Inaccuracies in BBC report on Masha’al re-election

A report appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 2nd gave a rather terse account of Khaled Masha’al’s recent re-election to a fourth term as head of Hamas.

Hamas re-election

As may be expected – given the BBC’s policy decision to avoid the use of the word ‘terrorist” – the report employs various euphemisms in order to characterize Hamas: [emphasis added]

“The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has re-elected Khaled Meshaal as its political leader, officials said.”

“Correspondents said there had been speculation he would be forced aside by the militant movement’s powerful leaders in the Gaza Strip.”

The report also states:

“Mr Meshaal has headed Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, since the assassination of its founder in 2004.”

And:

“Khaled Meshaal became Hamas’s political leader when its founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated by Israel in 2004.”

In fact, Yassin was succeeded by Abdel-Aziz Rantissi and Masha’al took up the position following Rantissi’s death soon afterwards.

For a more nuanced look at the subject of Masha’al’s re-election, it is worth reading this short article by Jonathan Schanzer.

“In other words, the Hamas leadership selection reflects absolutely no changes in the group’s approach to terrorism or rejectionism. Meshal, during a visit to Gaza in December, vowed that Hamas would continue its strategy of violence against Israel. With a new four-year term, it’s reasonable to expect more of the same.”

חאלד משעל, מוסא אבו מרזוק ואיסמעיל הנייה. בכירי חמאס נמצאים במצרים

The candidates: Haniyeh, Abu Marzouk and Masha’al

One rather curious statement made in the BBC report is this one:

“Born near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Mr Meshaal has spent decades in exile and visited Gaza for the first time in December.” [emphasis added]

That theme of ‘exile’ is also promoted in the BBC’s profile of Masha’al.

Whilst the definition of exile includes the possibility of that situation being self-imposed, most readers of that sentence would be likely to understand it in accordance with its more prevalent use:

“the state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons”

Of course Masha’al does not fit into that category, as an interview he gave in 2008 indicates.

“I was born in Silwad, near Ramallah, in 1956. I lived there until 1967, when I was 11 years old, having completed the fifth grade in Silwad Elementary School.” […]

“My father had been in Kuwait since 1957, where he worked both in agriculture (he was, of course, a fallah) and as an imam in a mosque, based on his religious background and culture and memorization of a very large part of the Quran. My father, by the way, had participated in the 1936 Rebellion with ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni and that generation. So because my father was in Kuwait, our family followed. We went to Jordan immediately after the war, and after a month or two, during the summer of 1967, we continued on to Kuwait.”

So in fact, the head of the Masha’al family had moved to Kuwait a decade before the Six Day War – whilst Masha’al’s native village was under Jordanian rule – and the rest of the family joined the father in 1967 of its own free will. 

Later on in the interview we learn that Masha’al was apparently not “barred” from visiting his native village – or indeed anywhere in Israel – eight years later:  

“Because we were among the tens if not hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who migrated from Palestine immediately after the 1967 war and were therefore not included in the census conducted by the Israelis in September 1967, we were not issued identity cards. We therefore did not have the right to visit our country on the basis of citizenship or residency, but only on the basis of a visitor’s permit that could be obtained for us by relatives still there. I was keen to visit, and in 1975, while a university student, I visited Silwad with my family for two months. This was my first and unfortunately only visit after 1967. Since then, my personal circumstances have prevented another such visit on account of my involvement in politics and the national struggle.

During that trip in 1975 I was able to travel extensively in Palestine, touring the country and visiting the cities of the West Bank and the Palestine lost in 1948. I was supposed to go to the Gaza Strip as well, but unfortunately those who were responsible for arranging this part of my journey were unable to do so. We went to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque, to Nablus, Jenin, and so on, to Nazareth, Haifa, Jaffa, and the Palestinian coast, but after the Gaza part of the journey did not materialize we returned to the West Bank.”

Despite the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the violent 2007 coup which led to Hamas gaining control of the territory, Masha’al – like the rest of his ‘exiled’ comrades in the Hamas politbureau – chose to remain elsewhere.  For the sake of accuracy and clarity of audience understanding, the BBC should therefore amend that sentence to read:

“Mr Meshaal has spent decades in self-imposed exile and visited Gaza for the first time in December.”

 

‘Hardtalk’ presenter gets reality check from Khaled Masha’al

On February 7th and 8th 2013, BBC Two and BBC News broadcast an edition of the flagship interview show ‘Hardtalk‘ from Doha with Khaled Masha’al as its guest. 

Part one: 

Part two: 

It is worth watching the whole interview – if only to see Khaled Masha’al try to disavail Stephen Sackur of a few obviously dearly-held illusions concerning Hamas.

At 2:13 Sackur says:

“[…] but what I am interested in is the nature of the language you used when you went to Gaza afterwards [after Operation Pillar of Cloud]. For example, you said ‘Palestine is ours from the river (the Jordan River, that is) to the sea. There will be no concessions of any inch of land’ you said. It was the most hard-line speech and yet it doesn’t actually fit with the rhetoric that you and other Hamas leaders have used at different times in the last year, so what is going on?”

Interrupting Masha’al’s reply at 3:27, Sackur goes on to say:

“Yeah, but hang on. If you’re saying that it [Masha’al’s Gaza speech] was just natural emotion, are you telling me that it was nothing more than symbolism – it’s not something that should be taken seriously in terms of the politics of any future negotiation?”

Masha’al continues to try to explain, but at 04:31 Sackur interjects:

“But I just want to nail down what your current position is on the question of a two state solution to provide a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Saudi newspaper Al Sharq reported just the other day that you are now prepared to accept a two state solution. You have told this, according to the newspaper, to King Abdullah and you’ve asked King Abdullah to…of Jordan…to relay this message to President Obama. Is that true?”

Masha’al replies unequivocally:

“This is not true.” 

In fact, various Hamas officials had denied the report by Al Sharq a whole week before the ‘Hardtalk’ programme was broadcast and four days before it was recorded

Sackur goes on to suggest to Masha’al that Hamas cannot achieve reconciliation with Fatah or join the PLO if it refuses to accept a two state solution. Apparently he is not sufficiently able to read between the lines of Masha’al’s reply – or to relinquish romantic notions about Fatah – in order to appreciate that in fact, among the obstacles to Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, that issue is far from being the greatest stumbling block.  

The question which naturally arises from this interview is whether there will now be any sort of reappraisal by the BBC as regards the topics it frequently presents as obstacles to peace

But perhaps the most telling part of the interview, as far as the BBC is concerned, comes at the beginning when Masha’al gives his view of the recent conflict. 

“It was Israel that started the aggression when they assassinated the martyred leader Ahmed al Jabari at a time when Egypt was seeking a truce”

“Netanyahu did not think about the war. He just wanted to have a tactical victory over Hamas and the resistant [sic] in Gaza in order to exploit such victory in these elections.”

Those two claims are of course identical to the BBC’s line of reporting throughout and after Operation Pillar of Cloud in which it repeatedly promoted both the ‘Israel started it’ and the ‘it’s all in aid of the Israeli elections’ themes.  

Is the BBC really comfortable with the fact that the proverbial cigarette paper cannot be inserted between its own reporting and the propaganda of a racist terrorist organisation?

When BBC ‘impartiality’ becomes absurd

Ahead of its February 7th broadcast of an edition of ‘Hardtalk with Khaled Masha’al, the BBC was promoting the programme on the Home and Middle East pages of its BBC News website with a written article and a filmed report

Home page 7 2

ME hp 7 2

 The synopsis of the ‘Hardtalk’ programme states:

“HARDtalk travels to Doha to meet Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas. His base used to be Damascus but he broke ranks with the Assad regime after the repression of the Syrian uprising. Now he spends much of his time in the diplomatically ambitious Gulf state of Qatar – another sign that the realities of the Middle East are changing. But not, it seems, in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. On that front does Hamas have anything new to offer?”

As we are only too aware, during Masha’al’s visit to Gaza last year the BBC largely ignored the content of his speeches there, extensively promoting a sanitized version of the Hamas ‘birthday’ extravaganza. 

(A longer video of Masha’al’s speech can be seen here.) 

In both of the February 7th reports promoting the ‘Hardtalk’ programme, and as has often been the case in the past, the BBC seems very keen to put the accent upon the subject of Hamas-Fatah unity, but without providing any insight for its audiences as to what the wider consequences of such unity – or Masha’al’s reported bid to head the PLO – might be. 

In the written article, Hamas is referred to as “the militant group”, with the final two paragraphs stating: 

“Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US and EU due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence.

But its supporters say it is a legitimate resistance movement and a democratically elected government.”

This rather laconic statement is taken from the BBC’s own profile of Hamas, but with one important omission. The original states – with the link included – that:

“Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and EU, due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence. Under the group’s charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel.

But to its supporters it is seen as a legitimate resistance movement and a democratically elected government.”

As well as those mentioned, there are in fact other countries which define Hamas as a terror organization as well as additional countries which designate Hamas’ Izz ad Din al Qassam arm. Obviously too, the criteria for designation of terror organisations are considerably less simplistic than the BBC suggests.

But what is really odd about the above statement is the promotion of the views of supporters of a terrorist organization which murders civilians on the basis of their ethnicity – apparently in order to lend an air of ‘balance’ and ‘impartiality’ to a BBC article. That must be one of the more absurd examples of moral relativism around.

  

Enthusiastic BBC coverage of Hamas ‘birthday’ rally

As BBC audiences could hardly fail to notice, the broadcaster is all agog at the visit of Khaled Masha’al to the Gaza Strip for the occasion of events marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the terror organization Hamas – brought forward from the actual date of its establishment in order to coincide with the anniversary of the beginning of the first Intifada on December 9th.

So, whilst Syria slaughters and Egypt writhes, the BBC News website’s home page has for two consecutive days been running the Khaled Masha’al/Hamas rally story as its lead item, with a level of enthusiasm nearing that usually reserved for a Royal visit.

ME hp 7 12

hp dec 8

Of course, whilst it may well be roughly a quarter of a century since the world first became familiar with the acronym ‘Hamas’, the terror group’s parent organisation – the Muslim Brotherhood – was already active in the region several decades beforehand. In 1935 Abed A-Rahman al Bana – the brother of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder – visited Haj Amin al Husseini and the Brotherhood was active during the riots of 1936. Between 1945 and 1947, tens of branches of the Muslim Brotherhood were set up in what was still Mandate Palestine and members of Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian branches of the Muslim Brotherhood were among the belligerents in the War of Independence.  In 1965 numerous Muslim Brotherhood activists in the Gaza Strip were arrested after the discovery of the plot against Nasser.

So what of the BBC’s decidedly enthusiastic coverage of the ‘birthday’ of a terror organisation? Well, on December 7th we had numerous items relating to Khaled Masha’al’s arrival in the Gaza Strip, including sanitized profiles of the man himself and of Hamas, together with an article entitledPalestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visits Gazawhich yet again repeated the erroneous notion that the recent round of violence between terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip and Israel commenced with the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari.

“Jabari’s death marked the start of an eight-day Israeli offensive which Israel said was aimed at halting militant rocket attacks. Some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.”

The same article includes a side-bar with descriptions of the scene by Yolande Knell of the BBC Jerusalem Bureau.

“Posters of Khaled Meshaal can be seen all over the Gaza Strip, but until today he had never seen it himself. We stood on a street corner with a welcoming committee waving green flags as the Hamas leader drove by in a convoy. Armed men in balaclavas carrying guns and rockets kept the crowds back.” [……]

“At a mass rally on Saturday, Mr Meshaal is expected to refer to the need for reconciliation with his political rivals in the Fatah faction headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Finally he’s expected to lay out plans concerning Israel.”

And “lay out plans” Masha’al certainly did – already in his initial speech after his arrival. But there is no mention of that either in this article or in the footage of what the BBC’s Maxine Mawhinney described as Masha’al’s “historic visit” to BBC News viewers. 

December 8th saw, among other items, an “In Pictures” feature on the subject as well as an article by Yolande Knell which included footage of her reporting – apparently unperturbed – from the women’s section of the rally in Gaza City. In that article too, Knell failed to relate to Masha’al’s statement the previous day in which his organisation’s intentions were made perfectly clear. 

In order to get an inkling of those intentions, one has to watch the video entitled “Hamas leader Meshaal: Gaza ‘always in my heart’ “. Right at the end of the film one hears the translator say:

“Today it’s Gaza, to be followed by Jerusalem and Haifa and Yaffa.” [Yaffo/Jaffa]

Whilst BBC-produced reports quoted the part of Masha’al’s statement at the Friday press conference regarding his various “births”, in none of those reports did BBC journalists bother to expand upon the less poetic parts of Masha’al’s speech in which he said:

“This is my third birth. I was born in 1956, and my second birth was when I survived the assassination attempt initiated by (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu,” Mashaal told reporters. “But God was stronger than him, and I hope Allah will grant me martyrdom in Gaza.

 My fourth birth will be on the day Palestine is liberated. Today it is Gaza and tomorrow it will be Ramallah, then Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa.”

All of those last three cities are of course in Israel. And yet the BBC apparently sees no necessity in informing its audiences of the real meaning of that statement.

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The post-rally version of Yolande Knell’s article briefly referred to what she euphemistically termed a “fiery speech” from Masha’al.

“Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal gave a fiery speech during his first ever visit to the territory.

He said he would never recognise Israel, and insisted Palestinians would never cede any part of their land.”

What Masha’al actually said was as follows:

“Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he told a sea of supporters at an open-air rally, the highlight of his three-day stay in Gaza.

“We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.” 

Masha’al added:

“Jihad and the armed resistance is the only true path to liberation. Azza 812 2

We don’t kill Jews because they are Jews. We kill the Zionists because they are conquerors and we will continue to kill anyone who takes our land and our holy places.

 The conqueror is not just the enemy of the Palestinians but the enemy of the entire Arab world. The Zionist plan is a danger to us all.

 We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone…the right of return is sacred to us and we will not forfeit it.”

The only other reference to the content and tone of the rally came later in Knell’s report:

Azza 812 3“..a masked spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, told the crowd: “We will cut the hand that extends in aggression against our people and leaders.”

As long as Palestine is ours and Palestine is the land of Arabism and Islam, we can never recognise the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation of it,” he told supporters.

“There is no legitimacy for occupation. Hence, there is no legitimacy for Israel, however long time lasts.” “

Rather than a ‘birthday celebration’ this Hamas-organised event was, from start to finish, nothing more than a chilling rally of mass hatred. For some inexplicable reason the profuse and enthusiastic BBC reporting on the subject (do anniversaries of other terrorist organisations enjoy a similarly high profile at the BBC?) placed its focus on the pageantry and related only very superficially to the actual content and tone. Azza 812 6

Thus, BBC audiences can remain cocooned in the studiously generated belief that the main ‘obstacle to peace’ in the Middle East is the planning of potential house-building in a place called E1, rather than a racist terror organization aspiring to wipe a sovereign nation off the face of the earth by violent means. 

As long as the BBC continues to shield its viewers and listeners from the clear and honest messages put out repeatedly by Hamas and other terror organisations in the Middle East it cannot be said to be fulfilling its obligation to make “people in the UK aware of international issues”.