Omissions in the BBC Jerusalem correspondent’s story of ‘fanaticism’

Back in July the BBC published a number of items on different platforms which clearly communicated to audiences what they should think about the Nation State law passed by the Knesset that month after seven years of deliberation.

BBC News website framing of Israeli legislation

How BBC radio programmes misled by adding one letter and a plural

Inaccurate BBC WS radio portrayal of Israeli legislation

BBC producer breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality yet again

Two months later the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman returned to that topic in two reports – mixing in a partially told, unrelated story from an Israeli town with a name he could not be bothered to learn to pronounce properly.

On September 19th viewers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ saw a filmed report by Bateman.

On September 22nd listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 heard an audio version (from 06:24 here) of the same report which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie at the beginning of the programme as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Today we’re in Israel on the hunt for the finest falafel while hearing what Arab and Jewish Israelis think of the controversial new law which characterises the country as principally a Jewish state.”

Adie’s introduction to the item itself included overt signposting.

Adie: “In July Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – narrowly voted in favour of a new Nation State law. It promotes Israel’s Jewish character and has been celebrated by religious nationalists, among other supporters, and not just within Israel itself but in the USA and Europe. It’s also sparked condemnation at home and internationally. Among its harshest critics have been the country’s nearly 2 million Arab-Israeli citizens who say it underlines their second class status, as Tom Bateman’s been finding out.”

Bateman’s report began in a falafel shop in Afula and listeners were told that he has “set out to gauge reactions to one of Israel’s most controversial new laws” before Bateman introduced his linkage of a local story to his main agenda.

Bateman: “My lunch companion wants to tell me about that. This is the world’s only Jewish state says Ilan Vaknin, a local lawyer turned mayoral candidate. Israel is surrounded by Arab nations and needs protecting, he asserts. He supports the new Nation State law. The legislation is an emblem for the Israeli Right, championed by Benjamin Netanyahu – a prime minister with an eye on elections next year, trying not to be outflanked by more hardline nationalists in his coalition.”

Bateman went on to give a particular view of the legislation.

Bateman: “The single-page law is stacked with symbols of Jewish sovereignty. It states that Jews have the unique right to national self-determination in Israel. That what it calls Jewish settlement is a national value. That Hebrew is the state’s official language – a statement seen as downgrading Arabic. But what of the central complaint from the law’s many critics, I ask, that it shreds Israel’s founding pledge of equality for all the inhabitants regardless of their religion or race?”

Given that account, uninformed listeners could of course be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that Jewish self-determination in Israel is an innovation that first appeared in the Nation State law. What Bateman refers to as “Israel’s founding pledge” is of course the Declaration of Independence which does indeed pledge “equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” but also – he refrains from clarifying – clearly defines Israel as “a Jewish state”.

Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Ilan Vaknin says that the Jewish people in Israel must safeguard their land. There has certainly been a struggle among the people of Afula. When 48 Arab-Israeli families tried to buy plots of land on the edge of this Jewish majority town, there were protests by Jewish residents. Mr Vaknin acted for those who wanted to stop the sales. He claimed the Arab families had illegally coordinated bids. The courts ultimately threw out much of that argument and most of the sales went ahead. Many such land disputes elsewhere have not always gone the way of Arab citizens. Afula’s story seemed to echo a desire in the Nation State law to assert Jewish identity.”

Presuming to tell audiences what Israel “is supposed to stand for”, in his filmed report Bateman described the same story thus:

Bateman: “An empty space to be filled – but by whom? There has been a struggle among the people of Afula. What should this town in northern Israel look like? Who should live here? From whose past should it seek its character? Afula isn’t a story of troops and teargas filling the foreign news but a less visible confrontation between Jews and Arabs that goes to the heart of what the State of Israel is supposed to stand for. Ilan Vaknin wants to be the mayor. The lawyer told me how he tried to stop the sale of land to nearly 50 Arab families in this majority Jewish town. The dispute, which started well before the row over Israel’s new Nation State law, provides an example of the tensions that led to the law’s drafting and why its supporters think Israel’s Jewish character needs protecting. […] He [Vaknin] fought the sale of this land to Arab-Israeli families, saying they illegally coordinated bids But, after two years, Israel’s High Court allowed most of the sales to go ahead.”

The only Israeli politician mentioned by Bateman in these two reports is the current prime minister and so BBC audiences could be forgiven for concluding that it was he who proposed the Nation State law. In fact, the legislation was originally proposed in 2011 by Avi Dichter – who was at the time a member of the Kadima party – together with 39 other MKs. In contrast to the impression given by Bateman, the Afula building plots story began in late 2015.

While some of those who demonstrated against the sale of plots to 48 families from Arab villages in the district may have had racist motives, there are relevant parts of the story that Bateman did not bother to tell BBC audiences – not least the fact that the full complement of tenders in the proposed new neighbourhood was won by Arab applicants.

“The protesters claimed that the winning tender applicants may have coordinated their bids to ensure the neighborhood is populated mainly by Arab residents. They also charged that the tenders were poorly publicized within the city, and only announced in two local newspapers.

Many of the protesters have previously expressed their opposition to having an all-Arab neighborhood in the city.

The tender was run by the Israel Land Administration, which accepted bids on almost 50 plots for homes in a planned community next to the Afula Illit neighborhood. The results, published last month, showed that none of the plots had been won by current residents of Afula and all had been awarded to residents of Arab villages in the area.”

In April 2016 the Nazareth District Court revoked the tenders.

“Court president Justice Avraham Avraham said in his decision that the 48 Arab families violated housing tender rules by coordinating their bids on several of the 50 lots for homes in a planned neighborhood next to the Afula Illit neighborhood in an effort to fix prices for the homes.

“The coordination between bidders severely damages the principle of equality,” Avraham said in his decision. “The bidders joined forces to coordinate their proposed prices in an effort to unfairly divide the market among themselves.””

In August 2017 the High Court found that while a bidding group which had won ten of the 27 available plots had indeed coordinated bids, the other applicants had not. The court ruled that, rather than cancelling all the tenders as the Nazareth court had ruled, only the tenders of those shown to have coordinated bids would be cancelled.

While those parts of the story are missing from Bateman’s account, he did make sure to tell his radio audience of statements made by another interviewee – Ghayadad Zoabi.    

Bateman: “She says when Jewish protests took place against families like hers buying plots in Afula the sense of division felt overwhelming. She worries for her children who she fears have harder days to come. As long as the Right-wing controls Israel, she claims, it is heading for fanaticism. She believes the Nation State law sends a message to people like her that they are citizens second to Jews.”

And that of course is the agenda behind Bateman’s sudden interest in a local story that the BBC has ignored for nearly three years. Despite the fact that Arab-Israelis won tenders organised by a government agency and the 63% of bidders who were shown not to have coordinated bids had their tenders upheld in Israel’s High Court, The BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent still has a tale of “fanaticism” to tell about just one of the 22% of the world’s countries – including the UK – that have a religion enshrined in their constitution or basic law.  

 

 

 

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BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

The May 31st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by freelance journalist Robin Denselow which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 17:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Adie: “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long, complicated and contentious. And both sides want their version of that history to dominate as they try to win over foreign diplomats, politicians and the wider world. Violence brings one set of headlines. Cultural events and exchanges are seen as another way of achieving that. A festival was held in the West Bank recently aiming to give the growing Palestinian music scene a major boost and to amplify the voices of ordinary Palestinians. Robin Denselow was in Ramallah.”

Listeners certainly did hear one dominant, context-free narrative during the next five minutes with Denselow repeatedly referring to ‘Palestine’, thus breaching the BBC’s ‘style guide’ which states:

“…you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Audiences were told that Palestinians are “so isolated from the rest of the world” and of course no BBC report from PA controlled territory would be complete without a mention of “checkpoints”.

“The young audience had travelled to the Palestinian Music Expo – or PMX – from right across the West Bank, negotiating the Israeli checkpoints on the way.”

Listeners were told that foreign visitors to that music festival:

“…were welcomed by the Palestinian minister of culture, Ihab Bseiso, for whom PMX clearly had political significance. Promoting culture in Palestine is absolutely crucial, he told me. It’s a form of resistance, protecting the national heritage. The minister, who enthused about the years he spent studying at Cardiff University, gave us a personal tour of an uncompleted but palatial new building on a Ramallah hilltop. Originally intended as a grand guest-house for visiting dignitaries, it’s to be Palestine’s new national library and cultural hub.”

Denselow refrained from telling listeners that the building originally had another function too:

“Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.

However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.”

Again paraphrasing his host Bseiso, Denselow told listeners that:

“He claimed that what is happening on the cultural front in Palestine is a miracle it’s exceptionally hard to achieve under occupation. And he went on to recite the everyday problems of checkpoints and restrictions on movement.”

Denselow of course did not bother to remind Radio 4 audiences that checkpoints and “restrictions on movement” did not exist until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada terror war. He went on to describe excursions without clarifying whether the organisers were the Palestinian Authority or his PMX hosts.

“They organised a trip to show their foreign visitors their side of the conflict. We were driven out through Qalandiya checkpoint, where Israeli troops looked through out passports, and then taken to the bitterly divided city of Hebron.”

At that point it would of course have been helpful to listeners to have been reminded of the fact that Hebron is “divided” because twenty-one years ago the Palestinian Authority agreed to divide it into two areas: H1 under PA control and H2 (roughly 20% of the city) under Israeli control. That reminder was not forthcoming and neither was any mention of the ancient Hebron Jewish community or the massacre of 1929.

“In the Israeli-controlled sector settlers live alongside the Palestinians who complained to us how many of their shops have been closed, how they need nets to protect their market from rocks thrown by settlers and about the streets where they claimed they’re now banned from walking.”

The fact that those shops – located on one street – were closed due to Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada was not communicated to listeners. With a nod towards the BBC’s supposed editorial standards on impartiality, Denselow then inaccurately told listeners that the victims of Palestinian violence in Hebron have been exclusively “Israeli soldiers”.

“Over the years of conflict Palestinians have attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and rocks too and the small settler community says it also fears for its safety.”

Stories such as that of ten month-old Shalhevet Pass – murdered by a Palestinian sniper – or thirteen year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel clearly do not fit into Denselow’s narrative. His story then took a bizarre turn:

“But being seen here with a Palestinian guide was clearly dangerous. A car – apparently driven by an angry settler – narrowly missed our group then did a U-turn and drove back at us again at speed. One record industry executive would almost certainly have been hit if he hadn’t been pulled back.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian media outlets have any record of such an event having taken place in Hebron around the time of the PMX event between April 11th and 13th.  Denselow provided no evidence to support his guess that the car was “driven by an angry settler” but promoted it to BBC audiences regardless.

Interestingly, a similar claim is to be found in a post shared on the PMX Facebook page on April 18th. That post was written by one Younes Arar – who was apparently guiding Denselow’s group on their visit to Hebron.

Younes Arar is involved with an NGO called ‘Frontline Defenders’ and the co-founder of a campaign against what it calls “illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron” under the slogan ”Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron”. According to the NGO’s website he is also “the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – a grass-roots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs”. As can be determined by a quick perusal of the activist’s Twitter account, Younes Arar is not particularly committed to accuracy, facts or a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.

Interestingly, the prolific Tweeter Younes Arar made no mention on his Twitter account of that alleged incident in Hebron at the time.

Denselow went on to describe another trip, again erasing from his story the Palestinian terrorism that made the building of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

“Other excursions included a visit to the overcrowded Shuafat refugee camp hidden away behind walls and a checkpoint in Jerusalem.”

When he finally got round to describing the music festival itself, the earlier motif of Palestinian “national heritage” went somewhat awry.

“From jazz to satirical political rock songs, Balkan-Palestinian fusion and angry hip-hop. Musicians from Gaza had been refused travel permits to attend but there was an extraordinary video from a rapper who calls himself MC Gaza filmed amid the violent and bloody ‘Great March of Return’ protests on the border with Israel.”

Denselow did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that the video he described as “extraordinary” advocates the destruction of Israel. Describing another band, he went on:

“‘This is the only way to fight back against the occupation’ band member Adnan Jubran commented on stage. Later he told me ‘it’s trying to delete our culture. This is how we say no’.”

Near the beginning of his report Denselow stated that one of the festival’s purposes is:

“…to give those [foreign] visitors a distinctively Palestinian view of the place and its problems.”

There can be no doubt that Denselow and the other foreign visitors got exactly that. Unfortunately however, so did BBC Radio 4 listeners – with no provision of essential context and no regard for the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

 

Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio recently heard four different radio reports on the same topic.  The maker of those reports, Linda Pressly, described one of them as “a different window on the region” – but is that actually the case?

In fact, all four of those reports repeated politicised themes frequently seen in BBC content.

One of those themes is promotion of the umbrella term ‘occupied West Bank’ without any distinction being made between the places under complete Palestinian Authority control (Area A), those where the PA administers civilian life and Israel is responsible for security (Area B) and those under Israeli administration (Area C) – as laid out in the Oslo Accords agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians.

The first of Pressly’s reports about Arabian horses was aired on November 25th in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”. Presenter Kate Adie told listeners (from 12:22 here) that:

“In the occupied West Bank though, among ordinary Palestinians, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these horses.”

In that report, Pressly visited two locations: Al Bireh – in Area A and under complete PA control since 1994 – and Anata in Area B.

The second report was broadcast on November 30th in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Presented James Menendez’s introduction (from 18:00 here) included both use of the term ‘occupied West Bank’ and another increasingly seen theme: portrayal of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Israelis”.

“In the occupied West Bank equestrian sport has been growing in popularity over the past decade and the breeding of Arabian horses […] is a passion shared by both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as well as those who live in the West Bank…”

In that report Pressly visited Silwan in Jerusalem which she described as follows:

“The area known as Silwan by Palestinians and as the City of David by Jewish Israelis tumbles down the hillside in East Jerusalem. It’s one of the most heavily contested parts of this city…”

Pressly also visited a riding centre in Jericho – located in Area A and also under complete PA control since 1994. Despite that fact, listeners heard a young show-jumper say that:

“My goal is to represent Palestine and tell people that we’re there, we can do things while we are occupied, that we don’t give up.”

Also on November 30th, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ heard a much longer version of the same report – titled ‘Pride, Passion and Palestinian Horses’ – in which Pressly’s “journey in the occupied West Bank”, as she termed it, included visits to Al Bireh (Area A), “East Jerusalem”, Anata (Area B), Turmus Ayya (Area B) and Hebron (Area A).

“In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?”

As can be seen from that synopsis, another theme promoted in this report and in the very similar one broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment on November 30th and December 3rd was that of “Israeli checkpoints”.

Early on in the report (06:53), Pressley told listeners that in what she calls the West Bank, “the geography’s complicated; carved up as it is between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli control and punctuated by Israeli military checkpoints”.

During her visit to Anata, listeners heard her local fixer say that since the second Intifada “the Israelis are not allowed to come into Palestinian areas” but no explanation was given.

At 12:04 listeners heard Pressly’s sketchy portrayal of the paperwork needed for the horse breeder from Turmus Ayya – Ashraf Rabi – to show his horses in Kibbutz Alonim in the Galilee district.

Pressly: “To go to Alonim in Israel from the West Bank through one of the military checkpoints his horses need certificates issued by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. And Israel is closed to Palestinians from the West bank with no travel or work permit.”

Rabi: “As I’m a Palestinian so sometimes they don’t give me permit to go. Sometimes my horse doesn’t pass because the soldier who’s on the checkpoint he will return the horse back. […]

Whether or not those “certificates” needed by the horses include medical/vaccination paperwork was not made clear and so listeners were left with the inaccurate impression that passage through crossings between PA controlled areas and Israel depends on the caprice of those staffing them.

Pressly later introduced another element into the checkpoints theme:

Pressly: “Ashraf Rabi’s anxiety about Israeli checkpoints is shared by the Palestinian horse owning community and it’s compounded by the absence of specialised veterinary facilities and equine vets on the West bank, especially if there’s a medical emergency.”

She then visited a person in Hebron identified only by his first name – ‘Rashad’ – and listeners heard a story concerning his horse, Burak.

Pressly: “At the age of four Burak developed colic. He needed an operation. The only option was to get him to a hospital in Israel.”

Rashad [translated]: “We ordered a horse-box, got to the checkpoint. The horse-box waited six to eight hours and they wouldn’t allow him to go to the hospital. I asked them at the checkpoint why aren’t you allowing him to go? He has his papers, everything is correct. They wouldn’t. So I called the hospital. An Israeli vet he came and he took him to the hospital.”

Pressly: “It was too late. Burak died as he arrived at the hospital.”

The possibility that it was not the horse’s paperwork – but rather than of the person accompanying it – that was problematic was not raised. Pressly continued:

Pressly: “Israel’s restriction on free movement is a source of huge antipathy among West Bankers – not just horse owners. For Israel, insecurity and the recent wave of killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians in attacks at checkpoints justify the constraints. In 2015 the National Arabian Horse Show in Alonim was cancelled at the height of what’s been called the stabbing intifada. As far as we know, Burak’s the only horse to die after being held at a checkpoint.”

Remarkably, that highlighted sentence was Pressly’s sole attempt to explain to listeners why security measures are necessary at crossings and checkpoints – and it even misled listeners by claiming that Palestinian attacks during the past two years took place “at checkpoints” and implying that security measures commenced relatively recently. Listeners heard nothing whatsoever about the Palestinian violence during the second Intifada that actually made such security measures necessary and the word ‘terror’ was – predictably – completely absent from all of her reports.

In all four of her reports Pressly told BBC audiences that “love for Arabian horses trumps the divided politics of this troubled region”. More is the pity then that Pressly deviated from reporting on those animals and the people who raise them and ventured into just such politics by promoting well-worn, context-free, politicised themes seen all too often in BBC content.

BBC’s Knell paints a partial picture of Gaza woes

The lead item in the July 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 00:33 here) as follows:

Adie: “Today’s headlines from the West Bank once again tell of violence. Meanwhile in Gaza the UN has warned of increasingly unlivable conditions. The narrow strip of land has long been a place of tension: tension between Israel and the Palestinians and between the Palestinians themselves. For the past ten years the Islamist group Hamas has governed there and in the summer of 2014, over 50 days of fighting with Israeli forces caused widespread death and destruction. Yolande Knell was in Gaza during that conflict and this week she’s been back.”

 Yolande Knell begins her report on the beach before introducing an interviewee previously seen in one of her 2014 reports. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Knell: “Along the golden sand a few girls and boys squeal with delight as the waves lick their feet – much as on any other Mediterranean beach except that I’m in Gaza City where an energy crisis means that sewage treatment plants aren’t working properly. The sea is contaminated. It stinks. So as much as they’d love to plunge into the cool water to escape the sticky heat this summer, many families are avoiding it. ‘Gaza’s blessed with its long coast but I can’t take my children swimming’ says Naim al Khatib, a father of six whom I met 3 years ago during the last conflict between Hamas militants and Israel. Back then, Naim tried to keep up his kids’ spirits as they spent seven long weeks hiding in their apartment. Now, although everyone’s safe, he says every day remains a struggle. ‘The war’s over but the war-like situation is still going on’ he tells me. ‘The siege goes on, we’re still prisoners. The quality of life gets worse’.”

There is of course no “siege” on Gaza but Knell nevertheless chose to amplify that falsehood. She goes on, confusing Palestinian Legislative Council elections with “local elections”, giving a typically whitewashed portrayal of Hamas’ violent coup in 2007 and of course failing to mention that it is a terror organisation sworn to the destruction of Israel.

“It’s ten years since Hamas, having previously won local elections, ousted the Palestinian Authority – the PA – in Gaza and seized control of the small strip of land. In response Israel and Egypt ramped up restrictions on the flow of people and goods in and out to isolate the militant group and stop weapons reaching it. The blockade still cripples the economy. And now Gaza’s being squeezed even more as the PA – which controls only parts of the West Bank – piles pressure on Hamas to try to force it to hand back the territory.”

While the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip was exacerbated in April when the PA declared that it would only foot part of the bill for power supplied by Israel, the dispute between Hamas and the PA on that issue actually goes back much further, originating in the PA’s levying of tax on fuel for the Gaza power plant. That part of the story was omitted from Knell’s report.

“Some of Gaza’s electricity supply comes from Israel with the PA footing the bill. But recently the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas asked for this to be reduced as the PA was no longer willing to provide services for Hamas. Since last month mains electricity, already limited here, comes on for just 2 to 3 hours a day. Naim shows me how he relies on a generator and even solar panels mounted by a chirping canary’s cage on his balcony. Just maintaining a water filter and refrigerator – both essentials in Gaza – takes up a lot of his time and money. Adding to the strain, like thousands of other civil servants who had continued to collect salaries from the PA even if they weren’t actually working, he’s just had his income slashed.”

As readers may recall, the PA cut the salaries of its employees who have been paid to stay at home for a decade by 30% in April. After a quote from Khatib’s daughter, Knell goes on to mention a report previously promoted in BBC content.

“But a new UN report says Gaza is increasingly unlivable for its 2 million residents and that conditions are deteriorating further and faster than previously predicted. As the population continues to grow, there’s 40% unemployment and signs of decline in education and healthcare. At the Shifa hospital an ambulance screeches past and it transports me back once again to the bloody battles and terrible destruction of 2014.”

Notably, Knell’s recollections do not include the fact that the Hamas leadership used that hospital’s staff and patients as human shields – as she well knows.

“Back then, staff here worked around the clock to treat overwhelming numbers of casualties but when I see the familiar face of Dr Ayman al Sahbani, the head of emergencies, he looks as stressed as ever.  ‘Our state isn’t bad or very bad – it’s catastrophic’ he blurts out. ‘We lack essential drugs and supplies. The hospital is running on big generators and all the time I’m worried’. Dr al Sahbani explains that he depends on fuel donations and that there are no spare parts if generators break down. ‘If they stop we may lose patients in operation rooms, intensive care, kidney dialysis, the neo-natal unit’ he says breathlessly. On top of their usual work load, medics here are now also treating more sickness caused by poverty and bathing in the filthy sea. And it’s becoming more difficult to get Israeli permits to transfer seriously ill patients out of Gaza, partly because the PA is giving fewer guarantees it will cover their medical costs elsewhere. The doctor tells me how, days ago, he broke this news to the parents of a newborn with a congenital heart condition who went on to die. ‘How did I do this?’ he asks me. ‘I’m speaking to you not as a doctor but as a human being’.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch checked Knell’s allegation that the acquisition of permits is “partly” attributable to PA policies with the body that coordinates those permits for patients from the Gaza Strip. COGAT told us that:

“To our regret, an internal Palestinian dispute harms the residents of Gaza – instead of the regime in Gaza helping them – but Israel has no connection to the issue. We would highlight that in cases in which the Palestinian Authority sends requests, and particularly those classified as urgent, COGAT coordinates the immediate passage of patients at any time of the day in order to save lives. This activity is carried out on a daily basis at the Erez Crossing, through which residents of Gaza enter Israel for medical treatment.” [emphasis added]

Moreover, while Knell does not give the name of the baby who died of congenital heart disease, she apparently did not check whether or not “Israeli permits” actually have any connection to that case. The local media recently covered three such stories.

“Earlier in the week three children under the age of 1, all suffering from heart disease, died in Gaza hospitals.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Tuesday blamed the Palestinian Authority for the deaths, saying that Ramallah had refused to give medical referrals for the babies to be treated in the West Bank. The PA then blamed Israel.

Dr. Bassam al-Badri, who heads the Palestinian Authority department responsible for authorizing treatment for Gazans outside of the Strip, claimed Israel had refused to grant exit permits to guardians of the children.

But the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry branch that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs, said no such request had been made.

“No request was received from the Palestinian Authority to coordinate medical treatment in Israel for the three infants,” COGAT wrote in a statement to The Times of Israel.”

Knell closes her report with opaque references to a story the BBC has so far failed to cover and listeners would hence not understand.

“On this trip I meet some Gazans clinging to rumours of political solutions involving the return of exiled figures or improved relations with Egypt. But mostly there’s just frustration and despair. And there are warnings too that troubles in Gaza will spill across its borders – and not just in terms of the sewage that’s already reaching southern Israeli beaches.”

The picture of Gaza painted by Yolande Knell in this report is of course devoid of some very important context. Nowhere in her grim portrayal does she make any mention of the fact that if it wished to do so, Hamas could solve not only the electricity crisis but numerous additional issues plaguing ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas could, if it wanted to, pay for enough electricity to significantly improve power supplies. But it prefers to spend tens of millions of shekels a month digging attack tunnels into Israel and manufacturing rockets.

According to various estimates by the PA and Israel, Hamas raises NIS 100 million ($28 million) every month in taxes from the residents of Gaza. A significant part of that amount covers the wages of its members. But a large portion is diverted for military purposes. Estimates say Hamas is spending some $130 million a year on its military wing and preparations for war.”

However, the terror organisation’s prioritisation of tunnels, missiles and additional types of military build-up over the welfare of Gaza’s residents has no place in Yolande Knell’s story – just as was the case in her reporting from the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict. 

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ listeners get warped view of Gaza electricity crisis

Revisiting the BBC’s 2013 PA funding audit story

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza 

Casually reinforcing the narrative on BBC Radio 4

Kate Adie’s introduction to an item about rock-climbing which was broadcast in the July 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 17:09 here) sounded promising.FOOC 16 7

“In sixty years this programme has broadcast many dispatches from the Middle East – particularly the West Bank. They’re often about religion or politics and all too often about violence. Many journalists have written about the scene in Ramallah; just six miles from Jerusalem. But Ed Lewis has found something different: a sports centre that’s opening up new horizons.”

So was that item about a Palestinian rock-climbing club really “something different” and did it indeed manage to avoid politics? Not quite.

Tourism consultant and freelance journalist Edward Lewis managed to get a gratuitous, context-free mention of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence into his introduction – but without of course informing listeners why the construction of that fence (only a small percentage of which is actually “wall”) was necessary.

“Ramallah has a new wall. Not a vertical grey concrete wall but a bright blue, green and white one. It has no look-out posts, razor wire or steel gates. Instead there are bungee ropes, crash mats and colour. Far from emitting a message to stay away, this wall is encouraging Palestinians to approach and explore.”

The context of Palestinian terrorism was also erased from later remarks made by Lewis, as were the Oslo Accords arrangements which divide the region into Areas A, B and C.

“Despite the challenges of mobility in the West Bank…”

“In the wake of a rash of violent incidents since October 2015, tension with Israel has risen and it has become harder for single Palestinian men to get work permits in East Jerusalem.”

“The West Bank has not become an adventure playground overnight – nor will it anytime soon. Israeli restrictions and the designation of many parts of the West Bank as military zones or nature reserves severely restrict the scope for more outdoor activity.”

Could Lewis have reported on that climbing club in Ramallah without the insertion of that unnecessary and context-free mention of the anti-terrorist fence which contributed nothing to his report? Of course he could. But as we all too often see, even the most seemingly benign subject matter can be opportunistically used by self-conscripted journalists to casually reinforce an adopted narrative.  

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part one

On April 23rd the BBC World News television channel aired a half-hour long filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell on its ‘Our World’ programme. Titled ‘Death at the Junction’ (available for a limited period of time on iPlayer here and also here), the report was broadcast four times on that particular day, with a further eleven repeats scheduled. Its synopsis reads as follows:Knell Our World TV

“Over the past year, a new wave of violence has brought terror to the streets of Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians have attacked Israelis in apparently random acts. In some cases the attackers have been young teenagers, armed with kitchen knives. The Gush Etzion junction is one site of many attacks. It’s on the main road between Jerusalem and Hebron and is used by thousands of Jewish settlers. The junction used to be a place where Palestinians would also shop and work. Now people are scared that being there could cost them their lives. The film contains disturbing images from the start.”

An audio version of the report (from 05:41 here) was also aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on April 23rd with the synopsis reading:

“In the West Bank a roundabout encapsulates what’s going on, and going wrong, in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

Both reports raise a number of issues – including the following claims from FOOC presenter Kate Adie in her introduction to the audio item:

“In the past six months young Palestinians have carried out a series of stabbings, shootings and car rammings. Some 30 Israelis have been killed and the state response is usually lethal with about 200 Palestinians killed; most of whom – Israel says – were carrying out attacks.” [emphasis added]

With ‘usually’ meaning what typically or normally happens, it is worth taking a closer look at that claim from Adie. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center produced an overview the seven months of violence between mid-September 2015 and mid-April 2016 which does not support Adie’s use of the term ‘usually’ or her employment of the qualifier “Israel says”.

“Two hundred forty terrorists were involved in the 204 significant terrorist attacks, that is, most of the attacks were carried out by single attackers. In addition, at least 59 terrorists were detained during preventive activities, so that the total number of terrorists who carried out or planned to carry out terrorist attacks was at least 299.

Of the 240 terrorists who carried out significant terrorist attacks, 138 were killed during the attacks. Two were killed in “work accidents” (one in a car crash and one when an IED blew up in his hands). One hundred and two terrorists were apprehended and detained while carrying out attacks, or escaped.

What is the overall number of Palestinians killed during the current terrorist campaign? Dozens of Palestinians who were killed rioting against the Israeli security forces can be added to the 138 terrorists killed while carrying out significant terrorist attacks. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent (April 2, 2016), the total number of Palestinians killed is 204. That figure may indicate that 66 Palestinians were killed during riots, of whom 27 were killed in the Gaza Strip (according to an NGO calling itself the “National Association of Shaheed Families”). Therefore, 39 were killed in Judea and Samaria (Note: Since the count was not carried out by the ITIC, there is no certainty that the numbers are correct, but in ITIC assessment they accurately reflect the situation).”

Adie also tells listeners that:

“Yolande Knell has been to a previously peaceful junction in the occupied West Bank that’s become a flash point.”

Was the Gush Etzion junction really “previously peaceful”? In fact numerous fatal and non-fatal terror attacks have been perpetrated at that location over the years.

Notably, both the audio and filmed reports include some exceptionally rare – if brief – BBC reporting on the history of the location. In the audio report Knell tells listeners that:

“In the early 20th century Jews bought land in this area but in fighting with Arab armies in 1948 they were forced out or killed. After Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, Jews returned. Settlements are seen as illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

A similar portrayal is given in the filmed item, with Knell concluding her short excursion into history by telling audiences that following the Six Day War, Israelis:

“…began to rebuild Kfar Etzion. It was the first settlement in the occupied West Bank after the war. Settlements are Jewish communities built on occupied land. They’re considered illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

Revealingly, Knell does not provide any explanation – or logical legal argument – to support her claim that communities built on land purchased by Jews and then belligerently occupied by the invading Jordanian army for a period of 19 years are now “illegal”. As ever, audiences are not informed that the interpretation of ‘international law’ adopted and promoted by the BBC is contradicted by additional legal opinions or that past peace proposals have included Gush Etzion in areas which would remain under Israeli control.

Moreover, Knell goes on to encourage her audiences to view the location as ‘Palestinian land’, telling viewers that:

“Gush Etzion – Hebrew for the Etzion bloc – is now thirty times larger than the original sites. Ninety thousand people live in more than 20 settlements and much of it is built on confiscated Palestinian land.” [emphasis added]

And telling Radio 4 listeners that:

“Now Gush Etzion is thirty times larger than it was historically. Areas of Palestinian land have been added to it causing deep resentment.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to contribute to her audiences’ understanding of the factors – including Ottoman land laws – which form the basis for land classification in Judea & Samaria and neither does she inform them of the 1979 Israeli government decision according to which new communities in Judea & Samaria would be constructed exclusively on state land, the resulting land surveys intended to prevent construction on land privately owned by Palestinians or of the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel is responsible for zoning and planning in Area C – which includes Gush Etzion. Instead, Knell dumbs down the picture presented to listeners and viewers of these reports by use of the inaccurate, misleading – and politicised – term “Palestinian land”.

The use of inaccurate and misleading language is also seen in the filmed report’s portrayal of the topic of Palestinian building:

“Khirbat Zachariah is surrounded by the Gush Etzion settlements and Mohammed Saad says life has become harder and more risky with new security measures at the [Gush Etzion junction] roundabout. […] Already Palestinians here feel great resentment. They’re forbidden from building by the Israelis whilst the neighbouring settlements are allowed to expand.”

Knell refrains from clarifying to her audiences where “here” is exactly and fails to prevent confusion by informing audiences that the vast majority of Palestinian towns and villages in Gush Etzion are located in Area A or Area B – meaning that their requests for planning permission and building permits are submitted to the Palestinian Authority. Khirbat Zachariah (also Sakariya) is indeed located in Area C and hence falls under Civil Administration planning laws but Knell’s report does not include any mention of the help Saad and his fellow villagers have received on that front from their neighbours in Gush Etzion.

In the filmed report Knell goes on to tell viewers that:

“The villagers (of Khirbat Zachariah) have lost parts of their land to the settlements. Most can no longer earn a living from their own farms.”

And in the audio version listeners hear the following:

“‘It’s difficult’ says Mohammed Saad, a farmer, as he prunes his grapevines.’Israel forbids us from building and we’ve lost some land’.”

BBC audiences are not told that the residents of Khirbat Zachariah were originally tenant farmers who rented land from an Arab Christian family from Bethlehem. The land was sold to a subsidiary company of the Jewish National Fund in 1944 before the family emigrated to America and when one resident of the Khirbat Zachariah claimed ownership of the land after the Jordanian occupation of the area in 1948, he lost the case in a Jordanian court and subsequently, in 1980,  his claim of ownership of the land was also rejected by the Israeli High Court of Justice.

Additional aspects of Knell’s reports will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

Looking beyond the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of Gush Etzion

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

 

BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative

The BBC’s reputation as a reliable source – underpinned by a supposedly unwavering commitment to cast-iron accuracy and impartiality in its reporting – means that members of the public, researchers and educators regard its content as being an authoritative record. The BBC itself relates to its online archive content as “historical record” and its Director of Editorial Policy and Standards has stated that “[h]owever long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”.

Mr Jordan might therefore care to consider a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available from 00:43 here) which was broadcast in the October 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”.FOOC Connolly 24 10

Ostensibly providing listeners with a historical angle to the current wave of terror in Israel, Connolly’s report is remarkable for the fact that it once again promotes the notion that the attacks are of a “random and spontaneous nature”, ignoring the issue of incitement and the growing number of cases in which perpetrators have been shown to have links to terrorist organisations.

Concurrently, Connolly’s messaging for listeners includes the employment of statements such as:

“…the readiness with which Israel’s security forces resort to lethal force against Palestinians”

And, referring to checkpoints outside the Jerusalem neighbourhoods from which a very significant proportion of the attackers have come:

“….the sense that restrictions on movement are a form of collective punishment”.

But Connolly’s politically motivated framing of the story reaches its zenith in his inaccurate portrayal of the history of Jerusalem.

“Even the British – eternally torn between the desire to have an empire and the desire to have an empire on the cheap – left some kind of mark.”

“British rule lasted more than thirty years in the Holy Land.”

Mandate Palestine was not of course part of the British Empire, as Connolly implies in those two proximate statements. Britain indeed administered the Mandate for Palestine, but that mandate was established (along with several others) by the League of Nations with the specific aim of reconstituting a Jewish national home: a task which the administrator did not complete in the years before it returned that mandate to the League of Nations’ successor, the United Nations, on May 14th 1948.

Having distorted one very relevant part of the history by erasing the Mandate for Palestine from audience view, Connolly then goes on to promote a blatant factual inaccuracy.

“The British left in 1948, leaving the Arab kingdom of Jordan in control of East Jerusalem and the Old City and West Jerusalem in Israeli hands.”

The uninformed listener would obviously take that statement to mean that Jordanian control over parts of Jerusalem was both recognised and perfectly legitimate: the result of their having been handed over to it by the previous ‘landlord’.

Despite having erased from the picture the fact that Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem actually came about by means of a belligerent invasion of Israel by Jordan (together with four other Arab nations) immediately following Britain’s abandonment of its role as administrator of the League of Nations mandate and Israel’s declaration of independence, Connolly goes on to include a demilitarized zone (surely unexplainable according to his version of events) in his story.

“The route I follow crosses what was then an edgy and dangerous DMZ – a demilitarized zone across which Israel and the Arab world contemplated each other in mutual hostility.”

He proceeds, erasing yet another episode of Jordanian belligerence from his account:

“In the war of 1967 Israel crossed the DMZ and drove the Jordanians out of the Old City and out of East Jerusalem. The victory brought the holy places – the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jewish Western Wall and the Islamic al Aqsa compound – under Israeli control, where they remain to this day.” [emphasis added]

Here we have yet another example (previous recent ones can be seen here, here and here) of the BBC’s adoption and promotion of the inaccurate narrative whereby all of Temple Mount is al Aqsa and Connolly even portrays the site as exclusively “Islamic” – despite the fact that it is of significance to members of three religions.

He continues:

“…the victory of 1967 brought the Arab population of East Jerusalem and dozens of outlying villages which had belonged to Jordan under Israeli military occupation.” [emphasis added]

Of course those locations were in fact under Jordanian occupation and their later annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community, meaning that Connolly’s claim that they “belonged to Jordan” is inaccurate and misleading.

The take-away message promoted to listeners to this report is that the roots of the current wave of violence are to be found in the Israeli occupation of areas that previously belonged to “the Arab kingdom of Jordan”. Not only is that an inaccurate portrayal but in order to frame the story in such a way, Connolly distorts and erases the history of the region in a manner which actively hinders audience understanding of the wider issue.

Given that this report potentially risks wasting public resources by becoming the subject of editorial complaints, the BBC clearly needs to issue prompt corrections to the plethora of inaccuracies promoted by Kevin Connolly.

Resources:

BBC Radio 4 – contact details

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Twitter   

 

More conspiracy theory amplification from BBC’s Yolande Knell – and why it matters

“No-one becomes a terrorist from a standing start. It starts with a process of radicalisation. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists.

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination. […]

First, any strategy to defeat extremism must confront, head on, the extreme ideology that underpins it. We must take its component parts to pieces – the cultish worldview, the conspiracy theories, and yes, the so-called glamorous parts of it as well.

We must demand that people also condemn the wild conspiracy theories, the anti-Semitism, and the sectarianism too.”  (PM David Cameron, July 2015)

Over the past few weeks a particularly inflammatory conspiracy theory has been repeatedly amplified on a variety of BBC platforms. According to that conspiracy theory, Israel seeks or intends to change the status quo on Temple Mount and whilst assorted versions of that libel have been published and broadcast by the BBC, the corporation has to date not told its audiences in its own words that they are baseless. At best, it has opted to tell them that “Israel says” it has no intention of changing the status quo at the site. At worst, it has lent the BBC’s reputation of reliability to such lies.

One example of unchallenged amplification of that conspiracy theory came in a filmed report by Yolande Knell on October 13th. Two days later, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ broadcast an item by Knell (available from 00:44 here) which – among other things – again promoted the words of the same interviewee.FOOC 15 10 Knell

Presenter Kate Adie’s introduction to the item was notable for her use of qualifying terms to describe terrorists and violent rioters – including minors.

KA: “The Israeli army has been deploying hundreds of troops across the country to try to combat the worst surge in violence there in months. Yesterday police in Jerusalem shot dead two Palestinians who they say tried to stab Israelis in separate incidents. So far this month, seven Israelis have been killed in attacks and at least thirty Palestinians have died – including alleged assailants and several children.” [emphasis added]

Adie continued, failing to provide listeners with the full story behind Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks.

“The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of executing Palestinian children in cold blood – a remark denounced as lies and incitement by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yolande Knell says the violence if fueling a sense of panic in Israel and raising fears of a new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.”

Yolande Knell’s relatively long account began as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]

YK: “It’s a scene so familiar that it could be from almost any time over the past three decades. Palestinian teenagers wearing jeans and T-shirts and checkered keffiyeh scarves fling stones and marbles at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. And today there’s a swift response: an army jeep tears down this hotel-lined road in Bethlehem, firing out white ribbons of tear gas. Soon we hear the crack of gunfire. Recently there’ve been almost daily battles like this across the occupied Palestinian territories.

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

Anti-Israel rally, London, UK, 17/10/2015

The anger’s fueled by a row over access to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City which is built in a place that’s both sacred to Muslims and Jews. Despite official Israeli denials, many Palestinians believe there’s a plan to change long-standing rules and give Jews the right to pray openly at the site they call Temple Mount.

‘This started because Israelis entered our al Aqsa Mosque and disrespected it’ a young protester Ahmed tells me, referring to an incident last month. During a Jewish holiday, Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli troops after the forces went briefly inside the mosque in response – they say – to stone-throwing rioters.”

Knell’s description of violent rioters as “worshippers” is obviously misleading, as is her attempt to claim that the rioting was caused by the actions of the Israeli police. All the incidents in which the police have been obliged to keep order at the site over the last weeks began because of organised Palestinian attempts to violently disrupt visits by non-Muslims to the site. This of course is not the first time that Knell has misrepresented those events. The report continues with Knell once again amplifying the particularly inflammatory falsehood that Israel is conducting a “fight” against Islam.

“‘It’s a red line’ Ahmed goes on. ‘All our lives we’ve been dealing with Israel’s occupation as a political struggle but now they’re turning it into a fight against our religion’. The activist has already spent four years in an Israeli prison for rock throwing. Now he hopes for a third Palestinian uprising and tells me he’s ready to go back to jail. On a nearby street I also meet Mustafa who’s 25 and says he’s prepared to die for the nationalist cause. ‘I like to go and throw stones and whatever happens, happens’ he remarks. ‘It’s for al Aqsa, it’s for our martyrs and all our humiliations’.”

Demonstration in London, UK, 2010

Demonstration in London, UK, 2010

Next, Knell revisits one of her regular themes: misrepresenting the anti-terrorist fence in the vicinity of Bethlehem whilst failing to clarify to audiences that it exists because of Palestinian terrorism.  

“The shop worker describes a daily life where he’s hemmed-in by checkpoints, by the concrete wall that surrounds much of Bethlehem – part of Israel’s separation barrier – and expanding Jewish settlements near his home on the edge of the city. Despite his university education, his career prospects are limited. Mustafa connects his feelings of anger to local unrest in the West Bank and the recent spate of knife attacks and shootings across Jerusalem and Israel. Amateur video of almost every assault is posted on social media and he watches them all. ‘Maybe this will be the stabbing Intifada’ he says.”

Downplaying the violence of the first Intifada – during which around a thousand Palestinians were murdered by Palestinian vigilantes – Knell goes on:

“The first Palestinian Intifada which began in 1987 was marked by coordinated popular unrest while the second, starting from 2000, produced suicide bombings by militants. Together, they claimed the lives of over 5,000 Palestinians and over 1,100 Israelis. The latest stabbings have so far caused several deaths and dozens of injuries. Police blame most on lone-wolf attackers making personal decisions to act. But while the intensity and pattern of the violence may not match the experience of previous uprisings, it’s stirred up old fears for Israelis.” […]

Knell’s closing words include whitewashing of the incitement coming from Mahmoud Abbas and completely ignore the issue of incitement from official PA and other Palestinian sources. 

“The Israeli authorities have struggled in their response to the recent crisis. Some far-right politicians are demanding action over Temple Mount. Meanwhile, security officials and the Israeli prime minister have largely held back – worried about exacerbating the troubles. On the Palestinian side, Islamist groups have declared the attacks heroic while the ageing secular president says he supports popular protests but not violence. The current unrest isn’t organized in any meaningful sense. It has no clear and unified goal. It comes as a generation of young Palestinians have lost faith in their leaders. They’ve watched peace talks fail to deliver a promised independent Palestinian state. For all those reasons, it’s very hard to predict what will happen next and whether those who are trying to bring the situation under control really can do so.”

Of course listeners to this programme would be incapable of putting Knell’s makeover of Mahmoud Abbas into its appropriate context because the BBC has studiously refrained from informing its audiences of what “secular” Mahmoud Abbas says to his people in Arabic.

This message, for example, was broadcast on PA TV nineteen times in three days during October 2014.

More recently, this was shown on official PA TV:

Obviously, the fact that the BBC gives unchallenged amplification to conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount is a problem. The fact that it also refrains from clarifying to its audiences in its own words that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo at that site is another, as is the fact that the BBC has consistently concealed from its audiences the religiously themed rhetoric and incitement fueling the conspiracy theories surrounding Temple Mount.Al Aqsa UK FOAA  

Those problems do not just raise questions about the BBC’s ability to report on this Israel-related topic accurately, impartially and responsibly. They also have the potential to affect British domestic issues because conspiracy theories about Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque are by no means confined to the Middle East – as this page from the website of the Leicester-based group ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ and scenes from the anti-Israel rally held in London just last weekend demonstrate.

Prime Minister David Cameron clearly understands that a vital part of combating extremism in the UK is confronting and exposing conspiracy theories.  With its unrivalled outreach, the BBC is of course well placed to play a part in contributing to that aim – should it so choose. 

More BBC multiplatform mainstreaming of an anti-Israel trope

Obviously not content with the previous amplification of propaganda rhetoric used by anti-Israel campaigners on BBC World Service radio last month, the BBC recently decided to promote business reporter Roger Hearing’s mainstreaming of the same ‘open air prison’ trope on several of its other platforms too.Hearing ice cream Gaza written

The June 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ includes a piece from Hearing introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 22:27 here) as follows:

“It’s nearly a year now since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks on Gaza in response – they said – to a series of rocket attacks launched from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Rebuilding started soon after a ceasefire was announced last August but progress has been slow. A blockade on the territory imposed by Israel has delayed the arrival of construction materials. Roger Hearing has been to see how one business has carried on despite the difficulties.” [emphasis added]

So, in addition to casting doubt on the reasons for the outbreak of hostilities on July 8th 2014 (almost a month of incessant attacks on civilians, with hundreds of missiles fired rather than “a series”), Adie also fails to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, refrains from noting Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip and misleads audiences with the inaccurate claim that the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is because of Israeli restrictions on the import of dual use goods whilst making no effort to inform them of the terrorism which is the cause of those restrictions.

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ also has a BBC World Service radio version presented by Pascale Harter and Hearing’s report was featured in that programme’s June 20th edition too. Harter’s introduction to the item (from 17:55 here) was notably more accurate and impartial than the one heard by listeners to Radio 4.

“But right now, a glimpse of Gaza as you might not know it. It’s nearly a year since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks there after weeks in which hundreds of rockets were fired into Israel from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were destroyed. It is a very difficult business environment but Roger Hearing finds one entrepreneur winning fame if not fortune.”

A written version of that audio report from Hearing was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East and Magazine pages on June 21st and in addition that version of the report was translated into Arabic and promoted on the BBC Arabic website.

All four versions of the report include overly dramatic, context-free descriptions from Hearing.

“…despite the apocalyptic destruction in parts of the city from last year’s war, you do also see a lot of giggling, playing children among the ruins.”

All four versions also fail to inform audiences that, in addition to ice cream making equipment, the Rafah area smuggling tunnels have of course been used to import weapons into the Strip and that metal piping of assorted types is regularly used by terrorists to manufacture missiles.

“He proudly showed us the shiny Italian gelato machines installed in the back rooms of his cafe building. When he was trying to import them, it was hard to convince the Israelis apparently that there wasn’t some other, more threatening purpose for the tall chrome boxes with pipes and chutes and nozzles.

It’s likely at least some of the machines were hauled through the tunnels under the border with Egypt, until that smuggling operation was closed down a few months back. Now that’s a strange image: young men in pitch darkness, sweating to drag huge boxes through rickety holes in the sand, and all so that Gazans could eat fine ice cream.”

Whilst BBC audiences remain serially unaware of Hamas’ activities in Judea & Samaria and in Turkey, they do now at least know that Hamas officials in Gaza like ice cream.

“Very nice,” said Ghazi Hamed, the deputy foreign minister for Hamas. “Everyone here knows Kazem’s.”

All four of these reports conclude with the same canard promoted by Hearing a month earlier in one of his radio reports from the Gaza Strip.

“And I have to say – and this is one of the oddest things – from the decrepit heart of a half-destroyed city in a besieged and blockaded enclave, sometimes described as the biggest open air prison in the world, comes the best ice cream I have ever tasted.” [emphasis added]

The Gaza Strip is of course not “besieged” at all and those who inaccurately describe it as “the biggest open air prison in the world” do so out of clear political motivations. Thousands of people exit and enter the Gaza Strip every year – as anyone who follows the daily reports publicized by COGAT online and on social media will be aware.

But, electing to ignore the facts behind the deliberate misnomer which he has so vigorously promoted over the past few weeks, Roger Hearing continues to mainstream the baseless rhetoric of anti-Israel delegitimisation in a style more suited to the Hamas supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s PR department than a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting. The BBC is undoubtedly capable of identifying the motives and agenda behind the promotion of the inaccurate notion of Gaza as an ‘open air prison’. The fact that it chooses to adopt, amplify and repeatedly mainstream such propaganda on multiple platforms tells audiences all they need to know about the BBC’s supposed ‘impartiality’.

Related Articles:

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

Resources:

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Twitter

Roger Hearing on Twitter

BBC World Service contact & complaints

BBC Radio 4 contact

How to Complain to the BBC

In which BBC R4 misrepresents an Israeli law and its roots

The September 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Matters of Life and Death” and included an item by Claudia Hammond, described in the synopsis as follows:FOOC Hammond

“Claudia Hammond discovers that many patients in Israel remain on life support for years”.

 The programme is available here, with the relevant segment beginning at 18:10, or here as a podcast under the different title “The Silent Wards”.  

The item is introduced by programme presenter Kate Adie thus:

“The news from Israel has been dominated recently by events in and around Gaza. On this programme though, we like to give ourselves the space to examine other aspects of life and death. In January this year a former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died after eight years in a coma following a massive stroke. In many other countries the machines keeping him alive would have been turned off earlier. Jewish law forbids people ending a human life. As Claudia Hammond discovered in Jerusalem, the result is that large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support.”

Hammond’s item is mostly devoted to the telling of individual stories, with the background she provides to listeners limited to the following segment:

“In most countries a ward like this would not exist and doctors and families in discussion together might have made the decision to turn off Hava’s husband’s ventilator to allow him to die. But since 2005 this has been illegal in Israel and is considered to be killing the patient, even if they’re already dying. The law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition. But talking to families of other faiths in the hospital here, it seems to have become a cultural viewpoint too.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy of some of those statements.

Kate Adie claims that “large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support” but listeners are not told how many people “large numbers” actually are. In January 2011, for example, there were 787 people on life support in hospitals throughout Israel but by no means all would have been long-term chronic patients as that number includes, for example, premature babies and people in ICUs as the result of an accident or an illness. Israel’s population at the time was 7.7 million people: in other words, Adie’s “large numbers” are a few hundred people out of millions.

Adie states that “Jewish law” is the factor responsible for the “large numbers” of patients on life support. In fact Israeli state law is of course a separate issue from Jewish law, which is itself open to many different interpretations and by no means as simple and straightforward as Adie suggests.

According to Hammond, “the law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition”. In fact the relevant law was the product of years of discussion by a public committee – the Steinberg Committee – appointed in the year 2000 by the Minister of Health. Members of that committee included, for example, Mr Ziad Abu Moch – Director of the College for the Study of Shari’a and Islamic Sciences in Baka al Gharbiya; Father Dr George Khouri – theologist and psychologist, President of the Greek-Catholic Court in Haifa and Sheikh Professor Fadel Mansour – member of the management committee of the Higher Druze Religious Council in Ussafiya and a biologist at the Vulcani Centre. Other members of the committee included experts in civil law, Jewish religious law, ethics, philosophy and medicine.

As we see, Hammond’s claim that the law “was informed by Jewish tradition” is a very partial and selective representation of the facts.

The law itself (a translation can be seen here), although passed in December 2005 actually came into effect in December 2006. Its wording is in fact considerably more nuanced than this BBC report suggests and it provides the opportunity for the patient to define in advance what sort of treatment he or she wishes to receive – or not receive – by means of signed advance directives. Hammond’s claim that “since 2005 this [turning off a ventilator] has been illegal in Israel” is both overly simplistic and inaccurate. Article C, clause 16 (a) for example states:

“Where an incompetent terminally ill patient is suffering significantly, and in respect of whom it has been determined pursuant to the provisions of section 5(b) that he does not want his life prolonged, medical treatment relating to his incurable conditions should be withheld from him, including tests, operations, resuscitation, ventilation, chemotherapy, radiation or dialysis, all in accordance with his wish as ascertained pursuant to section 5(b).”

In addition to its misrepresentation of the law itself, this BBC report clearly sets out to present an inaccurate view of an Israeli law as being synonymous with and defined by Jewish religious law. The political motivation behind that deliberate misrepresentation is all too apparent. 

Update:

A written version of this report by Claudia Hammond appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ sections of the BBC News website’s Middle East and Health pages on September 14th under the title “Suspended between life and death“. Unfortunately the inaccuracies evident in the audio version were not addressed before the written version was published. Moreover, they seem likely to be further amplified on BBC World Service radio in the near future.