BBC WS radio report on Palestinian culture exploited for one-sided political messaging

BBC World Service radio has a programme called ‘The Compass’ which describes itself as providing listeners with “the essential take on big ideas, issues and trends from the 21st century”.

Recently that programme ran a four-part series called “A Young World” that was presented to audiences as follows:

“What’s it like living in a country where most people are young? We look at four aspects in four countries across the world.”

That series included episodes from Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Philippines and – on June 4ththe Palestinian Territories.

“The Palestinian territories have the youngest population in the Middle East with a median age under 21. How do these young people express themselves culturally? Nida Ibrahim, the BBC’s Ramallah producer, finds the challenges of conservatism and poverty mean that artists and performers find they have to struggle to be recognised – with many only able to find an audience via new media.”

However, that report by Nida Ibrahim did not only relate to culture and society within areas currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Ibrahim made a clear political statement by also including parts of Jerusalem under her ‘Palestinian Territories’ umbrella, despite the fact that the standing of those areas is still subject to final status negotiations. Ibrahim also repeatedly strayed away from the topic of how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” in order to promote a blatantly political narrative peppered with references to “the occupation”.

From 4:50 minutes into the programme Ibrahim visits a hip-hop artist in Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem.

“So we’re here at the Shuafat refugee camp that was initially built 50 years ago to host 500 refugees but now it has around 12,500 refugees registered at the United Nations but some say the real number is double that.”

In fact, as a visit to UNRWA’s website shows, the claim is not – as Ibrahim implies – that the “real number” of refugees in Shuafat is “double” but that the number of residents, not all of whom are refugees, is around 24,000. She continues:

“There is no proper garbage collection system. People have to put their garbage in…collect their garbage in skips awaiting for the UN to come and pick it up. There’s no police presence. The Israelis do not usually come here; they think it’s dangerous and there might be clashes with the Palestinians. And the Palestinian police is not allowed in because this is considered the Jerusalem area that they don’t have control over.”

Her interviewee gives a similarly context-free portrayal.

“Everything is hard over here, from walking in the street to wanting to go out at night, crossing checkpoint every time, being controlled by the situation. Sometimes I get depressed […] Young kids in my neighbourhood got shot and killed last year and it was terrible. It’s a very violent place. You have to show others that you’re tough enough so they don’t mess with you because there’s no police, there’s no ambulance.”

In fact, a police station was opened in Shuafat a month before Ibrahim’s report was broadcast. Listeners hear nothing of the violence regularly instigated by Shuafat residents or of the presence of Hamas in the camp.

Nida Ibrahim then goes to meet another musician in another part of Jerusalem and listeners hear an entire section of the report that has nothing whatsoever to do with cultural expression of Palestinian youth.

“While it’s very easy for Mohammed to go to that part [of Jerusalem], I as a West Banker – although I have a permit – I have to go through a checkpoint that involved long wait. Let’s see how that goes. Here we go. So it happened that I had to queue a little bit and then I was allowed in through a high turnstile. Only three people are allowed in at a time and then I put all of my belongings including my shoes in the metal detector and then I turned up at the window, showed my permit. They took my finger prints and they said I’m free to go. Had to go through a few other turnstiles.”

After speaking to that interviewee Nida Ibrahim goes to meet a woman who presents herself as Sireen Sawafteh – a volunteer with the ‘Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign’ – from a small village in the north of the Jordan Valley”. That village is Tubas, which is located in Area A.

Listeners hear the following conversation between Nida Ibrahim and Sireen Khudiri Sawafteh after the latter states that she joined a theatre group after she was arrested in 2013.

Ibrahim: “Who arrested you and how long have you been arrested?”

Sawafteh: “I was arrested by Israeli forces for six month; four months in jail and two months home jail [house arrest]. Also it was two months isolation; that was the most horrible moment.”

Ibrahim: “Could you give us a little bit of an idea why you were arrested? Is it related to your activism work?”

Sawafteh: “After two months of being in isolation I hear the reason in the court and I just laughed. They said you are arrested because you a threatening the security of Israel through ideas which you are sharing on Facebook. Could you imagine how many people they could arrest for that reason?”

Ibrahim: “Was it a specific sentence?”

Sawafteh: “No, no, no. They have nothing. Even there is no proof…nothing to say in the court.”

Listeners do not hear any official Israeli response to the allegations put forward by Sawafteh and of course they are not told that even according to Palestinian sources, her Facebook posts included a picture of her with a gun and contact with entities in Syria and Gaza.

The programme continues with Sawafteh telling a context-free story about a child she happened to meet that likewise has nothing at all to do with the topic of ‘cultural expression’.

Sawafteh: “He was working for four hours collecting stones. He did a line of stones. And I went closely to him and I asked him what are you doing? He said to me something I think you will not understand it. And then he said ‘OK, come follow me but if I will teach you why I do that you have to help me’. I said OK. Then he said ‘look at the thing which is under the stones’. I looked; it was an electricity cable. I said ‘OK it’s an electricity cable’ but I didn’t understand what I’m doing. He said ‘OK, listen; two days ago we received a demolition order and I am worried if the Israeli bulldozer will come and they destroy our house they will confiscate the electricity cable. So I wanted to hide these electricity cable to make it safe because I would like to watch TV’.

Ibrahim’s next interviewee is a graduate of the Academy of Arts in Ramallah who, despite presented as being “back on a break from studying his Master’s degree in France”, tells listeners that Palestinians cannot travel.

“Me working as an artist is a part of fighting, of resistance. Because you’re really controlled not just by the state also by the Israeli occupation because they all the time want to control your thoughts. They don’t want anyone to know there’s a life happening in Palestine…and this is one of the way we resist. You always scared of what they going to do with you. They don’t let you travel for example or they’re questioning you all the time.”

Clearly Nida Ibrahim went far beyond her remit of providing BBC World Service audiences with an insight into how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” and instead exploited the platform to promote copious amounts of politicised messaging and delegitimisation of Israel without any right of reply being given.

The BBC cannot possibly claim that this report meets its supposed standards of accurate and impartial journalism.  

 

 

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BBC reports on Jordan Rift Valley mine clearance lack essential context

h/t MD

On May 15th and 16th two reports – one filmed and one written – relating to the same story were published on the BBC News website.

The filmed report comes under the sensationalist title “The most dangerous church in the world“. If BBC audiences had until now perhaps thought that the most dangerous places in the world for Christians might be in Iraq or Syria, this report tells them that:

“This is one of the most sacred sites in the Christian world…and the most dangerous.”

Of course visitors to Qasr al Yahud in the Jordan Rift Valley who heed the fencing and signs warning them of landmines in the vicinity of the nearby derelict monasteries are in no danger whatsoever.

The report continues:

“It’s thought Jesus was baptized here at Qasr el Yahud. More than 300,000 pilgrims travel here each year. A few hundred meters away stand these abandoned churches. They were built over 1,000 years ago.”

Whilst the monastery of St John the Baptist was indeed first constructed in the Byzantine era and the current structure has foundations said to date back to the 12th century, most of the monasteries at the site were constructed in the 1930s during the time of the British Mandate.Qasr al Yahud filmed Israeli soldiers

Viewers are then told:

“But in the 1960s Israeli soldiers planted mines and booby traps in the area. The churches have been left empty ever since.”

In contrast with reports on the same story from other media organisations, no effort is made by the BBC to provide audiences with the relevant context which would enable their understanding of the background to that statement and prevent any misunderstanding of the reasons behind Israel’s mining of the area.

The Telegraph, for example, tells its readers that:

“Israeli forces laid around 2,600 anti-tank mines in long strings to prevent Jordanian armored units from crossing the River Jordan. The area is also scattered with more than a thousand anti-personnel mines which are not much bigger than an apple but can easily blow off a person’s legs. 

To stop Palestinian fighters from hiding in the churches, Israeli soldiers built their own improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rigged the buildings. No one knows how many of the bombs are still active. Added to the mix are mortar shells, artillery rounds and other unexploded ordinance still lying around from the [1967] fighting.”

The Times of Israel writes:

“Qasr al-Yehud, the site where many Christian traditions believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, will soon be cleared of some 4,000 landmines and other ordnance left over from the 1967 war and its aftermath. […]

Israel mined the area along the Jordan River following the Six Day War in a bid to prevent Jordanian tanks and infantry, as well as Palestinian fedayeen guerrilla fighters and terrorists, from infiltrating into Israeli-held territory and attacking Israeli settlements.”

And the Wall Street Journal reports:

“After that conflict [1967], Israeli officials say military documents show that the army placed antitank mines on flat ground to deter armored vehicles from crossing the Jordan River.

Following skirmishes between Palestine Liberation Organization operatives and the Jordanian army and Israeli soldiers post-1967, Israel also placed antipersonnel mines on the site and booby-traps in the buildings to ensure they couldn’t be used as staging areas for attacks on Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The area became a buffer zone in fighting between Israeli and Palestinian and Jordanian operatives, said Michael Heiman, technology and standards manager at the Israel National Mine Action Authority which is part of the defense ministry.”

Viewers of this report were also told that:

“The plan is for it to become a national park with free access to all religions.”

Qasr al Yahud is in fact already a national park which has – literally – “free access” for all.

So did the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt do any better in her written report (titled “New hope for Holy Land’s minefield churches“) on the same story? Not really.Qasr al Yahud written

In addition to misrepresenting the majority of the structures as having been built considerably earlier than is the case, Wyatt also failed to provide adequate explanation of why the area was mined after (rather than “during”, as stated) the Six Day War.

“For almost 50 years, the churches – built in Byzantine times but later booby-trapped, mined and pockmarked by artillery fire – have been crumbling gently in the middle of a minefield.

It was laid mainly by Israeli troops during the 1967 War, when Israel captured the land west of the River Jordan, known today as the occupied West Bank.”

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC content, Wyatt’s history begins in June 1967 and so BBC audiences hear nothing of the 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of the area concerned or what preceded it. They are, however, encouraged to believe that the correct terminology for that part of Area C (the future of which is to be determined in final status negotiations according to the Oslo Accords signed by the Palestinians) is “the occupied West Bank”.

In addition to those filmed and written reports, Wyatt also produced an audio report (from 08:10 here) for the May 16th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Neither she nor presenter Razia Iqbal gave listeners an accurate picture of the factors which prompted the mining of the area.

Qasr al Yahud

Qasr al Yahud

RI: “The seven churches on the site – Orthodox and Catholic – have been inaccessible to the public since 1967 when Israel fought Jordan, Syria and Egypt in the Six Day War.”

CW: “And on my left you can see several of the churches here that have been inaccessible now since 1967 and you can see the level of fighting there was around here.”

Later Wyatt told listeners that one of her interviewees “has been liaising with Israeli veterans […] to find out more about the booby traps they laid in this area…” but once again no mention was made of the Palestinian terrorists who were the reason for that action. Listeners did however hear some politicised messaging.

Wyatt: “The Palestinian Mine Action Center has signed up to the project but, as its head Brigadier Juma Abduljabber explains, Palestinians will not be doing the hands-on de-mining work itself.”

Abduljabber voice-over: “We have Palestinian experts who are able to demine. We have a full staff who were trained in Jericho and Jordan. But, as you know, in Palestine there is the occupation and Israel refuses to allow Palestinians to de-mine those fields.”

A November 2015 report from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor states that while the Palestinian Mine Action Center does indeed have trained staff, as of half a year ago at least, it still lacked the necessary equipment.

“PMAC also has a team of 30 that have been trained by UNMAS for demining but which is not yet equipped to do so.”

The same report clarifies that:

“Mine action is subject to the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, under which the West Bank is divided into three areas: Area A is under full Palestinian civilian and security control; Area B is under full Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control; and Area C (approximately 60% of the West Bank) where Israel has full control of security, planning, and construction.”

As noted above, Qasr al Yahud is located in Area C and hence under full Israeli control and responsibility. Rather than clarifying that point to listeners, Caroline Wyatt gave an unchallenged platform to a representative from a body set up and run by the Palestinian Authority – which is of course party to that 1995 Interim Agreement – to promote irrelevant propaganda concerning “the occupation” of an area the PA agreed would be subject to final status negotiations. 

BBC turns an international border crossing into a ‘checkpoint’ and makes a report disappear

On March 10th a link to an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the heading “Palestinian-Jordanian shot at border”.

Allenby bridge on HP

The link led to a report headlined “Palestinian-Jordanian man shot dead at border crossing” which related to an incident that took place earlier in the day at the Allenby Bridge border crossing in which a man travelling from Jordan attacked a member of the security forces and tried to snatch a gunAllenby bridge incident

” “The preliminary conclusion of the investigation indicates that the terrorist attacked the soldier. He charged at the soldiers with a metal pole shouting ‘Allah Akbar,’ and then attempted to seize a soldier’s weapon, prompting the soldiers to respond by firing towards his lower extremities, in line with standard operating procedures,” the IDF said in a statement.

“The suspect then began to strangle a soldier and the force resorted to using live fire once again.” “

The BBC report was amended once after its initial publication, but then disappeared completely from the Middle East page several hours later.

A day later, on March 11th, a different article concerning the same incident appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel expresses regret over death of Jordanian judge“. The previous day’s BBC report on the subject does not appear in the “more on this story” section at the bottom of the article.

The 624 word report devotes 106 words to the subject of the expression of regret and condolences issued by the Israeli prime minister’s office the day following the incident. A further eighty-seven words report the results of the IDF’s initial investigation into the incident.

Although it took place at an international border crossing where – as is of course the case in the rest of the world – entrants are stopped for security and passport checks, the BBC report misleadingly describes the incident as having occurred at “a checkpoint” and fails to clarify to readers that the fact that the bus was “stopped” was entirely routine.

“Mr Zaytar was on board a bus that transports people across the Allenby Bridge crossing with about 50 others on Monday morning when it was stopped by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.” Allenby bridge incident Art 2

Ninety words of the BBC’s report are devoted to the quotation of an unverified, anonymous, second-hand account of the event previously published the Palestinian news agency Ma’an (which recently revived the ‘Protocols of Zion’ on its pages) and eighteen words to Palestinian Authority statements. Ninety-five words are used to describe various official Jordanian reactions to the incident but no mention is made of the fact that a disturbance took place outside the Israeli embassy in Amman.

“The protesters burned the Israeli flag and shouted “Expulsion of the ambassador is a national duty.”

They also demanded the cancellation of the peace agreement and the release of Ahmed Daqamseh, who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls in Naharayim in 1997.”

And:

“Riot police were able to control the crowds, according to embassy commissioner Haim Assaraf, who told Israel Radio that everyone at the mission was safe. Jordanian media reported earlier that the protesters had attempted to break into the embassy compound, and that staff were trapped inside for hours.”

Likewise, no attempt is made by the BBC to facilitate audience understanding of the various Jordanian reactions by placing them within the very relevant context of that country’s internal political situation and the dynamics at work there over the past three years since the regional uprisings began.

One hundred and forty-four words of the report’s words relate to unconnected incidents, one of which took place on March 11th in the southern Gaza Strip when members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired a mortar at an IDF patrol engaged in routine location of improvised explosive devices along the border fence. Israeli forces responded and three PIJ terrorists were killed.

The BBC, however, chose to amplify the version of the story as told by one internationally recognized terrorist organization, followed by the airbrushing of the terrorist designation of another, together with an unqualified statement concerning its terror activity .

“Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, said the men had been trying to prevent “an Israeli incursion east of Khan Younis”.

The group has sporadically fired rockets and mortars at Israel, while Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement has refrained from firing rockets since a 2012 ceasefire with Israel.”

The article closes with a reference to another incident which took place on March 10th near Beit El when a Palestinian man throwing rocks at vehicles on Route 60 was shot and killed. As usual, no attempt is made by the BBC to place that incident in the context of the overall rise in rock-throwing incidents in particular and terror attacks in general in Judea & Samaria in recent months.

The earlier BBC article of March 10th also concluded with a report on an unrelated topic.

“In a separate development on Monday, an Israeli court sentenced an Israeli-Arab man to 25 years in prison for a bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv that wounded 26 people.

Mohammed Mafarja, 19, pleaded guilty to charges included attempted murder in connection with the attack in November 2012, at the end of an eight-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.”

Readers will no doubt recall that at the time, the BBC had a spot of bother defining that incident correctly.

BBC’s Yolande Knell dons her campaigning hat yet again

Two recent items which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page exemplify the extent to which the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell has shifted from journalism to ‘journavism’- the amplification of political campaigning under the guise of reporting.

On February 7th a filmed report by Knell titled “Palestinian push to reclaim lost village of Ein Hijleh” appeared on the Middle East page as well as being aired on BBC television news programmes.

Knell filmed EIn Hijleh

Knell informs BBC audiences:

“This is Ein Hijleh in the Jordan Valley. Palestinian activists moved here a week ago, returning to land that Palestinian villagers had to leave during and after the 1967 Middle East war when Israel captured the West Bank.”

Let’s take a closer look at Knell’s claim of “returning to land” in Ein Hijleh – also spelt Ein Hajla. According to a paper produced by the Palestinian NGO ARIJ in 2012:

“Deir Hajla is one of the oldest monasteries in both Palestine and the world. It contains mosaic floors dating back to the Medieval Ages, which were later renovated. In the north-east side of the monastery there is located ‘Ein Hajla (Hajla Spring) which, according to popular legend, the Canaanite village of Beit Hajla (meaning the house of hopscotch) was built upon. However, in the Roman era, it was called Hajla (the translation of which refers to the partridge bird) (Al Dabbagh, 1991) which is presently frequent in the region.”

Here’s a clue to the origin of that “Roman era” name:

“The Monastery, known in Arabic as Deir Hajla, seems to preserve the Hebrew name Bet Hoglah, which is mentioned in the biblical description of the lands of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua18:19).”

So we have a Canaanite village “according to popular legend”, an ancient Hebrew place-name (meaning a bird which is a member of the pheasant family) adopted by the Romans and a very old monastery founded by a monk from Lycia in Asia Minor.

The ARIJ report does not include any mention of a village at the location or villagers displaced from it, but it does note the illegal construction of structures at the site: map ein hijleh

“On 3rd January 2012, Israeli authorities presented a number of Palestinian farmers and residents in Deir Hajla and Az Zoor demolition orders to pull down and remove Barracks and rooms that were considered as a shelter for farmers and warehouses for agricultural equipments. The order was issued under the pretext of unlicensed construction.”

Knell continues:

“We’ve seen confrontations going on between the Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers. This is an area that still comes under Israel’s full military and administrative control and there are Jewish settlements quite nearby. But the demonstrators say that they’re determined to stay on this land to show their opposition to Israel’s continuing occupation of what is a vast, fertile stretch of land along the border with Jordan and you can see that they’re starting to farm the land and they’re also making repairs to some of the buildings.”

As anyone familiar with the area knows full well, with the exception of Jericho the Jordan Rift Valley was anything but “a vast, fertile stretch of land” until Israel brought water to the district after 1967. Whilst the recent squatters at Ein Hijleh did indeed do a bit of symbolic planting of palm trees, Knell’s romanticised claim that “they’re starting to farm the land” clearly relies on the fact that the majority of her viewers will be unaware of the fact that the soil in the area has a very high salt content indeed and – as early pioneers at nearby Beit Arava (later destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948) discovered  – has to undergo special treatment before anything can be grown in it.  

Knell goes on:

“Now this action is taking place at a time when the issue of the Jordan Valley is coming up in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s a very sensitive subject; the Palestinians say they want control of this valley, which makes up about a quarter of the West Bank, if they’re to have a viable future state. They also want control of their eastern border, although they do say that they’d be prepared to accept international troops there from NATO after an Israeli withdrawal. The Israelis say that with all of this turmoil that’s going on across the Middle East, they can’t afford to give up on such a strategically important location and they’re determined to stay here for the sake of their own security.”

Knell clearly tries to create an impression of linkage between the official Palestinian stance on the issue of the Jordan Rift Valley and the motives behind the agitprop of the squatters at Ein Hijleh. But is that actually the case? From a statement put out by the organisers – the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee – we learn that:

“Campaign organizers and participants declared:

We, the daughters and sons of Palestine, announce today the revival of Ein Hijleh village as part of Melh Al-Ard campaign in the Jordan Valley. The action aims at refusing the political status quo, especially given futile negotiations destroying the rights of our people for liberation and claim to their land.”

In other words, these squatters are opposed to the current talks. In fact, as they later clarify, they are also opposed to a two-state solution, support BDS and are tragically historically challenged. 

“Accordingly we have decided to revive an old Palestinian Canaanite village in the Jordan Valley next to so called “Route 90” linking the Dead Sea to Bisan.” [emphasis added]

“From the village of Ein Hijleh, we the participants announce that we hold tight to our right to all occupied Palestinian lands. We refuse Kerry’s Plan that will establish a disfigured Palestinian state and recognizes the Israeli entity as a Jewish State. Such a state will turn Palestinians living inside lands occupied in 1948 into residents and visitors that can be deported at anytime. We affirm the unity of our people and their struggle wherever they are for our inalienable rights.”

“Based on our support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) we call upon our friends and international solidarity groups to stand with the demands of the Palestinian people and boycott all Israeli companies including Israeli factories and companies that work in the Jordan Valley and profit from Palestinian natural resources.”

Later on February 7th, after the squatters were evicted, Knell produced a written report on the same subject titled “Israel removes Palestinians’ Jordan Valley protest camp” in which she also promoted the dubious notion that:

“The Palestinian village was abandoned after Israel captured the land from Jordan in the 1967 war.”

Whilst she does not identify her as such (in contravention of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality), Knell promotes and amplifies the views of a spokesperson for the Popular Committees; self-defined “Palestinian/Bulgarian” Diana al Zeer.

” “We’re here to demand a Palestinian existence on Palestinian land. We’ve seen political negotiations have led nowhere,” one organiser, Diana al-Zeer told the BBC before the site was cleared.

“There are Israeli plans to annex the Jordan Valley, one of the most fertile areas of land for Palestinians. Palestinian houses here are being demolished, Palestinians are being thrown off their land and we’re here to say ‘no’ to all of this.” “

No such “Israeli plans to annex the Jordan Valley” exist, of course. That idea has been proposed, but it has not passed the necessary legislative stages and is in no way an official Israeli “plan” at this stage. Knell, however, makes absolutely no effort to clarify that point to her readers. TWitter tamimi birthday

Neither does she bother to provide her readers with any proper background information on subject of the political ideologies and actions of the people engaged in the agitprop to which she chooses to give amplification and promotion. Ms al Zeer’s Israel-erasing Twitter wallpaper, the ‘right of return’ flags and placards, the blocking of Route 90, the participation of activists from the International Solidarity Movement and serial agitators from other locations such as Nabi Saleh all go unmentioned, as do visits to the site by Atallah Hanna among others.

In fact, Knell leaves BBC audiences totally in the dark with regard to the fact that this group of squatters represents those who are opposed to the existence of Israel as the Jewish state and reject any attempt to reach a two-state solution through negotiation. Rather, she misleadingly presents them as romantic would-be farmers and their agitprop as having something to do with the current talks between Israel and the PLO. Of course the words “illegal settlement” do not cross her lips or keyboard at any point, despite the fact that the future of Area C, in which Ein Hijleh is located, is subject to final status negotiations under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people.Knell written Ein Hijleh

The rest of Knell’s written report is dedicated to the promotion of unverified statements from assorted politically motivated organisations and NGOs including B’Tselem, the IRC, Oxfam, Christian Aid and UN OCHA and her adoption of politicised language is shown by her use of the term “the Palestinian Bedouin community in the Jordan Valley”.

Yolande Knell’s campaigning reports are sadly nothing new. Beyond the fact that BBC guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are regularly breached in her politicised articles and footage, her uncritical amplification and romanticisation of political campaigns with no proper disclosure to audiences of their real aims means that she has become nothing more than a PR mouthpiece for anti-Israel activists and that her ‘journavism’ fails to meet the public purposes of building “a global understanding of international issues” and enabling members of the audience “to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” as defined in the BBC’s Charter.

Related Articles:

Why has the BBC stopped reporting on the Israel-PLO peace talks?

BBC’s Knell skirts over Israeli security concerns in Jordan Rift Valley

Yolande Knell ties one-state banner to BBC mast

 

Why has the BBC stopped reporting on the Israel-PLO peace talks?

As readers may have noticed, the BBC’s interest in the ongoing talks between Israel and the PLO seems to have waned dramatically in recent months. The cacophony of articles, backgrounders and Q&As produced around late July gave way to ‘snooze mode’ punctuated only by the occasional resurgence of interest in events such as the release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons in August and October. 

In early November, Yolande Knell produced a report on the subject of the Jordan Valley but recent related developments have been completely ignored by the BBC.

In early December the US Secretary of State arrived once again in the Middle East to propose a plan to address the issue of the Jordan Rift Valley and the related security concerns. According to reports, Kerry’s proposal included an IDF presence along the border with Jordan for a period of several years after the establishment of a Palestinian state, with future developments conditional on the security situation. 

“The US security plan presented by Kerry last week reportedly provided for a series of crossings along the Jordan Valley border between the West Bank and Jordan which would be jointly controlled by Israel and the PA. The entire border itself, however, would remain under full Israeli control, with the IDF joined only by a symbolic Palestinian security presence. These arrangements would hold for many years, but not necessarily permanently, a Channel 2 report revealed, the implication being that in a future, new era of stability and mutual confidence, Israel might transfer more authority to the Palestinians.”

That proposal was however rejected by the Palestinian Authority.

“An American proposal that Israel station IDF soldiers in the Jordan Valley for the first 10 years after the signing of a peace deal with the Palestinians has garnered angry reactions from Palestinian leaders.

The proposal was made by US Secretary of State John Kerry in a meeting last week in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the official Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported. […]

On Sunday, Abbas met with the American consul general in Jerusalem, Michael Ratney, and formally rejected the proposal, saying that the Palestinian position was “unequivocal”: no Israeli presence, though the Palestinians would tolerate a third-party military presence.”

No report on the plan proposed by Kerry or the PA’s rejection of it has appeared on the BBC News website.

On December 21st, the Arab League followed Abbas’ lead and also rejected the American proposal.

“The Arab League rejected on Saturday U.S. proposals that would allow Israeli soldiers to be stationed on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said no peace deal would work with Israeli presence in a Palestinian state.

Elaraby made the remarks during an emergency meeting held in Cairo on Saturday at the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.”

BBC audiences have not been informed of that development either.

Other reports also suggest additional Palestinian refusals are in the offing.

“After a meeting with Abbas last week, an Arab League official said the PA president would not agree to even one Israeli soldier on the Palestinian-Jordanian border. He also indicated that Abbas refuses to acquiesce to a completely demilitarized Palestinian state, or recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, both key Israeli demands.”

Israeli officials have apparently described the US proposals as a good “basis for negotiations”.

With the BBC being obliged under the terms of its Charter to provide audiences with information which will “enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”, the failure to report these important developments is clearly a very serious one indeed.  

We can, however, anticipate that the BBC’s current ‘snooze mode’ will come to an abrupt end should the talks break down and that liberal sprinklings of the term ‘settlements’ will garnish the bulk of BBC reports ‘contextualising’  the subject. 

BBC’s Knell skirts over Israeli security concerns in Jordan Rift Valley

If – as promised on the packaging – BBC audiences are to be able to “participate in the global debate on significant international issues”, they obviously need to be made aware of the full range of factors surrounding any specific issue. 

On November 6th an article by Yolande Knell titled “Israel-Palestinian talks: Why fate of Jordan Valley is key” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

Knell Jordan Rift Valley

Knell’s article includes several photographs, a filmed report and a map and is 1,372 words long. Over six hundred of those words are devoted to the presentation of the Palestinian view of the issue. Around three hundred and fifty words are taken up by general information and some four hundred words ostensibly present the Israeli view of the subject.

In her introduction Knell states:

“This is the Jordan Valley, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, most of it now still under Israel’s military and administrative control.”

Only much later on in the article does she explain that the Jordan Rift Valley (as it is more precisely termed) is part of Area C under the terms of the Oslo Accords – which were of course signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – but no mention is made of the fact that the area was occupied by Jordan for 19 years after its attack on the nascent Jewish State in 1948. SONY DSC

Naturally, Knell inserts the following pro forma BBC statement, with no attempt made to inform readers of the range of legal opinions on the subject besides that of Israel.

“The settlements are widely seen as a breach of international law, although Israel rejects this.”

Quoting Mahmoud Abbas, she makes no attempt to clarify to her audience that in fact the 1949 armistice lines are not a “border”.

” “The eastern borders of the Palestinian state, stretching from the Dead Sea, through the Jordan Valley and the central highlands, to the borders of Bisan [Beit Shean in northern Israel] are Palestinian-Jordanian borders and will remain so,” he [Abbas] said.”

So how does Knell present Israeli concerns surrounding the future of the Jordan Rift Valley to her audience? In her introduction, Knell states:

“Israel, on the other hand, says it cannot give up the valley for reasons of security.”

So far, so good. Clearly the next step should be to explain to BBC audiences what those “reasons of security” actually are.

Knell quotes the head of the local area council:

“We are the people that the government sent to settle the Jordan Valley,” says David Elhayani, who chairs a regional council, representing more than 20 settlements.

“As a Jew, I tell you we can’t take any risks. The Jordan Valley has to remain under Israeli sovereignty. I’m not talking about our claims from the Bible. I’m talking about safety. By staying here we protect the people in Tel Aviv and all of Israel.”

“Something will happen between the Arab countries and Israel, this will be the defence line.”

So readers now know that the head of the regional council regards the Jordan Rift Valley as a buffer zone between potential invaders, but they are given no explanation as to the rationale behind his statement, such as the fact that 70% of Israel’s population and 80% of its industrial capacity is located in the main conurbations lying on the low ground between the highlands of Judea & Samaria and the Mediterranean coast.

pic coastal plain

Later, Knell quotes the Israeli prime minister:

“In October, on the anniversary of the assassination of one of his predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Knesset meeting, “Our strength is the guarantee for our existence and peace… This requires a security border in the Jordan Valley, as Rabin said in his last speech.” “

Again, readers receive no explanation regarding the reasoning behind that approach.

Knell then notes proposals which have been made by various parties: 

“In previous inconclusive peace talks, it is said a tentative deal was reached on setting up a few Israeli-manned early warning stations in the Jordan Valley.

However Mr Netanyahu is now said to favour a much stronger presence even within the framework of a Palestinian state.

Israeli media report that he plans to build a new security barrier in the Jordan Valley and rejects an idea favoured by his chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, to introduce international forces to guard the border.”

Knell goes on to quote former ambassador Dore Gold of the JCPA:

” “Our experience has been that international forces just don’t do the job,” says Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. He points to the limitations of Unifil, which was given responsibility for the southern Lebanon border after the 2006 war.”

Contrary to Knell’s assertion, UNIFIL has been on the ground in Lebanon since March 1978 – not since August 2006 – and the very fact that Hizballah was able to conduct cross-border raids (including the one which sparked the second Lebanon war in July 2006) under the nose of UNIFIL is testimony enough to its impotency. The trouble is, however, that BBC audiences have little or no understanding of what Knell euphemistically terms the “limitations” of UNIFIL because the BBC systematically fails to report on the international community’s inability to adequately implement its own UN resolutions of which the UNIFIL force is but one element.

Knell’s quote from Dr Gold ends with the following:

“But giving up the security of the Jordan Valley in a Middle East that’s full of chaos? Who knows what’s going to happen to Syria – maybe we’ll have a new jihad stand to our east – that’s a major worry for the Israeli army today.”

Knell does not bother to elaborate in terms of history – which shows that the border running along the Jordan Rift Valley has been breached by foreign armies belonging both to states neighbouring Israel and from further afield on past occasions. Neither does she expand on the subject of the uncertain future of the already turbulent Middle East and the far-reaching implications for Israeli security.

Clearly, BBC audiences have learned little from this feature which will contribute to their understanding of the strategic importance of the Jordan Rift Valley or enhance their ability to “participate in the global debate on significant international issues”. 

Here is a short film from the JCPA which explains some of the issues skirted over by Yolande Knell.