Revisiting a BBC journalist’s claim about ‘Palestinian land’

Back in April 2013 we documented some less than impartial Tweets from the then BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Wyre Davies.

As was noted here at the time:

“The site of the Al Mahrour (also spelt Al Makhrour) restaurant is situated in Area C where, according to the Oslo accords signed willingly by the representatives of the Palestinian people, Israel has administrative and security control.

The restaurant was constructed without planning permission or the appropriate building permits and hence was the subject of a demolition order issued in 2005 and carried out in May 2012. The restaurant was then rebuilt – also illegally without the necessary planning permission or building permits. The restaurant’s owner/constructor was given the opportunity to appear before the planning committee of the Civil Administration. A second demolition order was issued and that was carried out on April 18th 2013. The electricity line to which Davies refers was also illegally connected.”

The story did not however end there. In late July the High Court of Justice handed down a ruling which – as the Times of Israel reported – brought a long legal battle to a close.

“Israeli security forces demolished a family’s home and restaurant near Bethlehem on Monday, ending a nearly 15 year-long legal battle against the Palestinian locals led by a subsidiary organization of KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund.

The razing of the Cassia family’s compound followed a High Court of Justice ruling last month that rejected the Palestinians’ last ditch petition against the demolition orders.

 The property, located between the villages of Battir and Beit Jala south of Jerusalem, are located in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel exercises civilian and military control.

The Cassia family claims to have owned the property for generations. To prove ownership, they provided Israeli authorities with a so-called malia document, which shows property tax payment from when Jordan controlled the West Bank.

However, the Defense Ministry on several occasions over the past two decades rejected their requests for building permits, saying the tax paper was not enough to prove ownership under Israeli law.

Nonetheless, the family went ahead and built on what long had been agricultural lands in 2005, constructing a large home as well as a restaurant and a farm. The Civil Administration – the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in Israel-controlled Area C of the West Bank, issued demolition orders and razed several structures in the decade and a half that followed, but the home and restaurant had remained standing as the Cassias fought the orders in court.

In 2017, Himanuta, a KKL-JNF branch organization known for purchasing lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, joined the state’s legal efforts against the Cassias, coming forward with documents showing that they purchased the land in 1969, which the court accepted as legitimate.”

In other words, Wyre Davies’ claim that the restaurant was located “on Palestinian land” has been shown to be inaccurate. That, however, is what happens when BBC correspondents make blanket assumptions based on a politically motivated narrative which inaccurately portrays all locations beyond the 1949 Armistice lines as “occupied” and “Palestinian”.  

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A story BBC audiences are unlikely to be told

As has often been noted here – most recently in relation to the Airbnb story – according to the BBC’s chosen narrative, any place which fell on the Jordanian side of the 1949 ceasefire lines is ‘Palestinian land’ (regardless of the fact that the Armistice Agreement specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders) and any community populated by Israelis in those areas is a ‘Jewish settlement’ in either ‘East Jerusalem’ or ‘the West Bank’ which is portrayed as being ‘illegal under international law’ regardless of its history.

There is no place at all in the BBC’s simplistic and politically partisan narrative for nuances such as the fact that Jews lived for centuries in the Old City of Jerusalem before being ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian army. Neither is there any room in that frequently promoted portrayal for facts concerning places such as Neve Ya’akov  or Gush Etzion where Jews legally purchased land years before the belligerent Jordanian invasion.

Last week a 22 year-long legal case came to an end.

“The Israeli High court ruled that 522 dunams (129 acres) of disputed land near Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim in Gush Etzion does in fact belong to the Kibbutz and a subsidiary organization of the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) […]

The JNF purchased the land in question in 1944 through a JNF subsidiary organization called Himnota. The Arab family who sold the land emigrated to South America.”

A kibbutz called Ein Tzurim was originally established on that land purchased in 1944 but it was destroyed in 1948 when Gush Etzion fell to the invading Jordanian army. Following the Six Day War, a new kibbutz named Rosh Tzurim was established in 1969 on the same site.

As reported on Hebrew language news sites, in 1996 Palestinians from a nearby village claimed ownership of the land and the case went to the district court. In 2016 the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the documents presented by the Palestinians were fake. The petitioners submitted an appeal to the High Court – with their legal counsel provided by the Palestinian Authority. The High Court judges ruled that the district court’s decision should stand.

Not only are BBC audiences highly unlikely to ever hear that story but – despite being obliged under the terms of its Charter to provide “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” – the corporation will doubtless continue to describe that area and others as ‘occupied Palestinian land’.

Related Articles:

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’