BBC reports on fictional counter-terrorism but not the real thing

On January 1st Israel’s security services announced the arrests of members of a Hamas cell that was directed from the Gaza Strip.

“Israeli security forces broke up an alleged Hamas terrorist cell planning to carry out attacks in the West Bank, arresting five of its members in November, the Shin Bet security service revealed Monday.

The cell was led by Alaa Salim, a resident of the Palestinian West Bank town of Jaba, north of Jerusalem, but it received its directions from Abdallah Arar, a known Hamas terrorist living in the Gaza Strip, the Shin Bet said.

Arar, who was convicted for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Israeli man Sasson Nuriel in 2005, was released to the Gaza Strip from an Israeli prison six year[s] later as part of a contentious prisoner exchange to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was being held hostage by Hamas. […]

When he and the other four alleged members of the cell were arrested, Salim had already received directions from Arar to carry out attacks, along with thousands of shekels in order to purchase an M-16 assault rifle, according to the Shin Bet.”

Two days later, on January 3rd, the security services announced that members of another cell had been arrested.

“The Shin Bet security service on Wednesday revealed it had uncovered an Iranian military intelligence operation in the West Bank that it said was planning to carry out terror attacks and collect intelligence for the Islamic Republic. […]

The leader of the cell was a 29-year-old computer science student named Muhammad Maharma from Hebron, but he received his directions from an Iranian operative in South Africa, the Shin Bet said.

The other two alleged members were Nour Maharma and Dia’a Sarahneh, both 22 and both also from Hebron.

According to the security service, in 2015, Muhammad Maharma was enlisted to work for Tehran by his cousin, Backer Maharma, who moved to South Africa from Hebron and allegedly started working for Iranian intelligence.

“Backer even introduced Muhammad, on a number of occasions, to Iranian officials, some of whom visited [South Africa] from Tehran in order to meet him,” the Shin Bet said.

According to the security service, its investigation found that Iran was using South Africa as a “significant front for finding, enlisting and deploying agents to Israel and the West Bank.””

While the BBC did not produce any coverage of either of those stories, it did publish an article in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 6th relating to a television drama series about Israeli counter-terrorism units.

However, the only mention of the word ‘terrorist’ in Jane Corbin’s article “Fauda: The drama lifting the lid on Israeli snatch squads” comes in a direct quote.

“Lior and Avi deliberately set out to portray the brutal conflict in a new way, depicting common characteristics between both sides.

“[In Fauda] they are all-rounded characters – even if he’s an evil terrorist he’s got to love his wife and you have to show it and he has kids and you have to show it,” says Lior, “and also the good guys are doing bad things sometimes,” he adds, alluding to his compatriots.”

Throughout the rest of her article Jane Corbin employs the standard (and long-standing) BBC euphemism ‘militants’ – even when interviewing actual terrorists who, she claims, “carry out attacks on Israelis”.

“I am on the set of Fauda, the Israeli television thriller that portrays the murky world of Israeli undercover army units and Palestinian militants during the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation).”

“We wanted to show how they [militants and their families] live, their experiences, the price they’re paying for their actions,” says Lior. “For the Israeli audience we open a window for them to see how people live over there.”

“This strong Arab woman is an unusual lead character in a television drama in this region. The character faced a moral crisis when militants in her own family used her to surgically implant a bomb inside a wounded Israeli undercover soldier.”

“After our own game of cat and mouse to find Palestinian militants willing to talk, we met two heavily armed masked men in a house in Shuafat refugee camp, on the outskirts of occupied East Jerusalem. They carry out attacks on Israelis and try to outwit the undercover units hunting them down.”

As we see, the BBC has expanded its selectively applied guidance on ‘language when reporting terrorism’ to apply even to reporting on fictional Palestinian characters in a TV drama show. Can it get any more ridiculous?

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An overview of BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary

On October 24th 2017 the PLO’s negotiations affairs department put out a document titled “A Century of Injustice: Q and A on Palestine and the Balfour Declaration”. As well as the theme of ‘injustice’ promoted in its title, the document promotes additional messaging aimed at advancing the PLO’s narrative by portraying the Balfour Declaration as:

  • a ‘colonialist’ act that brought about the ‘colonisation’ of Palestine.
  • a ‘promise’ Britain had no right to make and for which it has not assumed responsibility.
  • ignoring the existence of an Arab majority in Palestine at the time and violating their right to self-determination.
  • having caused the Palestinian refugee issue termed the ‘Nakba’.
  • having brought about a situation in which there is allegedly one state (Israel) with two separate systems and no equal rights for non-Jews.
  • a document Britain is wrong to celebrate and for which it must atone by recognising a Palestinian state and taking a stand against ‘settlements’.

There is of course nothing new about those talking points; as PMW director Itamar Marcus has explained, they have been promoted by the Palestinian Authority for years.

“For the PA, the Balfour Declaration is a necessary component of the Palestinian narrative. The two foundations of Palestinian ideology, both fictitious, are that a Palestinian nation existed for thousands of years and that there never had been a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. But this left one problem: The PA needed to explain to its people why millions of Jews had immigrated from Europe and all over the world, if they had no connection to the land.

The PA’s answer is colonialism, and Balfour is the “proof.”

According to the PA’s adjusted narrative, Balfour and Britain’s support were not one step in the growing Zionist movement, but the beginning of all Jewish history in the land. […]

Defining Israel as a European colony is a fundamental and essential component of PA myth-building, and has been part of the PA narrative since the early years of the PA. […]

In honor of the 100th anniversary of this important document, the PA decided to make the Balfour Declaration and denial of Israel’s right to exist its primary messaging this year.

Mahmoud Abbas is taking the lead with public statements such as: “It must be emphasized that the historical injustice that was caused to our people, and which continues to accumulate, began in fact with the ominous Balfour Promise. Therefore, we call on the government of Britain to bear its historical and moral responsibility and not mark and celebrate the 100th anniversary of this invalid promise. Instead, it must submit an apology to our Palestinian people…””

Between October 1st and November 2nd 2017 the BBC broadcast and published remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary on its various platforms that included the following:

1) October 1st, BBC Radio 4, ‘Sunday’:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

2) October 8th, BBC Radio Wales, ‘All Things Considered’:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

3) October 28th, BBC Radio 4, ‘The Week in Westminster’:

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

4) October 31st, BBC Two, “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land”, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

5) October 31st, BBC News website, “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

6) November 1st, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

7) November 1st, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Yolande Knell:

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

8) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“, Yolande Knell:

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

9) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

10) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Palestinians call for Balfour Declaration apology”, Tom Bateman:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

11) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Balfour Declaration: 100 years of conflict”, Yolande Knell:

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

12) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“:

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

13) November 2nd, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

14) November 2nd, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

Most of that BBC content adopted and amplified PLO framing of the Balfour Declaration as an ‘injustice’ and advanced the notion that Britain should apologise for the century-old document.

Only five items out of the fourteen accurately informed BBC audiences that the Balfour Declaration’s ‘second part’ – which was for the most part presented as being ‘incomplete’ and ‘unfinished business’ – specifically refers to the “civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities” rather than, as was inaccurately claimed in the rest of the content, rights in general.

With the exception of two of the items, the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinians living in Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip do so under Palestinian rule and hence have political rights under that system was erased from audience view.

The narrative of the Balfour Declaration as ‘colonialism’ and an act that Britain had no right to carry out was repeatedly advanced in many of these items, as was the claim that the British government should take a stand against ‘settlements’. The anti-Israel BDS campaign was promoted in two of the items.

The notion that Palestinians were ‘dispossessed’ of ‘their land’ by the Balfour Declaration and that the document was the cause of the ‘Nakba’ was repeatedly promoted in many of these reports. In four of the items BBC audiences were given inaccurate portrayals of the McMahon correspondence and the false notion that the land assigned to creation of a homeland for the Jewish people had already been promised to the Arabs by the British was promoted.

In only one item did BBC audiences hear a reference (not from a BBC journalist) to the significance of Jordan as a location in which the political rights of Arab communities in the area known as Palestine at the time were fulfilled. The part of the Balfour Declaration safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” was erased from BBC coverage, along with the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation as an ‘impartial’ media organisation, it is all too obvious that the editorial approach adopted throughout the corporation’s remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary bears an uncanny resemblance to the PLO’s political narrative concerning that topic.

 

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

In part one of this post we began looking at two contributions from Jane Corbin to the BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.

Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”

Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.

“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””

Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.

Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:

Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed. 

Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”

Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:

Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]

Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:

Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”

Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.

Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]

 Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]

The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”

Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”

In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”

While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.

Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.

Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today.  For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]

Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.

Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.

While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.

Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.

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BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

 

 

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

The BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage included two contributions from Jane Corbin: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

Both of those reports opened with promotion of a theme often seen in BBC content: the exaggerated notion of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the world’s prime dispute.

Filmed: “100 years ago, a British promise – just a few words in a letter – lit a fire in the Holy Land. The Balfour Declaration ignited one of the most bitter and intractable struggles of modern times: the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Written: “One hundred years ago, only 67 words on a single sheet of paper lit a fire in the Holy Land, igniting the most intractable conflict of modern times.” [emphasis added]

Very early on, both reports also included promotion of Palestinian talking points concerning the Balfour Declaration.

Filmed: (synopsis) “But the Palestinians and many Arabs will greet the centenary with protest and bitter accusations – they still hold Britain responsible for a century of injustice, and conflict in the Holy Land.”

Written: “While many Israelis believe it was the foundation stone of modern Israel and the salvation of the Jews, many Palestinians regard it as a betrayal.”

As has been the case across the board in the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, both Corbin’s reports focused audience attentions on one particular part of the text. Coincidentally or not, it is that section of the text that has also been the focus of anti-Israel campaigners’ Balfour related propaganda.

Filmed: “Leo Amery added a sentence. ‘Nothing should be done’ he wrote, ‘which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’. The line was intended as a safeguard for the majority population in Palestine – the Arabs. But they would interpret it as anything but.”

Written: “My mother, Olive Amery, told me stories when I was a child about this relative – a British politician involved in the drafting of the declaration. He added a sentence intended to safeguard the civil and religious rights of the majority population, the Palestinian Arabs.”

While Corbin did accurately portray that part of the letter’s text as referring to “civil and religious rights” (rather than ‘rights’ in general, as seen in much other BBC content), nowhere in either of her reports were BBC audiences told of the part of that same sentence likewise intended to safeguard “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

In her filmed report Corbin revisited a previous interviewee.

Filmed: Corbin: “Most Palestinians have certainly failed to reap the benefits of Israel’s success. Their living standards are far lower. There’s a crisis in their economy and public finances. It all stems, many Palestinians believe, from the unfair hand that Britain dealt them 100 years ago. I first met Jawad Siyam, a Palestinian activist, seven years ago, protesting against the takeover by some Israelis of a building in an Arab area of Jerusalem. For Jawad, his battle over the land today is a continuation of the struggles of his grandparents.”

Corbin did indeed meet Siyam in 2010 when he appeared in her highly problematic Panorama programme “A Walk in the Park” in which audiences heard him claim that:

“They are demolishing the houses because they want to. It’s ethnic cleansing for Silwan, for east Jerusalem. … It’s the most racist state in the world, you see. See this state? It’s the most racist state in the world. [To Israeli police:] You are the most racist people in the world!”

Since then Siyam has been featured in BBC content on at least two additional occasions but in this latest film by Corbin , beyond the tepid description “activist”, nothing was done to inform audiences of the nature of his political activities and his agenda – as required by BBC Editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In both reports Corbin visited Lifta.

Filmed: “In the violence, and after attacks by Jewish forces, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whose homes lay within the new state of Israel, fled or were forced to flee. The village of Lifta, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was abandoned. Lifta has lain empty for nearly 70 years. Palestinians have never been allowed to return to live here. But, every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.

Written: “One of the most poignant moments for me was visiting the ruins of Lifta – a Palestinian village abandoned nearly 70 years ago – with some of the old residents.

Many Palestinians from here became refugees and have never been allowed to return to live in Lifta. But every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.

Hamid Suhail was seven when he fled – now he leans on a stick as his son Nasir helps him down the overgrown rocky slopes.

“I hope the day will come when we will have the right to come back here and live in peace,” says Nasir. Hamid’s granddaughter, Sohar, is emotional as she says: “It makes me angry and sad at the same time to come here – although it is important to remember the history of these houses.””

Unsurprisingly, Corbin’s account did not make any mention of the violence against Jews perpetrated by residents of Lifta on countless occasions throughout the decades before Israel came into being. Neither were audiences told that in early December 1947, the residents of Lifta received orders from the Arab Higher Committee to evacuate the village’s women and children to Ramallah and that the village was made into a base for the Najada militia, from which attacks were launched on Jewish neighbourhoods on Jerusalem’s western side such as Kiryat Moshe, Givat Shaul and Romema.

Discussion of Corbin’s reports will continue in part two of this post.

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One to watch out for on BBC Two

Via the BBC Media Centre we learn that a one-hour programme by Jane Corbin titled “The Balfour Declaration: Britain’s Promise To The Holy Land” will be aired on BBC Two at 9 p.m. on October 31st.

The BBC describes the programme as follows:

“One hundred years ago, just 67 words on a single sheet of paper lit a fire in the Holy Land, igniting the most intractable conflict of modern times.

The Balfour Declaration was the first time the British government endorsed the establishment of ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine. While many Palestinians see it as a betrayal, many Israelis believe it was the foundation stone of modern Israel and the salvation of the Jews. 

The legacy of the declaration is one that BBC reporter Jane Corbin has watched unfold over the last 30 years – charting the conflict on both sides. But it’s also a story that Jane has a personal connection to. One of her own ancestors, Leo Amery, a British politician and Cabinet Minister, played a key part in drafting the original declaration and then oversaw Britain’s governance of Palestine in the 1920s.

Now, on a journey starting in her home village, Jane explores what Leo did and whether the aspirations of The Balfour Declaration – for both sides to live peacefully and prosper together – were doomed to inevitable failure. Or is there still hope of a peaceful solution in the Holy Land?”

Related Articles:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC News amplifies Balfour agitprop yet again

 

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

In mid-October the BBC World News channel aired a documentary by Jane Corbin titled “Israel’s Arab Warriors” and on November 8th, 9th and 10th the same programme was shown on BBC Arabic TV. A written article by Corbin on the same topic (which includes the video) was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 8th under the title “Israel’s Arab soldiers who fight for the Jewish state“. The same article was translated into Arabic and promoted on the same day on the BBC Arabic website.israels-arab-warriors-orig

It is of course good to see the BBC finally getting round to reporting on a topic which has long been off its radar and Jane Corbin is to be commended for enabling BBC audiences to see beyond the standard BBC narrative in her unusually nuanced presentation of Israeli society.

A distinctly less laudable aspect of Corbin’s filmed and written reports is their generous amplification of unqualified and unchallenged propaganda from the inadequately presented Haneen Zoabi.

Less than a minute into the film’s pre-title introduction viewers see Zoabi – unidentified – saying:

“This small, marginalized group that serves in the Israeli army against its people knows they are crossing a patriotic red line.”

At 08:33 Jane Corbin tells viewers that:

“Haneen Zoabi is an MP in the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – but she identifies herself as Palestinian and often clashes with the government.

A similar portrait of Zoabi is presented in the written article:

“Hanin Zoabi is an Israeli Arab MP who identifies herself as Palestinian and is a fierce critic of the state.”zoabi-israels-arab-soldiers-2-with-desc

When Zoabi is presented on screen, the description given is “Hanin Zoabi MK Joint Arab List”. While that description is of course accurate, it tells BBC audiences nothing about the ideology of the Balad party to which Zoabi belongs and the very relevant fact that she and her fellow party members reject the existence of the Jewish State, promote the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and aspire to a bi-national state. The absence of that information – along with relevant details such as Zoabi’s participation in the 2010 Hamas-supporting violent flotilla and her glorification of terrorism – of course prevents BBC audiences from being able to put her “particular viewpoint” into its appropriate context.

Following that inadequate introduction from Corbin, viewers hear Zoabi say:

“Should we serve in an army that besieges our people in Gaza, occupies our people in the West Bank? A State which expelled my people and built its State on the ruins. 678 cities and villages were demolished by the State of Israel. There’s a conflict with a state that defines itself as a Jewish State; a state that grants privileges to its Jewish over its Palestinian citizens. We just can’t accept the situation.”

The BBC’s commitment to accurate and impartial broadcasting should of course have meant that if it was deemed necessary to include those allegations from Zoabi in the film, then Corbin should have clarified – inter alia – that Gaza is not ‘besieged’, that the vast majority of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria live under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and that most of Palestinians who left what is today Israel in 1948 were not “expelled”. Corbin, however, failed to add any clarifying comments.corbin-art-in-arabic

At 15:28 Corbin tells viewers that:

“The Israeli government says Israeli Arabs have equal rights but they often complain that they are second class citizens. Haneen Zoabi – an MP here – accuses Israel of using bribery to get Arabs to join up.”

Zoabi: “Israel is after people who are poor with no work to serve in the army. 52 – 54% of our Palestinian people in Israel are under the poverty line. Only 10% of the Palestinian youth in Israel continue their university study. You are talking about a whole new generation. The government’s policy of creating poverty obliges people to look for the only solution they can.”

Not only does Corbin fail to challenge the falsehood that the Israeli government has a “policy of creating poverty” but she refrains from supplying any context to Zoabi’s propaganda (for example the fact that just 22% of Arab women of working age are employed or the fact that poverty among the ultra-Orthodox population stands at a similar 54.3%) or informing viewers of government investment in efforts to raise the proportion of Arab citizens in higher education.

Three minutes further on, Zoabi is again given an unchallenged platform.

19:19 Corbin: “Haneen Zoabi’s at a protest outside an Israeli hospital where a Palestinian from the West Bank is on hunger strike. He’s being held under Israeli administrative detention without being indicted or tried.”

Zoabi: “There are hundreds of Palestinians in administrative detention. It’s political persecution; part of the Israeli policy to criminalise the lawful Palestinian resistance. We are fighting for equality and our rights against Israeli racism and colonialisation against the people who have rights to this land.”

Once again, there is no comment from Corbin – not even an effort to distance the BBC from the claim that violent terrorism against civilians is ‘lawful resistance’ or an explanation of the fact that the particular hunger striker in administrative detention is associated with the terrorist organisation Hamas – as the BBC is aware.

At 20:26 viewers see Zoabi repeat the statement made in the programme’s introduction:

“This small, marginalized group that serves in the Israeli army against its people knows they are crossing a patriotic red line.”

At 20:37 Zoabi tells viewers that:

“[Father] Naddaf is a person rejected by Palestinian society – even by some Christians. Not only does he not represent anyone, he is being used by Israel. He is a tool in the hands of the Israeli authorities.”corbin-art-eng

The ability of audiences to put those statements into their correct context would of course have been enhanced had Corbin bothered to tell them of Zoabi’s attempts (together with other Balad MKs) to intimidate Father Naddaf. 

At 24:11 Zoabi returns:

“90% of the Arabs who serve in the Israeli army don’t have equality with Israelis. Israel does not need us to protect its security. Israel doesn’t want to treat us according to our national identity but divide us into Bedouins, country people, city people, Muslims, Christians, Druze. Any way to divide us.

At 40:07 Corbin yet again provides a platform for more unchallenged propaganda from Zoabi – this time at a Land Day rally in Sakhnin.

“Knesset member Haneen Zoabi is here to address the rally.”

Zoabi: “Our message is this army is the army of a country which is against us and kills our people in Jerusalem and in Gaza and in the West Bank. We are not going to play a part in killing our people.”

Following an interview with Mohammed Zoabi, audiences once again hear from Haneen Zoabi:

42:33 “Of course I do not represent those who serve in the Israeli army. I do not speak in the name of the person you just mentioned [Mohammed Zoabi]. Just because he’s part of my family doesn’t make me responsible for his actions. Of course I do not represent those who have identity disfiguration. I do not represent those who have no self-esteem, those with a slave mentality. I represent people with dignity who feel they are in their homeland and never left it.”

Haneen Zoabi appears no fewer than nine times in this 47 minute-long film and on none of those occasions does Corbin challenge her falsehoods and propaganda or correct the inaccurate impressions received by viewers. Although at one point in the film (40:39) Corbin does tell viewers that “a recent poll says a majority of the Arab-Israeli community identifies as Israeli in some way”, none of the sixteen other Muslim, Christian or Druze members of the Knesset are interviewed, meaning that BBC audiences are restricted to hearing Zoabi’s extremist views without understanding her place on the political map.

The vast majority of this programme’s viewers around the world will of course not be aware of the ideology of Zoabi and her political party and will not be familiar with the phenomenon of publicly funded MPs who advocate the destruction of the state they ostensibly serve. The failure to adequately explain the political motivations behind Zoabi’s propaganda means that not only does this film become a platform for its unchallenged amplification, but that viewers are misled with false and distorted information which overshadows and detracts from a long-overdue presentation of the seriously under-reported topic of co-existence between different ethnic communities in Israel.  

Related Articles:

The Christians who do not fit into the BBC’s Middle East narrative

Protest by Middle East Christians not on the BBC radar

What Do Israeli Christians, Druze and Bedouin Think About the Jewish State?   (CAMERA)

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotion of Haneen Zoabi omits crucial information

 

Jane Corbin’s BBC documentary on plight of ME Christians promotes jaded Israel-related narratives

On April 15th 2015 BBC Two’s ‘This World’ programme aired a documentary by Jane Corbin titled “Kill the Christians” which is described as follows in the synopsis:Corbin This World

“Christianity is facing the greatest threat to its existence in the very place where it was born. Jane Corbin travels across the Middle East to some of the holiest places in Christendom and finds that hundreds of thousands of Christians are fleeing Islamic extremists, conflict and persecution. From the Nineveh plains in Iraq to the ancient city of Maaloula in Syria, Kill the Christians reveals the story of how the religion that shaped Western culture and history is in danger of disappearing in large parts of its ancient heartland.”

Pre-broadcast promotion of the programme included an article by Corbin titled “Could Christianity be driven from Middle East?” published on the BBC News website and another article by Corbin published in the Guardian under the headline “These may be the last Christians of the Middle East – unless we help“. The sub-heading in the Guardian article reflects one of the themes appearing in the documentary itself as well as in the other written article.

“Islamic extremism has taken persecution to a new level, but the seeds were sown a decade ago in the US- and British-led Iraq invasion”.

Whilst the version of Corbin’s article appearing on the BBC News website confines itself to discussion of the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria, in the article appearing in the Guardian, readers got a taste of things to come in the documentary itself.

“Christianity remains a force only in Lebanon, where the common enemy for Muslims and Christians alike is Islamic extremism. There are other threats, however – in historic Palestine young Christians leave for jobs and a more secure life abroad. Emigration and fear are sapping the life of Christian communities even in relatively peaceful parts of the region.”Corbin written

At around 37 minutes into the programme Corbin tells viewers:

“But there’s one country where Christians are still secure – their last bastion in the Middle East: the Lebanon.”

That, of course, is not an accurate statement: Christians in Israel are both secure and thriving.  

Remarkably, around a tenth of this hour-long documentary ostensibly about “Christians…fleeing Islamic extremists, conflict and persecution” is devoted to what Corbin variously terms “historic Palestine” and “the Holy Land”.

“The Christians of the Lebanon have a good chance of holding on, but only if their children feel they have a future in the region. That’s not certain when you look at where it all began: historic Palestine. The Christian community has dramatically declined in the very place where Christ was born: in the little town of Bethlehem on the West Bank Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.”

Bethlehem is of course located in Area A and has been under the full control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995.

“It’s not Islamic State that threatens Christians here but a slow process of attrition. Decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have driven many Christians to emigrate. In the 1920s Bethlehem was almost completely Christian; only one Muslim family lived here. But now only a third of the town’s inhabitants are Christian.”

Corbin refrains from informing her viewers of some critical background to Bethlehem’s demographics:

“In 1947 the population of Bethlehem was 85% Christian. In 1990 23,000 Christians lived there, as a 60% majority. After the Palestinian Authority took over control of the town in 1995 the town’s municipal boundaries were altered to include concentrations of Muslim population, turning the Christians into a minority. By 2010 the number of Christians in Bethlehem had fallen to 7,500.”

Corbin continues:

“The Church of the Nativity marks the very place where Christ was born in a manger. It’s somewhere every devout Christian in the world wants to visit. Much of Bethlehem’s economy depends on pilgrimage and tourism and that always suffers when there’s conflict in the Holy Land.” […]

“During the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation a decade ago, the Church of the Nativity itself was besieged. Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants who’d taken refuge inside. Many Christians left Bethlehem following the uprising.” […]

Corbin makes no mention of the fact that the Palestinian terrorists who violently took over the church were in possession of weapons and explosives and held some 200 hostages – civilians and clergy.

“Life is hard in Bethlehem. The town’s now partly surrounded by the wall. Israel says it built this separation barrier for its security but Christians say it restricts their movement. Violence still regularly flares up in Bethlehem between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.” […]

Once again we see the BBC’s standard “Israel says” formula at work in relation to the anti-terrorist fence. As usual, no effort is made to provide audiences with factual information on the subject of the fence’s effectiveness in preventing the terror attacks which were the cause of its construction and just as Corbin avoids any mention of Palestinian terrorism during the second Intifada, she also erases it from her euphemistic description of contemporary violence which, according to her, just “flares up”. Corbin also repeats the standard inaccurate BBC claim according to which Bethlehem is “partially surrounded by the wall”. In fact, not only is there no anti-terrorist fence to the south and east of Bethlehem, but the section which can accurately be described as a “wall” is one small specific section.

“Some Christians also complain of discrimination against them by the Muslim majority and they fear increasing Islamic extremism in the area.” […]

That one-liner is of course the real story behind the plight of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere but – despite the ample evidence long available – it is one which does not fit the BBC narrative and hence has not been reported comprehensively. As we see, Corbin makes no effort to present an exception to that BBC rule.

“Many Christians in Bethlehem feel cut off from the greatest place of all in the life of Christ – just five miles away. Jerusalem is where three of the greatest religions on earth come together, making this the holiest city on earth. Two of those religions are still thriving in the Holy Land. Judaism is secure in the State of Israel and prayers in Jerusalem’s great Mosques echo those across the Middle East where Islam is predominant. Only Christianity is in terminal decline. They still worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site of Jesus’ tomb. But most visitors are from far away – from places where the religion’s growing. Soon these most symbolic sites could become just museums for international pilgrims. Few Christians actually live in the place where Jesus lived and died.”

In the year following the establishment of the State of Israel – 1949 – its Christian population numbered 34,000.  In 1947 there were 28,000 Christians living in Jerusalem. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule over the eastern part of the city, 61% of them left, with the population reduced to 11,000 when the city was reunited in 1967. At the end of 2012, The Christian population of Israel numbered 158,400, 80% of whom are Arab Christians living exactly in “the place where Jesus lived and died”: the Galilee and Jerusalem.

“Most Christian Arabs live in the northern Israel, and the cities with the largest Christian populations are Nazareth, with 22,400; Haifa with 14,400; Jerusalem with 11,700; and Shfaram with 9,400.”

One year later – December 2013 – the number of Christians living in Israel had risen to 160,900, indicating a natural growth rate of around 1.9%. By way of comparison, the natural growth rate of the UK population in 2013 was 0.6%.

So as we see, Corbin’s claim that “…in the Holy Land…Christianity is in terminal decline” is not evidence-based at all. Rather, it clearly flows from the exact same politically motivated source as Jeremy Bowen’s recent attempt to persuade BBC audiences that Israel is just as much a threat to Middle East Christians as the religiously motivated persecution and slaughter perpetrated by Islamist extremists.

The issue of the persecution of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East is one which clearly does need to be brought to audiences worldwide. It is therefore all the more regrettable that the BBC exploits this serious subject for the promotion of inaccurate, trite political narratives about the one country in the region in which they are not in danger, whilst at the same time downplaying and even concealing the real background to the plight of Christians living under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. 

One to watch: BBC’s Panorama on ‘The War of the Tunnels’

An edition of ‘Panorama’ titled “The War of the Tunnels” – which has already been postponed twice for reasons unknown – is now scheduled for broadcast on BBC One on Monday, September 15th with repeats on the BBC News channel and BBC Two as shown below.

Panorama Corbin

The programme’s synopsis states:

“For seven weeks Hamas rockets roared over the border into Israel while Israeli bombs pounded Gaza. Panorama’s Jane Corbin goes deep into the underground tunnels where battles have been fought to investigate the war that has devastated Gaza.

What has each side really gained in this war and can there be a solution to the conflict which is fuelling hatred and fear all over the world?”

As readers are no doubt aware, Jane Corbin’s previous Israel-related documentaries have included the January 2010 programme titled “A Walk in the Park” which was extremely problematic and generated numerous complaints.  

In August of the same year Jane Corbin produced another documentary titled “Death in the Med” which related to the May 2010 ‘Mavi Marmara’ incident in which anti-Israel activists attacked soldiers trying to prevent the ship of that name from breaching the naval blockade. In that case Corbin’s reporting was considerably more accurate and impartial but nevertheless was the subject of complaints – partially at least as the result of an organized campaign by the PSC.

Assuming that “The War of the Tunnels” is finally aired, it will be interesting to see which of the above styles of reporting it more resembles.

Update:

It would appear that this programme’s broadcast in the UK has been cancelled yet again with the BBC One Panorama webpage currently informing visitors that “There are no upcoming broadcasts of this programme”. However, viewers of BBC World News not located in either the Middle East or Europe will apparently now (perhaps) be able to watch the programme on September 20th and 21st.

Panorama update