to form a national unity government incorporating all the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful, however, partly due to steep conditions presented by Hizbullah regarding the government’s makeup, mainly its demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces, the faction led by Hizbullah. […]

This political crisis, which has been ongoing for over six months, has evoked furious responses from Lebanese politicians and columnists, who accuse Hizbullah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of Lebanon’s, and also of using its weapons to take over Lebanon and of subordinating it to Iranian patronage. The bleak political climate even cast a pall over Lebanon’s 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, with some calling not to celebrate it because Lebanon is not truly independent. Criticism was also directed at President Michel ‘Aoun and at his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil, both of them Hizbullah allies, for allowing Hizbullah to effectively control the country.”

4) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Electing the Palestinian Attorney-General to the ICC Nominations Committee for Judges“.

“The election of the Palestinian Attorney-General, Dr. Ahmad Barrak, to serve as a member of the “Advisory Committee on Nominations” of judges of the International Criminal Court, if it were not so serious, could be seen as comical. It cannot but invoke the ancient Latin maxim “ovem lupo commitere,” or in its literal and colloquial version “to set the wolf to guard the sheep.”

This perhaps sums up the acute absurdity to which respected international institutions in the international community, and particularly the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, have descended. Sadly, they have permitted themselves to be abused and manipulated by an irresponsible Palestinian leadership, intent on hijacking international organizations for obvious and blatant political purposes. 

However, the election of a Palestinian representative to the judges’ Nominations Committee, as unwise and ill-advised as it may be, is indicative of a far wider and more serious problem facing the International Criminal Court, with the admission of what purports to be “The State of Palestine” as a party to its Statute.”

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Times of Israel Professor Avi Bell asks “Is ‘East Jerusalem’ Palestinian Territory?“.

“Logic, it seems, is not the currency of a successful legal strategy in international courts. The politicized ICJ may bow to Palestinian demands to call Jerusalem a “corpus separatum” even as the politicized ICC bows to Palestinian demands to recognize “East Jerusalem” as “occupied Palestinian territory.” Experience teaches that Palestinian claims need not persuade or even be logically consistent to succeed, as long as they aim at disadvantaging Israel. The tragedy is that the ICC and ICJ are now joining hands in helping the PLO make a mockery of international law.”

2) The ITIC discusses “Security Council Resolution 1701 and Its Systematic Violation by Hezbollah and Iran“.

“The key paragraphs of Resolution 1701 and the security arrangements relating to the area of Lebanon south of the Litani River have not been enforced during the twelve years since the Second Lebanon War. The Lebanese government is not the sole sovereign in Lebanon as determined by the resolution, and the weapons of the Lebanese army are not the only weapons south of the Litani River (or in all Lebanon). Hezbollah’s military infrastructure, which is deployed in south Lebanon and in the north, was reconstructed and upgraded after the Second Lebanon War. The tunnels recently exposed on the Israeli border are further manifestations of the lack of the resolution’s enforcement. The area south of the Litani River was not demilitarized. Hezbollah continues as its main military power, despite the routine security activities in south Lebanon of the Lebanese army, supported by UNIFIL. Iran continues smuggling weapons into Lebanon by air, by sea and overland, and the Lebanese government makes no real attempt to stop it.”

3) At the INSS Raz Zimmt assesses “A Year of Protests in Iran“.

“The wave of protests that erupted in December 2017-January 2018 in dozens of cities in Iran ebbed after about two weeks, but continued – albeit with less intensity and on a smaller scale – throughout the year. The continuation of the protests reflects the intensity of public frustration that has grown against the background of a deteriorating economic situation and the widening gap between the public and the regime; it is further fed by the citizens’ growing distrust of the political establishment and its failure to provide solutions for their distress. Looking ahead, the deterioration of the economic situation, together with the fundamental problems of the Islamic Republic, contain potential for a future protest movement. However, whether such a movement will become a real threat to stability depends on the regime’s ability to overcome its basic weaknesses, to unite the middle class with the workers, to improve organization at a national level, and to raise political demands that undermine the very existence of the Islamic regime. Iran has faced considerable economic challenges in the past. Over the years the public has been able to adjust to difficult situations, and the regime still has the means to suppress any protests that show signs of spreading. At this stage, it appears that the regime is unable to prevent the continuation of protest, but at the same time, the demonstrators are unable to undermine the foundations of the regime.”

4) Col. Richard Kemp’s submission on behalf of the High Level Military Group to the ‘United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory’ (the ‘Great Return March’) is available here.

“The terms of this mandate are self-evidently biased against the State of Israel and the IDF. The context cited: ‘the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests’ make clear that the UNHRC either failed to understand what was happening on the ground or deliberately misrepresented the reality. In addition, the Commission’s mandate terms the Gaza Strip ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’, which it is not. This gives us cause for concern that the COI which has accepted this biased mandate will fail to produce a fair and objective report into these events. This concern is reinforced by the history of anti-Israel bias by the UNHRC and previous COIs into violence in Gaza.”

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

Previously we saw how a BBC News website report on the US decision to close the PLO office in Washington DC failed to provide readers with an adequate explanation of both the legal background to that decision and the fact that the same Palestinian officials now protesting it have had nearly three years in which to study the requirements for keeping that mission open.

The September 10th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ closed with an item on the same story which was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall (from 45:05 here) with the following framing:

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

Marshall: “The Trump administration is piling the pressure on the Palestinians. It’s already ended bilateral funding and also funding to the UN agency which looks after Palestinian refugees. President Trump says they’re ungrateful and should return to the negotiating table with Israel. And today the US ordered the closure of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Washington. The US State Department said the Palestinians were refusing to engage with the US over peace efforts. US National Security Advisor John Bolton also touched on the topic in his speech excoriating the International Criminal Court. He said the US decision to close the mission in Washington was a result of the court’s insistence on investigating Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.”

In contrast to Marshall’s claim, the ICC’s preliminary investigations in fact came as a result of actions by the Palestinian Authority beginning in January 2015. Listeners then heard a recording of John Bolton speaking on the same day.

Recording Bolton: “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel. And today, reflecting Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the Department of State will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office here in Washington DC and the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. The United States supports a direct and robust peace process and we will not allow the ICC or any other organisation to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence.”

Marshall: “So why is Mr Bolton conflating two issues: the ICC and the Palestinians? Our State Department correspondent again, Barbara Plett-Usher.

While it is obvious that Barbara Plett-Usher is aware of the history and legal background to this story, BBC World Service listeners did not hear a lucid explanation. Despite the BBC having itself reported on Palestinian petitions to the ICC – including as recently as in May – Plett-Usher disingenuously portrayed that topic as though it were a claim dreamed up by John Bolton.

Plett-Usher: “Well that’s because Congress conflated them. Congress put some conditions on the ability of the PLO to open an office in Washington, one of which was that the Palestinians could not be going after Israel in the ICC and you heard there Mr Bolton saying they were in fact trying to do that. But even then, even if the Palestinians had made such moves, the PLO office could still be allowed to operate here if the Palestinians were engaging in peace talks with the Israelis, which they are not. They’re boycotting the US attempts to revive negotiations because they see them as blatantly favouring the Israelis on core issues. But the administration used these two arguments, these two conditions put down by Congress, to close down the mission.”

Marshall: “And has this mission in Washington been useful for the Palestinians?”

Misrepresenting the title of the PLO envoy to Washington and giving a partisan interpretation of the Oslo Accords Declaration of Principles, Plett-Usher replied:

Plett-Usher: “I think it’s been more useful at some times than at others but by and large what it was, it was set up after the Oslo Accords were negotiated in ’93-’94 and this was the sort of point man point in Washington to liaise with the US administration on efforts to implement those accords which of course were supposed to result in a Palestinian state and never did. More recently the diplomats here have engaged in direct outreach to Americans – to churches, civil organisations, students and the like – trying to build support for the Palestinians, to take advantage of a decrease in support for the Israeli government policies among Americans but also including American Jews. In fact the PLO ambassador claims that that was one reason they were shut down.”

Plett-Usher refrained from mentioning reports that the PLO mission in Washington had been funding campus activity of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the US.

Marshall then went on to introduce his second contributor, failing to clarify to listeners that Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

Marshall: “[…] and earlier I spoke to Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian legislator and former negotiator. What’s her reaction to Mr Bolton’s remarks?”

[48:23] Ashrawi: “This is not an act that happened in isolation. It’s part of a concerted American assault on Palestinian rights, on the chances of peace [laughs] and on any semblance of justice, on legality and solving the Palestinian-Israeli issue. And it seems to me the US is certainly doing Israel’s bidding and is trying to resolve all issues by bashing the Palestinians, by punishing the Palestinians – who are already under occupation – and by rewarding Israel and granting it full immunity to act outside the law with full impunity.”

Marshall: “The United States says it’s doing this because the Palestinians are not supporting peace talks with Israel.”

Ashrawi: [laughs] That’s extremely ironic. There are no talks. There are no plans. There is no negotiating table to invite us back to: the US has smashed it into smithereens. It has decided unilaterally to give away Jerusalem to Israel which is illegal because Jerusalem is occupied territory – it is Palestinian land. It has decided single-handedly to redefine Palestinian refugees and to stop funding UNRWA which is an international organisation specifically set up to serve and protect the Palestinian refugees. It has unilaterally decided that the settlements are not illegal, that it doesn’t want the ’67 boundaries or the two-state solution. So what does it want? Right now it is busy telling the Palestinians if you do not surrender to our dictates, if you do not accept all these steps then you are going to be punished again and Israel is rewarded. So it’s extremely ironic. It’s really disingenuous to talk about peace. Actually now we are being punished because we dared ask the International Criminal Court to speed up its investigation of Israeli war crimes and as you know, settlements are a war crime by international definition according to the Rome Statute.”

Making no effort whatsoever to challenge Ashrawi’s egregious portrayal of Jerusalem as “Palestinian land”, her “war crimes” smear or her partisan interpretation of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, Marshall changed the subject.

Marshall: “Do you have any idea what the US peace plan is? Because the Trump administration says that the Palestinian leadership has condemned that plan that they haven’t even seen [Ashrawi laughs] and refused to engage the US government with respect to peace efforts in other words.”

Ashrawi: “Yes of course we refuse because we don’t need to talk about a plan; they’re implementing it. I mean anybody who has any sense – any sight – would see that the US is busy dismantling every single component or requirement of peace. These issues are very clear. So it’s not that we [laughs] are not talking peace. We have been talking peace for decades and we’ve negotiated with numerous American administrations. It’s this one that has…I think it has lost its mind. I think in this mad, hysterical defence of Israel, they just don’t make sense. They have lost their balance and it’s really serious because they’re creating a situation of tremendous volatility.”

Marshall: “How do the Palestinians now though gain their independent state? You’ve rejected the United States as a mediator; you’re not prepared at the moment to sit down with Israel. How do you achieve your political objectives?”

Ashrawi: “Well the president Mahmoud Abbas last year declared or announced an initiative about convening an international conference about the requirements of peace. There is a plan but obviously when the US has taken sides so blatantly and I think now it’s up to the international community that has to take up its responsibility to protect the Palestinians and to hold Israel to account and now to hold the US to account.”

Failing to inform listeners that Abbas’ ‘international conference’ was supposed to have taken place “by mid-2018“, Marshall closed the item there, once again neglecting to clarify Ashrawi’s PLO links.

As we see, once again BBC audiences were not given an adequate account of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of the US decision to close the PLO mission in Washington. They did, however, hear Hanan Ashrawi’s political talking points, inaccuracies and distortions go completely unchallenged for four straight minutes in this one-sided presentation of the story.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

 

 

 

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

On September 10th a story that has been brewing for a long time was reported on the BBC News website under the headline “US to shut Palestinian mission in Washington“.

Nearly 22% of the 578-word article was used to tell readers “How have the Palestinians responded?” and over 31% of its word count was given over to descriptions of US cuts to donations – including the already widely covered UNRWA story – under the sub-heading “What other steps has the US taken?”.

The background ostensibly intended to enable readers to understand the story was presented in 138 words under the sub-heading “Why is the Palestinian mission being closed?” and began by quoting parts of the relevant statement from the US State Department.

“The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the state department said on Monday.

“To the contrary, the PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”

The statement also cited Palestinian efforts to get the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged violations of international laws and norms regarding the treatment of people and property in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.”

Readers were next provided with links to two previous BBC reports: the first dating from November 18th 2017 and the other from May 22nd 2018.

Last year the US state department warned the mission that under US law it faced closure if Palestinian leaders continued to do so.

But in May, the Palestinian foreign minister formally asked the ICC’s chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation, saying he had “ample and insurmountable evidence”.”

In order to understand the relevance of “US law” to the current story, readers would have had to click on that first link, where they would find the following:

“US officials say the PLO could be breaking a legal condition for it to operate in the US.

The US law says Palestinian authorities must not pressure the International Criminal Court to investigate Israelis.

The PLO, which is seen by the international community as representing all Palestinians, opened an office in DC in 1994.

It is the first time that the State Department has declined to reissue a six-monthly operating licence for it.

A state department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the reason behind the non-renewal.

Obviously that account does not provide readers unfamiliar with the story with a full and clear explanation of its background. An article published by the Times of Israel around the same time however does.

“In 1987, Congress sought to rid US soil of any PLO institutions, which included a United Nations mission located in New York City and a Palestinian information bureau in DC. At the time, the PLO was a US-designated terror organization, backing attacks against Israelis. […]

Despite the bill becoming law, ultimately the US couldn’t close the Palestinian mission to the UN because this would have violated international law. The DC information office, however, was closed.

Fast-forward to 1993. Israel and the PLO have just signed the Oslo Peace Accords. The Palestinians have sworn to end decades of terror attacks against Israel and are slated to receive their own state in the coming years. At this historic occasion, the US Congress allowed the president to suspend all sanctions against the PLO as long as the Palestinians stay faithful to commitments made in the accords. The suspension would have to be renewed every six months. This act by Congress allowed the PLO to open up a diplomatic mission in DC.

In 1997, Congress made it easier for the president to waive the sanctions against the PLO: The president would now just have to say the waiver was in the US’s national security interest with no explanation needed. Again, a waiver would have to be signed every six months.

This was the case until 2011, when the Palestinians joined UNESCO and declared they wanted full-membership status in the UN.

In response, Congress slipped in a new provision into the annual State and Foreign Operations Bill […]

Now, if the Palestinians obtained full membership status in the United Nations outside of an agreement with Israel, the president would be unable to waive sanctions against the PLO, unless “the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” […]

After the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, Congress, without any public debate or headlines, slipped in a similar provision into the December 2015 foreign ops bill […]

The provision calls for the waiver to be revoked should the Palestinians “initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation” against Israel.”

In other words, when Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly on September 20th 2017 that “[w]e have called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people” he was no doubt aware of the potential consequences under the terms of the legislation passed by the US Congress nearly two years earlier under the Obama administration. And yet despite the US State Department having issued that warning in November 2017, in May 2018 the PA’s foreign minister nevertheless chose to present a referral to the ICC.

Nevertheless, as was reported in November 2017, the PLO mission in Washington could have remained open.

“The declaration does not automatically mean the mission will close. US President Donald Trump now has a 90-day window to decide whether “the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel” — in which case he can waive the requirement to shutter the office.”

However, the Palestinians have of course done no such thing and – as the BBC has itself reported on numerous occasions over the past ten months – Palestinian officials have repeatedly made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of even considering a US peace plan.

In summary, while readers of this BBC report found an unsatisfactory 48 word ‘explanation’ of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of this story, they saw 127 words of PLO condemnations of the US administration decision – but no clarification of how the Palestinians could have prevented that decision from being taken.  

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Grant Rumley writes about “The Tragedy of Mahmoud Abbas” at the Atlantic.

“Picture a Palestinian leader in the twilight of his reign. Besieged on all sides and challenged by younger upstarts, he lashes out against Israel, his Arab brethren, and the United States. Other Palestinian officials jockey to replace him, convinced he’s past his prime. This is how it ended for Yasser Arafat, whose insistence on waging the second intifada left him isolated in the final years of his rule. It may well be how it ends for Mahmoud Abbas.”

2) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Palestinian Manipulation of the International Criminal Court“.

“International law does not recognize General Assembly resolutions as a source of legal authority for granting statehood. Following on from this, the Palestinians cannot give jurisdiction to the ICC over territory over which they do not exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction, and which is subject to an ongoing dispute and negotiation as to its final status.

In this context, one may ask how the ICC, as a juridical institution established on the basis of legal principles and norms, could, in light of the requirements of its statute, rely on a political, non-binding resolution of the General Assembly as a source of authority for accepting a non-state entity claiming to be a state?”

3) At Mosaic magazine, Robert Satloff writes about a little-known chapter in World War Two history.

“In the early morning hours of November 8, 1942, as U.S. and British forces waited anxiously on troop ships spread across the North African coast, 377 young men, led by a twenty-year-old medical student named José Aboulker, had fanned out across Algeria’s capital city of Algiers to execute a daring mission that would help determine the fate of [Operation] Torch. […]

Astonishingly, through gumption, guile, and guts, these ragtag volunteers succeeded. By 2:00 a.m. on the morning of the invasion, Algeria’s capital was theirs. No less astonishingly, they then proceeded to hold it for an additional five critical hours, making it far easier for Allied troops to enter Algiers than had proved the case in the landing zones of Casablanca and Oran.

If mainstream histories of Torch mention this episode at all, they describe it briefly as but one in a line of heroic tales of French partisans. The official U.S. army account of American military engagement in North Africa, for example, records that “Algiers came under control of the irregulars of the French resistance at the time the landings began.”

But that account and virtually all others miss a critical aspect of the story: not only Aboulker himself but fully 315 of those 377 resistance fighters in Algiers were Jews, motivated to fight precisely because, as Jews, they had been denied their rights as Frenchmen by Vichy France. At its core, then, theirs was a Jewish resistance movement.”

4) At the Jerusalem Post Liat Collins looks at “UNRWA’s Unsettling Impact“.

“To understand the absurdity that is UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) exchange the name India for Israel and Pakistan for the Palestinians.[…]

An estimated 15 million people were uprooted in Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Between one million and two million were killed. It was a tragedy of epic proportions.

Seventy years on, India and Pakistan have an uneasy relationship that occasionally flares into conflict. There are still disputed areas, such as Kashmir, but there is not a “refugee problem.”

That’s because the Hindus and Sikhs who fled Pakistan for India and the Muslims who escaped in the other direction – whether from fear or violent coercion – have not spent the past seven decades constantly being sold the illusion that they will move back and destroy their enemies.”

 

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

It is an issue which has been raised here on many occasions in the past, but on May 4th the BBC once again demonstrated that its commitment to the obligation laid down in its editorial guidelines to “clearly describe the ideology” of organisations from which stories are sourced and/or to which interviewees are linked is not only selective and blatantly lacking in consistency, but also appears to be influenced by political considerations.

As readers are no doubt already aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state in section 4.4.14:

“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.”

In 2013 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”.

According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem, the statement below appeared in a 2014 email from the BBC in response to a PSC complaint to the effect that the organization to which an interviewee on BBC News belongs was not adequately described to viewers as stipulated in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“We apologize for this and would like to assure you that the matter has been raised with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC News Channel, who have been reminded of the need to clearly describe the ideology of such organizations in our coverage.”

How then did the BBC News website describe the foreign funded Israeli NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ – described by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz in 2009 as an organization which “has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a human rights organization” – when it published an article on May 4th titled “Israeli military ‘fired indiscriminately’ in Gaza” which is based entirely on a report put out by that NGO on the same day?BtS written

An Israeli activist group has accused the military of employing a “policy of indiscriminate fire” that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during last year’s Gaza war.” [emphasis added]

Breaking the Silence, a group of serving and ex-soldiers, said its report contained interviews with more than 60 unnamed active duty and reserve Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel who took part in Operation Protective Edge.” [emphasis added]

Clearly those anodyne descriptions do nothing to inform BBC audiences of the political motivations and agenda behind the “viewpoint” and “ideology” which underlie this latest addition to ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaigning on the subject of last summer’s conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Similarly, listeners to the May 4th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:45 here) heard presenter Tim Franks introduce his ‘Breaking the Silence’ interviewee Avichai Stoller thus:BtS audio

“Today, an Israeli activist group has accused the military of using a policy of indiscriminate fire which caused the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Indeed the group – which is called ‘Breaking the Silence’ – says that the rules of military engagement for the seven week war were – in its words – the most permissive it had seen.” [emphasis added]

Obviously that introduction – like Frank’s closing description of the organization as an “Israeli advocacy group” – fails to clarify to audiences the political aims behind ‘Breaking the Silence’ and notably Tim Franks made no effort to challenge Stoller with regard to his claim that “we are not subcontractors of anybody” despite the group’s considerable foreign funding.

Another interesting aspect to the BBC’s multi-platform promotion of the claims made by ‘Breaking the Silence’ is the fact that its booklet of testimonies was published on the same day that the two above BBC reports appeared and yet as of the morning of May 4th, the booklet was only available in Hebrew. Despite that fact, the BBC managed to produce a written report in English within a matter of hours and to arrange World Service radio interviews not only with Stoller but also with the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and with the IDF spokesman with similarly impressive alacrity.

No less remarkable was Tim Franks’ promotion of the notion of ‘war crimes’ on two occasions during the twelve-minute segment. Franks asked Stoller:

“If you’re imputing that war crimes were committed – and it sounds as if you are – isn’t that the province of the International Criminal Court?”

He later asked Bensouda:

“In terms of the allegations that have been made today, how far would they constitute war crimes if they could be substantiated?”

The BBC’s clear flouting of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform audiences of the underlying “ideology” of the group which supplied the source material for these two reports – as well as for further opportunistic BBC promotion of the notion that Israel committed ‘war crimes’ during the summer 2014 conflict – is yet another example of the way in which political motivations repeatedly trump editorial standards in the BBC’s coverage of Israel.

Related Articles:

Guardian amplifies Breaking the Silence’s baseless allegation of Israeli racism (UK Media Watch)

Breaking the Silence and the British Media (CAMERA)

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

BBC amends ICC Q&A following reader complaint

h/t D

Readers may recall that on January 14th the BBC News website published a Q&A feature concerning the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the International Criminal Court. As was noted here at the time:ICC Q&A

“Under the sub-heading “When will they become ICC members and what does it mean?” the article states:

“The Palestinians have asked it to exercise jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza from 13 June 2014. This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.”

That, of course, is correct but notably the BBC refrains from pointing out to audiences that – as is also the case with the UN HRC’s Schabas commission – the ‘start date’ selected by the PA deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hebron-based Hamas cell on June 12th 2014.”

A member of the public who took note of the same point submitted a complaint to the BBC and recently received a response which includes the following:

“We have reviewed the article in question and agree the date chosen by the Palestinians as the starting point for the ICC to investigate requires explanation as it is clearly not arbitrary. We have therefore updated the article with the following lines, which we hope you will find satisfactory: […]”

Although no footnote has been added to the article to inform audiences that it has been amended, the relevant passage now reads:

ICC art amendment

The wording of that amendment still does not adequately clarify the point that the ‘start date’ selected by the PA for the investigation it wants the ICC to pursue deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach – or why.

Additionally, the statement “Israeli forces began a mass round-up of Palestinians” misleadingly suggests that people were arrested randomly simply because they were Palestinians and does not make it clear that arrests were based on intelligence linking those arrested to the suspects and/or to terrorist organisations. As Ynet reported at the later stages of the search operation:

“Since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keepers, a total of 419 Palestinians have been arrested, among them 59 were released in the Shalit deal, and 279 are Hamas operatives. The IDF has searched 2,200 sites.”

As the BBC’s reply to this complaint shows, it is fully aware of the fact that the Palestinian request for an investigation of events after June 13th 2014 is “clearly not arbitrary” and of the significance of that selected ‘start date’. And yet, despite acknowledgement that the issue “requires explanation”, the wording of this amendment still does not sufficiently clarify a point vital to audience understanding of the political motives behind the Palestinian ICC bid.  

 

Where’s the BBC follow up?

On December 17th 2014 the BBC News website produced no fewer than six versions of an article titled “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list”.BBC News logo 2

On January 19th 2015 the Council of the European Union announced that it had decided to appeal that court decision.

“The Council of the European Union has decided to appeal today the Judgment of the General Court (in Case T-400/10 – Hamas v. Council) of 17 December 2014. 

The Judgment of the General Court of the European Union annulled measures taken by the Council of the European Union against Hamas, namely the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and the freezing of Hamas’ funds. This ruling was clearly based on procedural grounds and did not imply any assessment by the Court of the merits of designating the Hamas as a terrorist organization. 

The Council has now decided to challenge some of the findings of the Court regarding the procedural grounds to list terrorist organizations under EU autonomous measures to combat terrorism, as set out in Common Position 2001/931. As a result of the appeal, the effects of the Judgment are suspended until a final judgment is rendered by the Court of Justice.”

There has been no follow-up reporting on that decision by the Council on the BBC News website’s Middle East page to date.

Whilst BBC News website’s reporting of the PA’s bid to join the ICC has been extensive – including a Q&A feature on the topic – two recent developments have also not received any BBC coverage.ICC Q&A

On January 18th the Jerusalem Post revealed that:

“The Palestinians want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Fatah official announced on Sunday.

Jamal Muheissen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, claimed that Israel was responsible for the death of Arafat, who died in November 2004.

“This file will be presented to the International Criminal Court,” Muheissen told the Palestinian Shms News Agency. “We want to bring the Israeli occupation to trial for every crime it committed against our people.” “

On the same day the Times of Israel reported that the PA is prepared to drop its ‘war crimes’ suit against Israel if construction in ‘settlements’ is frozen.

“A senior Palestinian official said Sunday that the first subject to be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Palestinian Authority’s legal campaign against Israel would be settlement construction

The official told The Times of Israel that land seizures in occupied territory constituted a clear violation of international law. Still, he noted that the appeal to the ICC would be withdrawn if Israel were to freeze settlement construction, and added that the Palestinian Authority had conveyed to Israel an official message to that effect, through Jordan and Egypt.”

In its above-mentioned Q&A from January 14th, the BBC noted that:

 “Some legal commentators suggest that it [the court] would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

The two reports above clearly demonstrate that PA’s bid to join the ICC is first and foremost a political tactic aimed at pressurizing Israel and avoiding the negotiations to which it is already committed. BBC audiences, however, remain in the dark with regard to the PA’s cynical and frivolous exploitation of the ICC.

The part of the ICC preliminary investigation story the BBC decided not to tell

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 16th under the title “Israel-Palestinian ‘war crimes’ probed by the ICC” has two commendable features.ICC probe art

First is the fact that the article avoids falling into the sensationalist trap seen in a previous BBC report from May 2013 in which a routine ICC preliminary examination was misleadingly over-dramatised. In this latest report it is made adequately clear to audiences that the process is a routine step required in the case of any referral.

“The Hague-based ICC said on Friday it had “opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine”.

It is an automatic step taken by the court upon a referral.” 

And later on in the report:

“In a statement, the ICC says: “A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.” “

Secondly, whilst previously published material on this topic failed to point out to BBC the significance of the ‘start date’ selected by the Palestinian Authority (as recently noted in this post) this article does clarify that point.

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the court to investigate Israeli “crimes… committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014”.

This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict. The period includes the kidnapping and murder by Jewish extremists of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdair on 2 July, one of the events which fuelled an escalation of violence which led to the outbreak of the summer conflict.

The Palestinians’ starting point begins a day after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, who were subsequently murdered, by Hamas militants in the West Bank on 12 June. Mohammed Abu Khdair’s killers said they murdered the teenager in revenge for the murders of the three Israelis.”

On the less bright side however, this latest report continues the practice of promoting out of date information on the subject of the civilian/combatant casualty ratio in the Gaza Strip during July and August 2014 which may well be inaccurate and has not been independently verified by the BBC.  

The most notable point about this article, however, is that it totally avoids the most newsworthy aspect of the story it purports to present.

In this report readers are informed that:

“The Palestinians will formally join the ICC on 1 April – 90 days after they submitted documents requesting membership.”

The BBC’s previously published Q&A article on the topic of the Palestinian bid also told readers that:

“The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on 1 April.”

Some readers may therefore be asking themselves whether or not the fact that the ICC chief prosecutor has already announced a preliminary examination even before the Palestinians formally join the ICC means that she has determined that they are in fact eligible to join that body in accordance with the requirement for its members to be states.

The answer to that question is not provided in the BBC’s report but it does appear in the press release announcing the preliminary examination which was put out by the ICC on January 16th. Whilst the BBC article provides a link to that press release, it does not point out to readers that it includes an explanation of how Fatou Bensouda arrived at the conclusion that she could begin the process of examination.

“On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 67/19 granting Palestine “non-member observer State” status in the UN with a majority of 138 votes in favour, 9 votes against and 41 abstentions. The Office examined the legal implications of this development for its own purposes and concluded, on the basis of its previous extensive analysis of and consultations on the issues, that, while the change in status did not retroactively validate the previously invalid 2009 declaration lodged without the necessary standing, Palestine would be able to accept the jurisdiction of the Court from 29 November 2012 onward, pursuant to articles 12 and 125 of the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute is open to accession by “all States,” with the UNSG acting as depositary of instruments of accession.”

The significance of that decision is explained by Professor Eugene Kontorovich in an article well worth reading in full.

“The decision to open the inquiry involved the prosecutor determining that the Palestinian Authority is in fact a “state,” a necessary precondition to jurisdiction under the Rome Statute, the Court’s constitutive treaty.

The ICC has never accepted jurisdiction over what is clearly at most a “marginal” state – one that is not a U.N. member, that has not ever claimed to govern any territory, and whose recognition by other states is limited (for example, the U.S., Canada and most Western European states do not recognize the existence of a Palestinian state). This is clearly dramatically different from anything the Court has done before.

But the prosecutor did not actually determine the Palestine qualifies as a “state” under the well-established legal definitions of the term. Rather, she said that the U.N. General Assembly’s vote in 2012 to call Palestine a “non-member state” is dispositive of the question. In short, she substituted the determination of the General Assembly for her own. The GA is not a judicial body, but  a political one. Its determinations are political, not legal. (It also has no power under the U.N. Charter, to create or recognize states.)”

In its January 14th Q&A article, the BBC asked “What are the possible implications for the ICC?” and responded to its own question by noting that:

“Some legal commentators suggest that it would open itself up to charges of politicization and set itself up for another damaging failure.”

Given that observation, one would have thought that the BBC would have bothered to inform audiences of the important fact that the opening of this preliminary investigation is based on a decision made in 2012 by a controversial political organisation rather than by a judicial body.