BBC Complaints response invokes non-existent “pre-1967 borders”

As readers may recall, the January 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ included a report (which is still available online) concerning the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan that included several misleading statements.

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

BBC reporter Aleem Maqbool told listeners that “They [the Palestinians] have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital” and spoke of “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access”.

As noted here at the time, Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggested to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” was also misleading to listeners: none of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

In addition the programme’s newsreader told listeners that “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war”. 

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that long report which included a reminder that – as stated in the BBC Academy style guide’s entry for ‘Green Line’ – no such “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” and that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

On February 18th we received the following response to that complaint. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for contacting us about the midnight news bulletin on Radio 4 on Wednesday 29th January.

We have spoken to senior staff about your concerns.

Aleem Maqbool’s line in his report, “the return of occupied East Jerusalem”, was referring to the point that Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed it. He was not suggesting that this part of the city had previously been under Palestinian control – he did not, for example, say “return to them” but “the return of.”

The newsreader’s introduction to the report said “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war.” The phrase “its borders” refers to Jordan (which is the subject of this sentence) not to the Palestinians and it did not imply that a Palestinian state was in existence then.

The sentence in the report that said “Palestinians no longer have a border with Jordan” was referring to the Trump plan, under which the proposed state would not have a border with Jordan, as it would if there were a two state solution based on a return to the pre-1967 borders, a long-held Palestinian position.

In addition, the reason for talking about the border was to reinforce the point that without the Jordan Valley, any proposed West Bank State becomes an island (or group of islands) within Israel.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint which includes yet another reminder to the BBC that – as its own style guide states – the 1949 ceasefire lines are not “borders”.

 

More BBC News promotion of its politicised narrative on Jerusalem

A report headlined “Jerusalem: Jordan condemns Israeli Western Wall railway plan” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East page on February 18th.

The apparent purpose of the report is to inform BBC audiences of the objections of another country to plans to extend a railway in Jerusalem.  

“Jordan has condemned a decision by Israel to advance a plan to build a railway line and station underneath the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. […]

Jordan called the move a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”.”

Readers were not informed by the BBC which particular “international law” relates to the construction of railways.

They did however see one-sided portrayal of parts of the city of Jerusalem, including a frequently used map sourced from the political NGO B’tselem.

“A 3km (2-mile) tunnel will lead to the Western Wall – one of Judaism’s holiest sites – in the city’s occupied east.”

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.” [emphasis added]

Predictably however, readers were not told that what the BBC chooses to call “East Jerusalem” was invaded and occupied by Jordan nineteen years earlier or that in June 1967 it was Jordan which opened the hostilities on that front. Neither were they provided with any significant background information concerning the Waqf and its status before being informed that:

“Jordan has special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – including the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – via an Islamic trust called the Waqf.”

The BBC is obliged under the terms of its Charter to “provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Its adoption and exclusive promotion of one-sided politicised narratives which deliberately omit relevant information cannot possibly be claimed to serve audiences in accordance with those obligations.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

A politicised BBC report on a new train line

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

The exception to the BBC rule on place names

A browse through the BBC News style guide reveals plenty of examples of the BBC’s policy of moving away from the use of place names introduced or preferred by foreign conquerors and past rulers.

“Belarus

formerly part of the Soviet Union as Byelorussia; now independent. Adjective, Belarusian.”

“Burma

The BBC has been moving towards calling the country Myanmar. We should use Myanmar rather than Burma in headlines and summaries. Inside the body of our stories, preferably on first mention, we should include the wording “Myanmar, also known as Burma”. Further references should be to Myanmar. We should talk about the main commercial city as “Yangon, also known as Rangoon”, and thereafter Yangon.” 

“Calcutta

As of early 2015, our style is to use Kolkata for the Indian city. It may be helpful for readers if we use this construction once high up in the story: People in the Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta)…”

“Chennai

As of November 2011, our style is to use Chennai rather than Madras, but we should include the formulation Chennai (Madras) once high up in the body of the story.”

“eSwatini

The country formerly known as Swaziland. Add “previously known as Swaziland”, high up. It’s Swati when describing its people.”

“Kyiv not Kiev”

One entry specifically instructs BBC journalists not to use the terminology favoured by an invading country.

“Cyprus

The northern part, occupied by Turkey, is not internationally recognised, so do not refer to “North Cyprus” – the term the Turks have chosen. Instead, say northern Cyprus, describing it either as Turkish-occupied or Turkish-controlled. And we should speak of the Green Line – not “the so-called Green Line”.”

The exception to the rule in that BBC policy is of course its permanent employment of a term that the Jordanians invented some seventy years ago after they invaded, occupied and later annexed foreign territory – without recognition from the international community. The BBC refers to Judea & Samaria exclusively as “the West Bank” and its website even has a tag for that term.

So much for BBC consistency, impartiality and ‘progressiveness’. 

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

Over seven minutes of the January 29th edition of the half-hour Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ was given over to the topic of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan which had been made public several hours previously.

The first item in the programme’s introduction was presented using the absurd but long-promoted BBC myth that the result of resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be “peace in the Middle East”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “President Trump has set out his plan for peace in the Middle East which has immediately been embraced by the Israeli prime minister but rejected by Palestinian leaders.”

The same myth was repeated when the newsreader commenced that lead item (from 00:59 here).

Newsreader: “President Trump has set out what he has called the most detailed peace plan ever offered for the Middle East, saying it’s a win-win for both Israelis and Palestinians. He announced his plan at the White House alongside Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu but the Palestinians were not there as they had not been part of the process. Mr Trump’s proposal gives Israel sovereignty over all its settlements in the occupied West Bank while promising Palestinians statehood in the future if they meet certain conditions. Our Washington correspondent Aleem Maqbool has this report.”

Listeners were not told that the reason the Palestinians “had not been part of the process” was because they refused to take part. Neither were they given any clue as to what the “certain conditions” for Palestinian statehood (e.g. dismantling their system of salaries to terrorists and disarming Hamas) actually are

Aleem Maqbool began by repeating BBC framing seen in reports (see ‘related articles’ below) broadcast even before the US proposal had been revealed.

Maqbool: “At a raucous news conference at the White House standing beside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump launched a plan the like of which, he said, had never been seen before. [recording Trump speaking] But as soon as the details started to be revealed it was very clear the win is really Israel’s alone.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Trump saying “…Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided – very important – undivided capital”.  

Maqbool: “Something that would have surprised few but would have made Palestinian hearts sink all the same. They have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital. Under Donald Trump’s plan Israel would not even have to give up any Jewish settlements it illegally built on occupied land. But the knife for Palestinians was twisted further when the US president released a map of his vision for a future Palestinian state. Large swathes of the most fertile West Bank land annexed for Israel. Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access. The West Bank becoming in effect a cluster of tightly-controlled islands.”

Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggests to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His partial portrayal of “Jewish settlements…illegally built on occupied land” denies listeners information concerning alternative views of that topic. His reference to “the most fertile…land” dovetails perfectly with PLO descriptions of the Jordan Valley. But it is his reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” which – even taking into account Maqbool’s previously displayed lack of knowledge of the region’s geography – perhaps misleads listeners most. None of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

Listeners then heard a recording of President Trump describing a letter he had sent to the PA president explaining that “the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years. During this time Palestinians can use all appropriate deliberation to study the deal, negotiate with Israel, achieve the criteria for statehood and become a truly independent and wonderful state.”

Once again failing to explain to listeners that the decision not to be “at the negotiating table” was taken by the Palestinians themselves, Maqbool went on:

Maqbool: “Not how Mahmoud Abbas will see it. Of course Palestinians feared, given that only one side was at the negotiating table presided over by a historically partisan peace-broker, that the deal would be biased towards Israel. But some may have hoped for more concessions from the other side. Instead what they got was a clear US seal of approval for much that Israel has been trying to achieve. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who smiled and clapped through Donald Trump’s speech, could barely contain his pleasure when he spoke, saying the day was as historic as the one in 1948 on which US president Truman became the first world leader to recognise his country. [recording Netanyahu] The fear among some critics of this plan is that there is so little, if anything at all, that Palestinians can put their name to, that it could strengthen the hand of hard-liners in the region. Given the reaction already, Donald Trump’s so-called deal of the century is a pivotal moment but not one that brings Palestinians and Israelis together. Rather one that gives Israel the authorisation to continue and even broaden its occupation.”

Listeners were not informed exactly how Israel’s so-called “occupation” could be ‘broadened’ and neither were they told of the part of the plan which offers areas today under full Israeli sovereignty to a future Palestinian state.

Newsreader: “There were protests in Gaza and the West Bank with demonstrators burning posters of Donald Trump. In a televised speech the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the proposals were impossible to accept. [recording Abbas] The militant group Hamas which controls Gaza called Mr Trump’s announcement aggression and nonsense. Khalil al Hayya is one of the group’s leaders.”

Al Hayya voiceover: “We warn all countries of the world and all entities who cooperate with this deal because we reject it as a Palestinian people and we will resist this deal in all forms.”

Listeners then once again heard the inaccurate suggestion that a Palestinian state with “borders” had existed before 1967. They were not told that no “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” or that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

Newsreader: “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war. But Egypt urged both sides of the conflict to consider President Trump’s plan carefully, with a view to resuming negotiations and the former Middle east envoy Tony Blair said the Palestinians would be able to make progress if they engaged with the proposals. [recording Blair] With his thoughts on the deal, here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”

Bowen’s “thoughts” were of course exactly the same as those he had two hours earlier promoted on BBC television.

Bowen: “President Trump says he’s found a new way to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel will get the security it needs, Palestinians will get the state they crave. So far so good. Except that the Trump plan gives Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanayhu all he wants and offers Palestinians very little. A sort of state that will be truncated without proper sovereignty, surrounded by Israel’s territory and threaded between Jewish settlements. Essentially the message to the Palestinians is take it or leave it. They’re being told to accept that Israel has won and – with its American friends – will shape the future. If Palestinians refuse, the message continues, Israel will still get what it wants and they will be even worse off.”

Listeners then heard Bowen’s partisan interpretations of UNSC resolution 242 and ‘international law’, although he predictably had nothing at all to say about the “inadmissibility” of Jordan’s capture and subsequent occupation of territory assigned to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people.  

Bowen: “The Trump document ignores UN resolution 242 that emphasizes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. It also sweeps aside international law saying that occupiers cannot settle their people on occupied land.”

Bowen closed – once again – with promotion of the view that the inevitable result of “anger, despair and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes to be non-actors devoid of agency is violence.

Bowen: “There is a chance Palestinians, whose leaders immediately rejected the plan, will be afflicted by more anger, despair and hopelessness. In a combustible part of the world, that is dangerous. The Trump plan is a gamble.”

Once again we see that – under Jeremy Bowen’s baton – BBC audiences were given an overwhelmingly one-sided view which promoted serious inaccuracies and deprived the corporation’s funding public of essential information necessary for them to make up their own minds about the US proposals.

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

As we saw earlier, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme supplied its listeners with preemptive framing of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan which was based primarily on speculation and promoted the unchallenged talking points of the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, Husam Zomlot.

BBC World Service radio adopted a similar editorial line and the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ on January 28th included an eleven-minute section (from 30:05 here) about a document that at the time of broadcast had not been made public which likewise provided Zomlot with a friendly platform.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item with the unsupported assertion that the US president “claims he is close to establishing it [peace] for good” and with amplification of the BBC Middle East editor’s speculations concerning the ‘weighting’ of the plan.  

Iqbal: “Peace in the Middle East has been as elusive as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or the search for the Holy Grail. But President Trump claims he is close to establishing it for good. He is of course…he has of course always got a view and others are likely to contest it. Mr Trump is expected to announce his peace proposal later today, the groundwork having been done by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Although we don’t know exactly what’s in it, rumours and leaks suggest it is heavily weighted towards Israel in comparison to previous initiatives. The optics as he made the announcement about today’s impending announcement at the White House also offer a clue. Flanked by two Israeli politicians, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz: both invited to be briefed on the plan. […]”

Netanyahu and Gantz in fact met Trump separately and so the “optics” described by Iqbal are inaccurate. She went on to promote another talking point in the BBC’s cross-platform framing of the story:

Iqbal: “Some further political context for you: President Trump faces an impeachment trial of course and back in Israel president…err…prime minister Netanyahu has been formally indicted on three corruption cases. Far away from all of that Mr Netanyahu thanked President Trump for what he has done for Israel. […] Well we haven’t seen a full plan but according to Israeli media it could see the US formally back Israeli control of Jerusalem’s Old City which contains most of the city’s sensitive holy sites. The Old City lies in East Jerusalem, annexed decades ago by Israel in a move not internationally recognised, which Palestinians want as their future capital. Let’s speak first to Husam Zomlot who is the Palestinian ambassador to London. […] What do you know about what’s in this plan?”

As mentioned in relation to Zomlot’s earlier interview with the ‘Today’ programme, in 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Zomlot: “Like you we know nothing. Nobody knows anything except President Trump and the Israeli side, be it the prime minister Netanyahu or the head of the opposition and for that matter actually there are all the heads and the leaders of the illegal settler movement in the occupied territories joining the discussion in Washington.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the four local council heads who travelled to Washington did not ‘join’ the discussions with the US president or that – in stark contrast to the impression given by Zomlot –  some described themselves as “very troubled” by the plan.

Neither did she bother to challenge Zomlot’s subsequent baseless assertion that the publication of the plan would enable Trump and Netanyahu to “dodge charges”.

Zomlot: “So this is an Israeli-Israeli negotiation endorsed by President Trump and it’s really a sad piece of political circus. Really the political circus and you know the timing is very telling. This is not about peace. This is about dodging criminal charges against the two involved, Trump Netanyahu, given what is happening today in the Congress and what is happening today also in the Israeli Knesset. And they think that they can dodge all these charges and face the coming elections by actually pressuring the Palestinians to give up our rights.”

Iqbal: “OK, pressuring the Palestinians to give up your rights. Let’s just go back a little bit. When President Trump was first elected the relationship between the US president and the Palestinians was pretty good. In fact Mahmoud Abbas did meet with the president several times. Declaring Jerusalem the capital obviously shifted things. How much involvement has there been, if any, between the Palestinians and Jared Kushner?”

Zomlot: “As you said we started with a very good process. Our president Mahmoud Abbas met President Trump several times – four times in a few weeks actually – in 2017. We met the team of President Trump – Kushner and Greenblatt – more than thirty times and while we were at it I receive a phone call from the State Department because I was the head of Palestinian mission in Washington telling me that our mission in Washington is to be closed and shut us down, right at the height of the discussions. So right from the beginning this process was never about a deal or a plan or even peace or consulting the Palestinians. This whole thing was about bullying the Palestinians, coercing the Palestinian people into some sort of a submission. And today is just the theatre for that announcement of the final submission of the Palestinian people. Now…”

Iqbal made no attempt to question that blatant distortion of the reasons behind the closure of the PLO mission in Washington DC in 2018. She did however go on to amplify his narrative.

Iqbal [interrupts]: “And how will…how will, Ambassador, how will the Palestinians respond to this because everything you’re saying suggests that this is not a peace process, this is not a plan that will in any way benefit the Palestinians. How will you react?”

Zomlot: “Well first of all the first reaction must come from the international community because the two-state solution that is about to be dismantled, destroyed in a few hours’ time by President Trump and his ally Netanyahu, the two-state solution was and is an international demand – international consensus, including the United Kingdom by the way – and therefore what is at stake here is not just the rights of the Palestinians. We are capable to defend our rights. We are a very rooted society. We have been there for a long time. We have seen many empires come and go but we remain. What we are really concerned about is the ability of the international system, order, legitimacy to withstand this sheer onslaught on the very premise of internationalism, which is our cooperation, which is the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by force and annexing territory by force.”

Razia Iqbal made no effort to remind listeners that when Jordan acquired the territory now claimed by the Palestinians by force, the PLO had no objections and that it specifically stated that it had no claims “over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or the Himmah Area”.

Neither did she challenge Zomlot’s cynical attempt to suggest equivalence – as he did earlier on Radio 4 – between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust.

Zomlot: “What we will witness in a couple of hours in Washington is the slaughtering of what we built together as a human family after the horrors of the Second World War including the horrors and the evil of the Holocaust that we remembered only yesterday, the 75 years of the Holocaust and the never again. And so we built together a system to protect us, all the humanity. What is at stake is that.”

Iqbal: “OK.”

Zomlot: “We Palestinians have a lot to do to make sure that our rights are not for sale and we remain on our land.”

Iqbal: “Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to London. Thank you for joining us.”

While Radio 4 listeners at least got to hear one Israeli voice (out of three) in the ‘Today’ programme’s preemptive framing of the US proposal, listeners to BBC World Service radio then heard yet another negative opinion from a “former negotiator” of failed peace plans, Aaron David Miller.

Clearly this long item was entirely one-sided and made no attempt whatsoever to provide ‘Newshour’ listeners around the world with the “range and depth of analysis” stipulated by the BBC’s public purposes.  

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

BBC News promotes partisan political narrative on Old City

On the afternoon of January 22nd the BBC News website published a report headlined “‘Go outside’: France’s Macron berates Israeli police at Jerusalem church”.

The BBC’s description of that “Jerusalem church” is as follows:

“The Church of St Anne, which dates back to 1138, is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, the crypt enshrines the home of the Virgin Mary and her parents.

It is located in occupied East Jerusalem, to the north of the hilltop site known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.” [emphasis added]

The Church of St Anne is located in Jerusalem’s Old City. As we see, the BBC continues its long-standing practice of promoting the partisan political narrative according to which the Old City is categorised as “occupied East Jerusalem” without the provision of any of the essential context concerning Jordan’s belligerent attack on parts of the city and the subsequent nineteen-year occupation.

Interestingly, it took the BBC until the following day to add details to the story which were already known at the time of the report’s original publication.

“An Israeli police spokesman said that as President Macron’s delegation arrived at the Church of St Anne there was a “discussion” between Israeli and French security guards about who would be allowed to enter the site.

“The French president requested that the guidelines be respected and, based on the terms agreed upon ahead of time, an Israeli guard and a policeman escorted the president and his delegation inside,” he added.

“When the president and the delegation finished the visit, he apologised about the incident and shook hands with the security personnel.””

As we noted earlier this week, BBC audiences were not informed of the call published in an official Palestinian Authority newspaper to use violence to disrupt the event commemorating the Holocaust which was the background to the French president’s visit to Jerusalem. Had that context been provided, readers would of course have been better placed to understand this story.

Related Articles:

BBC yawns at PA paper’s call for violence at Holocaust commemoration

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

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance report

BBC’s Guerin gratuitously inserts ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance coverage

BBC’s Jeremy Bowen misrepresents the 4th Geneva Convention

The role of the BBC’s Middle East editor is to provide “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent”.

Hence, when Jeremy Bowen appeared on two BBC radio stations on November 19th to provide answers to questions concerning “the legal status of […] settlements” following a statement made the previous day by the US Secretary of State, BBC licence fee payers no doubt expected to hear accurate, impartial and comprehensive information which would enhance their understanding of that undoubtedly “complex story”. 

The November 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ included an item (from 22:40 here) introduced by presenter Evan Davis as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Davis: “Last night the US made a dramatic shift in its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would no longer view them as inconsistent with international law. Most of the rest of the world considers settlements on Palestinian territory as illegal. Jeremy Bowen’s our Middle East editor. Jeremy: is it illegal? Is it a fact that it’s illegal? Does it become legal if America says we don’t consider it illegal? Where are we on what the legal status of those settlements are [sic]?”

Bowen: “Israel has always argued on legal grounds that it’s not formally occupied territory because they say that the West Bank and other occupied territories were not part of any country before Israel occupied them in 1967. In fact the land had been annexed by Jordan but that wasn’t recognised by that many states. Ah…the rest of the world pretty much – including the US up to last night – said that’s the wrong interpretation and under international humanitarian law – under the Geneva Conventions – states who capture by war territory are not allowed to move their own people onto that territory and to settle them there permanently, which is what effectively is done in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. So that’s the interpretation that Britain certainly clings to and the European Union, which put out a very strong statement along those lines today.”

Later the same day Bowen appeared on the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 30:07 here) and was similarly asked by presenter Tim Franks to explain the legal issues.

Franks: “…some people said that these settlements…well, international consensus seemed to be that these settlements were against international law. What was the basis for that?”

Bowen: “International humanitarian law – the Geneva Conventions – state quite clearly that if a belligerent country in a war seizes land and occupies it, it is not permitted to move its own people into that land and settle them there permanently. That is not allowed under international law. So that is why most of the world – including the US until last night – said that was their position. Now the Israelis have had a different position because the Israeli argument has been that conventions don’t apply in the same way because the West Bank till Israel captured it in 1967 was territory that had been annexed by Jordan and that annexation had not been widely internationally recognised, therefore you can’t call the land occupied.”

As we see, in both those items Jeremy Bowen claimed that the Geneva Conventions do not permit an occupying power “to move” its own people onto occupied territory. That, however, is not what Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention says.

None of the Israeli civilians living in Judea & Samaria were ‘deported’ or ‘transferred’ there – or for that matter ‘moved’ by the Israeli government. 

Bowen’s portrayal of Israel as a “belligerent country” whitewashes the fact that it was Jordan which attacked Israel on June 5th 1967, even after Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had sent a message to King Hussein saying Israel would not attack Jordan unless he initiated hostilities.

Bowen also whitewashed the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, referring only to the subsequent ‘annexation’ in 1950 which he described as not being “recognised by that many states” and “not…widely internationally recognised”. That portrayal obviously does not adequately reflect the fact that Jordan’s annexation of Judea & Samaria was recognised only by the United Kingdom, Pakistan and – according to some sources – Iraq. The UK refrained however from recognising Jordan’s annexation of parts of Jerusalem.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich raises an interesting point concerning that issue which was predictably ignored by Bowen.

“During the War of Independence, Jordan and Egypt conquered territories from Israel illegally, and it was almost universally agreed that neither Jordan nor Egypt had any legitimate claim of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria or Gaza. […]

Today, the prevalent approach is that even though the land did not belong to Jordan, it was “Jordanian enough,” and therefore the laws of occupation and the Geneva Convention apply to it. This is nonsense, because even if we assumed this was correct, the Geneva Convention no longer applies when there is a peace treaty, and there has been a peace treaty with Jordan since 1994. It has to be either one or the other: Either it belonged to Israel all the time and Israel liberated its own territory in 1967, and you can’t occupy your own territory. Alternatively, it was “Jordanian enough” in 1967 for the laws of occupation to apply. In that case, the peace treaty with Jordan nullified the Geneva Convention.” 

Another significant omission by the BBC Middle East editor is of course the status of that territory prior to that Jordanian invasion and occupation under the Mandate for Palestine which emerged following World War I. As Amb. Alan Baker explains:

“…the Principal Allied Powers finalized the territorial dispositions regarding the Jewish people in respect to Palestine and the Arabs in respect to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, and Lebanon. 

The San Remo Declaration stated inter alia that:

“The mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on the 8th [2nd] of November, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people …”

This was incorporated into Article 95 of the (unratified) Treaty of Sèvres of Aug. 10, 1920, and subsequently in the Preamble and Article 2 of the Mandate for Palestine approved by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922.”

And so as we see, the man responsible for providing the BBC’s funding public with “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” failed to meet his remit and instead touted a superficial and simplistic portrayal which included a misrepresentation of Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention.  

Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part one

Between the evening of November 18th and the evening of November 19th the BBC News website published three written reports, totalling 2,420 words, relating to a statement made by the US Secretary of State.

November 18th 2019: ‘US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move endorses ‘law of the jungle’ – Palestinians

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move reduces chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal’ by Barbara Plett Usher

The first article includes – albeit near its end – a reasonable portrayal of the positions held by various US administrations over the years.

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

The second article opens with the erroneous claim that: [emphasis added]

“Palestinians have condemned a decision by the US to abandon its four-decades-old position that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law.”

In fact, as explained in the first report and indeed again towards the end of this one, Secretary Pompeo’s statement marks a return to the policy of US administrations between 1981 and December 2016. In other words, the “position” described by the BBC is three years old rather than “four-decades-old”.

The third report by Barbara Plett Usher makes no attempt to inform readers on the issue of the policies of past US administrations.

The first article promotes the BBC’s own standard but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

Article 1: “The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.”

In the second article readers are told that:

 Article 2: “The UN regards the settlements as being illegal under international law.”

BBC audiences are not informed that UNSC resolution 2334 dating from December 2016 was adopted under the United Nations Charter’s Chapter 6 and is hence non-binding.

The BBC chooses to describe settlements as follows:

Article 1: “Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.”

Article 2: “Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.”

Article 3: “Settlements are Jewish communities built on territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.”

As we see, the BBC does not bother to inform its audiences of the background to that war or of the fact that in the case of Judea & Samaria, the same territory was under Jordanian occupation for 19 years. That omission enables Barbara Plett Usher to state that:

“…Americans do not make international law: that is up to bodies such as the United Nations and treaties such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population to occupied territory.”

Only in the second article do readers find any alternative view to the BBC’s standard mantra or reference to events before 1967 and that is presented as something that “Israel says”.

Article 2: “Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal. The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people to occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power. It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there, as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

Those three paragraphs are taken from a backgrounder originally published in December 2016 and since amended several times to which a link is provided in all three reports. All three reports also promote a map titled “West Bank settlements” sourced from the foreign funded political NGOB’tselem’. As has been the case with previous maps from the same source used by the BBC, this one too portrays places such as Neve Ya’akov and Gush Etzion as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. 

Part two of this post will review additional aspects of these three BBC reports.

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BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

 

 

BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

On the afternoon of November 6th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Jerusalem: Israel approves controversial Old City cable car plan” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The report is illustrated with an image credited to You Tube and captioned “The Old City of Jerusalem is a Unesco World Heritage site” but readers are not informed that it is in fact a “screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley”.

The report opens with a description of the plan which includes clear framing. [emphasis added]

“A controversial plan to build a cable car network in Jerusalem’s Old City to transport visitors to one of Judaism’s holiest sites has been approved by Israel’s housing cabinet.

The cable cars will ferry up to 3,000 people an hour about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from West Jerusalem to the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s government says the project will reduce traffic congestion.”

It then quickly moves on to present the views of various opponents, including a link to a campaigning video.

“But opponents say it will damage the area’s historic landscape.

They intend to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to stop it.

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli non-governmental organisation working to defend cultural heritage, has previously warned that the cable car network will alter the skyline of the Old City – a Unesco World Heritage site – and have a detrimental impact on Palestinian residents of the Silwan area living under the proposed route.

It has also alleged that the project “serves a highly political agenda” and that it was “fast-tracked” through the planning process.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: [emphasis added]

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Readers are however told nothing of that foreign funded political NGO’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” before the report moves on to promote a link to an as yet uncorrected BBC backgrounder from 2014 and highlight additional objections.

“The Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government – the custodian of the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – have also expressed concern about the impact on the Old City.”

Readers then see an edited version of a problematic video made by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell in 2017 and at the end of the report they are told that:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.”

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC reporting, while the corporation adopts and uses PLO approved language such as “occupied East Jerusalem”, audiences are told nothing of the Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or of the fact that until June 1967 – as shown in Article 24 of the original PLO charter from 1964 – the Palestinians specifically stated that they had no claim to territory occupied at the time by Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The result is that, as usual, BBC audiences are fed a politically partisan account which deliberately omits relevant context.

Related Articles:

BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

Inaccurate and partial BBC Radio 4 report from Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the past two years listeners to BBC Radio 4 religious programming have heard a couple of inaccurate and misleading reports on the topic of property transactions carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

BBC Radio 4, ‘religious freedom’ and a half-told story

BBC R4 ‘Sunday’ adds more confusion to Jerusalem church story

Listeners to the August 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard another item in that genre which was introduced by presenter Justin Webb (from 43:46 here) as follows:

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

Webb: “Church leaders and Palestinians in Jerusalem are calling for international pressure on Israel to stop Jewish settlers taking over two historic properties at the main entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter. The Greek Orthodox Church has filed a new lawsuit to try to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on the sale of the hotels, saying it was clear proof of corruption. The development’s taking place amid a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Yolande Knell reports.”

Webb provided no evidence to support that misleading claim of “a recent increase in settlement building”. Even if his intention was to comment on construction within existing communities rather than to assert that an increased number ‘settlements’ had been recently built, the basis for that claim is unclear because the available statistics run only until the end of March 2019 and they show a decrease in construction completes in Judea & Samaria.

Both Justin Webb and subsequently Yolande Knell told BBC audiences that the story is about “the sale” of properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is not the case: the story is actually about 99-year leases for three properties (rather than two as claimed by Webb).

Knell’s report commenced as follows:

Knell: “There’s a rush of tourists entering Jerusalem’s walled Old City through Jaffa Gate. They’re here to visit the sacred sites of three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Over the centuries this place has been the crucible of conflict. Today the struggle is between Israelis and Palestinians and I’m looking up at the impressive façade of a nineteenth century landmark which is now on the front line of that. Wow! So this is the Imperial Hotel.”

Knell then introduced her report’s main protagonist – again inaccurately claiming that “the building” has been “bought”.

Knell: “Abu Walid Dajani’s family has lived in Jerusalem for generations. His father started renting this hotel in 1948. But now Jewish settlers have bought the building and he could soon be thrown out.”

The transaction did not occur “now” as claimed by Knell but a decade and a half ago in 2004.

Dajani: “The only thing I wish that God would give me the help and for my children to continue the battle of my life. We’ve been here for the last 600 years and inshallah we will continue.”

Knell then once again inaccurately referred to “the sale of the property” and told audiences of “a corrupt official” despite the fact that in 2017 the Jerusalem District Court ruled that “the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was unable to establish that the deals, made in 2004 […] were fraudulent or involved bribery” and in June 2019 the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Knell: “During a long court battle the landlords – the Greek Orthodox Church – argued the sale of the property for just over a million dollars was carried out by a corrupt official. But Israel’s Supreme Court found it was legal. Mr Dajani says the buyers were driven by ideology.”

Dajani: “Distorted history. Where this is the land that God give. Who gave you? God was never a real estate man. All right; you can buy but you can do a deal in an honest way.”

Knell next claimed that Jerusalem’s Old City is “East Jerusalem”.

Knell: “Outside the hotel local church leaders pray for peace. They’ve appealed to the Vatican, to Moscow and Washington to intervene to stop a Jewish take-over of Christian properties in the Old City. For Palestinians this is also about protecting their presence in East Jerusalem and the idea of creating the capital of their hoped-for future state here.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified man claim that:

Man: “Every small land here in Jerusalem for Palestinians is very important but here is very like main area for tourists to come in so they see the flag, they see like returns to Israeli but it’s not – it’s Palestinian.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that there has never been a Palestinian state – let alone one which had sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem – Knell went on:

Knell: “But come down to the Western Wall – this crowded spot which is the holiest place where Jews can pray – and Israelis have a very different perspective. They see a united Jerusalem as their eternal capital.”

Listeners then heard two vox pop interviews with people who barely speak English replying to Knell’s question “you wouldn’t give up part of Jerusalem for peace with the Palestinians?”.

The Old City is of course not just any old “part of Jerusalem” but Knell made no effort at all to inform listeners of the fact that it is a location where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed by Jordan for a period lasting nineteen years.

Moreover, Knell then went on to promote a politically motivated narrative long embraced by the BBC: the notion that any and all Jews living in the Old City are ‘settlers’ and their homes ‘illegal settlements’.

Knell: [shouting] “A Palestinian woman screams after she’s evicted from her Old City home earlier this year so Jewish students can move in. Settlements are seen as illegal by most countries but Israel disagrees and in East Jerusalem one group – Ateret Cohanim – is behind a lot of the house purchases. Its director Daniel Luria recently told me he hopes to see many more Jews living here.”

Following that short and obviously carefully edited interview, Knell closed her report.

Knell: “Back at the Imperial Hotel an Israeli court worker serves Abu Walid Dajani with a new lawsuit, freezing his assets. The pressure on him from the settlers is mounting. At the heart of this deeply contested holy city, real estate has much more than just a financial value. It has an emotional and political one too.”

Not only did this report repeatedly promote inaccurate information concerning the properties which are ostensibly its subject matter but Yolande Knell has clearly exclusively embraced the Greek Orthodox Church’s narrative.

More gravely, Knell unquestioningly promoted the partisan political narrative she long since adopted with her framing of Old City houses inhabited by Jewish Israelis as ‘illegal settlements’, the inhabitants as ‘settlers’ and her uncritical amplification of the claim that the location is “Palestinian”.

Clearly this report does not meet the standards of either accuracy or impartiality laid down in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.  

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