BBC’s Sommerville showcases PIJ rearmament but refrains from asking who supplied the weapons

On February 26th the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville produced two reports – one written and one filmed – about the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The filmed report – first shown on the BBC News television programme ‘Impact’ – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rearmed and replenished ranks“. Sommerville opens the report with the same message as that appearing in the title:Sommerville tunnels filmed

“The threat of war is looming again in Gaza. These are the men of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Six months since their last battle, they’ve rearmed and replenished their ranks in expectation of their next confrontation with Israel.”

Notably, BBC audiences are not informed at this juncture or at any other point in this report (or in the written article) how the PIJ has been able to rearm or who has supplied those weapons.

Of course the likelihood of any future confrontation between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel depends entirely upon the policies chosen by the former: for as long as they elect to refrain from attacking Israeli civilians, there will be no “next confrontation”. Sommerville, however, allows one of his masked interviewees to mislead viewers with the inference that Israel is the party initiating the recurrent bouts of conflict.

“We are prepared for any aggression on the Gaza Strip.”

 A short way into the report Sommerville tells audiences:

“….right by its [Israel’s] border…120 mm mortars. There’s an ample supply and there’s more inside.”

However, he refrains from commenting on the fact that the mortar marked ‘M48’ displayed by the PIJ terrorist he and his crew filmed bears a remarkable resemblance to the Iranian-made 120mm mortars intercepted by the IDF in 2009 aboard the ‘Francop and of course he makes no effort to inquire where and how his hosts obtained their “ample supply”.

Sommerville tunnels filmed M48

M48 Francop

Iranian-made 120 mm M48 mortar found on the Francop. Photo: MFA

Later on in the report viewers are shown an image of what Sommerville describes as:

“The aftermath of an explosion on Gaza’s western border …”

The Gaza Strip’s western border is of course the Mediterranean coastline. Apparently just as geographically challenged as his colleague who recently described the Golan Heights as being west of Haifa, Sommerville is actually referring to the southern border of the Gaza Strip – as can be determined from the commentary which follows.

“Egyptian soldiers are piling on the pressure. They’re tightening the border and wiping out smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza. Egypt blames militants from here for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

No effort is made to explain to viewers why Egypt makes such statements.

Throughout this report the PIJ are predictably referred to as “militants” and Sommerville informs viewers that:

“They [the PIJ] and Hamas are regarded by the West as terrorists.”

Of course there are also non-Western countries which take the same approach – now including Egypt.

In the closing interview with a masked terrorist, viewers are told that the ‘achievement’ of the PIJ during last summer’s conflict was:

“…we challenged the occupier […] we are still able to say no to the occupation.”

Sommerville fails to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the Gaza Strip has not been occupied by Israel since August 2005.

In the written version of his report  – appearing in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war” – Sommerville promotes some of the same themes.Sommerville tunnels written

“Viewed as a terrorist group in the West, Islamic Jihad is committed to Israel’s destruction.”

And:

“Egypt’s soldiers move around in armoured vehicles. Border controls have been tightened and they are using explosives to destroy homes and smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi blames Hamas and others for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

He again makes no effort to correct the inaccurate impressions received by readers from statements made by his interviewees.

“Standing inside, his face hidden, is a fighter, with the nom de guerre, Abu Hamza.

“In the last war we noticed that every moving thing on the surface of the earth was bombed, whether it was ambulances, civilians or fighters walking on the street,” he said. [emphasis added]

And:

“Our biggest achievement is that we stood our ground, and we challenged the occupier,” said Abu Ibrahim, a commander of their Saraya al-Quds brigade.

“Unlike the whole world, we are still able to say ‘no’ to them, ‘no’ to the occupation. We are still able to resist.” [emphasis added]

Sommerville continues the practice of promoting casualty figures which have not been independently verified by the BBC.  

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured.”

His emotive descriptions of the Gaza Strip lack context and no effort is made to clarify to readers that the factor most hindering reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Large parts of neighbourhoods in Gaza are in ruins, and the Strip is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis which has left many thousands of families homeless.

Six months on, the rubble from the war lies mostly uncleared and there has been little rebuilding.” […]

“Gaza is being cornered, more isolated than ever before…”

Sommerville’s take-away message in both these reports is that the “next confrontation” between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip is just a matter of time. Whilst that supposition is entirely reasonable, he fails to present BBC audiences with the information they need in order to be able to properly understand why that is the case.

The fact that he refrains from accurately defining the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terrorist organisations, along with his overall failure to clarify to BBC audiences that any future hostilities depend entirely upon the choices made by those groups and his concurrent promotion of myths such as the non-existent “occupation”, means that readers and viewers remain none the wiser about the real causes of the war around the corner.

In addition, Sommerville’s avoidance of the issue of the PIJ’s Iranian backing and the sources of its rearmament mean that a crucial piece of the overall picture is concealed from BBC audiences and hence, what could have been informative journalism is instead disappointingly predictable and superficial, tapping into the same themes recycled by the BBC so many times before. 

 

BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports from Rawabi: inaccuracies and omissions

Last week the BBC published and broadcast several versions of a report by Lyse Doucet about the construction project at Rawabi on a variety of platforms.

On February 5th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an audio version of Doucet’s report (available here from 0:45:00).

On February 6th and 7th a filmed report was broadcast on BBC World News and a version of it appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page headlined “Rawabi: A new Palestinian city in the West Bank“.

Also on February 7th a written version of Doucet’s report (together with Jane McMullen) appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website under the title “The new Palestinian city that lacks only one thing“.

A number of points arise from these various reports.

1) In the introduction to the audio version presenter Julian Marshall says:

“In the Israeli-occupied West bank an audacious Palestinian project is rising on the hills.”

In the filmed versions viewers are told by Doucet that the developer is “building homes for 25,000 people on Israeli-occupied land”.

The written report opens:

“A Palestinian millionaire has built a totally new city from scratch in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, complete with a Roman amphitheatre and football stadium.”

Later on are readers informed that:

“”It’s the biggest ever project in Palestinian history,” exclaims American-Palestinian multi-millionaire Bashar Masri, the driving force behind a new Palestinian city in the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

Only in the thirty-sixth paragraph do readers who bother to venture so far discover that:

“Rawabi is being built in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority within the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but access to a permanent road and a fixed pipeline goes through an area which an interim peace accord placed under Israeli jurisdiction.”

Indeed, Rawabi is situated in Area A which has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords were signed. The BBC, however, continues to categorise areas which have not been under Israeli control for two decades as “occupied”.

2) The fact that Rawabi is situated in a Palestinian Authority controlled area of course means that planning approval for its construction was given (in late 2009) by that body.

“Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, the developer of Rawabi, announced that Dr. Khaled Fahd Al Qawasmi, Minister of Local Government of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has approved Rawabi’s Masterplan in an unprecedented and definitive move to clear the way for construction to begin on the first new Palestinian city in recent history. The official Ministry approval was preceded by the approval of the Palestinian Higher Planning Council.”

Nevertheless, listeners to the audio version of the report were misled by Doucet who claimed that:

“This is under Israeli occupation. He (Masri) had to get agreement from Israel about where to build….”

3) Also in the audio version, listeners heard presenter Julian Marshall say:Rawabi 1

“Rabawi is the first ever new Palestinian city to be built in the territories: a huge gamble by American-Palestinian multi-millionaire Bashar Masri. He’s sunk hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money into building homes for 25 thousand Palestinians…”

Whilst that is no doubt the case, neither the audio nor filmed reports inform BBC audiences that the company developing the project also has Qatari funding.

“Bayti is jointly owned by Qatar government-owned Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Ramallah-based Massar International.”

In the written version, Qatari funding is mentioned but the involvement of the Qatari government – and its concurrent funding of Hamas – is not adequately clarified.

“Masri is funding the $1bn project from his own considerable fortune, as well as with hundreds of millions from the real estate arm of the Qatar Investment Authority. The wealthy Gulf state has become a powerful player across the Middle East. Masri concedes that their backing is politically as well as commercially motivated, and, admits they requested a very big mosque.”

4) Rawabi’s amphitheatre appears to have made a particular impression on Doucet. In the filmed version viewers hear her exclaim “Roman columns in Rawabi!” with Bashar Masri replying “Yes – it’s part of our history”.

In the audio version Doucet says:

“…it would look like a big housing project anywhere except this one has this vast Roman amphitheatre with classical Roman columns. I said ‘Roman columns in the West Bank?’. And they said ‘yes; the ancient, ancient Palestine’.”

Doucet of course makes no effort to relieve audiences of the misleading impression that there is some sort of historical connection between the term ‘Palestine’ as used by the Romans in their renaming of Judea in the second century and the modern-day Palestinians.

5) The main focus of all these reports is the issue of Rawabi’s water supply. In the audio version listeners are told:

“…and now crucially he’s [Masri] waiting for agreement from Israel – from a joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee – to get water.”

And:

“…and the finger is being pointed at Israel; saying why are they not giving the water?”

In the filmed version viewers are told that:

“The joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee has to sign off the water supply but it hasn’t met for years. The problem is political.”

And in the written version:

“All new water infrastructure larger than a pipe 2in (5cm) in diameter has to be approved by the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee. But the JWC hasn’t met for years. […]

Despite repeated promises from Israel that water will be provided “in a few weeks”, the JWC still hasn’t met. And both Israeli and Palestinian officials are dragging their feet.”

In other words, the bottom line impression given to BBC audiences is that Rawabi’s lack of water is Israel’s fault.

At no point does Doucet clarify to her audiences on various platforms that the Joint Water Committee (JWC) is a product of the Oslo Accords – signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people. Those same accords stipulate that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the water supply in Areas A (where Rawabi is located) and B.

Whilst she does tell audiences that the JWC “hasn’t met for years”, Doucet refrains from informing audiences why that is the case, avoiding any mention of the fact that the Palestinian Water Authority suspended cooperation in 2008 as part of a political strategy and with no interview or comment from that body appearing in any of her reports. Hence, audiences remain ignorant of the fact that the committee which must convene in order to approve the water pipeline to the new Palestinian city is hobbled by the Palestinian Water Authority and Doucet makes herself party to the Palestinian politicisation of water issues.Rawabi 2

6) In the audio item Doucet explains the editorial considerations behind this series of reports.

“We wanted to tell a story about the Palestinians which wasn’t the usual kind of story that you see in the headlines of Palestinians throwing stones, Palestinians suffering and dying in wars, Palestinians protesting. This was a story of ordinary, normal Palestinian life that anyone around the world can relate to. They just want to buy an apartment to live in; to bring their kids up in. And we wanted something that was also a microcosm of the broader Israeli-Palestinian process and this seemed to fit the bill.”

Taken into consideration together with the end products, we can conclude from those mission statements that as far as the BBC is concerned, the “microcosm of the broader Israeli-Palestinian process” is to be presented to audiences exclusively in terms of blaming Israel for the woes of Palestinians whilst studiously ignoring the policies and actions of their leaders and officials which contribute to problems or hardships.

But of course veteran BBC watchers did not need Lyse Doucet’s insights into how news is created rather than reported in order to determine that.

Related Articles:

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

BBC jumps on EU’s water politicisation bandwagon

Home truths on Palestinian water issues you haven’t heard from the BBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BBC and the Houthi logo

Viewers of the BBC World News programme ‘Impact‘ who recently watched a report by Safa al Ahmed (which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th under the title “Yemen crisis: BBC gets rare access to Houthi rebels“) may have noticed a certain feature which cropped up repeatedly throughout the filmed footage.

Houthis report pics

Seeing as no attempt was made to explain that logo in Safa Al Ahmed’s report, audiences might perhaps have turned to the BBC News website’s profile of the group titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?“. There they would have found that same logo appearing in a picture captioned “Houthi supporters took part in weeks of protests calling for fuel price cuts and a new government”.

Houthi profile art pic

So does that logo have anything to do with fuel prices or demands for political reform in Yemen? Well, no – and its recurrent appearance is not coincidental because that banner is actually the official emblem of the Houthis, as explained by the New York Times:

“It includes the words “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews.” Houthis shout it when they march, wear it on arm patches, paint it on buildings and stick it onto their car windows. When pictured, those words are rendered in red, framed by “God is great” and “Victory to Islam” in green, on a white background.

Sometimes the red words are shown dripping blood.”

One might think that, given the BBC’s remit of building understanding of international issues, the corporation would consider that information worth communicating to its audiences, along with more comprehensive information on the Houthis’ alleged links to the Iranian regime (and Hizballah) than appear in its profile.

“Regional Shia power Iran has also been accused of giving financial and military support to the Houthis – something both have denied.”

“Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, believes that the rebels are backed militarily, financially and politically by its Shia regional arch-rival, Iran – something both have denied.”

Remarkably, the BBC does not appear to have much interest in conducting in-depth investigative reporting on that topic

BBC uses ‘Gatekeepers’ to advance its own weary mantras on Israel

The BBC’s employment of the opportunity provided by the film ‘The Gatekeepers’ to advance jaded stereotypes relating to Israel began with coverage of its Oscar nomination back in February with reports on the subject from Kevin Connolly, among others.

Two months on, the baton has been picked up by Lyse Doucet, with a written article appearing on the BBC News website on April 10th along with an excerpt from a BBC World filmed programme on the subject.  

Gatekeepers

This could have been an excellent opportunity for the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent to point out to her audiences that the very fact that this film was made at all is testimony to the vibrancy of Israel’s democratic credentials, not least as the film enjoyed funding from the Rabinovitch Fund (which is in turn funded by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israeli Government Department for Culture and Sport and the Israeli equivalent of the National Lottery) and from Israel’s equivalent of the publicly funded BBC – Channel 1.

Instead, both Doucet’s reports advance a simplistic interpretation of the film which is used to promote existing memes frequently propagated by the BBC. In the filmed report we see J Street founder and New Israel Fund board member Daniel Levy  say at 03:18:

“And I think the worrying thing is, will you still have an Israeli security establishment that plays that braking role? The new head of the Shin Bet – of this establishment – there was a suspicion that there was a political involvement there; that this guy is more sympathetic to a harder Right cause. You have the Israeli officer training corps increasingly drawn from the settler national religious establishment, so there’s a sense that the security is gonna (sic) line up more with the more extreme politics in the future.”

On what does Levy base those two assertions – both totally unquestioned by Doucet? As far as the subject of IDF officers coming from a specific background is concerned, as anyone familiar with the Israeli army knows, entry to an officer training course is based solely on ability – not postcode or religious/political belief. Levy’s implication that there is some sort of ‘guiding hand’ responsible for the fact that many of the outstanding soldiers who make it to officer level come from a specific sector of Israeli society – and that they all automatically sympathise with “extreme politics” – is not only stereotypical and mistaken, but it also neglects to inform audiences of the fact that soldiers of other political inclinations have exactly the same opportunities open to them. 

As for Levy’s rather ugly unsourced innuendoes regarding the current head of the Shin Bet, they seem to be based on little more than the fact that Yoram Cohen is the first religiously observant person to fill that position and Levy’s own resulting preconceived assumptions regarding his political beliefs.

The head of the Shin Bet is appointed after the outgoing head makes recommendations to the Prime Minister. In this case, Yuval Diskin recommended three of his deputies, of which Cohen was one for three years. The decision regarding the appointment was made jointly by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence at the time, Ehud Barak, and then – according to protocol – approved by the Turkel Committee and the government. Levy ignores Cohen’s 30 years of service in the Shin Bet at the time of his appointment and his renowned expertise on the subject of radical Islamic organisations – particularly Hamas – in order to advance an evidence-free trope clearly designed to leave the listener with a very specific impression. 

Throughout the conversation Levy, Doucet and the film’s director Dror Moreh all promote the notion that the current Israeli Prime Minister has not done enough to make peace with the Palestinians and cast doubts upon the sincerity of his commitment to a ‘two state-solution’. This one-dimensional portrayal is not balanced by any mention of the efforts which have been made in the last four years – or prior to that – and Doucet allows Moreh to claim that “the building in the settlements have continued to be larger and more deeper” (whatever that means) without making any mention of the ten month-long building freeze which was ignored by the PA for 90% of its duration.

In fact, an average audience member watching this programme or reading Doucet’s article would go away convinced that the peace process is a one-sided affair in which only Israelis have a part to play, that Israelis have no interest in making peace and that the ‘two state solution’ is not a majority consensus in Israeli society. 

At one point in the programme Doucet says of the film:

“It is an Israeli conversation. There are no Palestinians in this film except of course in the footage.”

Despite having articulated that, Doucet has clearly missed the point that an “Israeli conversation” is exactly what this film is and that Israelis watching it will be in possession of the background information necessary in order to view the film in context. Israelis will know, for example, that three of the former Shin Bet heads interviewed took up political careers after their retirement from that organisation, and hence will be capable of contextualising their words within the framework of their various political views and aspirations. Israelis will also be only too aware of the important context of the security situations which form the subject matter of the interviews, but which are not represented in this film because there is no need to tell Israelis involved in this internal conversation that, for example, they are regularly bombarded by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Doucet’s treatment of this subject is banal and disappointing. There are not many countries – including Western democracies – capable of producing a film like this one in which an ongoing conflict is openly discussed by people who were – and in many cases still are – part of the establishment. Rather than clarifying to audiences the film’s function as testimony to Israeli democracy and freedom of speech, Doucet elected to go down the well-trodden route of using it to promote weary and inaccurate mantras such as ‘Israel isn’t doing enough to make peace’, which do nothing to enhance audience understanding of the dilemmas facing the country which ultimately produced it.