Revisiting a missing chapter in the BBC’s 2015 election coverage

Shortly after the March 2015 general election in Israel, the then BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Kevin Connolly told radio audiences that:

“…Mr Netanyahu now has the chance to replace a rather fractious and recalcitrant old coalition with a new one, which should prove more manageable. Foreign governments, of course, are far too well-behaved to interfere in the internal politics of a democratic state. But the outside world tends to view Israeli politics through the prism of the state of the peace process with the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]Main art 17 3

At the time we commented:

“As has been noted here in previous discussions of BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election (see here and here), one topic which all the corporation’s journalists avoided like the plague in all its reporting was that of foreign funding for organisations such as V15 which campaigned to influence the outcome of the election.”

Although the redundancy of Connolly’s claim was apparent at the time, this week its specious reasoning became even clearer, as Yair Rosenberg reports at the Tablet.

“In a bipartisan report issued Tuesday, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations criticized the State Department for issuing $349,000 in grants to OneVoice, an Israeli-Palestinian peace-building organization, with insufficient oversight. The report, signed by Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, found that the funds were used by to build infrastructure that was subsequently turned into an anti-Netanyahu apparatus for Israel’s 2015 elections, in contravention of State Department practice. […]

The report found no legal wrongdoing by the State Department, even as it rapped it for negligence, given that OneVoice had a history of electoral activism, was building electoral infrastructure, and had informed the State Department of its electoral plans. Whether this American funding of anti-Bibi advocacy was a deliberate design, the consequence of incompetence, or the product of benign neglect, will likely never be known with certainty.”

The Washington Times adds:

“The State Department ignored warnings signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” said Sen. Rob Portman, chairman of the investigative subcommittee. “It is completely unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East. American resources should be used to help our allies in the region, not undermine them.”

Oddly, we have been unable to find any BBC reporting on the topic of that investigative subcommittee’s conclusions.

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The continuing disservice of the BBC’s black and white narrative

In his recent parting musings, Kevin Connolly told listeners to BBC Radio 4 that:

“In thousands of work places from hospitals and hotels to building sites and banks, Israeli Jews and Palestinians rub along a little better and for much more of the time than outsiders might imagine.”

That statement is of course true, but it raises the question of why “outsiders” are not familiar with the day-to-day realities of co-existence in Israel – especially as it comes from a journalist who represents a media organisation which pledges to give it audiences “insight into the way people live in other countries”.

The cartoon portrayal of Israel so often seen in the reporting of Connolly and his colleagues leaves no room for the provision of such insight. The black and white narrative promoted day after day mean that audiences rarely get to see reality’s other hues and a correspondent such as Connolly can spend five years reporting from Jerusalem without making any significant contribution to their understanding of how the vast majority of people making up Israel’s different ethnic and religious communities live, work, learn and relax together.

When a terror attack took place on Route 60 on July 1st, the BBC News website reported that:route 60 attack art

“…an Israeli man was killed and his wife and two children wounded after their car was fired on near the Jewish settlement of Otniel. […]

The victims of Friday’s attack were members of the same family. Local media named the dead man as 48-year-old Michael “Miki” Mark, a father-of-10.

He was killed when the car crashed after the attack. His wife and two children were taken to hospital for treatment.”

A few days later it emerged that the first people to arrive at the scene and offer help and first aid were a Palestinian couple from Hebron.

““At first I thought it was an accident. I opened the door, which was difficult because the car was overturned,” the Palestinian man, a resident of Hebron, told Channel 2. “The girl was inside the car screaming, ‘They’re killing us,’ so I just kept telling her not to be afraid and that everything would be fine.”

After he managed to pry one of the doors open, the man, who wasn’t named in the report, said he pulled 14-year-old Tehila from the wrecked car.

He said his wife, who is a medical doctor, worked to stanch the bleeding from the teen’s abdominal wound while he called an ambulance to the scene.”

They were joined by a Palestinian doctor who treated the injured until medical crews arrived on the scene.

While anyone who is not an “outsider” as Connolly puts it will be able to recount numerous similar examples of Palestinians helping Israelis and Israelis helping Palestinians, to BBC audiences this story would be news. It is, however, a story which falls outside the corporation’s narrative driven caricature of “the way people live” in Israel and the Palestinian controlled areas and one which – like so many others – the BBC has refrained from telling to date.

Let’s hope that Kevin Connolly’s successor will be better committed to the pledges laid out in the BBC’s public purposes and that audiences will receive some of that long neglected “insight” into how people really live in Israel long before his or her stint comes to an end. 

BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly moves on to new pastures

After some five years at the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau, Kevin Connolly is moving on to take up a new post in Brussels – but not before making a final contribution to the mission he describes thus:

“I came here just to play the smallest of parts in writing one chapter of Jerusalem’s story”.

As those who have followed Connolly’s work over the past few years will be aware, it has not infrequently included subtle (and not so subtle) re-writing of past and present chapters of “Jerusalem’s story” and his concluding musings on the June 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 16:27 here) are no exception.FOOC 16 6 Connolly

For example, Connolly uses the ambiguous term “line of demarcation” which implies far more permanency than was intended by those who drafted the 1949 Armistice agreement which produced the ceasefire line he is actually describing.

“A stone’s throw from the house lies the line of demarcation which separated the armies of the Arab world from the forces of the newly independent Jewish state back in 1949.”

In Connolly’s account, no belligerent invasion or occupation by the British-backed Jordanian army is evident.

“When the fighting ended in 1949 Jerusalem was grudgingly divided between Israel and the neighbouring Arab Kingdom of Jordan.”

Only one population suffered “dispossession and disinheritance” according to Connolly: the ethnic cleansing of the Old City of Jerusalem has apparently not come to his attention in the past five years.

“Many Zionists were filled with despair. What was the point of this long dreamed of Jewish state if it didn’t contain the place of prayer at the Western Wall or the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives? It was a time of bitterness and loss too for many of the Arabs of West Jerusalem and beyond who fled their homes never to return, beginning a story of dispossession and disinheritance that still has no ending.”

While refraining from mentioning the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem, he does later find a use for that term:

“The war of 1967 left Israel in control of East Jerusalem, binding together the fractured fragments of Jewish hearts if you’re a Zionist, beginning 49 years of military occupation if you’re not.”

And Connolly even invents a Jordanian “claim” – and a dubious consensus – on belligerently occupied territory which the international community refused to recognise as Jordanian.

“The Palestinians who inherited the Jordanian claim on the east of the city believe it will be the future capital of their independent state and that is what the wider world wants too.”

Not for the first time, Connolly misleads listeners with regard to British history in the region, inaccurately suggesting that Mandate Palestine was a British colony.

“The British mandatory authority was a good government as colonial governments went – but like all colonial governments, it went.”

As we already know, Kevin Connolly thinks those who take issue with inaccuracy and omission in his and his colleagues’ reporting are driven by the wish to promote a “narrative” and his post-factual theory is again amplified in his parting shot.

“Supporters of the Palestinians and of Israel scrutinise everything that’s written about the city, alert for any terminological hint of bias or ignorance or both. Each side has its own lexicon and watches suspiciously for any hint that the news has been written in the words of the other. Is a young Palestinian who stabs an Israeli soldier a terrorist? Or a normal teenager goaded beyond endurance by generations of humiliation? Is an Israeli soldier who shoots a wounded and helpless Palestinian in such an incident a murderer or a young man defending his comrades and his country when they are under attack? There are no answers of course, beyond the answers you favour yourself. Reporting Jerusalem means finding words that convey what has happened and why – but also remembering that neither side recognises the truth of the other. The scrutiny is a legacy of the sense built up over centuries of how the unsettled future of this place matters to millions of people who have never seen it. These words aren’t exempt from that process either; ad nauseam maybe.”

Obviously Mr Connolly finds any examination of his five years of attempts to dictate “one chapter of Jerusalem’s story” tiresome and annoying and so he may be relieved to be moving on to pastures new. Given that the BBC does not refuse to respect the Belgian people’s choice of their own capital as it does in Jerusalem, we might perhaps expect to find Connolly less frequently engaged in negating the Belgian nation’s sovereignty over the City of Brussels.

“Jerusalem in general feels like it belongs to the world…”

“Jerusalem belongs to the ages and it belongs to the world.”

There are of course many of us who are not going anywhere and for whom the way in which the “story” of Jerusalem and Israel is told by brief sojourners such as Kevin Connolly has very real consequences. We remain charged with the task of trying to make certain that the “historical record” promoted by the world’s biggest and most influential broadcaster is both accurate and impartial in order to ensure that public opinion and foreign policymakers who take it upon themselves to intervene in that story are informed by facts rather than politicised journalistic activism.

And if Mr Connolly finds that tiresome, that perhaps says all that needs to be said about the motivations behind his wish to write – rather than observe and record – the story of the city and the country which hosted him for the last five years.   

BBC’s Connolly adds a postscript to his Dead Sea reporting

The June 23rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 45:10 here) by the Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly on the topic of the Dead Sea.

As readers may recall, six days earlier Connolly had produced a long written report on the same topic for the BBC News website. In this audio report Connolly focused largely on the effects of the declining level of the Dead Sea on tourism in the area and his superficial portrayal of the reasons behind that process was as follows:

SONY DSC

“The sea is dying because the countries of the Middle East are tapping into the waters of the River Jordan that once fed it.”

As far as this writer is aware, the River Jordan still flows into the Dead Sea.

Earlier, in his introduction to the report, presenter Julian Marshall had displayed an equally bizarre understanding of the geographical term ‘Middle East’:

“…for years there’s been a fear that the sea might live up to its name and die, as the countries of the Middle East drain the river system for precious drinking water.”

As was the case in his written report, Connolly refrained from providing his audience with more meaningful portrayal of the relevant issues of water agreements, irrigation practices, water recycling and water use efficiency. In what may perhaps be a first for the BBC, both of Connolly’s reports also ignored the topic of the influence of climate change on the River Jordan’s catchment area.

Connolly’s portrayal of the project intended to rehabilitate the Dead Sea was as follows in this audio report:

“A fix is possible: a grand scheme to build a pipeline across the desert from the Red Sea far to the south.”

In his earlier written report, Connolly had encouraged readers to view that project with scepticism:

“But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

No such declarations were heard in this audio report – perhaps because just two days after Connolly published the above words, the Jordanian government announced that no fewer than seventeen international companies had made bids to carry out the work.

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Final status negotiations on Area C passé for BBC’s Kevin Connolly

On June 17th an article appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Dead Sea drying: A new low-point for Earth“. Towards the end of Kevin Connolly’s long and at times rambling and repetitive piece, readers found the following:Connolly Dead Sea

“If the waters of the River Jordan are not to be restored, the likeliest scheme to revitalise the Dead Sea involves constructing a huge pipeline that would bring water across the desert from the Red Sea, far to the south. […]

Water would have to be desalinated first at the Red Sea (salty water would pollute the Dead Sea’s unique chemistry). It would then have to be pumped up to a great height and fed into enormous pipes that would channel the water across the desert to its destination.

The extra fresh water would benefit not just Jordan and Israel but the Palestinians too, so the World Bank is keen and the US is likely to provide at least some of the start-up capital.

But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

In fact a conference on the project was held in Jordan just last month.

“Israel and Jordan presented the planned Red Sea-Dead Sea canal to potential investors at an international conference in Aqaba, Jordan on Monday. […]

At the conference, project representatives presented a tentative timetable and listed its benefits. These include stabilizing the dropping water level in the Dead Sea, providing a source of desalinized water for Israel’s Arava desert and for Jordan, and strengthening cooperation between Israel and Jordan.

The U.S. government has already stated that it will be contributing $100 million to fund the project.

A tender to fund the project was recently published. Some 94 major international corporations have paid a fee to receive the tender paperwork.”

Connolly’s article is also remarkable for the crucial omissions in its portrayal of irrigation related issues, as shown for example in this particular passage:

“Israel has a dam across the southern section of the Sea of Galilee which gives it control of the amount of water flowing into the Jordan – it regards the Galilee as a vital strategic water asset, even though it’s been steadily increasing the amount of fresh water it creates through desalination plants in the Mediterranean.

The Israeli government began taking water out of the Jordan Valley system in the 1950s, the decade before it completed the dam.

And this creates problems for farmers in both Jordan and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank – all of whom need water to irrigate their farms and feed their people.

But Israel has problems too – although it has enough money and enough technical resources to ensure its own people have enough water.”

Any objective portrayal of that topic would necessarily inform readers of the existing water related agreements between Israel and Jordan and Israel and the Palestinians. It would also inform them on the topic of water use efficiency. In contrast to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Israel recycles waste water for agricultural irrigation, produces water for domestic consumption in desalination plants and uses water conserving irrigation methods

“The Palestinians absolutely refuse to irrigate their agricultural fields with treated sewage effluents. By comparison, more than half the agricultural fields in Israel are irrigated with treated waste water. Irrigating Palestinian agricultural fields with recycled water instead of fresh water would free up large amounts of water for home usage. This would greatly reduce the water shortage in many places.

Some Palestinian farmers irrigate their fields by flooding, rather than with drip irrigation technology. Drip irrigation, as practiced in Israel, brings water directly to the root of each plant, thereby reducing water consumption by more than 50 percent. Flooding fields causes huge water evaporation and leads to great waste.”

In other words, Connolly’s portrayal of a ‘rich’ Israel with “enough water” and – by inference – ‘poor’ Palestinians and Jordanians lacking water for crop irrigation is a very partial (although in no way unusual) picture of the real situation.

An additional notable feature of Connolly’s article is its use of politicised terminology – for example:

“Part of the [Dead Sea] shoreline is in the Palestinian West Bank under Israeli occupation so it’s possible that in future Palestinians too will reap the economic benefits of the sea’s unique properties.” (emphasis added)

Not only does that framing do nothing to enhance audience understanding of the history of the region, but it also conceals the fact that, like all other parts of Area C, the future of the area concerned is to be determined in final status negotiations according to the terms of the Oslo Accords, to which the Palestinians are of course party. 

Do BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy permit the misleading of audiences by means of an unqualified and preemptive claim about the end result of a process which has yet to take place?  

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Inaccuracies in BBC backgrounder on Sinai terrorists

An article by Kevin Connolly published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 20th under the title “EgyptAir crash fuels fears and theories” tells readers that:

“Egypt sees itself as a regional power in the front line of a war against global jihadism and its strong-man President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, portrays himself as the hammer of political Islamism at home.

Privately many Egyptians appear to worry that might make their country an obvious target for jihadists – the fear being that a long-bubbling Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula might escalate elsewhere in Egypt.”

The link provided leads to a backgrounder produced by BBC Monitoring titled “Sinai Province: Egypt’s most dangerous group” which tells readers that:Sinai province

“Sinai Province started by attacking Israel with rockets, but after the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 it focused on Egypt’s security services, killing dozens of soldiers.

It has been involved in suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations and beheadings.”

Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) emerged in 2011 after the ousting of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.  Its activities began with attacks on the oil pipelines running between Israel and Egypt and on July 30th of that year it attacked a police station in El Arish, killing six people. On August 14th 2011 the Egyptian army launched ‘Operation Eagle’ to tackle the insurgency and four days later a combined terror attack took place along the Israeli-Egyptian border resulting in the deaths of eight Israelis.

On August 5th 2012 – just over a month after Mohammed Morsi became president of Egypt – an Egyptian army post near Rafah was attacked and more than 15 Egyptian security personnel were killed. The terrorists proceeded to the Kerem Shalom crossing in stolen vehicles and briefly breached the border. Two days later the Egyptian army launched ‘Operation Sinai’. On September 21st Ansar Bayt al Maqdis launched a terror attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border in which an Israeli soldier was killed.

In other words, the BBC’s claim that “Sinai Province started by attacking Israel with rockets” is not accurate: serious cross-border attacks also took place. The claim that attacks on Egypt’s security services began “after the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013” is also clearly inaccurate.

The backgrounder gives typically scant information on the topic of collaboration between Sinai Province and Hamas.

“The border with Israel and the Gaza Strip has been a scene of tension over the past few years. The Egyptian authorities have created a buffer zone, demolishing houses and digging a trench to prevent smuggling between Egypt and Gaza – which they say is a source of weapons for the militants.”

Were that BBC backgrounder more accurate, perhaps Kevin Connolly would have been in a position to tell his readers that Egypt has been tackling the issue of Sinai-based terrorists since before its current president came to power, that attacks “elsewhere in Egypt” have already taken place and that Egypt was a “target for jihadists” even when it had a president in the “political Islamism” camp.  

In their own words: terrorists contradict BBC ME editor’s explanation of terror

Back in November 2014, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly presented listeners to BBC Radio 4 with a sympathetic cameo of a terrorist who had murdered an Israeli soldier in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks earlier.TA terror attack bbc report

“[sound of a detonation] That was the Israeli army blowing up the house of one of the Palestinians who’ve run over and killed hitch-hikers, tram passengers and pedestrians in recent months. It’s a form of punishment the state has revived in Jerusalem in recent weeks. But punishment is easier than prevention. [sound of a radio broadcast in Hebrew] Take this crime. At a railway station a young Palestinian stabs an equally young Israeli soldier. […]

That young Palestinian was Nur Abu Hashem [sic], a jobbing painter and decorator who often came from his home at Nablus in the occupied West Bank to work without papers in Israel.

Nur Abu Hashem’s mother, Salsan [phonetic] waits with resignation for the inevitable demolition of her home. But worse for her than that are the nagging questions about how her popular son – a forgiving boy, she says – could have done what he’s accused of.”

On May 18th 2016 that “popular…forgiving boy” was convicted of the murder of First Sgt Almog Shiloni (who went unnamed in Connolly’s report).

“The Tel Aviv District Court ruled that the murder was premeditated.

The verdict described the murder as a “terrible and heart-rending affair in which the life of soldier Almog Shiloni was taken. The attack was not spontaneous in nature. He (Abu Khashiyeh) bought a knife at the flea market, and when he noticed the soldier he decided to execute his evil plan.”

“The defendant,” the verdict went on to say, “insisted on testifying, and in a short, focused and surprising testimony, after having pled not guilty, he abandoned his line of defense and admitted to all of the charges attributed to him.”

Abu Khashiyeh gave a chilling testimony during the trial, saying “It’s true that I murdered Almog Shiloni. I wanted to take his weapon and spray everyone because of what your rabbis are doing in al-Aqsa. I wanted to keep going, kill everyone on the street, continue everyone’s job. I murdered him. I planned to murder him.””

The indictment against Abu Khashiyeh stated that he “planned to murder a soldier in the hope of being killed and attaining the status of martyr.”

As ever, the BBC has not produced any follow-up reporting on that story and neither has it bothered to inform audiences who were told of the “inevitable demolition” of the terrorist’s family home that it never happened.

“The demolition order issued for Abu Khashiyeh’s house was throw[n] out a year later by the High Court of Justice. The judges determined that the long delay in carrying out the demolition—11 months from the day of the attack—is not reasonable and will therefore not lead to the deterrence sought.”

Another terrorist who – together with an accomplice – carried out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighbourhood last October, was convicted last week.

“A Palestinian teenager who committed a stabbing attack in Jerusalem and was then falsely proclaimed dead by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was convicted on Tuesday morning of two counts of attempted murder at the Jerusalem District Court.Pisgat Zeev attacks report

Ahmad Manasra committed the attack when he was 13 years old in October 2015, along with his 15-year-old cousin Hasan who was subsequently killed by police forces. The two stabbed and critically wounded 13-year-old Naor Shalev who was riding his bicycle, as well as another 21-year-old Israeli. […]

The indictment stated that Manasra returned from school and met his cousin. “They talked about the ‘situation’ at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the state of the Gaza Strip residents, the PA and Hamas. Intending to help them, they decided to become martyrs and be killed as part of a religious war.””

At the time, the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen produced a sympathetic interview with the father of “typical teenager” Hasan Manasra.

“Khaled Mahania [sic] told me he had not replaced his son’s smartphone since he broke it last year. He had no mobile internet access, and none at home.

Khaled had even thrown out the TV because he believed his children should read and talk to each other. Khaled broke down as he said his son was a typical teenager, not political and certainly no radical.””

Both these terror attacks were carried out by teenagers who were influenced by the religiously themed incitement and conspiracy theories which the BBC repeatedly avoids addressing in a manner serious enough to enhance audience understanding of the issue.

In the same reports which featured Hasan Manasra’s father, Bowen told BBC audiences that:Bowen written Manasra

“Many Palestinians have told me they believe the reason for the attacks is that another generation is realising its future prospects will be crippled by the indignities and injustice of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.”

And:

“Violence does not come out of the blue. It has a context. Once again, the problem is the unresolved conflict between Palestinians and Jews. It is at the heart of all the violence that shakes this city.

A big part of the conflict is the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, that has lasted for nearly 50 years. It is impossible to ignore the effects of an occupation that is always coercive and can be brutal.

In successive Palestinian generations, it has created hopelessness and hatred. In some cases, that bursts out into murderous anger.”

Six months later, reports produced by Bowen on his latest trip to the region repeated the same mantra.Bowen art 4 5

“But hundreds of conversations with Palestinians over many years here have convinced me that the biggest factor that shapes their attitudes to Israel is not the incitement to hate but the occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, that started after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Middle East war.

When Palestinians who agitate against Israel find an audience, it is because of the way that the occupation, which is inherently violent, has overshadowed and controlled Palestinian lives for almost 50 years.”

The political agenda which lies behind the Middle East content gatekeeper’s presentation of this issue means that even when terrorists like those above and others clarify their motivations in their own words, BBC audiences receive no serious reporting on the central issues of incitement, glorification of terrorism and Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families.

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BBC’s mantra on ‘international law’ becomes even less impartial

Listeners to the May 6th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ (from 14:04 here) heard Owen Bennett Jones make the following introduction to an item about Hamas mortar attacks on Israeli soldiers operating near the border with the Gaza Strip.Newshour 6 5

“The stand-off in Gaza follows pretty familiar patterns. Israelis have been looking for tunnels from Gaza into Israel and the response has been mortar rounds fired at Israeli forces. A Palestinian woman was killed on Thursday when her home was struck by Israeli tank fire. Well, Kevin Connolly is in Jerusalem and I asked for some context. How serious is this round of fighting?”

Context to that story would obviously cover the fact that Hamas is a designated terror organization which took control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup. It would also include clarification of the fact that, despite Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip over a decade ago, Hamas continues its terrorist activities because its ultimate goal – as laid out in its charter – is to destroy that neighbouring country. Context would also provide information concerning Hamas’ efforts to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure since the end of the 2014 conflict – not least its misappropriation of construction materials intended for the repair and rebuilding of civilian homes for the reconstruction of its network of cross-border attack tunnels.

‘Newshour’ listeners, however, got none of that relevant context from Kevin Connolly who presented a myopic view of the issue of a terrorist organization tunnelling into the territory of a sovereign country.

“It’s an uptick of tension I would say, Owen, and the attack tunnels that Hamas is trying to build out underneath Gaza into Israeli territory, they are now a crucial area of confrontation. It’s almost two years since the summer war of 2014. This is the sharpest uptick of violence and it seems to be because Israel has had some success in identifying and finding at least two major tunnels – one of them 30 meters deep stretching some way into Israel. Now, the Israeli nightmare is that those tunnels might be used to stage a kind of commando attack to either kill or abduct soldiers or civilians so they are conducting search and destroy operations. This is of vital interest for Hamas. It’s Hamas’ best strategic weapon against the Israelis so they are firing mortar rounds at the Israeli soldiers conducting these operations. Israel is responding of course with tanks and aircraft and so you can see it has the potential to escalate, even though – not for the first time – we’re told that at the moment neither side wants an escalation. But it is about these tunnels and it is possible that Israel in some way has gained the upper hand in the search for those tunnels.”

OBJ: “Can you just give us a quick example of how the tunnels have been used in the past?”

KC: “Well, during the summer war two years ago they were used on I think at least four occasions to infiltrate Hamas fighters far inside Israel. Some of these tunnels are part of an extraordinary…almost like an underground city beneath Gaza City, constructed by Hamas with great sophistication. They have electric lighting, they have concrete struts and they give Hamas the power to get its fighters onto Israeli soil when otherwise, because of the strength of Israeli border security, they would find that impossible to do.”

Connolly’s report ends there but then listeners were told by Bennett Jones:

“…and we can also hear today from Jerusalem and the West Bank….”

What followed was a repeat of the audio report by Jeremy Bowen broadcast two days earlier on BBC Radio 4 and, remarkably, Bennett Jones’ introduction included language identical to that used by the ‘Today’ presenter.

“…Israel continues to expand settlements for Jews in the occupied territories that contravene international law and there are no peace talks and really no attempt being made to revive them.”

In the past the BBC used a standard mantra whenever reporting on ‘settlements’ which went along the lines of:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been pointed out here on numerous occasions in the past, the promotion of that mantra is problematic as far as the BBC’s supposed commitment to impartial reporting is concerned because it does not inform audiences of the existence of expert legal opinions which dissent from the narrative adopted and amplified by the BBC.

Now we see – twice in two days – that the BBC has even abandoned the “Israel disputes this” part of that mantra and is promoting messaging which materially misleads audiences by blinkering them to the existence of debate around interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

That is clearly not consistent with the BBC’s supposed commitment to editorial impartiality.

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Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

BBC’s Connolly amplifies Ha’aretz columnist’s fallacious claims

On March 24th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israeli soldier ‘shot wounded Palestinian attacker dead’” which concerns an incident that took place on that day after a terror attack in Hebron. That article remained on the website’s Middle East page for two consecutive days.

On March 31st an additional report concerning developments in the case appeared under the title “Israeli soldier ‘faces manslaughter’ for killing wounded attacker” and it too remained on the website for two days.

Although the soldier concerned has yet to be indicted and the investigation into the incident is still ongoing, on April 11th a third article on the same topic appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. Written by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly, the article is titled “Video of Israeli soldier’s killing of Palestinian attacker fuels debate” and it opens in Connolly’s trademark style.Connolly Hebron shooting art

“Almost everything about the shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif made it a very modern moment of news.

There was the time and the place.

It occurred on the edge of the Jewish sector of the divided city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – a kind of crucible of the troubles here, where so many of the stabbings and shootings in the latest wave of violence have happened.”

Connolly makes no effort to inform his readers that Hebron is “divided” because the representatives of the Palestinian people agreed to such an arrangement nearly two decades ago.

But for all its repeated promotion of one-sided politicized terminology such as “the occupied West Bank”, the real aim of Connolly’s piece is to reinforce a theme that has been frequently promoted by the BBC in the past: a supposed political shift to the Right in Israeli society.

He therefore has to explain the Israeli Chief of Staff’s description of the incident as coming “from a slightly unusual source” – although in fact there is of course nothing ‘unusual’ at all about a senior IDF commander giving an accurate account of an incident. Connolly then touts the conclusion that “this appears to be an issue on which the army is out of step with Israeli society” and the ‘evidence’ he presents for that conclusion is based on a factor of which (given their past experiences of  burnt fingers) one might have thought he and his colleagues would be rather more wary: an opinion poll.

“In one opinion poll, only 5% of those questioned thought the soldier’s actions amounted to murder – and more than 80% expressed at least some degree of support.”

Connolly brings in two interviewees to support his theory, the first of whom is a representative of B’tselem which earlier on in the article he has already described as “an Israeli human rights organization”. The person who filmed the incident in Hebron on behalf of B’tselem is similarly portrayed as “the human rights activist”.

“There are some Israelis who see B’Tselem as the villain of the piece – a view that does not surprise Sarit Michaeli, who speaks for the group.

“I don’t lose any sleep over being called a traitor,” she told me. “What I do lose sleep over is whether we’ve done enough every day to expose the harms of the occupation… We’re in the run-up to the 50th year of military control over the Palestinian people… this is the meaning of occupation.””

Connolly makes no attempt to conform to the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying that B’tselem is one of the foreign funded political NGOs involved in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

Connolly’s second interviewee is Ha’aretz journalist Ari Shavit. 

“But Israeli liberals, like the columnist from the Haaretz newspaper Ari Shavit, appear a little taken aback at the strength of right-wing sentiment surrounding the case and are inclined to attribute it to a change in the nature of right-wing politics here from old-fashioned conservatism to radical populism.

“The new kind of populist right-wingers don’t respect the rule of law and human rights in the way the old conservative right used to,” Mr Shavit told the BBC.

“You have a very complex surprising situation where there is a lot of positive popular pressure in the wrong way, while the military establishment in many ways is trying to keep Israel’s old values.””

Ari Shavit (who clearly does not see a need to wait for completion of the investigation into the incident before pronouncing judgement) bases his premises on his recollections of the ‘Bus 300’ affair from 1984 as outlined in an article he published in Ha’aretz in Hebrew on March 31st and in English on April 1st.  

“But this time the uproar was very different. There was a total role reversal. The security establishment tried to maintain the image of the State of Israel, while the pressure from the media and the public supported the brutality. While the defense minister, the chief of staff and the IDF acted in a cultured and upright fashion, the Facebook society demanded that they not conduct a fair and orderly legal procedure. With a deafening roar, the masses applauded cruelty.

In many ways the Bus 300 case was a far more serious and complicated affair than what happened in Tel Rumeida. But the similarities between the cases and the polar opposite response to them cast a revealing and cruel light on the changes we’ve undergone in the past few decades. They indicate what is happening to us. Where we were then and where we are now. What we were and what we have become. And where we are going.”

Our colleagues at Presspectiva took a look at Shavit’s claims (Hebrew) and found that they do not however match the historical record.

 “From a poll by ‘Yediot Aharonot’ which was published on 30.5.1986, two years after the incident, it emerges that most of the public (61%) was against the interrogation of the head of the Israel Security Agency in connection with the circumstances of the killing of the terrorists. […] Another poll which was taken on 11.7.1986 and published in the paper showed that although there had been a fall in the percentage of those opposed to the investigation, the majority (57%) were still against it.”

In other words, Shavit’s analysis is a fiction of his own selective memory.

Kevin Connolly echoes Shavit’s fallacious conclusions in his closing words:

“But slowly the political debate that surrounds the case whatever the outcome will help to define how Israeli attitudes towards such cases are changing over time.”

Were Kevin Connolly able to read Hebrew or had he consulted one of his colleagues who can, he could have saved himself the embarrassment of promoting that redundant theory based on Ari Shavit’s inaccurate memories. However, given the BBC’s record of repeated promotion of the theme of an ominous ‘shift to the Right’ in Israeli society, the question is whether or not accuracy would even then have trumped agenda. 

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Kevin Connolly gives insight into BBC group-think

The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly has recently been on the road in order, he tells us in one of the resulting reports, “to find out what governments and peoples in the Arab world are doing to push back against violent extremist ideas”.

In Connolly’s written report about his travels – “Battle of ideas at heart of fight against Islamic State“, BBC News website, March 17th – readers found the following assertion:Connolly Islamists

“Back in 2011, when the street protests of what we used to call the Arab Spring still appeared to represent an irresistible pulse of democratising energy, no-one foresaw that the violent Islamist extremist movements which had long been part of life in the Middle East would be among the main beneficiaries.”

That paragraph is of course very revealing – and inaccurate. In fact there were people who at the time cautioned that the uprisings the Western media so enthusiastically and unquestioningly embraced as heralding the dawn of democracy in the Middle East had the potential to turn out rather differently. One of those scholars was the late Professor Barry Rubin who in February 2011 wrote:

“…the conclusion that the usual rules of Middle East politics have disappeared is greatly exaggerated. If you think that democracy cannot lead to violent Islamists taking power, consider the Muslim-majority country in the region with the longest tradition of democracy: Lebanon, where Hezb’allah and its allies now run things. Consider Algeria, where free elections (you can blame it on the military if you want) led to a bloody civil war. Think about Turkey where, though the regime still operates basically by democratic norms, the noose is tightening (though there it may well not be irreversible).”

In May 2011 Connolly himself conducted an apparently forgotten interview with Israeli minister Moshe Ya’alon who, whilst discussing the prospects for Israeli-Egyptian relations in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ noted that:

“…what we have to be aware of is that it [a future Egyptian regime] might be the Muslim Brotherhood – might change the course of Egypt.”

Even some BBC journalists recognised the possibility of an Islamist ascendency at the time – as documented in the Mortimer Report on the corporation’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’.

“Presenters and correspondents at times appeared almost obsessed with the possibility, if not likelihood, that Islamists – and the Brotherhood in particular – might turn out to be the main beneficiaries of the upheaval, especially if it resulted in a “power vacuum”. The probability of this happening, and the implications if it did, were the points routinely put to every Western expert and policy-maker; and there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood‟s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity, while others were more sceptical. Conspicuously absent in this phase of coverage, however, whether as subjects or objects of commentary, were the “Salafists” – Islamists more rigid and conservative, though perhaps less organized than the Brotherhood – who later turned out to have widespread popular support and ran second to the Brotherhood in the elections.” [emphasis added]

As reflected in Edward Mortimer’s words, part of the reason why Connolly is able to convince himself today that “no-one” foresaw the rise of Islamist extremists five years ago is because he and many of his colleagues had bought into the notion of ‘moderate’ Islamists. That approach is demonstrated in an interview given by one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents at the time – Wyre Davies – to ‘Wales Online’ in July 2011.

“Asked to what extent in Syria it was ordinary people wanting a voice and to what extent it was Islamic extremists, he said: “I think people over-play the role of Islamic parties. Yes of course in Egypt and Tunisia, these are Islamic countries so you would expect the Muslim Brotherhood and political parties who take some of their moral guidance from Islam to play a role. […]

 “It is ironic that Israel for so long has called itself the only democracy in the region, and yet when democratic movements arise in countries like Egypt, Israel was basically against it. Israel wanted Mubarak to stay in power.

“The West is aware of this. What happens if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election in Egypt? Now I don’t think they will, but there are some pretty moderate members of the Brotherhood. I don’t think there’s any danger that these major Middle Eastern countries are going to be overrun by Islamic extremists.”” [emphasis added]

In an article written for the Guardian in 2012, Magdi Abdelhadi – who was a BBC Arab affairs analyst at the time of the uprising in Egypt the year before – told readers that:

“It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics.”

Were BBC correspondents less preoccupied with the promotion of a political narrative which requires the framing of Hizballah and the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas as ‘resistance’ groups, they might have been better placed to view Islamist ideology in all its manifestations in a more informed and objective light. That in turn would have allowed them to listen at the time to the voices Kevin Connolly now erroneously claims did not exist.

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