BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

For years visitors to the BBC News website have regularly come across claims concerning ‘international law’ in the corporation’s Israel-related content. For example:  

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Or:

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land Palestinians claim for a future state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been noted here in the past, that more or less standard insert does not include a definitive cited source underpinning the claim of illegality and no explanation is given regarding the legal basis for alternative opinions to the one promoted. The claim is erroneously presented as being contested solely by the government of Israel, thereby erasing from audience view the existence of additional legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative and thus breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In recent months the level of audience exposure to that narrative has risen.

The graph below shows the appearance of written reports on the BBC News website which included claims concerning ‘settlements and international law’ during the whole of 2016 and the first two months of 2017 (links provided below). It does not include filmed reports or content from additional BBC platforms.

In all of those 42 reports, BBC audiences were told that ‘settlements are considered illegal under international law’ and that ‘Israel disputes this’ but only in one of them – a backgrounder published in December 2016 – were they given any information concerning  the legal basis for those conflicting opinions. On no occasion throughout the past 14 months were audiences informed of the existence of additional alternative views of the subject beyond that of Israel. 

Readers of that backgrounder were told that:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

The BBC has editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s near standard ‘international law’ insert obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

In other words, this increasingly touted mantra promotes a specific political narrative rather than meeting the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’.

January 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35155227

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35351388

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35428457

March 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35901317

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35910853

April 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36091872

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36102449

July 2016: 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682056

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682062

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36720851

August 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37235922

September 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37345444

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37376069

October 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37570670

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37633012

November 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37978099

December 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38215653

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38450424

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38412079

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38416144

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38421026

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38425512

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38429385

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38431399

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38451258

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38455753

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38458884  backgrounder

January 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608995

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38621527

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608990

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38667119

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38711701 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38740712

February 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38830103

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38842551

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38850975

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38879100

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38888649

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38907755

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38931180  

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38987028

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38989906

Related Articles:

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

 

 

 

BBC News erases identity of authors of UN ‘apartheid’ report

h/t AM

On March 15th a UN body titled ‘United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’ (ESCWA) – part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council – published a report claiming that Israel imposes an ‘apartheid regime’ on Palestinians.

“UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said the report was the “first of its type” from a U.N. body that “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people”. […]

ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states, Khalaf said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York that the report was published without any prior consultation with the UN secretariat.

“The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres),” said Dujarric, adding that the report itself notes that it reflects the views of the authors.” [emphasis added]

The ESCWA member states that commissioned the report are Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, ‘Palestine’, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE and Yemen. The report was written by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley and, given the records of both those authors, its conclusions were foregone.

In 2012 Virginia Tilley – a supporter of the ‘one-state solution’published a study titled “Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Richard Falk – who in his former role as UN rapporteur was frequently quoted by the BBC – is infamous for his antisemitism, his promotion of conspiracy theories concerning the 9/11 and Boston marathon attacks, his support for Hamas and more.

Although the BBC did not cover the publication of the ESCWA report on March 15th, one BBC employee found it appropriate to retweet the Reuters report on the subject to his followers.

Two days after the report’s publication and following a request from the UN Secretary General to remove it from the ESCWA website, the body’s secretary-general resigned.

The BBC then published an article titled “UN’s Rima Khalaf quits over report accusing Israel of apartheid” on its website’s Middle East page.

“A UN official has resigned after saying the UN had pressured her to withdraw a report accusing Israel of apartheid over its treatment of Palestinians.

The report was published by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), led by Under Secretary General Rima Khalaf. […]

Speaking in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Ms Khalaf, a Jordanian, said she had submitted her resignation to Mr Guterres after he insisted on the report’s withdrawal.”

The article goes on to amplify a statement made by Khalaf:

“”We expected of course that Israel and its allies would put huge pressure on the secretary general of the UN so that he would disavow the report, and that they would ask him to withdraw it,” she was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.”

However, readers are not told of an obviously relevant statement made by the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson:

“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under-secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorize the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself.”

Neither are they told that Khalaf’s term of office was in any case due to come to an end.

“The spokesman said that Mr. Guterres had not asked Ms. Khalaf to resign, and that her term had been set to expire at the end of the month.”

The article describes ESCWA as follows:

“It [the report] was published on Wednesday by the ESCWA, which promotes economic and social development in 18 Arab countries, and is based in Beirut.”

At no point are readers informed which countries make up ESCWA or of the fact that all are members of the ‘Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’ which has a long history of anti-Israel campaigning at the UN.

At no point are BBC audiences informed of the identities of the authors of the report and the obviously relevant issue of their well-documented anti-Israel stances.

The article includes Israel’s reaction to the ESCWA report:

“Israel has condemned the report. “The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement.”

However, readers are not provided with background information concerning the employment of the ‘apartheid’ trope by anti-Israel campaigners to delegitimise the country and the BBC’s article refrains from telling audiences in its own words that accusations of ‘apartheid’ against Israel are baseless, while amplifying the report’s ‘findings’:

“She [Khalaf] had said it was the first to conclude Israel was a racist state. […]

The report itself said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid”.”

The article then goes on to provide what is apparently intended to be seen as ‘back-up’ to those claims:

“In 2014, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” if a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians was not found soon.”

That link leads to a BBC article from April 2014 that, as noted here at the time, included ‘analysis’ from Paul Danahar which not only failed to explain to BBC audiences why the ‘apartheid’ trope is used and by whom, but suggested that there is a “debate” to be had on the issue.

The article closes with the BBC’s standard promotion of a partial narrative on ‘international law’:

“The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank are home to nearly 500,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In order for readers to be able to understand this story properly, they need to be made aware of its subject matter’s background and context. While BBC audiences not infrequently find the ‘apartheid’ trope mainstreamed in BBC content, they have long been deprived of information which would help them comprehend its redundancy and the true aims of those who promote that tactical smear. This latest article merely perpetuates that deprivation.  

Related Articles:

The BBC and the ‘apartheid’ smear

BBC’s ME editor ditches impartiality in portrayal of ‘international law’

h/t RM

When Jeremy Bowen was appointed to the post of Middle East editor in 2005, that role was described as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

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

On February 15th a report by Jeremy Bowen concerning that day’s meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’. Revisiting the ‘blank cheque’ theme he promoted days earlier on BBC 5 live radio, in that report, Bowen told viewers that:

“Before he was elected president Mr Trump seemed ready to give Israel a blank cheque on the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu authorised thousands more homes for Jews in the occupied territories, in defiance of international law, within days of Mr Trump’s inauguration.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences are used to reading and hearing the BBC narrative on international law which goes along the lines of:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In this case, Bowen not only did not bother with the qualification “Israel disputes this” but, despite his remit of “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”, failed to inform viewers of the existence of alternative legal opinions on that issue.  

Moreover, when challenged on Twitter, Bowen appointed himself legal expert, ruling that alternative views to the narrative he chooses to promote are false.

bowen-tweets-intl-law-3

The BBC knows full well that the legal position on this issue is not unanimous. The backgrounder on ‘settlements’ that was first published in late December on the BBC News website states:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter. […]

A UN Security Council resolution in December 2016 said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

Nevertheless, the man charged with enhancing BBC audience comprehension of ‘complex stories’ and providing information which would throw light on context that is ‘disputed’ obviously prefers to reduce this particular one to facile black and white.

This example raises an additional issue too. When the BBC covers stories concerning disputed territory in places such as Cyprus or in Western Sahara it does not find it necessary or appropriate to provide its audiences with an opinion on what is legal or illegal. The difference of course is that the BBC has not adopted a campaigning role in relation to those locations.  

 

BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ brings in pro-BDS NGOs to talk Israel trade

h/t SJ

The first discussion topic in the February 12th edition of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious” debate programme ‘The Big Questions’ was titled “should we trade with Israel now settlements are recognised?” and it was introduced by host Nicky Campbell as follows:big-questions-12-2

Campbell: “On Tuesday, Mrs May held talks at Downing Street with her opposite number in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Increasing trade and investment with Israel was high on the agenda. The day before, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a bill legalising settlements on privately owned Palestinian land on the West Bank, in direct contradiction to a UN Security Council Resolution. Mrs May was clear that Britain opposes settlement activity and believes the two-state solution is the best way to bring peace to the region. Should we trade with Israel now the settlements have been recognised? Well, I’ve been doing debates on this issue for 30 years now. And it’s never that quiet. It’s very, very impassioned on both sides. We shall attempt to proceed in a civilised direction.” 

The programme is available here or to those in the UK here.

In addition to Ryvka Barnard – senior campaigns officer at ‘War on Want’ – panel guests included Kamel Hawwash of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, Paul Charney of the Zionist Federation and Tom Wilson of the Henry Jackson Society.

Notably, audiences were not provided with background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both ‘War on Want’ and the PSC, the antisemitism which has come to light in both those organisations.  Neither were audiences informed of the obviously relevant fact that both organisations support the boycott campaign (BDS) against Israel – which is actually the topic of this discussion. 

Compared to some previous editions of the programme in which Israel related topics were discussed, this one was noteworthy for the fact that baseless anti-Israel propaganda and Nazi analogies promoted by some speakers were in several cases – though not all – challenged by the host, panel members or members of the audience. 

However, as can be seen from the transcript below, historical context was frequently lacking with, for example, uninformed viewers remaining none the wiser with regard to the fact that the final status negotiations concerning Area C have yet to come about because the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada or the fact that Israel came to control Judea & Samaria because Jordan chose to attack once again in 1967. Similarly, viewers were given a monchrome impression of ‘international law’ which was not challenged by the host. [emphasis in bold added]

Transcript:

Campbell: “Now, Ryvka from War on Want, many would say, ‘Are you serious? Come on! We have trade deals with Saudi Arabia, with China, with Russia, with the United Arab Emirates, some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet – none of them a democracy like Israel is. How can you possibly justify this?'”

Barnard (WoW): “Well, I think there’s a major issue with the UK. The UK should be putting human rights and international law at the centre of all of its trade negotiations with all countries.”

Campbell: “Should we stop trading with all those countries?”

Barnard: “I think it’s a question to be brought up. I think we can’t talk about trade without talking about human rights and international law. That’s why it’s important for the UK to take action right now, move beyond words and suspend its trade relations with Israel because of its systematic violations of international law.”

Campbell: “If we stop trading with countries with human rights abuses, at a time when we need friends, we’d go out of business.”

Barnard: “I think what happens when you continue trading with human rights-abusing regimes like Israel, you’re basically incentivising human rights abuse and you are giving a green light to say that violations of international law, doing things like building settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, is OK. You know, we might say on the side, we don’t like it when you do that, as Theresa May did, but incentivising them with trade and especially things like the arms trade – the UK Government has approved over £100 million worth of arms exports to Israel in 2016 alone – those arms are used in violence against Palestinians. So it’s a real double standard to say ‘no settlements’ on one hand but then to be giving arms to the country that is building them.”

Campbell: “You refer to Israel. Paul, good morning Paul; chairman of the Zionist Federation, former tank commander with the IDF. There’s a couple of things I need to ask you and then we’ll throw it out. I want to hear from the audience, because, of course, hands going up already. But Ryvka referred to, in unequivocal terms there, Israel as a human rights abuser. How would you respond to what she said there?”

Charney (ZF): “Well, that needs to be qualified. Israel, certainly by Freedom House, is recognised as the only free country in the Middle East. It has a very strong democracy. It has a Supreme Court which is not subservient to the executive. It will look at this legislation and it will decide whether it’s legal or not. There is a huge social housing crisis amongst the Palestinians and amongst the Israelis and these towns that are expanding need to expand. So, it is a controversial issue and you can disagree, but the same time, if the UK disagreed with every country, with every political decision, certainly it wouldn’t be dealing with China, it wouldn’t be dealing with India over Kashmir, it wouldn’t be dealing with Turkey over Northern Cyprus, and the opposite would be true. It’s not like Spain would cease dealing with the UK over Gibraltar, or Argentina would cease dealing with the UK over the Falkland Islands. What we need is to understand to put this into perspective, that the settlements are an issue but they’re one issue, since 1967, that needs to be dealt with in the much larger framework of a peace agreement which the Palestinians require and when they want to build a home in a state for themselves more than they want to destroy and boycott Israel. When that priority changes then peace can be achieved.”

Campbell: “Let’s go to the audience first. Right behind Paul. Good morning. Your microphone is coming! This gentleman here.”

Audience Member 1: “We’re in an age where Trump wants to build walls and impose travel bans and impose restrictions on people based on their religion or identity and, surely, what we want to be doing is reaching out to countries, reaching out to different communities…

Campbell: “Israel for example?”

Audience Member 1: “…and to Israel…and to engage and to challenge, constructively, and to say this is wrong but also to say, we recognise you are a democracy, we want to work with you. We want to build those trade links, build those partnerships, improve relationships for all the peoples in the world, rather than being isolationist.”

Audience Member 2: “You keep saying it’s a democracy. It’s not a democracy. It’s a democracy similar to what South Africa was in the apartheid time. You know, so many people are disenfranchised, they don’t have any say in the running of Israel and they keep saying it is a democracy. The Palestinians…”

Campbell: “It has women’s rights, it has trades-union rights, it has Gay rights. That is one angle on it.”

Audience Member 2: “It’s the biggest concentration camp in the world. It’s almost a prison.”

Campbell:  “OK, let’s get a…Paul, do you want to respond to that? I need to be very careful bringing the points back and forth, so that it is fair.”

Charney: “You have to be very careful with the terminology that you use, and that’s hugely harmful for what is recognised internationally as a democracy. As we said, we have all the minorities as heads of Supreme Court, as doctors, as heads of hospitals, heads of universities. Minorities from across the board; Arab, Druze, Christian. And this is recognised across the Middle East as a beacon for what could be seen as a free country that all the rest of the countries around can look and see this is what we want to have. This is the beacon. This is your ultimate.

Campbell: “Gentlemen there, first of all, there is a point you made, the first speaker, so what’s your name?”

Audience Member 1: “Leon.”

Campbell: “The point Leon made I want to put to you, Professor Hawwash, which is an interesting and many would think a very significant one. First of all, good morning. How are you?

Audience Member 3: “Good morning. Very well, thank you. I mean, I’m just shocked that you have reduced the Palestinian question and the crisis in the Middle East to a housing problem. I think you said that it’s a housing problem that exists for Israelis and Palestinians and you are expanding these towns because there is a housing crisis that needs to be addressed. It’s the continued colonisation of Palestine. You’re demolishing houses. You are chasing and removing, and let’s call it out for what it is. It’s ethnic cleansing going on in these areas that have gone on for decades.”

Campbell: “OK, I’m going to put that point to Tom. OK, go on Leon, come back on it.”

Audience Member 1: “I think it’s really important to have a debate but we need to be so careful with our language because we want to have a civilised debate here and using words like ‘concentration camps’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ is really offensive, not just to Jews but to all people who have actually suffered that extreme genocide and persecution. So please don’t use language like ‘concentration camps’ because it is not concentration camp.”

Audience Member 2: “Well, it’s a fact, isn’t it? It is a fact. All these people have been disenfranchised. I mean, the building settlements, Palestinian houses are being demolished.”

Campbell: “Professor Harwwash, let me put a point to you that Leon did make, that trade means links, means diplomacy, means influence. It means you can make progress. OK, Zimbabwe. We have sanctions on Zimbabwe. We have absolutely zero influence there. We cannot help the people who are suffering egregiously at the hands of Mugabe and his thugs. The only way we get to Zimbabwe is through the back channels of South Africa, and that’s difficult enough. Would you want to create a situation where we have no influence, no trading links with Israel?

Kamel Hawwash (PSC): “You said you have been covering this topic for 30 years and during this period the number of settlers in the West Bank has increased by something like 100,000, to now 600-700,000 people. It will reach a million unless we do something to stop it, because if people really are interested in peace, you need to look at the situation of the Palestinians, who didn’t choose to be occupied, to have their land taken, to have another state created in our homeland – and I speak as a Palestinian. We didn’t choose any of that. So what this is about is the rights of the Palestinian people. Paul talked about housing, building houses. It’s just ludicrous. These houses are built for only one type of person: a Jewish Israeli. Not for Palestinians. If Israel was serious about solving the housing crisis, why doesn’t it open up the settlements out to Palestinians? Even better, not build on someone else’s land.”

Campbell: “Paul?”

Charney (ZF): “It’s never been Palestinian land. You’ve never had a state and we want to help you create a safe, but prior to ’67 it was owned by the Jordanians and the Jordanians would not allow you to own your own land. And prior to that the British and prior to that it was the Ottomans. This land is called ‘disputed’ for that very fact. We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people?”

Charney: “We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people, do you think? Do you recognise us as a people?”

Charney: “Absolutely. And you should have a state and you should live alongside us and you should…”

Hawwash: “Right, so why don’t you put pressure on the Israeli government?”

Charney: “…put down your arms and stop glorifying terrorists.”

Campbell: “Wait, wait! Let me intervene right there. So, Tom, is this not the situation now, with the settlements having been legitimised in the Knesset? Does that not put a…someone mentioned a wall just now; does that not put a massive wall up to the possibility of a two state solution? Massively counter-productive.”

Wilson (HJS): “This is a proposed law. We’ll see if it gets through the Supreme Court, because Israel does have quite strong checks and balances on its democracy. I think it’s very concerning that we think the presence of Jewish people in the West Bank in some way negates there being able to be a Palestinian state. Why is it assumed this Palestinian state has to be Jew-free? Why couldn’t Palestinian state have a Jewish minority, just as Israel has an Arab and Muslim minority? I don’t think we can criminalise an entire community just because they’ve ended up on the wrong side of an Armistice line. The fact is, as we’ve said, there are about half a million people there, they are not going anywhere so it’s better that we learn for the two sides to be able to accept a minority within one another’s countries.”

Campbell: “Ryvka, do you want to come back on that?”

Barnard (WoW): “Yes, I think it’s important for us to recognise that the settlements, like people have referred to, it’s been a policy of the state of Israel for decades now and the reason why settlements exist in the West Bank is not because they ended up on the wrong side of the Armistice line. It’s a policy of expansion and colonisation, as somebody has mentioned. And it’s against international law – and that’s undisputed. And it’s against UK policy.

Campbell: “Would you boycott…as a consumer, would you boycott products from Israel?”

Barnard: “Absolutely.”

Campbell: “How do you feel when you use Google, because they have a major research and development centre in Israel? How do you feel about that?”

Barnard: “It think it’s less about an individual consumer, though. People should make…”

Campbell: “You just said you definitely would do that. If you had a list of choices would you radically transform your habits and stop using Google?”

Barnard: “I think the important thing is for the UK Government to take action in line with its own policy. So the UK foreign policy recognises settlements as illegal under international law. It’s important for the UK to act on that policy. You know, we talked a little bit about engagement and you raised the question of whether the UK would have more influence through engagement. If viewers remember Margaret Thatcher’s days in relation with South Africa, the policy was constructive engagement. Now, in retrospect, it’s recognised that that actually prolonged apartheid and that actually allowed apartheid to deepen. Constructive engagement as a policy was rubbished after apartheid fell finally, because of economic pressure like sanctions. So I think it’s important for us to recognise that as an important tool that the UK Government has and it is time again to move beyond words and condemnation and into action.”

Campbell: “Paul? And then we’ll come to more from the audience in a second. Paul, just come back on that.”

Charney (ZF): “Yes, I just like to bring something constructive into it, and the blame game is not going to get us to a peace deal and I’d like to see the Palestinian Authority take more control over its own people and over the peace process and be wanting a Palestinian state more than it wants to destroy and denigrate an Israeli state. I think there is goodwill around the world and in Israel to help you do that. But you must remember that with all the wars that came in, that Israel had to defend itself. It has given back the Sinai. It has given back Gaza. It is ready to concede…”

Campbell: “What about the gentleman’s point that a proportion of our audience…a proportion of our audience…I’m just going to put that to him…a proportion of our audience will be wondering, and it’s the point represented by that gentleman: taking land from people, land that is not yours. How do you respond to that?”

Charney: “Firstly, this is disputed territory with Palestinians living on it and Jews living on it. Please allow me to speak. Please allow me to speak.”

Hawwash (PSC): “No, it isn’t disputed territory. It is occupied. It’s illegally occupied.”

Charney: “When the Israelis left Gaza, every inch of Gaza, all the Palestinian land, gave it back and said ‘Create a state! We are leaving you greenhouses. We are leaving you businesses’, what was created was a mini terrorist state with only the development of bombs and warfare. The problem is that if Israel does the same thing immediately and retracts from the West Bank, we’re going to have the same extremist ideology coming out of there. We cannot trust and rely without a strong security presence. We cannot trust and rely on these states like Hamas to automatically become democratic and allow Gays and Christians to flourish. That’s not happening.”

Campbell: “Kamel, Professor Hawwash, I will be with you. You will have the next voice on the front row, and Ibrahim will be in as well. And Tom will be back. First off though, more audience comments. Leon, you’ve had a good say. Let me go to the gentleman at the back. Good morning.”

Audience Member 4: “It is important to realise, I believe, after the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and other factors coming into the 21st-century, that Britain is no longer the global player in the world that it was in the post-colonial period after 1945 at the end of the Second World War.”

Campbell: “So what should we do?”

Audience Member 4: “The diminishing power, I believe, you know, we haven’t got a responsibility to police the world in the same way and we haven’t got the capability.”

Campbell: “So what do we do about Israel?”

Audience Member 4: “We shouldn’t boycott them in any sense at all because in respect of trading with places like Dubai, trading with places like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, even trading with Pakistan…”

Campbell: “Where there is a blasphemy law.”

Audience Member 4: “…Israel is democratic and free, as the gentleman said.”

Campbell: “A point made earlier on and expressed well by yourself as well. Go on.”

Audience Member 5: “Good morning, Nicky. This question is about trade. My concern is that the Brexit vote will lead to our leaders, Prime Minister May and others, only giving criticisms of countries that are abusing human rights behind their hands, whispering it instead of saying it forcefully.”

Campbell: “Because we need friends?”

Audience Member 5: “Because we need friends. So I worry that that ethical foreign policy that Robin Cook wished for is not going to happen because we are in no position to criticise others.”

Campbell: “Realpolitik. Is there such a thing as an ethical foreign policy?”

Audience Member 5: “I think there should be.”

Campbell: “Professor Hawwash, you pointed at Paul. You wanted to come back.”

Hawwash (PSC): “Yes, in the age of Trump, it seems that trade trumps human rights and that is something we should all oppose and oppose very strongly. Paul talked about the Palestinians should take more control of their people and so on. Well I’ll just give you an example. Under the Oslo Accord, an area called Area C, which is the most fertile part of Palestine, is currently under Israeli security and administrative control. It was to be passed over. It isn’t being passed over. In fact Naftali Bennett – and a number of Israeli ministers – say it should be annexed. They actually have no interest in a Palestinian state emerging. Naftali Bennett only yesterday advising Prime Minister Netanyahu, who’s going to Washington next week, said “Two words you should not use. You should not utter two words, ‘Palestinian’ and ‘state'”. So if there is no Palestinian state, I would very much like to hear from Paul and others what the solution is where there are almost an equal number of Palestinians and Jewish people in that land”

Campbell: “Tom, what’s the solution and how strategically important do you believe Israel is to this country?”

Wilson (HJS): “It is very strategically important in terms of…you know, we’ve got a growing hi-tech economy in Israel certainly, and things like counterterror. But that is by-the-by and I think that the issue here is the moral issue; is the issue of human rights. I think we are being very selective in how we are talking about human rights. I mean, War on Want is being particularly selective with their targeting of Israel for boycotts. They say they care about international law. I don’t hear them calling for boycotts of other countries with similar issues. And on the issue of Palestinian human rights, it seems that many people in this audience are more angry about the building of Jewish houses in the West Bank than they are about the abuse of Palestinian rights by Palestinians. If your starting point is Palestinian human rights why don’t you call out the Palestinian Authority for its extra-judicial killings of Palestinians, for torture of Palestinians, for harassment of journalists and for detention without trial? And yet we hear silence on all of this. The focus is exclusively on finding reasons to boycott and demonise the world’s only Jewish state.”

Hawwash (PSC): “We are talking about Palestinian rights and freedom. What the other side is talking about is simply sustaining the status quo. The status quo has led us to a situation where there is a lot of unhappiness and anger and abuse of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. We need to be free for there to be peace in Palestine.”

Campbell: “Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, do you recognise Israel’s right to exist?”

Mogra (MCB): “Within internationally recognised borders, yes. I think we have brought Israel into our embrace far more than I would have liked to see. They are participants in the football Euro competitions. They are participants in the Eurovision Song Contest and we don’t even share a border with them. So in response to your point about isolating Israel, we have actually remained in at least cultural and political contact with them. The important thing here is international law has to be applied equally across the board. It is not about Israel, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was mentioned, the Gulf states were mentioned, China. Whichever state it is, if we as human beings [who] subscribe to international law, fail to apply the UN resolutions equally across the board, what are we showing to the world? That democracy is selective. That powerful nations will pick on the weaker nations. That self-interest and national interest will trump all the other global interests. So the question here is are we applying the same yardstick to measure all the different behaviours of government? We have gone into Iraq, we’ve gone into Libya because their leaders – corrupt and dictatorial as they were – flaunted UN security resolutions. How many resolutions has Israel overlooked over time? As long as…”

Campbell: “We’ve got to leave it there because we have other things to debate, but your point came across loud and clear. Not that everybody watching is going to agree with it. It’s a perilous line, this debate, always, but I think that was pretty calm. Do you reckon? Do you reckon? Everyone? Yes? OK, let’s do the next one!”

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Special final instalment – part one

The third and final part of Tim Franks’ special report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ concerning the viability of the two-state solution (see ‘related articles’ below) was broadcast on February 3rd in two segments.newshour-3-2

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

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item (from 30:10 here):

Coomarasamy: “All this week my colleague Tim Franks has been travelling across Israel and the Palestinian territories for this programme. He’s been in Jerusalem, in Gaza and today – today where are you, Tim?”

Franks: “I’m in Tel Aviv, James, and more of that later in the programme. But I’m going to take you now to the West Bank, where most Palestinians live. It’s land that those who believe in a two-state solution say should form the basis of a Palestinian state. It’s also at the moment land on which several hundred thousand Israeli settlers live. Many of them go there just looking for a cheaper place to be but a minority are very committed to the idea of Israel having sovereignty all the way to the border with Jordan. Among them, the woman you are about to hear from; the founder of a campaign group called ‘Women in Green’. She’s Nadia Matar. She spoke to me on a wind-swept hilltop overlooking the West Bank. For her, that wind is blowing in her direction.”

An edited clip from the interview that followed was also promoted separately on Twitter by the BBC World Service.newshour-3-2-clip-matar

In contrast to some of his previous interviews in the series, Franks displayed the ability to challenge some of Matar’s claims and views.

Matar: “There’s so many historical moments now. The new Trump administration, the fact that we are celebrating fifty years of our return to this area, the fact that the Palestinian Authority is soon going to be completely dismantled and we’re going to see all hell go out; basically the Oslo Agreements can be officially declared as dead. All this together creates an incredible window of opportunity for our government to correct the mistake that wasn’t done 50 years ago and to apply sovereignty. And I have a little secret to tell you Tim. There are so many Arabs who are with us, who want this to happen.”

Franks: “But the counter argument is very simple, which is just as the Jews have a right to self-determination in their own homeland, so do Palestinians have a right to self-determination. It’s not for you to say this is what the Arabs want – it’s for them.”

Matar: “This so-called claim by the Arabs that they want a Palestinian self-determination is another lie. The time has come to respect the Arab culture. They themselves do not want a state. This is a foreign concept to the Arabs in general. The Arabs we talk to – and I started learning Arabic and I started learning how they think and not trying to put our Western principles on people who do not want a state. They don’t want a state.”

Franks: “But how can you say what it is that they want?”

Matar: “Because I speak to them and I hear them.”

Franks: “But they’re represented by their politicians, their leaders – just like any other…any other country has a government that represents…”

Matar: “Excuse me. Their current leaders who they are a bunch of terrorists who have only one thing in mind: the millions of dollars that you in Europe are giving them. Not for the welfare of their people but for making weapons and strengthening themselves to fight Israel. They have only one wish: it is to destroy Israel. And we will not commit suicide. The two-state solution has been thrown into the garbage of history, thank God.”

Franks: “What do you say to those who are not making a political argument but a security argument? There are more than 200 very senior former members of the military and the security establishment who said that the violence that there is…the responsibility for that violence is of course down to the perpetrators but in large measure it is – and I quote their words – the product of Israel’s rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and their resulting humiliation, abject poverty, despair and the absence of hope for a better future.”

Matar: “Oh wow! The sentence you just quoted; I love it. To tell us that there’s Arab terror because of despair. It is exactly the opposite. There’s Arab terror because they still have hope to be able to create a Palestinian state and to erase the State of Israel. We must once and for all wipe out the hope that they will have through terror. They will get the message that no matter what they do, they will not get one more inch from our homeland. That is when terror will stop.”

Franks: “Nadia Matar speaking to me from the settlement of Neve Daniel with her view of what makes at least some Palestinians tick. There’s a man though here in Ramallah – the administrative capital of the West Bank – whose sole job it’s been over the last 25 years to sample the mood of Palestinians. His name is Khalil Shikaki and he says he’s witnessing a decline in support for – and belief in – the two-state solution.”

Listeners were not informed that Khalil Shikaki heads the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research or that some of his past analysis of “the mood of Palestinians” has proved to be decidedly off mark. In 2005 Shikaki claimed that, following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the priority for Palestinians there was “an improvement in the economic life” and in 2006 he predicted that Fatah would win the Palestinian Legislative Council election.  

Shikaki: “The mid-90s was the golden era for the two-state solution among Palestinians and Israelis alike. Probably close to 80% supported it.”

Ignoring the obviously relevant question of why, if that were the case, the Palestinians initiated the second Intifada, Franks asked:

Franks: “And now among Palestinian opinion?”

Shikaki: “It is less than 50%. Although I would say that a lot of people no longer support it not because they dislike it but because they think it is no longer viable. That for practical reasons – most importantly the construction of settlements throughout the West Bank – has simply made it impossible to create a Palestinian state in the future.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that – despite Shikaki’s implication – since the mid-90s new communities have not been constructed, Franks went on:  

Franks: “Can you look into the future and say there is a chance that if it does not happen within the next four years, say, of the Trump administration, it will be over?”

Shikaki: “It could happen in a even a shorter notice. If the Israeli government decides on a very extensive, large-scale settlement build up, then obviously this will change attitudes immediately.”

Listeners then heard a short recording followed by Franks’ introduction of his next interviewee.

Franks: “A short distance away in Ramallah, the sounds of the brand new Yasser Arafat museum – dedicated to the memory of the Palestinians’ most famous leader. The man behind the museum is Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al Qudwa and he appears in this photo, looking on at the last ever hand-shake in 1995 between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who was assassinated later that year. Nasser al Qudwa has for years been close to the centre of Palestinian power. He’s now talked about as perhaps the next Palestinian president. He’s a man who sticks to the line that a Palestinian state has to come into being. But isn’t belief losing out to reality?”

An edited clip from that interview was also promoted separately on Twitter by the BBC World Service.newshour-3-2-clip-qudwa

Although, as listeners later heard, al Qudwa is a senior figure in the Fatah movement which dominates the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, Franks failed to raise the very relevant topic of its refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state. Neither did he make any effort to clarify the statements made by al Qudwa which come across as barely veiled threats of violence.

Al Qudwa: “While there are some new legal facts on the ground, I refuse to consider these as tantamount to ending the national rights of the Palestinian people, ending the Palestinian state. I’m saying that our struggle is going to continue until we achieve our national goals. It’s not up to the Israelis and it’s not because of some settlements that this is going to come to an end. But it is going to be [a] long, arduous, bloody path.”

Franks: “I wonder if you are making the same mistakes as those on the Left in Israel which is to say look at the logic of the two-state solution; you cannot argue with the logic. But the reality is, what’s happening on the ground, you’re whistling in the wind.”

Al Qudwa: I don’t agree with that at all. If there is no diplomatic solution based on the two-state solution there isn’t a better diplomatic solution such as the one-state solution. This is total nonsense. We should understand that the absence of diplomatic solutions means serious, lengthy confrontation with the Israelis leading to the realisation of our national rights. To hell with any diplomatic solution if it’s not working.”

Franks: “What do you say to the Israeli government’s argument that you’re the people who are standing in the way of any process because you won’t negotiate?”

Al Qudwa: “Yeah, sure. While they take our land and they bring more settlers…”

Franks: “But that’s carrying on while you’re not negotiating so why not talk to them?”

Al Qudwa: “You know, it’s the antithesis of a peaceful solution. So while you are doing practically all these things, it just doesn’t make any sense for you to argue that I’m ready to negotiate, I’m ready to make peace. You are doing the exact opposite.”

Franks: “Yeah but from their point of view they can argue in equal force of logic which is as long as you’re not willing to negotiate, we’ve got a growing population. We need to house them somewhere so we’re going to carry on building places for them to live.”

Al Qudwa: “Whether there is negotiations, no negotiations, it’s clearly absolutely illegal under international law and it represent even a war crime. You are colonising the land of another people in the 21st century – something [that] is absolutely unbelievable.”

Making no effort to inform listeners of alternative interpretations of ‘international law’ or to clarify the disputed status of the areas concerned, Franks closed that part of the programme.

Franks: “That’s Nasser al Qudwa; one of the big power brokers inside the Palestinian Fatah faction. Later in the programme – our final voice and he’s one of Israel’s greatest writers; David Grossman.”

That segment will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one

Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part two

BBC’s Bowen again misleads domestic audiences on UK PM’s statement

The February 6th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included a long item (from 02:36:48 here) ostensibly concerning the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London on that day which was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]today-6-2

“The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in London today for a meeting with Theresa May. The prime minister is likely to restate Britain’s opposition to building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; this at a time when American policy towards Israel is undergoing a dramatic shift. Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu loathed each other. Mr Trump, in contrast, has vowed to be Israel’s best friend. He’s refused to condemn the building of settlements, he’s promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, going against decades of US foreign policy. From Jerusalem, Mark Lowen now reports.”

The ensuing audio report from Mark Lowen was very similar to his filmed report seen on BBC World News television in late January, including visits to the same locations and promotion of the same unbalanced messaging.

Listeners heard a recording of Obama claiming that “the growth of the settlements are [sic] creating a reality that increasingly will make the two-state solution impossible” followed by Lowen’s assertion that:

“The bond with Barack Obama plummeted as he increasingly saw the Israeli government as an impediment to peace. In his last press conference Mr Obama alluded to his final blow: allowing a resolution to pass at the UN against settlements, which violate international law.”

Lowen went on to present a partisan interpretation of the significance of the proposed relocation of the US embassy:

“Donald Trump has taken a far more pro-Israel position. He’s promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Israel’s disputed claim over the whole city, although he is now lowering expectations on the issue.”

Reporting from Beit El, which he described as a “settlement on land the Palestinians want for a future state”, Lowen told listeners that:

“It looks like a regular suburb: seven thousand homes, a religious school and some buildings bearing the name Friedman – the family of David Friedman, the likely next ambassador here. He, Mr Trump and the president’s son-in-law have donated to Beit El.”

Once again, he did not inform listeners that the said Trump donation was apparently made back in 2003. Lowen also made a point of telling one of his interviewees from Beit El that “the Palestinians say it is also their territory; their ancestors also lived here”.

As was the case in his filmed report, Lowen visited the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi in Ramallah and listeners heard the same unquestioned portrayal of the supposed consequences of relocation of the US embassy.

“The language that we’ve heard, coming out as though Israel can do no wrong and that the US not only will be the patron of Israel but in many ways will be the partner of Israel in its illegal activities – is serious cause for alarm. If the US moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.”

Lowen’s audio report also included commentary from “the plot of land in Jerusalem that’s long been ear-marked for a potential US embassy” but again with no clarification of its position in relation to the 1949 Armistice lines.

Following Lowen’s report, the item moved on to a conversation with Jeremy Bowen in which he repeated some of the same themes promoted just minutes earlier on BBC Radio 5 live.

Robinson: “This issue of settlements: on the surface it appears that Trump is endorsing them and yet only the other day we were hearing that they ‘may not be helpful’ – in quotes. So is it quite as it seems?”

Bowen: “Well when they said ‘may not be helpful’ it was still a softening on what had been the long-standing American position – that they were an obstacle to peace.”

Neither Robinson nor Bowen provided listeners with an accurate representation of the statement put out by the White House press secretary on February 2nd which clearly used the phrase ‘may not be helpful’ in a specific context.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” 

Bowen continued:

Bowen: “I think the…until there is evidence to the contrary in terms of something a bit stronger than that – and I think that next week Netanyahu’s going to go and see Trump in Washington and, you know, we’ll see what comes out of that. But until there’s something really to the contrary, there is a distinct impression that Trump is prepared to give Mr Netanyahu carte blanche to go ahead with what he wants to do. But we’ll see…”

Robinson: “And that raises real…real questions for Theresa May. We saw in the UN the other day that Britain changed her historic position on settlements to try to get closer to Mr Trump.”

Of course the British prime minister’s remarks were not made “in the UN”, did not ‘change’ Britain’s “historic position” in the least and Robinson’s allegation of motive is at best highly debatable.

Bowen: Yes well, Britain supported a resolution in the dog-days of the Obama administration…err…which…err…condemned settlements and which the Americans very unusually abstained on; they didn’t veto. After that, even though it was a resolution that Britain had voted for and was also deeply involved in the drafting and presentation of, after that Number…Downing Street said that it was something that they…effectively Prime Minister May criticised Mr Kerry, then the Secretary of State’s condemnation of the expansion of settlements. And the Americans said well hang on a minute; that’s been British policy for a long time.”

Once again we see Bowen misleading listeners with an inaccurate representation of Mrs May’s remarks.

“[Downing Street] said her criticism was directed at Mr Kerry’s decision to attack the make-up of the Israeli government.

“We do not… believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.

“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

The spokesman added: “The British Government continues to believe that the only way to a lasting peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution. We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal.”

Moreover, listeners were then treated to some domestic political ‘analysis’ from Bowen based on his inaccurate misrepresentation:

Bowen: “Ah…I think that Britain has been floundering a bit on Middle Eastern policy in the last couple of months because there’s been a lack of consistency.”

Robinson: “In part is that not because, beyond the small print of this or that UN resolution, the really big stakes here are these, aren’t they: is Trump going to call time, along with Netanyahu, on the goal of Western foreign policy for decades: a two-state solution, a Palestinian state?”

Bowen: Well all…yes…I mean he might do that or it might not be quite that abrupt. He might just simply pay lip service to it while allowing things to happen which would make it impossible. There are plenty of people who believe that a two-state solution is now impossible anyway because of the volume of settlement, because of the way that Jewish settlements have…have encircled that part of Jerusalem that the Palestinians want for a capital and that Mr Netanyahu himself – who’s been prime minister for an awfully long time – while he says he wants a two-state solution, he does everything he can to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

Robinson: “Jeremy Bowen…”

Bowen: “So there are plenty…so there are lots of people now talking about a one-state solution which might be tough for both sides.”

Robinson: “Jeremy Bowen; thank you very much indeed.”

As we see, twice on the morning of February 6th domestic audiences listening to two different BBC radio stations were misled by Bowen with regard to a statement made by their own prime minister.

Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the occasion of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London was in both cases used as a hook for yet more promotion of the now standard politically motivated narrative according to which the two-state solution is solely endangered by Israeli actions.

Were Jeremy Bowen truly committed to providing BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would meet the corporation’s remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding” of this particular international issue, he of course would not have concealed from view no less relevant issues such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority incitement, Hamas’ refusal to accept the two-state solution, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state and the Hamas-Fatah split.

Related Articles:

‘What’s he doing here?’ – BBC 5 live breakfast on Israeli PM’s London visit

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

 

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

If there’s one Middle East related topic the BBC can be relied upon to report methodically, that is Israeli announcements concerning building plans in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem: areas the corporation’s journalists are prone to erroneously describe as “Palestinian territories” or “occupied Palestinian land”.

In late January visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports on planning permissions granted in Jerusalem and in Judea & Samaria. Both those articles included amplification of negative reactions from Palestinian and other sources and promotion of the notion that Israeli housing projects are the prime obstacle to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the BBC’s standard – but not impartial – mantra concerning ‘international law’.

“About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Not unexpectedly, the same elements were also found in a report which appeared on the BBC News website on February 1st under the headline “Israel approves 3,000 new settler homes as Amona evacuation begins“.construction-art-1-2

Palestinian reactions were amplified:

“A Palestinian official condemned the move and warned that chances for peace were being destroyed. […]

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi warned that the “frenzied escalation of Israel’s illegal enterprise” signalled “the final demise” of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The theme of Israeli building preventing peace was further reinforced:

“Tuesday’s announcement follows on from the recent approval of 2,500 housing units in the West Bank and 550 in East Jerusalem.

Many in the international community condemned those, saying they undermined hopes of creating a future Palestinian state.”

And of course the usual messaging concerning ‘international law’ was found in the article – albeit with a sudden and unexplained increase in the number of people described as living in ‘illegal’ communities and neighbourhoods compared with the article that appeared ten days earlier.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Those same elements were also found in a report published the following day – February 2nd – under the headline “Israel police evict settlers from unauthorised Amona outpost“.

“Hours earlier, the Israeli government approved plans to build 3,000 new homes at settlements in the West Bank. […]

A Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, condemned the latest approval and warned that chances for peace were being destroyed.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Another article which appeared later the same day under the title “Amona: Israel police clear last protesters from settler outpost” informed readers that:

“Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had set up a committee that would “begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement” for those evicted from Amona.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

And:

“Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday that his government would establish a new settlement on state-owned land to replace Amona “as soon as possible”. […]

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu approved plans for 3,000 new homes at existing settlements – the third such announcement since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who has hinted he will be more sympathetic to settlement construction than his predecessor.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told the BBC that Mr Netanyahu had been “emboldened” by Mr Trump’s failure to express any disapproval at what she called the “frenzied escalation of Israel’s illegal enterprise”.”

The same themes were yet again found in an additional article published on the BBC News website on February 3rd under the headline “New Israel settlements ‘may not be helpful’ to peace, says US“.

“The fate of settlements in the occupied West Bank is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. […]

On Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was moving ahead with plans to set up a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades. […]

The UN resolution [2334] – the first since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy, and effectively allowed to pass by the Obama administration – said the settlements had “no legal validity” and constituted “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution”.”

So here we see that in twelve days the BBC News website published six articles which repeat identical messaging over and over again. In none of those articles were readers informed of any of the alternative interpretations of ‘international law’ and readers received no explanation as to why “Israel disputes this” – even though we know that the BBC is aware of the reasoning behind Israel’s stance.

Furthermore, in none of those six reports were readers presented with any information concerning any of the no less relevant issues which can be described as “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution” such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority incitement, Hamas’ outright refusal to accept the two-state solution, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state and the Hamas-Fatah split.

Even in articles concerning the evacuation of Amona, the BBC’s standard narrative was repeated without any mention of the fact that past experience shows both that Israel evacuated communities in 1982 as part of the terms of the peace agreement with Egypt and that the evacuation of all Israeli citizens from the Gaza Strip and from four communities in northern Samaria in 2005 did not end – or even reduce – hostilities.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality include a rather elastic definition of ‘due impartiality’:

“The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy.  But we go further than that, applying due impartiality to all subjects.  However, its requirements will vary.

The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.”

However, in relation to ‘controversial subjects’ the same guidelines state:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”

The fact that the BBC has distilled the topic of Israeli construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem down to a collection of serially repeated talking points means that visitors to the BBC News website are clearly not being presented with the “wide range of significant views and perspectives” which would enhance their understanding of this issue.

 

 

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

Since mid-December 2016 the BBC has produced numerous reports which have included portrayal of the story of the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

To date, all the corporation’s coverage of that topic has unquestioningly amplified the position expressed by Palestinian Authority and PLO officials, according to whom such a move “will be the destruction of the peace process“, “would […] destroy the two-state solution“, would be “an end to the peace process, an end to the two states” and so on.

As we have noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences have yet to hear any alternative viewpoint – as editorial guidelines concerning ‘due impartiality’ demand – and the BBC has to date repeatedly refrained from asking any of its Palestinian interviewees why they object to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which – according to the BBC’s presentation of the issue – the PA does not lay claim.

In late January viewers of BBC World News saw a filmed report by the BBC’s Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen in which, like Yolande Knell and Tim Franks, he too visited what has recently become a ‘go to’ site for BBC journalists: a plot of vacant land next to the US Consulate in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Talpiot.

Lowen’s report can be seen here, where it is billed as follows:

“Donald Trump has pledged to be “Israel’s best friend in the US” and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, taking a far more pro-Israel position than his predecessor, Barack Obama, who increasingly saw Israel’s government as an impediment to peace. How will the new President affect this age-old conflict?”

The report began with Lowen visiting Beit El and presenting audiences with a partial interpretation of ‘international law’:

“Ties weakened under Barack Obama, frustrated by Israeli settlement building which violates international law. The final blow: allowing a resolution against it to pass at the UN. Israel was furious.”

He went on to promote as fact an interpretation of the significance of the proposed embassy relocation which dovetails with that touted by PA officials: [emphasis added]

“Donald Trump has taken a far more pro-Israel line, vowing to move the embassy to Jerusalem, recognising Israel’s disputed claim over the whole city. He said he’d be Israel’s best friend in America. Beit El settlement is deep in the occupied West Bank which Palestinians want for a future state. David Friedman – Mr Trump’s pick for US ambassador – and his family, the president and his son-in-law have donated to it. That’s encouraged those who live here.”

Lowen refrained from informing audiences that the said Trump donation was apparently made back in 2003. Moving on to Ramallah, Lowen told viewers:

“But in Ramallah, Palestinians worry Israel’s hands will now be untied to annex territory and expand settlements. A slice of America – sort of – is entrenched here but they fear support from Washington is burning away.”lowen-report-1

Viewers then heard from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi:

“The language that we’ve heard – particularly the language of ideology coming out as though Israel can do no wrong and that the US not only will be the patron of Israel but in many ways will be the partner of Israel in its illegal activities – this is serious cause for alarm and if it moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.”

Not only did Ashrawi’s allegation of “illegal activities” go unchallenged, but once again BBC audiences were fed an unquestioned portrayal of the supposed consequences of relocation of the US embassy.

Lowen then went on to report from Jerusalem – but without clarifying to viewers the position of his location in relation to the 1949 Armistice lines.lowen-report-2

“This is where a US embassy in Jerusalem may stand but the Trump administration has now lowered expectations, saying discussions are at a very early stage. For years the US has leased this empty plot from Israel for an annual rent of a dollar. Successive US presidents and candidates have vowed an embassy move here and then ditched it. Now Donald Trump appears to be rolling back somewhat on the same promise. When it comes to the new president, nobody really knows what his Middle East policy will be; whether an embassy will be built here and whether his rhetoric will translate into reality. So: an unknown quantity. But Israel’s most important ally is renewing the relationship and others in this region fear what it means for the borders of this contested land.”

After well over a month and a half of coverage of the proposal to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, it is glaringly apparent that the BBC has no intention of providing its audiences with a view of the topic that challenges the PA/PLO rhetoric and allows them to make their own judgements on the story. 

 

When the BBC News website reported an enduring conflict without a narrative

In addition to covering the conference on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict held in Paris earlier this month, the BBC News website also reported on talks, held in Geneva, relating to another long-standing conflict.cyprus-art

Hope for a fresh settlement in Cyprus James Landale, January 8th 2017

Cyprus peace talks begin on future of divided island January 9th 2017

Cyprus peace talks ‘resolve many issues’ January 11th 2017

Cyprus peace talks: Can Cypriots heal their divided island? Selin Girit, January 12th 2017

Cyprus peace deal close, says UN chief after Geneva talks January 12th 2017

With one exception, all the reports concerning the Cyprus talks included an impartial and nuanced explanation of the main issues underlying the dispute:

cyprus-arts-sticking-points

In contrast to BBC coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, audiences reading the coverage of the Cyprus talks did not find any pronouncements allocating disputed territory to one side or the other in the style of the frequently seen terminology “occupied Palestinian land” and “Palestinian territory”.

Regarding the 30,000 or so Turkish troops in northern Cyprus, audiences were told that “Greek Cypriots see them as an occupying force” but not that (with the obvious exception of Turkey) the rest of the world views them in the same way and considers that occupation illegal.

None of the reports concerning Cyprus informs readers of the fact that it was Turkish state policy to facilitate and encourage the immigration of Turkish nationals to the northern part of island during the latter half of the 1970s and – in contrast to BBC reporting on Israel and the Palestinians – the words ‘settlers’, ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ do not appear in any of the reports.

Obviously the BBC is able to report on the enduring conflict in Cyprus in a manner which refrains from promoting a particular politically-motivated narrative and provides audiences with an impartial view of the issue – just as BBC editorial guidelines demand. Unfortunately for BBC audiences seeking to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, the same standards are not evident.

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Not all ‘occupied territories’ are equal for the BBC