Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

The centrepiece of the BBC News website’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War was published in the ‘Features’ section of its Middle East page on June 5th. That article by the corporation’s Middle East editor is titled “1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East” and it runs to a remarkably lengthy 6,181 words and – as Jeremy Bowen’s Twitter followers later learned – is based on a book he originally had published 14 years ago.

The article includes numerous factual inaccuracies or inadequately clarified statements. For example, the person named by Bowen as “Ray Rothberg” was actually Roi Rotberg from Nahal Oz. What Bowen repeatedly describes as “disputed territory” along Israel’s border with Syria was in fact the demilitarised zones defined as such in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between the two countries, while his reference to “Syria’s attempts to divert the River Jordan away from Israel’s national water grid” fails to adequately clarify that the Headwater Diversion Plan was actually conceived by the Arab League in 1964. The article also makes use of B’tselem’s inaccurate and partisan map that has been seen in numerous other BBC reports.

Interestingly, readers of this article discover that the BBC’s Middle East editor is entirely aware of factors such as Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s demand to expel UN peacekeepers from Sinai and his closure of the Straits of Tiran that were crucial in causing the war but yet curiously are so often omitted from BBC portrayals of the topic.

However, the most important aspect of Bowen’s tome is its promotion of a narrative composed of two parts.

As he has done in the past, Bowen suggests to audiences that the Six Day War was not a war of survival for Israel. [emphasis added]

“Western powers had no doubt which side in the Middle East was stronger on the eve of war in 1967. The US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff judged “that Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years.”

In a report on the Israeli army in January 1967, the British defence attaché in Tel Aviv assessed that “in command, training, equipment and services the Israel army is more prepared for war than ever before. Well-trained, tough, self-reliant, the Israeli soldier has a strong fighting spirit and would willingly go to war in defence of his country.””

“The pressure was crushing General Rabin. Against all the military evidence, he had convinced himself that he was leading Israel to catastrophe.”

“If they could fight on their own terms, Israel’s generals were confident they would score an overwhelming victory. But strict military censorship kept those conclusions private.”

The second part of Bowen’s narrative is designed to steer audiences towards the belief that the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of those six days in June 1967. [emphasis added]

“Fifty years ago, war broke out between Israel and its neighbours. The conflict lasted just six days but its effect would last to the present day.”

“All the issues that are now depressingly familiar to anyone who follows the news – violence, occupation, settlements, the future of Jerusalem – took their current form as a result of the war. The shape of the occupation emerged very quickly. Predictions of the dangers that lay ahead were ignored.”

“The 1967 war made Israel into an occupier, which is why more than anything else it matters. The experience has been a disaster for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel built settlements for Jews, in defiance of international law that says occupiers cannot settle their people on the land they capture. Israel, though, sees it differently.”

“Military occupation is by definition oppressive. The occupation has created a culture of violence that cheapens life and brutalises the people who impose and enforce the occupation and those who fight it.”

“Fifty years on from 1967, President Trump – like many new American presidents – is hoping to help Israelis and Palestinians make peace.

If his dreams become substantive talks, they will have to be about the future of the land that was captured in six days of war. […]Ignoring the legacy of 1967 is not an option.”

However, the urge to promote that selective narrative means that Bowen has to erase from audience view the fact that – as Michael Oren recently explained – the Six Day War was just one chapter in a conflict that began long before.

“Far beyond 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is in fact about 1917, 1937 and 1947. Those anniversaries can teach us much about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and why peace has proved so elusive. […]

What began as a clash between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews changed overnight into the Arab-Israel conflict. The two-state solution twice turned down by the Palestinians, in 1937 and 1947, would be forgotten as Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Yet the Palestinians showed no interest in establishing sovereignty in those areas. Instead, they rejected Israel within any borders. “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants” swore Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the eve of the Six-Day War. […]

The conflict is not about the territory Israel captured in 1967. It is about whether a Jewish state has a right to exist in the Middle East in the first place. As Mr. Abbas has publicly stated, “I will never accept a Jewish state.””

Jeremy Bowen’s promotion of his preferred narrative (which, notably, has not altered at all over the years despite repeated Palestinian rejections of peace proposals) has long been on view. However, while his exclusive focus on “the occupation” and his related concealment of the most basic factor underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict – the refusal to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist – may well serve the advancement of that political narrative, it does not serve the BBC’s funding public: the people for whom he is supposed to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible”.

Related Articles:

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Six Day War Anniversary resources

Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short 

 

 

 

 

 

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

Part one of this post looked at BBC News website coverage of the launch of Hamas’ new policy document and part two reviewed reports concerning the same topic on BBC World Service radio – in which the document was repeatedly and inaccurately portrayed as a ‘new charter’.

The same story also received coverage on BBC Radio 4, including a lengthy item in the May 2nd edition of ‘The World Tonight’ (from 31:16 here). In contrast to her World Service colleagues, presenter Ritula Shah introduced the item to listeners without falling into the trap of describing the document as a ‘new charter’. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has said it’s willing to accept an interim Palestinian state without recognising Israel’s right to exist. The group’s published a new policy document; the first since its founding charter of 1988. The new document doesn’t mention Hamas’ parent organisation the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist movement banned in Egypt. The text is seen as an effort by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to soften its image. The group as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, the UK and some other powers. Launching the document in the Qatari capital Doha, the leader of Hamas Khaled Masha’al said the aim was to clarify the organisation’s ideology, politics and guidelines but Hamas maintained its view that Israel was established illegally and they wouldn’t recognise its right to exist.”

Listeners then heard a voice over translation of an excerpt from Masha’al’s speech.

v/o: “Hamas is developing without losing the core principles or waiving the established rights and demands of our people. Hamas also believes that our struggle against the Zionist occupation, the Zionist enterprise, is not a struggle against the Jews or the Jewish faith. Hamas is struggling against the Zionist occupiers, the aggressors.”

Shah continued, introducing her first interviewee.

“So just how significant is the move? Khaled Hroub is an expert on Hamas and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University in Qatar.”

Unfortunately, the reasonable portrayal of the story that listeners had so far heard in this item was compromised when Hroub opened his commentary by making the inaccurate claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and promoting the falsehood of ‘1967 borders’ – with no meaningful challenge from Ritula Shah forthcoming.

Hroub: “It’s indeed very significant to acknowledge and accept the idea of the two state solution; to have a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Now we have this kind of in a document; official document.”

The Hamas document states very clearly that it views the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory in part already under Palestinian Authority control as an interim measure rather than a permanent solution to the conflict. It also clearly states its rejection of Israel’s right to exist and therefore obviously does not “accept” the two-state solution that promotes a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel, but rather Hamas obviously sees that as a stepping stone along the route to its aspiration to eradicate Israel.

After Hroub had also promoted the notion that the new document means that Hamas has changed from being “a religious movement with political, national dimensions” to “a national Palestinian movement with a religious and Islamist background” (despite the fact that the text includes the claim that “Palestine is an Arab Islamic land” and “Palestine is at the heart of the Arab and Islamic Ummah”), Ritula Shah interjected, but failed to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression that Hamas now accepts the two-state solution.

Shah: “But crucially the document doesn’t officially recognise Israel or renounce violence. From the view of – the point of view – of Western diplomats, presumably that gives them little room for manoeuvre.”

Hroub’s answer to that question included the inaccurate claim that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state is not a crucial part of the story, along with the falsehood that Israel does not accept the two-state solution and erasure of the fact that the Oslo Accords put the vast majority of Palestinians under PA rule.

Hroub: “Recognising Israel is not really the big issue. From Hamas’ perspective – and I am not defending them but let’s say from a wider Palestinian perspective – they say well, we have been collectively doing this and yet nothing in return we have achieved. The Israeli side did not get on the two-state solution. Nothing whatsoever concretely materialised on the ground so the internal, if you like, Palestinian political spectrum recognised Israel except Hamas. This lack of recognition on the side of Hamas is not the issue. We have so many bigger issues [unintelligible], you know, the process.”

Shah then asked:

“If we accept that Hamas has moved its position somewhat but perhaps not nearly as far as the Israelis would like, who do you think Hamas is aiming to appeal to by changing its stance in the way that it has?”

Hroub’s response once again misled listeners by erasing the Hamas document’s unequivocal references to “Arab Islamic land” and the “Islamic Ummah”.

Hroub: “Number one I think to the Palestinian constituency itself – the Palestinian people – because by saying well we are a national Palestinian liberationist [sic] movement, this means we are kind of cutting off any trans-national Islamist dimensions so we are a purely Palestinian movement.”

He continued:

Hroub: “Number two is maybe the wider regional and international audience to say well we speak politics, we speak diplomacy and now we are going maybe halfway through in fulfilling a number of conditions that have been imposed on Hamas – and even the Palestinians – by the Quartet Middle East committee saying well they have to do this and that. Now I think Hamas is saying now we are kind of going down that road but we cannot go the entire kind of road without having or without receiving in return substantial and concrete steps from the Israeli side and the American side.”

The Quartet’s three principles are renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and adherence to existing agreements. Hamas is nowhere near “halfway” to fulfilling those conditions and – as this new document once again shows – clearly has no intention of doing so. In other words, Khaled Khroub was again allowed to mislead BBC audiences with inaccurate claims that went completely unchallenged.

The editorial decision to broadcast this interview with Khaled Hroub – which clearly not only contributed nothing to audience comprehension of this story but actually muddied any such understanding by promoting numerous false claims – is obviously highly questionable. The fact that the item then went on to broadcast an interview with Michael Herzog in which listeners heard ‘the Israeli view’ of the new Hamas document (together with a few home truths that BBC audiences rarely encounter) does not mitigate that editorial decision.

Shah: “Well Israel’s held Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and has carried out three major military campaigns in Gaza since 2008. The offensives were preceded by escalations in cross-border fighting with scores of rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes against Hamas by Israel. So what do Israelis make of the Hamas document? Michael Herzog is a retired brigadier general in the IDF. He’s participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians since 1993.”

Herzog: “Hamas feels isolated. It’s in economic bankruptcy. There is a huge rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. There are strained relations with Egypt and I think they felt the need to do something in order to extricate themselves from this position of isolation but in terms of what’s in the document itself…”

Shah: “So what would you say that’s new? Just identify what’s new for us.”

Herzog: “What’s different is first they try to present themselves …to go away from antisemitism which characterised their 1988 charter by saying that they are not against Jews but they are against Zionism. However, they reject Israel as it is; they will never recognise it. Another modification is that in the original charter – which by the way was not abrogated; it’s still there – Hamas presents itself as a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it is. In this document this disappeared because they did not want to upset Egypt. Other than that there is willingness to accept a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines – which is not new, by the way; they’ve been saying it over the last few years – but on condition that Israel will withdraw to ’67 lines, accept all refugees – which means the annihilation of Israel – and they will not relinquish their demand for the whole of historical Palestine – including Israel – and they will never give up on what they call armed resistance which we refer to as terrorism.”

Shah, however, insisted on trying to put some positive spin on the story:

Shah: “So, plenty of shortcomings from your point of view but you recognise that there is a move – however incremental – and is that in itself to be welcomed?”

Herzog: “The move is very modest. It does not change the basic ideology of this organisation. It does not turn it into a willing participant in a peace process which espouses recognition between two states. I think it’s more of a tactical move. I of course think that any move in that direction is positive but let’s not delude ourselves about this organisation. At the very same time that they come out with this document they continue to encourage and direct and initiate terrorist activities in the West Bank and inside Israel. You just have to follow what’s happening every week here.”

Listeners to this programme would be unlikely to have the knowledge to enable them to understand Herzog’s words because BBC audiences are of course serially denied information concerning “what’s happening every week” in Israel. Since the beginning of this year, the BBC has not reported any of the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip to its English-speaking audiences and as of March 2017, had reported just 0.3% of the total number of terror attacks that took place.  

Shah continued:

Shah: “So in terms of the bigger picture then, in trying to restart some kind of meaningful peace process, as far as you’re concerned this makes no difference.”

Herzog: “It does not. The partner of the peace process is not Hamas; it is the Palestinian Authority which is rival to Hamas and feels that Hamas wants to undercut it. And I think the context for this document – as well as very harsh measures recently adopted by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas, including cutting of salaries and not paying for electricity and so on – is the upcoming meeting between President Abbas and President Trump in the White House tomorrow. I think that both parties feel Abbas would like to present himself as someone who is a willing partner, while Hamas would like to not be cut out of the picture.”

While the BBC has certainly not been alone in falling for this latest Hamas PR stunt, it is remarkable that the corporation’s various platforms have presented differing portrayals of the Hamas document. Particularly noteworthy is the BBC World Service’s repeated insistence on telling audiences that the document is a ‘new charter’ despite the fact that even Hamas itself says it is not. Given the plethora of inaccurate reporting, it will be important to track the BBC’s portrayal of this topic in the future.

Related Articles:

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part two: World Service radio

 

BBC News silent on Abbas’ rejection of Jewish state

Last week the Fatah Revolutionary Council held a meeting in Ramallah titled “Session of the Martyrs of Jerusalem Call and the Popular Uprising”.Fatah meeting 2 3

At that meeting the PA president, PLO chairman and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas stated that the “Palestinian leadership categorically rejects the idea of a Jewish Israel” –i.e. it will not recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported on March 9th that a Palestinian Authority official had made a similar statement.

“Our position remains as clear as ever: there will be no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and no compromise on the right of return, which must be solved according to UN resolution 194.”

The subject of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state came up during the talks between Israel and the PLO in 2013/14 and the BBC failed to accurately inform its audiences of the significance of that issue at the time.

“…the issue of Palestinian (and wider Arab) recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is an important one in itself and not only in connection with the subject of refugees. A lasting peace agreement cannot of course be brought about without recognition and acceptance of Israel’s existence in the region as an expression of the national rights of the Jewish people, along with an end to the kind of all too prevalent officially sanctioned incitement which encourages Palestinians (and others in the wider region) to continue to view Israel as “Arab land”.”

In recent months the BBC has taken to dubiously ‘contextualising’ the current wave of terror against Israelis as the product of frustration at lack of progress on the diplomatic front.

“The recent rise in violence is blamed by Palestinians on the continued occupation by Israel of the West Bank and the failure of the Middle East peace process.”

The BBC has of course not told its audiences about the above recent statement from Mahmoud Abbas and hence has not clarified to them that such an approach guarantees continued stagnation of the Middle East peace process. And it has not explained that resolution of the issue it promotes (in accordance with PLO media guidance) as being the root cause of Palestinian terrorists murdering Israelis in the streets is – as this example shows – at least as dependent upon the Palestinian side as it is upon the Israeli side.

In other words, the BBC has not fulfilled its obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues”.

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Why is the BBC’s failure to properly report the Jewish state issue important?

Why is the BBC’s failure to properly report the Jewish state issue important?

One of many notable features of the BBC’s reporting on the subject of the recent nine-month round of talks between Israel and the PLO was its persistent failure to adequately clarify to BBC audiences the significance of the demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.BBC pic

That issue was incorrectly presented to audiences as being a new demand and was framed exclusively in terms of relating to the topic of the ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees: see for example Yolande Knell’s article titled “Row over demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as ‘Jewish state’” from February 2nd and  the March 17th report headlined “Obama tells Palestinian leader to take risks for peace“. The BBC-produced backgrounder on the ‘core issues’ of the talks likewise framed the issue in terms of refugees, failing to inform audiences of the wider significance of the demand.

As has been noted here on several occasions:

“…the issue of Palestinian (and wider Arab) recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is an important one in itself and not only in connection with the subject of refugees. A lasting peace agreement cannot of course be brought about without recognition and acceptance of Israel’s existence in the region as an expression of the national rights of the Jewish people, along with an end to the kind of all too prevalent officially sanctioned incitement which encourages Palestinians (and others in the wider region) to continue to view Israel as “Arab land”.”

A recent article by Dr Jonathan Spyer gives some important background to the question of why the BBC’s failure to properly inform audiences on this issue is so important.

“The failure of the talks was predictable first and foremost because of the irreconcilable positions of the sides.  This is not a matter of small details, as is sometimes maintained.  It isn’t that the Palestinians want 99% of the West Bank while Israel will offer only 98%.

Palestinian nationalism in both its Fatah and Hamas variants rejects the possibility of accepting the permanence of Jewish statehood in any part of the area west of the Jordan River. […]

The Palestinians see themselves as part of the local majority Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslim culture.  From this point of view, the establishment of a non-Muslim sovereignty in Israel was not only an injustice, it was also an anomaly.  Israel, being an anomaly, is therefore bound eventually to be defeated and disappear.  So there is no need to reconcile to it, with all the humiliation therein. […]

This politics, in its various manifestations, exists to reverse the verdict of the war of 1948. It has no other purpose.

Its  credo was perfectly rendered in the words of the Moroccan scholar Abdallah Laroui, as quoted by Fouad Ajami: “On a certain day everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled; in this way will justice be dispensed to the victims, on that day when the presence of God shall again make itself felt.’

The language is elegant. The message is one of politicide and destruction. For as long as this credo remains at the root of Palestinian politics, peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain unachievable. All else is mere detail.”

Read Dr Spyer’s entire article here.

So why does it matter that the BBC has consistently avoided informing audiences of the real significance of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state? Well, according to its constitutional document, the Royal Charter, the BBC is committed to fulfilling six public purposes which are, in fact, the very reason and justification for its existence and its right to public funding.

One of those public purposes goes under the title “Global Outlook” and its operative definition obliges the BBC to provide its funding public with information which will “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” and “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.

By failing to inform audiences about the underlying significance of the issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, the BBC is in fact denying them key core information as to why the conflict exists and why it has not been solved to date. It is, in other words, preventing their ability to “build a global understanding of international issues” and actively hindering their ability to “participate in the global debate” and thus neglecting its obligations to – and breaching its contract with – its funding public.