Background on a recurrent BBC interviewee

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

May 2014 – Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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BBC News squeezes ‘settlements’ into internal PA affairs story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

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

BBC editorial guidelines breached in report on Hebron incident

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

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

 

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

In addition to the filmed report from Hebron shown on BBC television news programmes on October 30th, Yolande Knell also produced a similar audio report which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (available here from 37:15).Newshour 30 10

Like the filmed version, that audio report promotes the notion that Israelis living in Hebron are ‘illegal settlers’ – despite the signing of the 1997 “Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron” by Palestinian representatives.

Failing to explain the context to the picture she portrays, Knell tells listeners:

“Hebron is unique in the West Bank because it’s divided. Part is under full Palestinian control and the other part […] is under full Israeli control.”

“The soldiers are here right in the heart of the Old City because just along here there are families of Jewish settlers.”

“A few hundred Israelis live here in the occupied part of Hebron and about 40,000 Palestinians. The settlers’ presence here is seen as illegal under international law but Israel doesn’t agree.” [emphasis added]

It is of course Knell’s failure to clarify to listeners that the existing arrangements in Hebron are the result of an agreement between Israel and the PLO which allows her to promote the politically motivated narrative of an “occupied part of Hebron”.

That narrative is also advanced by her interviewee Issa Amro, who is once again inadequately introduced as “a local activist”, with no effort made to comply to BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying his political affiliations and agenda.

In common with the filmed item, Knell’s radio report is notable for the fact that it too provides backwind for the Palestinian propaganda seen in recent weeks which attempts to portray terrorists as ‘innocent victims’. 

“As violence has flared in the past few weeks there’ve been a lot of stabbings and alleged stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians in and around Hebron. There’s a big poster being held up here showing all the young Palestinians from the city who’ve been shot and killed as a result. We’re going to meet the mother of one of them. Twenty year-old Saad al Atrash is said to have tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

Saad al Atrash is “said to have tried to stab an Israeli soldier” because that is exactly what he did on October 26th – but those listening to Knell’s account would not be sure of that.

The same theme is also promoted by host Owen Bennett-Jones in both his introduction and closing remarks, providing an opportunity to examine what the BBC sees fit to describe as “alleged” and what it is comfortable portraying as fact.

In his introduction, Bennett-Jones tells listeners: [emphasis added]

“At least twenty Palestinians from Hebron have been shot dead in attacks and alleged attacks.”

At the end of the item Bennett-Jones says:

“Now to bring you up to date, there have been protests across the West Bank again today, including in Hebron. In Bethlehem an eight month-old baby living close to the site of clashes died of tear gas inhalation. Earlier, Israeli police said they shot dead a Palestinian who’d tried to carry out the first stabbing attack in Jerusalem in two weeks. In Nablus, two Palestinians allegedly tried to stab members of the Israeli security forces near a checkpoint. Both were shot – one died and one was wounded.” [emphasis added]

The death of a baby, supposedly due to tear gas inhalation, is presented to BBC audiences as fact even though investigation showed that claim from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health to be unfounded and Palestinian doctors dismissed the claim, saying that the infant had an existing health problem which was described by relatives as a birth defect.

An attack in Jerusalem in which a man was moderately wounded by a terrorist with a knife is presented to listeners as an attempted attack.  

An incident at Tapuach Junction in which two Palestinians arrived at the scene on a motorbike and then approached a Border Police officer whilst wielding knives is portrayed as ‘alleged’.

This narrative-driven selective framing is obviously not conducive to meeting the BBC’s professed standards of accuracy and impartiality and does not contribute to meeting its remit of enhancing audience understanding of the story.

 

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

Nearly nineteen years ago, in January 1997, Israel and the PLO signed an agreement called the “Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron“. That document came about under international tutelage like the rest of the Oslo Accords, which have been described as follows:

“This overall series of commitments and obligations constitutes a contractual framework of obligations between Israel and the Palestinians, signed as witnesses and guarantors by the King of Jordan, the Presidents of the U.S. and Egypt, the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and Norway, the EU and endorsed by the UN.”

Under the terms of that agreement, Israel would administer the area defined as H-2 and the PA the area defined as H-1, with both Israelis and Palestinians continuing to live in the city of Hebron.

However, the BBC’s Yolande Knell has apparently not heard of that agreement willingly signed by the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people.  

After a hiatus of almost a week in its reporting on the current wave of terrorism in Israel, on October 30th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a filmed report produced by Knell for BBC television news programmes under the title “Tensions rise in Hebron between Israelis and Palestinians“.Knell Hebron 30 10

During that report, Knell told viewers that:

“Hebron is unique in the West Bank because it’s divided. Part is under full Palestinian control and the other part is under full Israeli control, although most of the people living there are Palestinians.”

So far, so good – except that Knell makes no effort to explain to viewers that the arrangement she portrays came about because the Palestinians agreed to it. She then takes viewers through a checkpoint.

“As you can see, it’s guarded by Israeli soldiers. […] The soldiers are here right in the heart of the Old City because just along here there are families of Jewish settlers.”

No attempt is made to inform audiences of the historic background to Jewish settlement in Hebron. After a brief interview with someone described on screen as a “settler leader”, Knell tells BBC audiences:

“The presence of Jewish settlers here is seen as illegal under international law, but Israel disagrees.”

So too, apparently, does the PLO because it agreed to their “presence” in Hebron back in 1997.

Knell’s insertion of the BBC’s standard mantra on ‘international law’ may not be at all surprising, but it does raise an interesting question. Her application of that standard insert to a place where Israelis live according to the terms of an agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinians suggests that either the BBC is either woefully under-informed or – in similar fashion to its bizarre approach to Israel’s capital city – considers itself qualified to over-rule and ignore existing documents and agreements which do not fit in with its political narrative.

It would of course be very helpful were the BBC to issue a clarification on that topic.

Additional noteworthy features in this report by Yolande Knell include the provision of backwind for the Palestinian propaganda seen in recent weeks which attempts to portray terrorists as ‘innocent victims’. [all emphasis added]

“As violence has flared this month there have been a lot of stabbing attacks and alleged attacks on Israelis in and around Hebron. A lot of young Palestinians have been shot and killed as a result.”

An on-screen caption preceding an interview with the mother of a terrorist who attacked a soldier with a knife on October 26th read:

“Saad al Atrash is said to have tried to stab a soldier. He was shot dead.”

Also notable is the inclusion of an interview with Issa Amro in this report and – not for the first time – the inadequate description of that relatively frequent BBC interviewee as a “Palestinian activist”. With Amro’s employment by an anti-Israel organization concealed, viewers would of course have been unable to put the claims he made into their appropriate context.

Knell closed this report by telling BBC audiences that the story of the current wave of terrorism in Hebron is all about ‘narratives’.

“Basically on the ground here you get two starkly contrasting narratives. Speaking to the Israelis over there, they see all of this as hateful, senseless violence. But Palestinians here say that their anger stems from the political situation and their feelings of despair. This is really a nationalistic struggle but increasingly, it’s also taking on a religious dimension.”

Of course this wave of terrorism has been fueled by religiously themed incitement from the start, but the BBC continues to downplay that aspect of it by both failing to report that incitement (and Hamas’ strength in Hebron) and focusing instead on a narrative with which Western audiences – and journalists – are much more at ease. 

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

As readers no doubt recall, last October the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed the corporation’s commitment to the section (4.4.14) of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality in which it is stated:

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

Further, the ECU stated that with regard to BBC News:

“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.”

Since then (and also beforehand) we have documented on these pages numerous breaches of that editorial guideline – see just a few examples here, here and here.  

Those breaches usually manifest themselves in one of two ways. In some instances an interviewee or contributor to BBC content is presented to audiences by name and with the title of his or her organization, but the political agenda of that organization and the interviewee’s “standpoint” are not clarified. In other cases, interviewees or contributors are presented by name only and BBC audiences are not informed of their affiliations with campaigning organisations or of the fact that their contribution should be assessed within the context of a particular political agenda.

An example of that latter form of breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality was seen on June 20th in an article by Yolande Knell titled “Tensions mount amid hunt for Israeli teens” which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

In that report, Knell amplifies the views of people she terms simply “locals”, adding her own politically motivated  promotion of the inaccurate notion of a search and rescue operation as ‘collective punishment’.Knell analysis kidnappings

“The southern city of Hebron has been virtually closed by the Israeli military. Most Hebronites are prevented from travelling freely around the West Bank and going abroad.

This week in Taffuh village we watched as Israeli soldiers took over a Palestinian house on a strategic position on the hillside and moved supplies inside.

Locals feel they are being collectively punished for the disappearance of the three Israelis.

“More checkpoints, more closures. I’ve not been to my job all week,” says Issa Amro.

“You are waiting for the soldiers to come to your house any time. You are completely terrified about your children, your family, your neighbours.

“This is a kind of revenge against the Palestinian civilians for what happened to the Israelis and we’re not responsible for it.”

“I’m so worried about the situation escalating,” says Zleikha Muhtaseb, a resident of the Old City of Hebron.

“Detaining people in big numbers like this is meant to send a message and create more tension in society.”

Like many Palestinians, Ms Muhtaseb, expects a significant political fallout.

“Now many Palestinians are angry with the Palestinian Authority [which governs parts of the West Bank] as they feel it’s not protecting them,” she says. “Of course there’s probably nothing they can do. We know Israel doesn’t want to see Palestinians united.” “

Having read Knell’s signposting of these two interviewees as “locals”, the average BBC audience member would of course conclude that Zleikha Muhtaseb and Issa Amro are just ordinary ‘man in the street’ interviewees who merely happened to run into Yolande Knell as she was out and about in Hebron.

That, however, is not the case.

Sharp-eyed readers may recall that just last month BBC Trending’s Cordelia Hebblethwaite was promoting an agitprop campaign run by none other than Issa Amro – coordinator of ‘Youth Against Settlements’.  That article also failed to provide audiences with any “summarizing” of the political viewpoints of Amro and his organization but, unlike Knell, Hebblethwaite did at least report the organisation’s title.

“Not content with misrepresenting the story to BBC audiences herself, Hebblethwaite also amplifies the messaging of ‘Youth Against Settlements’ coordinator Issa Amro but refrains from providing BBC audiences with details of the full range of Amro’s activities, his International Solidarity Movement links (apparently including financial arrangements) and his organisation’s connections – all of which are necessary to view his statements in their appropriate political perspective.”

BBC audiences are therefore denied the possibility of putting Amro’s description of search and rescue operations for three kidnapped youths, in a city which is one of the main strongholds of the terrorist organization responsible for their abduction, as “a kind of revenge against the Palestinian civilians” into its correct – politically motivated – context.

Zleikha Muhtaseb is also a long-time political activist who works with a variety of organisations and NGOs, including giving political tours of Hebron to Christian Peacemaker Teams. She has also worked with Save the Children, ICAHD and HRW among others.  In a 2010 interview Muhtaseb proffered the following opinion: “These settlers, I don’t consider them Jewish actually.”

Clearly, BBC audiences would need to be aware of Zleikha Muhtaseb’s campaigning activities in order to be capable of judging the relevance of her claim that the detention of members of a terrorist organization holding kidnapped teens “is meant to send a message and create more tension in society” and her promotion of the notion that “Israel doesn’t want to see Palestinians united”.

Yolande Knell, however, apparently decided – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines – that her chosen political messaging would be more effective were BBC audiences kept in the dark regarding the all-important context of the campaigning activities of the people she just ‘happens’ to highlight and select for quotation in her ‘analysis’.    

 

 

Disingenuous report from BBC Trending promotes Palestinian agitprop

On May 2nd an article was published in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the heading “Many ‘likes'” and with the subheading “Israeli soldier wins plaudits for pointing his gun at teenager”.

Nahlawi on hp

The link leads to yet another inaccurate item from BBC Trending: in this case an article written by Cordelia Hebblethwaite titled “Support for Israeli soldier who aimed gun at teen“. 

The article relates to a story which broke last week concerning an incident which took place near Beit Hadassa in Hebron. At least four Palestinian activists – not two as Hebblethwaite claims in her piece – from the opaquely funded organization ‘Youth Against Settlements’ approached a soldier with the clear intention to provoke a reaction. Two of them were filming the pre-planned provocation and the video was later uploaded to the internet.David HaNahlawi story BBC Trending

Later mistaken reports stated that the soldier had been removed from his brigade as a result of the incident, sparking a wave of expressions of support from fellow soldiers and others, not – as Hebblethwaite disingenuously claims – praising the soldier for aiming his gun at the youths, but expressing identification with a soldier targeted by the agitprop of a group of organized provocateurs who, as Hebblethwaite herself reports, were aiming to create an incident designed “to “shame and embarrass” the Israeli military”.

Hebblethwaite fails to provide readers with any context regarding attempted kidnappings of Israeli soldiers or violent attacks against them. She refrains from reminding audiences that just months ago another soldier was shot in the neck in the same city. In the paragraph in which she relates to the reactions of Israeli politicians to the incident, Hebblethwaite highlights Minister Bennett’s use of the phrase “David the warrior”, but neglects to clarify to English-speaking audiences that ‘warrior’ is a translation of the Hebrew word  לוחם and means a soldier involved in active duty rather than one with a desk job.

Not content with misrepresenting the story to BBC audiences herself, Hebblethwaite also amplifies the messaging of ‘Youth Against Settlements’ coordinator Issa Amro but refrains from providing BBC audiences with details of the full range of Amro’s activities, his International Solidarity Movement links (apparently including financial arrangements) and his organisation’s connections – all of which are necessary to view his statements in their appropriate political perspective.

Hebblethwaite’s intention in this article is entirely transparent. She – along with the editors who concocted the misleading titles and sub-heading to the report – seek to amplify and promote Amro’s baseless claim that “Israeli society is getting more aggressive and extreme”.

Apparently BBC Trending needs reminding that it is not the task of an organization supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality to provide free publicity and amplification of agitprop for anti-Israel political organisations often involved in violence.