BBC News tells audiences Israeli fears of terror attacks are ‘paranoia’

During the first three weeks of October 2015, ten Israelis were killed and 112 wounded – eleven of them seriously – in forty stabbing attacks, four shootings and five vehicular attacks which took place throughout the country.

On October 23rd, however, BBC News told its audiences that Israelis are suffering from either a collective psychosis ‘characterised by delusions of persecution’ or ‘unjustified suspicion and mistrust of other people’ – depending on which definition of the word paranoia BBC editors intended their headline to communicate.

Paranoia Connolly

Either way, it is obviously extremely hard to believe that if British citizens had been subjected to such a wave of terror attacks, the BBC would characterize their mood as unjustified or disconnected from reality by using the term ‘paranoia’. And it is of course equally unlikely that after over fifty attacks on British citizens in three weeks, the BBC would still be avoiding the use of the word ‘terror’ – as it continues to do in its current coverage of Israel.

In that article – which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page – the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly promotes the notion of equivalence between the distress of Israeli Jerusalemites who have seen at least sixteen terror attacks resulting in five fatalities in their city in the last three weeks with that of Palestinians who, according to his account, are inconvenienced by roadblocks and suspicious looks.

“But at times of rising tensions and rising casualty figures like this, the two populations that normally lead parallel lives share something very profound in common.

They are united by their fears for the dangers their families might face and by the deep urge that’s within all of us to keep our children safe.”

In the section of his report devoted to the neighbourhood of Issawiya, Connolly writes:

“Even in better times there is deep resentment in Issawiyah at the practical outworking of the occupation – Palestinians in villages like this pay the same local taxes as Israelis in West Jerusalem but strongly feel they don’t receive the same services.

They point to the condition of the roads and pavements and the absence of recreational facilities.

“There are Jewish districts where they have parks for their dogs,” one man told me, “And here we don’t even have a park for our kids.””

He of course refrains from informing readers that residents of Issawiya were at the forefront of opposition to the creation of a national park on their doorstep.

Although he describes the inconvenience of roadblocks implemented to try to deal with terrorism, Connolly does not provide audiences with relevant context, failing to clarify that a very significant proportion of the perpetrators of attacks during the first three weeks of October came from Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.

“There is an Israeli checkpoint at the main entrance to the village. The local people say that if anyone throws stones at the soldiers who man it, they close the road and force commuters returning from Jerusalem to wait in their cars for anything up to an hour.”

Connolly tells readers that:

“Fear for the safety of children does unite the two communities, although the fears are different.

Israelis worry their children might be the victims of a politically-motivated street attack – Palestinians fear the readiness with which Israeli police and soldiers resort to lethal force, especially if they live in a part of the West Bank where it is easy to get caught up in street protests.” [emphasis added]

Those “street protests” are of course more accurately described as organised violent rioting and Connolly’s apparent belief that Palestinian parents lack the agency required to prevent their offspring from participating in such activities is quite remarkable.

Connolly closes his article with promotion of a dominant – yet inaccurate – theme seen in much BBC coverage in recent weeks.

“…the fears and anxieties triggered in this latest round of violence here are individual and deeply personal just as the attacks appear to have been spontaneous. […]

But the random nature of the violence and its lack of an apparent link to any known organisation is going to make any kind of diplomatic or political intervention here even harder than usual.”

Yet again the BBC conceals the incitement from assorted Palestinian factions which has fueled this wave of terrorism – and the known links of some of the perpetrators to terrorist groups – from audience view.

In addition to his written report, Kevin Connolly also produced a similar audio one which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on October 24th. The item (available here from 01:49:43) opens with the following introduction from host James Naughtie.

“As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, the American Secretary of State John Kerry has begun a round of diplomacy trying to reduce tension in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories where an upsurge of violence has left about 60 people dead in the last few weeks. Most of the dead are Palestinians. Some have died in the familiar violent clashes with the Israeli security forces in the West Bank but some of the deaths have occurred when individual Palestinians not known to be members of militant groups have made stabbing attacks on Israelis and then been shot by the police or the army. It’s a new kind of attack and its left people in both communities anxious and frightened.”

Could audiences determine from that introduction that one-sixth of those casualties are Israelis murdered in terror attacks? Would they understand that those killed whilst engaged in violent rioting include some 17 people from the Gaza Strip and that the border fence there has been breached by such rioters on several occasions? Would they also comprehend that Naughtie’s portrayal of “some” Palestinians shot whilst carrying out terror attacks (and not only stabbings, as he inaccurately states) actually means that they number around half of the Palestinian fatalities and that a similar number of terrorists have been caught alive?

One doubts very much that Radio 4 listeners went away with an accurate perception of events from that introduction and in addition, they were certainly misled by the inaccurate claim that such terror attacks are “a new kind”. Moreover, with the BBC having failed to provide its audiences with an accurate picture of Palestinian terrorism during the nine months preceding October 2015, listeners would have no way of knowing that Naughtie’s claim is inaccurate.

As in his written article, in that audio report Kevin Connolly promotes the notion of equivalence between victims of terror and their attackers, fails to provide context when describing the inconvenience caused by roadblocks and erases the all-important issue of incitement by portraying the attacks as “random and spontaneous”.

“We think of Jerusalem as a place of division – and so it is – but in times of rising tension and rising casualty figures, there is something that unites its two peoples: the grinding daily fear about how you keep your family safe.”

“On the way into the outlying Palestinian village of Issawiyeh there’s an Israeli checkpoint – an irritation for local people arriving home from their daily work in Israeli West Jerusalem.”

“The US Secretary of State John Kerry is working on all of this now, trying to calm fears. But what can politicians do when attacks are random and spontaneous and fears so personal and so deeply felt?”

Kevin Connolly apparently believes the narrative of equivalence he promotes in these two reports. He is obviously comfortable with promoting the idea that a pensioner murdered in a shooting attack on a city bus, a 59 year-old deliberately run over and then hacked to death with a meat-cleaver and a young father stabbed to death whilst walking with his family are just the same as the people who decided to carry out those attacks and were shot by security forces rushing to the scene.

He is also clearly at ease with promoting the myth that attacks on Jews for no other reason than the fact that they are Jews which are praised and glorified by Hamas and PA officials alike are “spontaneous” and “random”. And, as we see in these two reports, he has no qualms about promoting the narrative that the emotions of people who are experiencing “not a very nice feeling” and traffic inconveniences are the same as those of people who fear that they may be targeted by a terrorist simply because of who they are after seeing over 50 such terror attacks in a matter of a few weeks.

Whilst Connolly’s adopted narrative may serve to provide space-filling material for assorted BBC platforms and advance a political agenda, it certainly does nothing to contribute to meeting the BBC’s obligation to enhance audience understanding of this particular “international issue”.

 

 

 

BBC’s Connolly refrains from using the word terror in report on terror attack

In addition to the written article on the BBC News website in which the October 1st terror attack which resulted in the deaths of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin was reported, the incident was also the subject of an item (available from 02:43:03 here) by Kevin Connolly on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on the morning of October 2nd.Pigua Henkin family Today 2 10

As can be seen in the transcript below, both Connolly and programme host James Naughtie managed to avoid all use of the word terror in that three-minute report on a terror attack.

JN: “The Israeli army is searching for the killers of a Jewish couple who were shot dead in their car in front of their four children. Hundreds of soldiers are now being deployed close to Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly is on the line from Jerusalem. Just tell us what happened in this incident, Kevin.”

KC: “Well this married couple – Eitam and Na’ama Henkin – they were driving on a dark country road between two Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories – the nearest big city being Nablus – when they were fired on from a passing car. Now the parents were both killed – they were pronounced dead at the scene – but remarkably their four children aged between nine years and four months old – they were all in the back seat of the car – they were all unhurt.

It’s a hugely traumatising incident of course – immediately the area was flooded with emergency services and with soldiers. There is an intensive search going on; part of the role of the soldiers too is to try to keep a lid on rising tensions which of course you always see in the aftermath of this kind of shooting and of course today it is Friday prayers here in Jerusalem so there’s also a huge police operation around the Old City because any killing like this does immediately produce a predictable rise in sectarian tensions.”

JN: “And of course it is a tense moment – well it’s always a tense moment – but we’ve had this week Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that he would restart negotiations with the Palestinians immediately without preconditions but that the Palestinians weren’t interested and we’ve had President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority at a flag-raising ceremony at the UN saying he’d more or less given up on the Israelis. I mean episodes like this coming in the middle of it all just make it more and more unlikely there’ll be any progress.”

Listeners then heard Connolly equate the deaths of Palestinians – the majority of whom were killed whilst carrying out terror attacks or whilst engaged in violent rioting – with those of Israelis murdered in deliberate terror attacks.

KC: “I think that’s right. I mean I sometimes think, Jim, that the politics of it all feels as though it’s going on as a kind of abstract – almost in the background to the sectarian realities on the ground. I mean we were just going back through our own news archive here. It’s far from scientific but we would say that more than twenty Palestinians have died in political violence on the West Bank this year, at least a half a dozen Israelis. Often there’s a level of tension that bubbles away somewhere below the level, frankly, that you need to make global headlines.”

As readers will recall, the BBC has failed to report half of the Israeli fatalities resulting from terror attacks since the beginning of the year and as of the end of August, its coverage of fatal and non-fatal terror attacks stood at 0.81%.

Connolly ends with uncritical amplification of the narrative promoted by the Palestinian Authority in its quotidian incitement, encouraging BBC audiences towards the view that Jews celebrating their holidays “ratchets up the tension” rather than terrorism and violence fuelled by the incitement the BBC perennially fails to report.

“This week it’s the Jewish religious festival of Sukkot; that’s one of the times of year when Jews traditionally make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That means, of course, that they move towards the Western Wall in the old city; that means they’re close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Many in the Arab world see that as a kind of attack on their religious identity. That ratchets up the tension too and of course the basic truth of this place is that the kindling you need to start these kind of fires of sectarian violence is lying around somewhere to hand all the time and it takes only a little spark, like last night’s killings, to ignite it.”

Notably, Connolly erased from his report both the celebrations on the Palestinian street which took place after the murders of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin and the statements praising the terror attack which were put out by leading officials from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.Pigua Henkin family art 2 10

Those topics were also absent from the BBC News website article titled “Israel hunts West Bank for couple’s killers” which appeared on the site’s Middle East page on the afternoon of October 2nd. As was the case in the prior report which this article replaced, no mention was made of the fact that the attack was claimed by a group linked to the Fatah party’s armed wing. Instead, this article also promoted the amorphous notion of “tensions” – with no clarification concerning their roots.

“It [the terror attack] comes amid a period of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, which has seen clashes in Jerusalem. […]

There has been a recent flare-up in tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, with violent confrontations between security forces and Palestinian youths in a compound holy to both Jews and Muslims in East Jerusalem.”

Coming as they do after weeks of unsatisfactory reporting on the topic of the violent rioting seen on Temple Mount, these reports are further examples of the results of an editorial policy which causes the BBC to fall short of its remit of enhancing “awareness and understanding of international issues”.

A good place to start in order to begin meeting that remit would of course be the employment of accurate language. Of the six cases of fatal attacks on Israelis targeted purely because of their ethnicity which have taken place during the last nine months, three have been completely ignored by the BBC and three reported without any mention of the word terror. That editorial policy is clearly not fit for purpose. 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme continues template coverage of teens’ abduction

The June 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers on June 12th which again adheres to the editorial template currently in use by the BBC to frame coverage of that topic.

Presented by James Naughtie, the item can be heard from 02:37:14 here for a limited period of time.Today prog 24 6

That editorial template is composed of:

  • Ambiguous presentation of the kidnappings and lack of presentation of the context of dozens of previous attempts and plots to kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians.
  • Eradication of any mention of both public and official Palestinian praise for the kidnappings.
  • Patchy mention of concurrent missile attacks from the Gaza Strip solely in the framework of reporting on Israeli responses to those attacks.
  • Eradication of any mention of caches of weapons and explosives discovered during the search.
  • Emphasis on the notion of the search as ‘punishment’ of the Palestinians.
  • Portrayal of the search for the teenagers as escalating tensions, rather than the kidnapping itself.
  • Implication that the search for the kidnap victims will bring about the collapse of the PUG, rather than the kidnappings’ perpetration by a party to the Palestinian unity deal.

James Naughtie introduces the item – which conforms to all of the above points – as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

“The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given his support to people who’re trying to establish the whereabouts of three Israeli teenagers who’ve been missing for three days after apparently – for several days actually; there are three of them – after apparently being kidnapped. The incident’s caused great tension on the West Bank. The Israeli armed forces say they have detained 361 people since the students went missing on June the twelfth. The mother of one of them, Rachel Frenkel, is in Geneva. She’s appealing for international support in her efforts to find her son and his friends. A few minutes ago I spoke to her and she recalled what happened to them.”

Rachel Frenkel: “They were on their way back from school and that was already twelve days ago. My son texted me; he’s on his way home. And then they never showed up. Over the night we discovered that this is…that they’re missing, that this is serious and ever since, everybody’s trying to find them.”

JN: “What do you believe happened to them?”

RF: “They were obviously kidnapped. The government thinks it’s done by Hamas. And we’re waiting for any sign of life, any….We had no contact with them whatsoever.”

JN: “And you want people to rally round, really, to try to help the search for these three teenagers and perhaps to put pressure on those who may have taken them.”

RF: “Yeah well, this is not a political issue at all; this is on the humanitarian level. They are three kids; three boys on their way home from school. Their parents are waiting for them; their siblings are waiting for them. We have no idea where they are and we just want anybody who has anything to do with….in any way… that they can help. We came here to Geneva to try to speak to officials and to speak in the assembly of human rights. We could use any help we can…”

Notably, Naughtie makes no mention of the abundant examples of Palestinian public and official praise for the kidnappings on the streets or in both social and mainstream media before he goes on to say:

JN: “Now, clearly there will be people…ahm…on both sides of the divide, in a divided country, who will share your horror on this…ahm…including Palestinians.”

RF: “Surely. We got many supporting messages from Palestinians – they’re horrified by this story. Abu Mazen himself condemned it. This is not a political issue: children should be kept out of this game. There’s no reason to use children as tools in any struggle. 

Rachel Frenkel speaking at the UN in Geneva, June 24th

Rachel Frenkel speaking at the UN in Geneva, June 24th

JN: “You believe they were kidnapped by Hamas. Has that organisation said anything about this case?”

RF: “No they haven’t.”

JN: “They’ve said nothing?”

RF: “No.”

In fact, James Naughtie should have been able to tell Rachel Frenkel that whilst she was travelling to Geneva on the evening before this interview, Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al was doing an interview of his own with Al Jazeera, in which he said of the kidnappings:

““No one claimed responsibility so far. I can neither confirm [Hamas’s responsibility] nor deny it,” Mashaal said, quickly adding that the circumstances of the kidnapping were more important than the perpetrators.

“Blessed be the hands that captured them,” Mashaal said. “This is a Palestinian duty, the responsibility of the Palestinian people. Our prisoners must be freed; not Hamas’s prisoners — the prisoners of the Palestinian people.””

That statement joins others made by Hamas officials, including the one made on June 19th by Salah Bardawil in which he stated that “the Palestinian resistance” had carried out the kidnappings. Naughtie goes on:

JN: “Whereas Mr Abbas – Abu Mazen as you call him – has said something.”

RF: “Yes, sure; he condemned it.”

JN: “Ahm…what is your hope now?”

RF: “Well we have every reason to believe they’re alive. This definitely looks like a kidnapping; an abduction that was meant to keep them alive. And we have no counter-indication that anything happened to them. So they’re just being hidden and kept and not… You know; just the time that the kidnappers are waiting is just…it’s just excruciating suffering. We just hope to get them back – sound and safe and healthy – and our problem should just be getting them back in life.”

JN: “Rachel Frankel: the mother of one of those teenagers apparently kidnapped on June the twelfth.”

Notably, throughout that entire interview, Naughtie never asks Rachel Frenkel her son’s name or any other personal details about her, her family or the other abducted youths. He goes on to inform listeners that it is the search efforts which are causing “tension” – not the kidnappings themselves – and fails to inform listeners that the vast majority of the “people” arrested are members of Hamas.

“We can go to our correspondent Yolande Knell. I mentioned, Yolande, in introducing Rachel Frenkel there, the tension on the West Bank – there is always tension – but this episode has really been something that has ratcheted it up. I mean I mentioned that the Israeli armed forces say that they have detained 361 people in the last few days.”

Knell responds by throwing in a gratuitous mention of “Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank” and once again uses her pet “sworn enemy” phrase which steers audiences towards a mistaken view of Israel’s operations against Hamas as motivated by emotion – rather than by the legal obligation to defend its citizens from terrorist activity, as in fact the case.

Yolande Knell: “That’s right and overnight this huge military operation continued the search for the missing teenagers. It’s now in its twelfth day. They were studying at Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank when they went missing. Ahm…now, the Israeli military has made clear that its operation has two objectives. First; to find these three Israelis but second; to also target the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas – its sworn enemy – in the West Bank. Hamas hasn’t said it was behind the teenagers’ disappearance but the Israeli prime minister has said there’s unequivocal proof that it’s responsible.”

She then goes on to promote once again the falsehood of “punishment” of the Palestinians.

“And really there’s a lot of resentment on the Palestinian side. Palestinians say that the search goes beyond just finding the missing teenagers or even targeting Hamas: that all kinds of offices and businesses have been raided that have no Hamas connection. More than one and a half thousand premises have been searched and it’s putting a lot of political pressure on the Palestinians. We’ve also seen four Palestinians killed in the past week by Israeli soldiers as there have been clashes as they’ve gone about their raids.”

Naughtie then interjects, adding his shoulder to the promotion of the notion of Israeli actions as the cause of tensions, rather than the kidnappings themselves, and in contrast, notably neither he nor Knell appear to have any interest in informing listeners about the current mood on the Israeli street. Notably too, Naughtie fails to inform audiences that the kidnappings themselves are an act of political violence.

The mothers of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal, Geneva, June 24th

The mothers of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal, Geneva, June 24th

JN: “It’s interesting because Rachel Frenkel said several times in the course of my conversation with her about half an hour ago that she did not regard this as a political issue; she doesn’t want it to turn into a political issue, but the truth of it is that in the circumstances that pertain there, it’s bound to become that and the minute the Israeli military crank up their operations as you’ve just described, naturally on the Palestinian side there is outrage – even among some people who might feel passionately that these young people should be found and brought safely home.”

YK: “Yes, that’s right. I mean there are huge political implications for all of this. It’s putting a lot of pressure on the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He has condemned what he called the kidnapping of the teenagers and he said that his security forces were cooperating with the search for them. He’s since criticised what he’s described as Israeli aggression, but really you can see that he’s lost a lot of support over his stance on all of this. There have even been protests by Palestinians against the Palestinian security forces because of the security coordination – that’s been quite an unusual development.

And all of this is threatening to break the new Palestinian unity government. It’s only just been set up as part of the reconciliation deal between Mr Abbas’ secular Fatah movement and Hamas: the two main Palestinian factions. This government’s made up of technocrats and it’s supposed to pave the way for new elections. Israel’s opposed it from the start because it sees Hamas as a terrorist group and that now…this new government….it’s very unclear whether it will really be able to get to work.”

As has been the case in all BBC coverage of the Palestinian unity government, Knell fails to inform audiences of its obligation under the terms of existing agreements to take action against just such instances of terrorist acts, instead promoting the notion that it will be Israel’s fault if the PUG collapses. She also neglects yet again to accurately define Hamas’ terrorist designation or to inform audiences of inflammatory (if not downright delusional) statements made by that “technocrat” government’s foreign minister – a man with prior links to the PFLP.

“Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki claimed on Sunday that Israel may have staged the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers 10 days ago to deflect international criticism from it, arguing that the Jewish state had no proof that Hamas was behind the abduction.”

Clearly this across the board template reporting of the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gil-ad Sha’ar is shaped by a particular political viewpoint which erases uncomfortable facts and distorts others. It is certainly doing nothing to enable the BBC to fulfil its purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues”. 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Today’ repeats basic historical inaccuracy corrected two weeks ago

The February 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item presented by James Naughtie in which he spoke to Lyse Doucet about conditions in the Yarmouk camp area of Damascus. The programme is available for a limited period of time here and the relevant segment begins at around 02:34:20. 

A couple of minutes into the item, Naughtie says:

“And of course they’ve been refugees from a time long before this awful conflict began.”

Doucet replies:

“Yarmouk camp was set up in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war which led to the establishment of the State of Israel. They fled there.”

As we noted here earlier this month, a similarly inaccurate claim was made in an article by Yolande Knell and Yousef Shomali about the same subject which appeared on the BBC News website.  

“The unofficial camp [Yarmouk] was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

And as we remarked at the time (and as is equally applicable to Doucet’s inaccurate statement):

“Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers. “

The BBC News website’s Middle East desk later revised that statement in response to a complaint and noted in its reply that:

“As you correctly point out, the war followed the creation of Israel, and we have changed the wording accordingly.”

But two weeks on it seems that basic facts of Israeli history still evade other BBC reporters too.

We look forward to an on-air correction by the Today programme, together with some equally urgently needed context for listeners regarding the political motivations which lie behind the fact that Syria and other countries have deliberately kept the refugees their attack upon the new Israeli state created – and generations of their descendants – in second-class refugee status for the last sixty-six years.