BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

The May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included a pre-recorded interview (from 16:05 here) with regular BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti in which many of the themes already apparent at the beginning of the programme (discussed in part one of this post) were repeated and reinforced.

Iqbal: “Let’s hear now from the Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He also sits on the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A short while ago I spoke to him from our Ramallah studio. He gave me his reaction to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”

Barghouti: “This move from the side of the administration of President Trump is very bad and I think it makes the United States complicit and even participant in violating international law and actually committing a war crime by approving the annexation of occupied territories by force. It also destroys the ability of the United States to be a negotiator in any peace process.” […]

Iqbal: “Let’s start with that first point that you made – that the US is in violation of international law. President Trump would argue that the peace process was moribund and by taking Jerusalem off the table, he has a plan to reinject life into a process that was dead.”

Barghouti: “No, he is substituting the peace between two sides with…and enforcing a deal unilaterally with Israel on the Palestinian side, consolidating the occupation and the system of apartheid and racial discrimination. He’s taking off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of settlements, the issue of refugees. So practically he’s saying I’m fulfilling what the Israelis want.”

Listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ smear from Razia Iqbal, who went on to ask a ‘question’ which is obviously irrelevant given that Israel’s position on its capital has not changed in thirty-eight years and merely served as a cue for more of Barghouti’s deliberately delegitimising falsehoods and smears.

Iqbal: “A third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, what do you think is going to happen to those Palestinians now.”

Barghouti: “Well they are treated as third grade citizens. They are discriminated against. There is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Their properties are confiscated. They are prohibited from building new homes. In reality, Mr Netanyahu is trying to push the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and trying to exercise ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.”

Razia Iqbal could have put Barghouti’s allegations of ethnic cleansing into proportion had she told listeners that the Arab population of Jerusalem grew from 69,000 (26%) in 1967 to 324,000 (37%) in 2015. She chose not to do so. Listeners then got an insight into the source of Iqbal’s earlier claim that “many people” think that “the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law”.

Iqbal: “How are the Palestinians going to respond in the context of what you regard as a violation of international law? If you’re saying that the US is now siding with the occupying power, what is it that you can do about the United States breaking those resolutions at the United Nations?”

Barghouti responded with promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences. Later on he was given another opportunity to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear unchallenged.

Iqbal: “The United States is clearly moving in a direction unilaterally in many different spheres. Who would you like to intervene now?”

Barghouti: “Look I believe our case is very similar to the case of South African people who struggled against apartheid. There was a time when most governments turned their backs to Nelson Mandela who was described as a terrorist. […] I think the peoples of the world are now realising how just the cause of the Palestinians is and how it is unacceptable to allow Israel to create a system of apartheid in the 21st century.”

After a break, Iqbal returned to the story at 30:06 with more of the same messaging.

Iqbal: “We’re going to return to our top story today – the story that’s dominating our programme – the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem: an issue that has been hugely contentious. The Israelis of course welcoming it. Palestinians and many in the international community seeing it as going against international consensus.”

At 36:09 Iqbal spoke to former US Senator Joe Lieberman who was at the US embassy event and –as she clarified – was one of those who put forward the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  Iqbal told listeners:

Iqbal: “It [the act] did pass both Senate and the House but it was not signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.”

That obviously implies to BBC audiences that the Jerusalem Embassy Act did not become law. In fact, a footnote states:

Ignoring the fact that in his December 6thstatement the US president specifically said “[w]e are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”, during their conversation Iqbal ‘asked’ Lieberman:

Iqbal: “The president could have said though – couldn’t he? – that the US would move its embassy to west Jerusalem. The idea of claiming Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital sends out a very hostile – at the worst – but in some respects not a neutral position or signal to the Palestinians.”

Iqbal again promoted the ‘US embassy relocation as the end of the peace process’ theme.

Iqbal: “Do you think there still is scope for a peace process?”

She promoted another recurring theme by referring to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as a decision that “puts Washington completely at odds with the rest of the international community” and when her interviewee responded that “a country puts its embassy in the city that the host country declares to be its capital”, Iqbal interrupted him.

Iqbal: “But Senator Lieberman – I’m so sorry to interrupt you – under the UN resolution East Jerusalem is occupied territory.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the UNSC resolution to which she referred – 2334 – is non-binding.

At 45:03 Iqbal introduced her final pre-recorded interviewee – the head of an American political NGO that claims to have been trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to “promote a just resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1979. Listeners however were not provided with background on that NGO’s political stance (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) which would help them put the contributor’s words into context.

Iqbal: “We are going to stay with our top story now and hear from Lara Friedman who is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington. I began by asking her a little while ago how significant she thought the move was for the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly, Friedman’s responses dovetailed with the themes Iqbal had chosen to promote throughout the programme.

Freidman: “The moving of the embassy has been a red line politically.”

Friedman: “The notion that you reinvigorate a peace process by effectively telling one side all of the arguments we made to you to come into a peace process are now dead and we expect you to stay or come into a peace process based on an entirely different set of arguments that compromise everything that you need – it doesn’t pass what I call the laugh test. It’s impossible to hear that without laughing if you understand what is necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Iqbal: “The Palestinians argue that in doing this President Trump and the United States has placed itself on the side of the occupying power and that by recognizing Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel, it is in violation of international law since East Jerusalem is an occupied territory recognised by international law. Is there any scope in taking that route?”

Friedman: “It isn’t the Palestinians who say that – it’s pretty much the rest of the world except for Guatemala and possibly Paraguay down the road. This is not a move that is recognised as legitimate by anyone and on the question of whether or not President Trump is taking the side of Israel – the occupier – I mean Mr Trump himself has said ‘I’ve taken Jerusalem off the table’.”

Freidman: “The United States really has in the views of almost anyone who looks at this issue seriously, they have taken themselves out of the room as a viable or credible steward of a peace process…”

And with that cosy little echo-chamber interview, ‘Newshour’ reporting on the topic of the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem came to a close.

As we see BBC audiences worldwide were fed a highly regimented view of the topic of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They heard no serious discussion of the topic of the ‘international law’ to which Iqbal and some of her guests repeatedly referred as though it was not open to different interpretation. The idea that the US embassy’s move brings about the demise of the ‘peace process’ was repeatedly promoted with no discussion whatsoever of any additional factors affecting that process and the notion of the United States being at odds with an ‘international consensus’ was amplified unquestioningly.

Just as it was all too obvious what impression of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem  BBC audiences were intended to take away, the programme’s presentation of the second topic on the ‘split screen’ – the Gaza border rioting on May 14th – was equally monochrome, as we will see in a separate post.

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BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

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BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

Writing at the New York Times, Matti Friedman discusses media coverage of the May 14th pre-planned events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border:

“About 40,000 people answered a call to show up. Many of them, some armed, rushed the border fence. Many Israelis, myself included, were horrified to see the number of fatalities reach 60.

Most Western viewers experienced these events through a visual storytelling tool: a split screen. On one side was the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in the presence of Ivanka Trump, evangelical Christian allies of the White House and Israel’s current political leadership — an event many here found curious and distant from our national life. On the other side was the terrible violence in the desperately poor and isolated territory. The juxtaposition was disturbing.

The attempts to breach the Gaza fence, which Palestinians call the March of Return, began in March and have the stated goal of erasing the border as a step toward erasing Israel. A central organizer, the Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, exhorted participants on camera in Arabic to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis. But on Monday the enterprise was rebranded as a protest against the embassy opening, with which it was meticulously timed to coincide. The split screen, and the idea that people were dying in Gaza because of Donald Trump, was what Hamas was looking for.

The press coverage on Monday was a major Hamas success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”

BBC World Service radio of course does not have a literal split screen but the May 14th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – certainly managed to create an audio equivalent of that “storytelling tool”.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

The overwhelming majority of that hour-long programme was devoted to those two concurrently presented topics: the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the May 14th rioting along the Gaza border. In addition to Iqbal’s own commentary, listeners heard live excerpts from the ceremony at the new US embassy along with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and interviews with one Israeli MK, one Palestinian politician, one Palestinian demonstrator, a former US Senator and an American member of a political NGO.

In the two parts of this post we will look at how the former event was presented to BBC audiences and in a future post we will discuss the programme’s presentation of the second topic.

Razia Iqbal introduced the broadcast (from 00:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Our programme is dominated today by the city of Jerusalem – a city which embodies that very potent mix of religion, politics and history. Today – as we speak – the United States is inaugurating its embassy there following President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December last year. It could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of Jerusalem is among the issues which remain open for negotiation in any final peace accord; as a recognition of how contentious it is. The Israelis regard the undivided city as their capital and the Palestinians – as well as international law – regard the east of the city as territory occupied by the Israelis after the 1967 war and there for the Palestinians to make as their capital of any Palestinian state. The new US embassy will be located in west Jerusalem but President Trump has said that his unilateral decision to recognise it as Israel’s capital takes it off the table. It is among several issues which now separate the United States from the rest of the international community. We’ll be getting views from all sides about what’s happening today, right now, and also what it means for a peace process which has long been dormant.”

Already in that introduction the themes which would be repeatedly emphasised throughout the rest of the programme were apparent. Despite the fact that, even as Iqbal spoke, tens of thousands of Palestinians were literally demonstrating the fact that they are not interested in a peace agreement by participating in an event promoting efforts to eradicate the world’s only Jewish state, for the BBC it was the placement of a new plaque on an existing US mission in Jerusalem which was the “seismic shift” and the factor which would affect the ‘peace process’.

Iqbal’s partisan portrayal of ‘international law’ was likewise a theme repeated throughout the programme, as was that of US ‘isolation’ from a touted ‘consensus’ within the ‘international community’. Notably, on the two occasions that she mentioned the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood in which the US embassy is now situated, Razia Iqbal could not even be bothered to get its name – Arnona – right.

03:20 Iqbal: “Not very far from what’s happening in the Arona neigbourhood of Jerusalem where the new US embassy is going to be is quite a different scene.”

30:06 Iqbal: “In the past few minutes as the ceremony has been taking place in the Arona suburb of Jerusalem…”

At 08:26 Iqbal began a live interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel, asking her first for her thoughts on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. When in the course of her answer Haskel pointed out that “you cannot separate Jerusalem from the Jewish identity” and that the move is “very exciting”, an audibly hostile Iqbal (and one has to listen to it to appreciate the level of aggression) interrupted her.

Iqbal: “OK. So very exciting from your perspective. Arabs have also lived in Jerusalem for millennia. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem…please let me ask a question Sharren Haskel. Please let me ask a question. And Arabs regard…Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory – occupied illegally by Israel – and they see it as a possible future capital for a Palestinian state. What do you think about the view put by many people, including many in the international community, that the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law?”

The source of that “view put by many people” which Iqbal promoted became apparent minutes later when – at 16:05 –Iqbal introduced a notably less aggressive pre-recorded interview with BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghouti which will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

BBC News website coverage of May 14 Gaza rioting

As we know the BBC News website refrained from providing its audiences with any background information on the topic of preparations for the violent climax to the ‘Great Return March’ events. 

Hence, audiences reading the site’s coverage of the events of May 14th had no idea that Hamas had planned that day in advance with the intention that a particularly high number of rioters would breach the border fence with the aim of forcibly entering Israeli territory and reaching nearby communities.

BBC audiences were not aware that Hamas had urged participants to “bring a knife or a gun” and to use them “to capture soldiers or residents of Israel” who, it stipulated, should be handed over to Hamas to be used as hostages.

The BBC News website produced a ‘live’ page titled “As it happened: Gaza protest violence” which actually included more entries relating to the same day’s ceremony marking the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem than it did reports on the events along the Israel-Gaza Strip border. Notably, no fewer than nine statements condemning Israel were also published on that live page, including some from political NGOs which engage in ‘lawfare‘ against Israel.

In addition to that live page, the BBC News website published an article titled “Gaza clashes: 52 Palestinians killed on deadliest day since 2014” which opened:

“At least 52 Palestinians have been killed and 2,400 wounded by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials say, on the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

Palestinians have been protesting for weeks but deaths soared on the day the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Although tagged ‘Gaza border clashes’, the 920 word article devoted over a third of its word count (314 words) to the topic of the new US embassy in Jerusalem and 126 words to background information on Jerusalem itself, including of course the BBC’s standard partisan mantra on ‘international law’.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

The subject matter of the report as described in its headline received 377 words of coverage and 103 words of ‘analysis’.

Under the sub-heading “what happened at the border” readers were correctly told that the rise in the number of participants (and hence casualties) compared to previous weeks was in fact connected to a factor other than the ceremony marking the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.

“There have been six weeks of protests at the Gaza border, dubbed the “Great March of Return” and led by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

Hamas had always said it would step up the protests before Tuesday, when Palestinians hold their annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba or Catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes or were displaced following the foundation of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948.”

The article’s limited description of the incidents themselves was as follows:

“Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices while the Israeli military used snipers, as black smoke poured from burning tyres. […]

The Israeli military said it had killed three people trying to plant explosives near the security fence in Rafah. Aircraft and tanks had also targeted military positions belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, it said.”

BBC audiences were not told of three separate shooting incidents, infiltration attempts or arson attacks.

“At around 4 p.m., the time that the US was inaugurating its embassy in Jerusalem, military sources said Hamas-spurred groups were trying to breach the border at several spots along the Gaza fence.

The army said three of those killed were trying to plant explosives at the border fence. In three separate incidents, Palestinian gunmen opened fire at Israeli troops, according to the IDF. There were no injuries among the soldiers.

In one case in the northern Strip, the troops fired back directly. In another case farther south, an IDF tank responded to the shots fired by destroying a nearby Hamas position, the army said. […]

Numerous fires broke out in agricultural fields near Israeli communities, sparked by kites laden with containers of burning fuel flown from Gaza into Israeli territory. Firefighters were called to fight the blazes. But many farmers did not wait for help and worked to put out the conflagrations themselves, tilling the soil around the fires in order to starve out the flames.”

Notably the BBC – which has completely ignored two previous incidents of large-scale vandalism at the Kerem Shalom crossing during ‘Great Return March’ riots – likewise ignored a third incident on May 14th and readers of this article were not told that leaflets warning participants to stay away from the border fence were distributed by the IDF before the rioting began.

Readers were told that:

“Israel says the protests are aimed at breaching the border and attacking Israeli communities nearby.”

They were not informed that – as noted above – Hamas says the exact same.

“Hamas’s leader in Gaza said Thursday he hopes to see hundreds of thousands of Palestinians breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel at next week’s protests to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.”

There was however one welcome innovation in this article. As we have recorded over the past few weeks, previous BBC reports have repeatedly failed to clarify to audiences that the casualty figures from “health officials” that they quoted were in fact provided by Hamas. Readers of this latest report found the following:

“The health ministry, run by Hamas, said children were among those killed.” [emphasis added]

While the fact that at least one of those children was a terror operative appears to have escaped the BBC’s notice – along with Hamas’ acknowledgement that ten of the others killed were its employees – at least that is one small step towards greater transparency and accuracy.

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BBC WS airs ‘Great Return March’ falsehoods and more

The May 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme Weekend – presented by Julian Worricker – included a long item (from 04:38 here) relating to the next day’s opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. Given the BBC’s coverage of that story so far, it was hardly surprising to see that event once again portrayed as “controversial”.

“The United States will officially open its embassy in Jerusalem tomorrow, following the controversial decision by President Trump to relocate it from Tel Aviv.”

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

Worricker: “…we turn our attention to the Middle East and particularly the events of the next few days. Today it’s an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six Day War. The day is officially marked by state ceremonies and memorial services. Then tomorrow the American embassy is officially moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No country has its embassy in Jerusalem because of its contested status. Both Israelis and Palestinians see the ancient city as their capital. But in making the move President Trump is reversing seven decades of US policy and defying a long-standing international consensus.”

In fact, the US Congress of course voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago. Worricker could have told listeners that Guatemala and Paraguay are in the process of moving their embassies to Jerusalem too but obviously that would have spoilt the chosen narrative of “international consensus”.

Worricker: “Indications of the controversy aroused come from, among others, Saeb Erekat – the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – who has asked fellow diplomats to boycott Monday’s event. And Israel says it will almost double the number of troops on its border with the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank to deal with any wider Palestinian protests about the opening of the embassy.”

Worricker refrained from informing listeners that “protests” on the Gaza border were planned months ago and are billed as having an aim unrelated to the US embassy move: the breaching of that border and infiltration into Israel.

After promising “Israeli and Palestinian voices on this in a moment”, Worricker presented a recycled brief history of Jerusalem from British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore before introducing Gil Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post. Having asked him for his view on why the US embassy move matters, Worricker went on to promptly criticise his interviewee’s reply.

Worricker: “The problem with that view – as you know only too well – is that the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, occupied since 1967, as the potential capital of its future state. So how do you square that circle?”

After Hoffman had pointed out that the US president said in his December 6th 2017 statement that the borders in Jerusalem are to be determined by the parties concerned and that Saeb Erekat – to whom Worricker had referred to earlier – had failed at his job of negotiating with Israel, Worricker found it necessary to both defend Erekat and promote the PLO position.

Worricker: “Well he [Erekat] would say obviously that if he has – to use your word – failed, it’s because the other side hasn’t done what he would require them to do by way of a compromise. Really, we’ve seen decades of US neutrality on this issue. How can it facilitate future negotiations if the US now – on this – favours one side so obviously over the other?”

In response to Hoffman stating that US neutrality had to date failed to resolve the issue, Worricker retorted:

Worricker: “Let me invite you to look at it from the other point of view in that case because going back to my neutrality point, if this is, quote – and this is a crude way of describing it – a big win for Israel, what do you offer to give back in return to those who are clearly angered by this, whether you think their anger is justified or not?”

As Hoffman began to respond by saying that Trump has a plan he’s been working on, Worricker interrupted him:

Worricker: “Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu clearly are in agreement over this so the two are working to a degree hand in hand.”

Hoffman replied that the US peace plan will no doubt include Israeli concessions in Jerusalem before Worricker closed the interview.

Clearly that less than four-minute interview did not provide listeners with much understanding of “Israeli voices” because Worricker was too busy criticising Hoffman’s replies. 

Worricker next went on to tell listeners that “the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel” would take place on May 15th – while failing to note that the occasion was marked by Israel on April 19th.

Worricker: “I mentioned Palestinian voices as well. Well protests are expected at that embassy on Monday. It’s a sensitive time because it’s a day before the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel but the day that Palestinians refer to as a Nakba – catastrophe. That is the day after that independence in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced.”

Worricker next conducted an interview with a Palestinian film-maker called Azza el Hassan who made a film about PLO propaganda films from the 60s and 70s. At one point (13:09) during that five-minute conversation, Hassan said:

Hassan: “…you know what’s so beautiful about these films? In these films Palestinians are not victims. In fact they’re liberators; they’re going to change the world. They’re propaganda films but there is this nice, dreamy element in them which makes you think it’s a pity that all of this was lost somehow.”

Worricker: “You use the word propaganda, because I am bound to point out that during the 60s and 70s when the PLO – the Palestine Liberation Organisation – was a professedly violent organisation pursuing its aims by violent means – that’s not something to celebrate, is it?”

Hassan: “Well you have to remember that the 70s…you cannot read the 70s from what you’re reading today. The 70s was the period of the Cold War. For example the South African movement was also a military movement – the ANC I mean by that. So when you say that the PLO was into [inaudible] you’re absolutely right but so was all liberating movements at that time.”

Worricker: “Mmm…but it doesn’t justify some of the dreadful acts that were carried out at that time.”

Listeners then heard false claims regarding the ‘Great Return March’ in which the majority of those killed during violent rioting since the end of March – rather than “in the last week” – were shown to be linked to terror organisations. Worricker made no effort whatsoever to challenge those falsehoods.

Hassan: “Absolutely, but if you want to talk about violence now, now in the last week Israel have killed 50 innocent people in Gaza who were just protesting peacefully. So violence is…what’s important is what’s happening now.”

Worricker: “Well let’s talk about what’s happening now because clearly there is a reason for having this conversation beyond the film that you made. We’re going to see in the coming days the American embassy in Israel moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And we’re going to see the anniversary of the events of 1948 which led to the creation of the State of Israel, so Israelis will celebrate that. Palestinians will regard that as – to use their word – a catastrophe. In other words, the sides are so, so, so far apart. Do you see any hope of anything changing?”

Apparently Worricker is not aware of the fact that Israelis will not be celebrating “in the coming days” an event they have already marked. Listeners then heard promotion of elimination of the Jewish state.

Hassan: “I think there’s always hope. I think nothing will ever stay…nothing ever stays the same. Things have to move. And I believe in a one-state solution. I’ve always believed in it. And…”

Worricker: “One state rather than two?”

Hassan: “Yeah. I think…wouldn’t you want a one-state solution? Why would you want a two-state solution? But what needs to happen is you have to create a humane environment and an equal environment for everyone. And then we can move forward.”

Worricker: “When you look at the way the Palestinians – particularly those in charge, whether it’s in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip – the way they have tried to conduct the campaign that they have conducted in recent years, when you look at the failings and the shortcomings, what should they have done differently?”

Hassan: “As a Palestinian I feel we are in our worst point of history. We don’t even have a proper political position. So lots of shortcomings are appearing and I agree with you but I also find them a natural conclusion to an unnatural and unjust situation.”

Worricker closed that second and distinctly less confrontational interview at that point.

As we see listeners to this long item heard inaccurate claims concerning US policy on Jerusalem and Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. Audiences also heard inaccurate claims relating to the events on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip and – as was the case in the very few reports produced when Israelis actually did celebrate the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence – promotion of the ‘Nakba’ and the campaign to eradicate the Jewish state known as the ‘one-state solution’ was also in evidence.

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Inaccuracy and omission from ‘parachuted’ BBC Radio 4 presenter in Jerusalem

In recent days we have seen a number of BBC programmes broadcasting ‘special editions’ from Jerusalem. While the benefits to the BBC’s funding public of flying presenters of domestic programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ and ‘Sunday‘ out from the UK for a jaunt to Israel may remain a mystery to many, the May 11th edition of Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ provided a prime example of the perils of ‘parachuting’ reporters into an environment with which they are less than adequately familiar.

Presenter Mark Mardell introduced the item (from 27:49 here) with what was by that time an inaccurate claim regarding a “high alert” in northern Israel and a decidedly presumptuous prediction of its continuation. Interestingly though, he had nothing at all to say about the missile attacks by Iran against Israel the previous day.

Mardell: “Northern Israel is still on high alert and will stay so for a few days yet after the full-scale attack on Iranian bases within Syria. It’s obviously a tense time and next week the State of Israel will be 70 years old. My colleague Edward Stourton is in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Evidently – and not only in this programme – the BBC has elected to ignore the fact that Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence on April 19th and instead has adopted the staggeringly patronising policy of deciding for itself (in a manner similar to that in which it presumes to decide where Israel’s capital is – and is not) that Israel’s independence day should be marked according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hebrew one.

Edward Stourton also began his item by erasing Iranian missile fire at Israel from the picture. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Stourton: “Mark, Israel was of course born in war and – as the exchange of fire into Syria over the past few days has reminded the world – its history has been scarred by conflict ever since. The way events unfolded seven decades ago is a deeply and bitterly contested story but the bare bones of it go something like this: in the autumn of 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted to partition what was known as Palestine between an Arab and an Israeli state with an internationally managed special enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Stourton made no effort to inform listeners that the Arabs rejected the UN’s Partition Plan recommendation, thus rendering it irrelevant, before going on:

Stourton: “Violence between the two sides escalated into civil war and the British, who had a mandate to run Palestine, lost control.”

Listeners then heard an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs” – a recording which was also used by the BBC in the same programme last month.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order. In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Stourton: “Well that was the way Pathé News reported the story and Britain in fact dictated the timetable by announcing its mandate would end on May the 14th 1948. That afternoon, here in Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion – Israel’s first leader – declared independence.”

The declaration of independence was of course made in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. After listeners had heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion speaking, Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Well the new state came into being at midnight and the following day four Arab states attacked Israeli forces.”

Stourton then introduced his two guests – Sami Adwan from Bethlehem and Israeli ‘new historian’ Tom Segev – who, unsurprisingly, expressed remarkably homogeneous views.

Listeners heard Adwan claim that in 1948 Palestinians were “deprived from their national rights…their rights, their resources and their property, their places”. Awad went on to claim that “they were expelled without any reason, without any cause”.

Stourton – whose sole response to those claims was “well indeed” – refrained from clarifying to listeners that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who left in 1948 were not driven out by the Israelis, but left of their own accord – often because they were urged to do so by their own leaders. He likewise failed to mention that the Palestinians were not the passive actors portrayed by Awad, but also took part in what was intended to be a war of annihilation initiated by the Arab states and then he went on to give a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

Stourton: “Well indeed and just staying with you for a moment, this weekend marks Jerusalem Day which remembers the moment in 1967 when Israel took the east of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Fair to say that that period added another sort of layer of disputed history if you like.”

When Adwan went on to claim that “the British, the Israelis are responsible for our catastrophe”, Stourton made no effort to question him on the topic of Arab and Palestinian responsibility.

Listeners heard highly partisan portrayals of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from both Stourton and Segev, with the latter describing it as an “unnecessary development” and opining that the Palestinian refugee issue is a “burden…on our [Israel’s] morality and on the justification for the existence of Israel”.

When Adwan later presented a partisan view of the UN Partition Plan, Stourton failed once again to inform listeners that the proposal was rejected by Arab leaders – including representatives of the Palestinians – and hence has no relevance.

Obviously the aim of this unbalanced and partisan report – riddled as it was with important omissions and inaccuracies – was to advance the narrative of “disputed history”. No effort was made to get beyond that falsely ‘balanced’ label and to provide Radio 4 listeners with accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of a complicated story.

Nevertheless, one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of sending UK based journalists abroad to report on a story off their usual beat, it would at least ensure that they are au fait with the basic historical facts and ensure that they provide them to the corporation’s funding public. 

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More ‘Great Return March’ arson and ambitions ignored by BBC News

As was noted here last week the only reference on the BBC News website to the fact that on May 4th Palestinian rioters caused serious damage to the sole crossing point for goods and fuel into the Gaza Strip came in the form of a circumspect one liner.

“As noted at the Times of Israel:

“The damage caused Friday will very likely cause delays and difficulties in the transfer of goods into Gaza, not to mention the supply of desperately needed fuel, and exacerbate the already difficult humanitarian situation.”

However, the only mention of that incident on the BBC News website came in the form of twenty-two words in a report on another topic that was published the following day:

“On Saturday, Israel accused Hamas of setting fire to gas supplies and damaging crossing points where humanitarian supplies are brought into Gaza.” [emphasis added]”

The BBC News website likewise did not produce any dedicated reporting on the topic of the ‘Great Return March’ weekly rioting on May 11th and so BBC audiences remain unaware of the fact that the Kerem Shalom crossing was again vandalised on that day.

Kerem Shalom crossing May 11. Photo: IDF Spokesperson

“Hundreds of Palestinian rioters vandalized and set fire to a fuel complex and a conveyor belt on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom, the strip’s main cargo crossing with Israel, causing more than $9 million in damages and disrupting the import of diesel fuel and building materials.

According to the IDF, the fuel installation is the only way to bring diesel fuel into Gaza for operating generators for hospitals and other key facilities.

A video from the Kerem Shalom crossing shows Palestinians cheering as a fire was set.

It was the second such attack on the facility in a week. “Hamas continues to lead the residents of Gaza to destroy the only assistance they receive,” the IDF said.

Nissim Jan, the director of an Israeli company that operates Kerem Shalom in partnership with private Palestinian companies, said he spent large sums to repair last week’s damage. “This time I can’t repair and will not repair it. Where shall I bring money from?” he said.”

The following day it was announced that the crossing would have to remain closed.

“The Israeli military on Saturday announced the closure of the Kerem Shalom border crossing into the Gaza Strip, a day after Palestinian rioters trashed key infrastructure serving the only entry point of outside goods into the Hamas-run Strip, causing immense damage.

The crossing will be closed while the damage is repaired, and will reopen in accordance with the security situation, officials said. […]

Apart from humanitarian cases, the IDF said the Kerem Shalom crossing would remain closed until the “extensive damage” caused to the torched gas lines, electricity infrastructure and a conveyor belt used to transfer goods into the Strip is repaired.

The army estimated the damage to Kerem Shalom would cost $9 million to repair.”

With BBC audiences regularly – and often falsely – led to believe that counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel are the prime factor influencing the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, it is significant that the corporation has shown no interest in reporting this story. 

Likewise, BBC audiences have not been informed of the anticipated violent climax to the ‘Great Return March’ events expected on May 14th and 15th.

“Hamas’s leader in Gaza said Thursday he hopes to see hundreds of thousands of Palestinians breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel at next week’s protests to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.

In his first major briefing to international media since becoming head of the Gaza terror group in 2017, Yahya Sinwar implied he would like to see thousands of Palestinians crossing into Israel as part of the culmination of more than a month of protests.”

The ITIC adds:

“Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’s Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip, called on Palestinian youngsters to carry out the protest activity “at all costs,” saying that they would rather die as shaheeds. In the ITIC’s assessment, Hamas and the other organizers take into account that a mass penetration into Israeli territory may result in a large number of dead and wounded Palestinians among the rioters. However, the ITIC believes that the great number of expected casualties does not deter them. On the contrary – at a time when world media is focused on the confrontation between Israel and Iran and the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, a large number of casualties, from Hamas’s perspective, may help raise the Palestinian case once again to the forefront of public attention, after it had been pushed aside.”

Obviously BBC audiences’ understanding of the reports they will read, watch and hear about those events would have benefited from some prior background information concerning Hamas’ plans for the coming days.

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Yom Yerushalayim

Tonight and tomorrow Israel celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem on the 28th of Iyyar 5727 (June 7th 1967), nineteen years after the Jordanian occupation and the expulsion of Jews from neighbourhoods including the Old City.

“Batei Mahse (“Shelter for the Needy” in Hebrew) was the first neighborhood built by Jews in the modern era. Over the years, additional houses were built by philanthropists in Batei Mahse, among them the magnificent Rothschild House.

In the first half of the 18th century, the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish population lived in conditions of dire poverty. Few Jews owned land, and most had to rent their apartments from Muslims. In 1857, the opportunity arose to purchase a large plot of land in the southeast of the Jewish Quarter and build on it. This land was purchased by Kolel Hod, an organization of Dutch and German Jews (Hod being an abbreviation of Holland and Deutschland) that administered the funds collected in these countries for the benefit of Dutch and German Jews living in the Land of Israel. Their aim was to build modern apartments in order to relieve the crowdedness of the cramped Jewish Quarter. For the first time in many generations, Jews were able to build their own housing.

During the battles that raged in the Jewish Quarter as part of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the apartments and cellars of Batei Mahse provided shelter for the Jewish civilian population remaining in the besieged Quarter. Following the surrender to the Arab Legion, the defenders and residents of the Jewish Quarter gathered in Batei Mahse. Thirty fighters still standing after thirteen successive days of battle, along with fifty wounded and 260 civilians aged 13 to 78, were taken into captivity. 1,300 residents of the Jewish Quarter – women, children and the elderly – were forced to leave their homes, which were looted and set on fire. Approximately 1,300 years after the Arabs had allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem with the end of the Byzantine Empire’s rule, the Jews were once again expelled from within Jerusalem’s walls.”

Photo: John Phillips, Life magazine

“After the Six-Day War of 1967, in which eastern Jerusalem was retaken by Israel and the city was reunited, the wreckage in Batei Mahse was cleared away. The square was enlarged and now serves as an open playground for two nearby primary schools – one in the Rothschild House and the other in buildings slightly to the south, some of which are original buildings from before the War of Independence.”

As readers are no doubt aware, the BBC continues to promote the politicised narrative according to which the Batei Mahse buildings and the rest of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem are an illegal “settlement”.

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Political messaging in BBC Sport report on bike race

On May 3rd a report by BBC Sport correspondent Tom Fordyce concerning the Giro d’Italia cycling race was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page as well as on the BBC Sport website.

Titled “Giro d’Italia: Chris Froome in spotlight at start in Jerusalem“, the report included amplification of statements made in a press release put out by an NGO with a long record of anti-Israel campaigning that is frequently uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC.

“Others see little more than a concerted effort to present an image of Israel to the world at odds with the reality. Amnesty International has accused Israel of trying to “sportwash” its reputation, as protests continue in the Gaza Strip that have so far led to the death of 35 Palestinian protestors.”

Obviously the ‘Great Return March’ events which Hamas and other terror groups have been staging weekly since the end of March have nothing whatsoever to do with the cycling race that is ostensibly the topic of this report but Fordyce nevertheless chose to amplify Amnesty International’s opportunistic false linkage and delegitimisation.

Moreover, the report also included ‘analysis’ from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which likewise encouraged sports fans to view the sporting event in a political light.

Yolande Knell’s promotion of the Old City of Jerusalem as “occupied territory” predictably fails to inform visitors to the BBC Sport website of the all-important context of the internationally rejected belligerent Jordanian occupation of that district and additional parts of Jerusalem. And so, once again, the BBC’s funding public got a dose of politically partisan messaging with its ‘news’.

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BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

On the evening of April 11th the BBC News website published an article titled “Dublin lord mayor beats Israel ban due to ‘spelling error’” on its Middle East page.

“Israel has launched an investigation into how the lord mayor of Dublin got into the country despite a ban.

The interior ministry announced on Tuesday that Mícheál Mac Donncha would not be allowed to enter on account of his ties to a pro-Palestinian group which advocates boycotting Israel.

But Mr Mac Donncha tweeted that he was already in the occupied West Bank after flying into Tel Aviv’s airport.

Officials are reported to have spelt the mayor’s name wrong on a watch list.”

Under the subheading “Why was the mayor banned?”, readers were told that:

Israeli officials say Mr Mac Donncha, a Sinn Féin city councillor, has ties to the Dublin-based Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC).

It supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.

Israel says the BDS movement opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism.” [emphasis added]

There is of course nothing novel about the BBC avoiding informing audiences in its own words what the BDS campaign is all about: for years we have been documenting on these pages how the corporation has serially failed to provide an accurate and impartial portrayal of the aims and agenda of the BDS campaign – even as it has frequently provided that campaign and some of its supporters with free PR.

Notably though, the BBC also presented Mícheál Mac Donncha’s ties to the IPSC as merely something that ‘Israel says’ is the case.

A very brief internet search would have shown the BBC that since his election less than a year ago, Mac Donncha has taken part in several IPSC organised events including the launch (held at the Lord Mayor’s official residence) of a BDS promoting calendar produced by the anti-Israel group in November 2017.

“Speaking at the launch of the calendar, Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha said: “As we close this 50th year of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it is my honour as Lord Mayor to launch the latest ‘Life In Palestine’ calendar produced by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The calendar provides a valuable insight into the daily and historical injustices faced by the Palestinian people as they struggle for the freedom, justice, equality and peace that has been so long denied them. The Calendar also has lots of useful information about companies and institutions that profit from Israel’s military occupation and war crimes, and, importantly, how to avoid spending money that will help them profit further.””

In December 2017 Mac Donncha spoke at a protest organised by the IPSC outside the US embassy.

Just last week – again complete with ‘keffiyeh’ scarf – he took part in a demonstration in support of the Hamas-organised ‘Great Return March’.

In other words, the BBC’s qualification of his ties to the ISPC by means use of the words “Israeli officials say” is entirely superfluous and misleading to audiences.

The purpose of Mac Donncha’s visit to the Middle East was described by the BBC as follows:

“Mr Mac Donncha also announced that he would travel to the West Bank on Tuesday to attend a conference on the status of the city of Jerusalem at the invitation of the Palestinian Authority.”

Here is the Lord Mayor of Dublin sitting right below an image of Nazi sympathiser and collaborator Haj Amin al Husseini at that Ramallahconference‘.

Photo credit: COGAT

Now that’s a picture that BBC audiences are highly unlikely to see.

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BBC WS misleads on Israel’s capital city yet again

On April 3rd the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ aired an item relating to a statement made by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. Presenter James Menendez described the story as follows (from 48:52 here):

Menendez: “King Salman of Saudi Arabia has reiterated his country’s support for a Palestinian state after his son and heir apparent said that Israelis were entitled to live peacefully on their own land. Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the comment – unusual for an Arab leader, or Arab leader in waiting, anyway – in an interview with the Atlantic magazine during his visit to the United States. It was taken as a public sign of ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv appearing to grow closer.” [emphasis added]

Obviously Menendez was using the common journalistic practice of referring to a nation’s capital city as shorthand for the country’s government. Obviously too, Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital and – as the BBC has acknowledged in the past – not the seat of its government.

As we know, the BBC presumptuously refuses to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but nevertheless, Menendez’s choice of wording led listeners to believe that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital – which is clearly inaccurate.

This is not the first time that ‘Newshour’ has misled listeners with regard to Israel’s capital city. BBC Watch has – again – requested a correction.

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