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. 

‘From Our Own Correspondent’: a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

Readers no doubt remember that on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.

Andrew Roy: “Well we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side. So it’s not a minute by minute thing, no.” […]

Presenter: “When you get people complaining that they feel one side has been given more air-time or more favour than the other, what do you do?”

Andrew Roy: “We answer them by giving them the evidence that we’ve tried to put the other side as often as we can.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy and validity of Roy’s claims by using a test case: BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.FOOC

Between July 8th (commencement of Operation Protective Edge) and the present, eight editions of the programme have been broadcast. The first two (July 10th and July 12th) did not include any content related to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The July 17th edition included an item by Yolande Knell (available here from 00:42) which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie using the description ‘fasting under fire’. Knell’s report focuses entirely on the presentation of life in the Gaza Strip with descriptions of shortages of food, frightened children, reduced business in markets and evacuees. Much focus is also put on the topic of border restrictions with Knell twice quoting interviewees referring to a “siege” which of course does not exist and no explanation given regarding the terrorism which brought about the border restrictions.

On July 19th the programme featured an item by Jeremy Bowen which is available here from 00:45. Whilst the item is introduced as being about the whole Middle East, the BBC’s Middle East editor has his sights firmly set on one tiny part of that region. Using the language of Hamas Bowen tells listeners:

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Like Knell before him, Bowen makes no attempt to tell listeners about the Hamas terrorism which brought about border restrictions.  He later continues:

“And there’s been a reminder in the last few days of the terrible potency of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. [..] But the new war in Gaza shows how the Palestinian –Israeli conflict still has resonance across the world as well as in the region. People care about it, get angry about it in a way that they don’t about other crises and wars. I’m calling what’s happening in Gaza a war though I’m aware that it perhaps is not a perfect description. Some people have even told me I shouldn’t use the word because of the enormous imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. I disagree. Wars are increasingly fought between the strong and the weak. By the way, it’s wrong to pretend that there’s any kind of equality between what Israeli citizens are going through and the experience of Palestinians. The trauma of Israelis caught up in mass attacks is unquestionable but the trauma in Gaza is of an utterly different degree. The only long-term way to end this chronic killing is through a permanent settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It has to be one both sides can tolerate. An imposed peace would just contain the seeds of the next war. But at the moment peace is not conceivable. Even a long-term absence of war is unattainable. What’s the alternative? If nothing changes more and more of these mini wars, which will eventually become major wars.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s Middle East editor makes no effort to inform listeners that Hamas is not interested in the kind of “permanent settlement” which has been on the table for two decades, neglecting to inform them that Hamas was one of the Palestinian factions which rejected the Oslo accords.

On July 26th listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ heard Paul Adams. That item is available from 00:50 here and includes the following. [all emphasis in bold added]

“Generations have experienced nothing but occupation, embargo, blockade, war and death. It’s had a slow, brutalising effect. Perhaps that’s why some of them are seized by such a furious desire to tunnel out and seek revenge. For Gaza is a giant prison surrounded by a wall, watch towers and the most sophisticated military in the Middle East.”

Although he makes no effort to inform listeners of the fact that nine years ago, when Israel withdrew, Gaza stood at a crossroads which could have taken it in a very different direction had its leaders not chosen terrorism as their raison d’être, notably Adams does tell of things which – like the rest of his colleagues – he failed to report whilst he was in Gaza

“Of course it would be wrong to suggest that this prison 66 years in the making is full only of the innocent. There are men of violence here. Men who will never, ever accept Israel’s right to exist in the land they still regard as theirs. Men who will store weapons in mosques and schools and take great pride in launching almost entirely indiscriminate rockets from the midst of populated areas, hoping – in the name of resistance – to cause death and fear on the other side. During a week in Gaza I caught occasional glimpses of them; weapons stuffed under shirts, furtive in civilian clothes, moving with purpose through the ravaged streets of Shuja’iya looking for a fight. But when so many of those dismembered and burned by Israeli rockets and shells are not the fighters but women, old people and especially children, then it’s really, really hard not to conclude that the Palestinians are being collectively punished.”

The August 2nd edition of the programme included an item by Chris Morris, available here from 00:42 or here. In addition to Morris’ very graphic descriptions, audiences hear the following. [emphasis added]FOOC Morris

“Because things have got worse; much worse. Could anyone have imagined that twenty years on this would be their fate? Bombed from land, sea and air. Stuck inside the world’s largest prison with nowhere to run. […]

That’s why Hamas’ main demand is now in tune with public opinion: lift the siege of Gaza, open the borders, give people a chance to live.”

Like his colleagues, Morris of course makes no attempt to explain to listeners that it was Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians which brought border restrictions into being.

On August 9th listeners heard a report by Tim Whewell: the first (and last) making any attempt to portray the Israeli side of the story. That item can be heard here or here from 00:45. Especially, given the track record of his BBC colleagues as far as promoting the notion of a mythical ‘siege’ and failing to report on the context and background of border restrictions is concerned, one interesting part of Whewell’s report is this:

“Why, they [Israelis] demand, don’t you – foreign correspondents – ever report that? And again and again I slip into the same argument. We do report the reasons but we also have to report the results and then much of the audience for our reporting concludes that being afraid or traumatized like Honi [phonetic] is bad, but not nearly as bad as being dead – as so many more Palestinians now are. We’re talking now uncomfortably about hierarchies of suffering and Israelis reply ‘so what do you want? More dead Jewish children? Do we also have to die just to make you report the story fairly?’ “

The August 16th edition of the programme featured a report by Kevin Connolly on the children of Gaza already discussed here and with the audio versions available here from 06:00 or here.

As we see, between July 17th and August 16th six editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 included items pertaining to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Only one of those items presented an Israeli point of view, with the other five not only presenting the opposite viewpoint, but often promoting the terminology of a terrorist organization and failing to provide essential context.

Surely even Andrew Roy cannot possibly claim that any attempt was made to “give fair balance to each side” in that series of programmes.

Related Articles:

BBC pats itself on the back for its ME coverage

Half a picture, half a story: how the BBC compromises its own impartiality in Gaza

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ does fashionable post-colonial guilt

With the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary well underway, it was not surprising to see that the March 6th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service – included an item described in the Radio 4 version’s programme synopsis as follows:

“James Rodgers visits a World War 1 cemetery near Jerusalem and ponders how events there 100 years ago influenced the region and still do.” 

The item – which can be listened to here or as a podcast here from about 18:00 – was also featured in the World Service edition of the same programme on March 11th and can be heard here from around 04:43. In that abridged version it was presented under the title “Bearing Witness on the Middle East” and the synopsis reads: FOOC WS 11 3

“Near Jerusalem, James Rodgers has been researching the area’s war graves. As the world gears up to commemorate World War One in Europe, he argues that perhaps we would do better to cast our minds eastwards, and consider how that conflict continues to shape the Middle East.”

The Radio 4 version is introduced by Kate Adie.

“The Great War of 1914-18 may have been largely concentrated in France and Belgium and that’s the focus of most of the commemorations this year. But the largest theatre of war in terms of territory was in fact in the Middle East. It pitted the British and Russians among others against the forces of the Ottoman Empire, supported by the Central Powers – in other words the likes of Germany and Austria. But it also involved all sorts of others, including Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Berbers, Arabs and Jews. James Rodgers, who’s been writing a book on the region, has been exploring some of the consequences of the fighting.”

The World Service version is introduced by Pascale Harter.

“Coming up: the graveyards in Jerusalem which bear witness to the way World War One shaped the Middle East.”

And:

“Across the Middle East, James Rodgers has been researching the First World War. It’s coming up to one hundred years since the outbreak of what was known then as the Great War. As people prepare for the centenary commemorations by focusing on the devastation it caused for Europe, James takes a walk through a part of the world where it’s still affecting events today.”

Listeners may therefore have quite reasonably concluded that the four minutes or so of former BBC journalist James Rodgers’ item would inform them about the British campaign in the Middle East nearly a hundred years ago. British cemetery Jerusalem

That, however, is not quite the case.

Yes – Rodgers begins with a description of the British war cemetery in Jerusalem and recounts his search for the graves of soldiers commemorated in his local church in London, but he soon goes off on a tangent and a sizeable proportion of his report is devoted to an event which took place twenty-eight years after the end of the First World War.

“I was pointed in the direction of the graves of some of the men from my local parish. They had been killed a few days before Christmas 1917 as British forces sought to consolidate their hold on Jerusalem. Their occupation of the Holy Land then was part of the process – the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire – which would see the Middle East divided by borders we largely recognize today.

British forces stayed in Jerusalem until 1948. Their commanders came to use the King David hotel – opened in the early 1930s – as their headquarters. This made the building a target for Jewish fighters seeking to drive them out of Palestine. In July 1946 bombers disguised as milkmen blew up the southern wing of the hotel, killing 91 people. Today the king David hosts presidents and prime ministers. Guests sitting in the lobby on my recent visit seemed casually dressed, but snatches of conversations and ubiquitous smartphones and tablet computers suggested they were doing big business.

I had come to learn more about the experience of my journalist counterparts in the late 1940s. Some of them had narrow escapes from the explosion. It was here, explained Maya Morav – the hotel’s PR manager – flicking on the lights to a basement room. Now it’s a hall for conferences and meetings. Then it had been a subterranean kitchen – the place where the bombers left the milk-churns they had packed with explosives. Less than two years later the British Mandate came to an end. British involvement in the Middle East, of course, did not.

When you are covering the Israel-Palestine conflict as a correspondent you need to have history at your fingertips – often more than one version of it. One of my earliest experiences in Gaza was being welcomed and then chastised by an elderly Palestinian refugee. Because I was British he saw me as bearing some of the blame for events of the previous century which had left his family in a shanty town in one of the most crowded parts of the world. Perhaps he had a point.

As events remembering the First World War gather pace in Europe, perhaps the real focus should be on the Middle East where decisions taken then helped to shape Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel, Syria and Iraq as they are today.”

What Rodgers hopes to achieve by urging BBC audiences to focus on geo-political events in the Middle East a century ago is not stated clearly in this report. What is apparent is some degree of fashionable ‘post-colonial guilt’ and an utter disregard for the all-important subject of context – as shown for example in Rodgers’ failure to note that his “elderly Palestinian refugee” actually came by that status as a result of the decision by Arab countries to invade the new Israeli state or his failure to mention the British policies which kept untold numbers of Jews from reaching safety in Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

Some might consider that Rodgers’ suggestion that those commemorating World War One turn their attentions to the Middle East becomes a little less opaque when one notes that he is not averse to collaborating with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign and that the latter organization – in addition to producing its own highly inaccurate propaganda concerning Britain’s record in the region – also promotes and supports the ongoing campaign by the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ (and others) to get Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

A dollop of selective post-colonial guilt will surely oil the wheels of that politically motivated campaign. 

 

 

 

BBC reports on a “new debate” in Israel that isn’t, revives old Ha’aretz campaign

The January 25th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by Josh Spero – editor of the luxury magazine ‘Spear’s’ which describes itself as:

“…the multi-award-winning wealth management and luxury lifestyle media brand whose flagship magazine has become a must-read for the ultra-high-net- worth (UHNW) community. It is also required reading for the affluent financial services community, including the bankers, lawyers and family offices who advise the wealthy.”

It might then have come of something as a surprise to listeners to this edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (available here from 06:15) to find that: Spero FOOC audio

“Josh Spero in Jerusalem asks how best to teach Israeli children about the Holocaust without traumatising them”.

In her introduction to the item, presenter Kate Adie correctly states that:

“The 27th of January was chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. In Israel the Holocaust is commemorated later, either in April or in May.”

Unfortunately she did not bother to inform listeners as to why that is the case or of the significance of Israel’s different date of commemoration – close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Adie goes on:

“Commemorating is one thing; teaching another. A new debate has broken out in Israel on how to teach young school children about the Holocaust as Josh Spero found out.”

In fact, the BBC’s “new debate” is three months old.

Spero’s audio report at first appears fairly unremarkable in itself. The interesting part of this story comes when one looks at the written version which appeared on the BBC News website on January 29th under the title “A Holocaust book for young children” in both the Magazine section and on the Middle East page. Spero FOOC written

In that article readers are told that:

“At the moment [Israeli] teachers deal with the subject as they think best, often in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, but they are rarely suitably trained.”

In the audio version of that sentence Spero does not mention the date January 27th, so that is clearly an inaccurate addition by the website’s editors.

With regard to the “new debate” around which this item is centred, the article states:

“In newspaper opinion pieces, writers recalled the traumas they had suffered when Holocaust education had been done badly.

One remembered being shown the movie Night and Fog aged 14, with footage from the death camps of “mountains of bodies being bulldozed”, leaving him “tormented”, while another still suffered nightmares 30 years after a teacher showed him, aged seven or eight, photos of what he called “walking corpses in striped pyjamas“.”

Diligent readers who bother to click on the links provided by the BBC will note that the author of the second article is a woman rather than a “he” and that both those articles date from November 2013 and both come from Ha’aretz – a fact not revealed in the audio version. That second article is also included, together with an editorial, in a side-box of quotations from Ha’aretz articles on the subject. sidebox Holocaust educ art

The opening paragraph of the written article states that:

“News that Israeli children are to receive compulsory lessons about the Holocaust provoked an outcry from pundits who were traumatised by teachers when they were young.”

Hence, readers who clicked on the links to see the sources of these three articles may by now have concluded that just one newspaper exists in Israel, seeing as the only apparent evidence of that “new debate” being touted by the BBC is to be found on the pages of Ha’aretz and the BBC does not provide links to any other sources.

So what are the actual facts behind this BBC-promoted saga?

In 2010 the Israeli State Comptroller (Mevaker HaMedina) criticized Holocaust commemoration in the education system saying that the Ministry of Education “did not instruct the kindergarten teachers and teachers who dealt with teaching the Holocaust and did not provide them with pedagogic material in order to enable them to cope with the complex questions involved in the teaching of this sensitive subject.”.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum took up the challenge of preparing suitable material for use in classes of differing ages during the hours already devoted to teaching the subject in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2013 Education Minister Shai Piron announced the new proposal.

Josh Spear’s claim that “[t]he storm […] broke out when education minister Shay Piron announced that Holocaust education was to become compulsory for all Israeli schoolchildren” is not an accurate one. In contrast perhaps to their European counterparts, Israeli children take part in annual commemorations from a very young age and cannot fail to be aware of the siren marking the occasion, the media coverage of the subject and the fact that for many families in Israel, the Holocaust is part of their personal history. Hence, Holocaust education already exists and this latest initiative is designed to help teachers who have been asking for better pedagogic resources on the subject for years. 

But, as Ben Dror Yemini pointed out in an article last November, the new proposal became the focus of an overtly political campaign on the pages of Ha’aretz rather than anything which can be honestly described as a “debate”.

Interestingly, the BBC has chosen to revive and amplify that now old Ha’aretz campaign and has inadvertently illustrated once again that it would be prudent for BBC employees and contributors to widen their reading of the Israeli media beyond the pages of Ha’aretz if they wish to inform themselves – and of course their audiences – of domestic Israeli affairs.