Misleading by omission on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs

The June 10th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, presented by Kirsty Young, featured British surgeon David Nott who, in addition to his regular work, volunteers with Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Committee of the Red Cross.Desert Island Discs 10 6

Whilst discussing the dangers of working in conflict zones, Young asked:

“Are there times when you have to exit mid-operation?”

Listeners then heard the following story (from 23:09 here).

“I was in Gaza in 2014 during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I was working in one of the big hospitals in Gaza City. There was this little girl that had come in, who was about seven, who’d had her…evisceration it’s called, where the bowels are hanging out of the abdominal wall. She’d had severe fragmentation injuries. A fragment had gone into her bladder, her spleen, stomach and so on. I prepared her with iodine and so on. Somebody came up to me and said David, we need to go now. We need to leave the hospital because it’s going to be blown up in five minutes. And…erm….I looked at her and at the time I had no family, I had no siblings, I had nobody and I said well, OK, I’m on my own here and, you know, am I going to leave this little girl on her own to, you know, to die in the hospital? I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to, so I stayed there with her and thought well….”

Young: “So you must tell me what happened? What happened?”

Nott: “So all the staff in the operating theatre left. I was there with the anaesthetist. I looked at the anaesthetist and I said to him do you want to go? He said no, I’ll stay with you and so the two of us just stayed there. We operated, waiting for the bomb to explode onto the hospital and nothing happened. And three or four days later – I’ve got this picture of me and the little girl….”

Young: “Right, we’re gonna take a break. We’re gonna have some music.”

So what would uninformed listeners have taken away from that segment of the programme? Obviously many would have been left with the impression that Israel was the party expected to ‘blow up’ the working hospital and that the fact no strike took place on that occasion was a matter of luck.

From a previous interview given by Nott we can ascertain that the hospital concerned is Shifa hospital and that the date of that particular experience was August 1st 2014. On that day a UN brokered 72-hour ceasefire was supposed to come into effect but Hamas breached it after an hour and a half with an attack on Israeli soldiers decommissioning one of its cross-border tunnels in the Rafah area in the south of the Gaza Strip.

“IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, an officer in the Givati Brigade, was apparently abducted in the Rafah area of Gaza on Friday morning, in an attack perpetrated some 90 minutes after the onset of a truce. He was formally designated missing in action, an IDF spokesman said Friday. Two IDF soldiers were killed in the attack. […]

A suicide bomber and other gunmen engaged the IDF forces as they sought to decommission a tunnel. Shortly after the combined attack, it became clear to Israeli forces in the area that a soldier was missing.”

Later, terrorists also fired missiles at Israeli civilian communities but none of that very relevant context was provided to listeners to this programme. Shifa hospital was of course not attacked on that day or any other and – despite what Nott was told at the time – it was in fact considered to be one of the safest places in the Gaza Strip, as reported by the BBC’s James Reynolds just days later:

“…just to explain where we are; we’re at the Shifa hospital here in the centre of Gaza. When you speak to ordinary people here, they feel that this is about the only safe place that there is in this strip of land – this or the grounds of the other hospitals here – because they believe that Israel will not target hospitals. There are actually some families sleeping outside the hospital – again, they believe that they won’t be hit here….”

Whether or not Mr Nott asked his hosts at Shifa hospital why the secure underground operating theatre located in the bunker underneath that facility was not placed at his disposal is unclear. Had he done so, he would have been able to tell BBC audiences that most probably the reason that his colleagues assumed that the hospital was going to be bombed on August 1st 2014 was because Hamas was using the space beneath his feet as a command centre and refuge – and him as a human shield.  

If Kirsty Young had provided that context to Radio 4 listeners, their take-away impressions of this story would of course have been more accurate.

Related Articles:

BBC presentation of the August 1st ceasefire breakdown – part one: BBC News website

BBC presentation of the August 1st ceasefire breakdown – part two: BBC television news

BBC widens its distortion of the reason for the collapse of the August 1st ceasefire






Desert Island distortions on BBC Radio 4

The June 15th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’, presented by Kirsty Young, featured Raja Shehadeh in the guest seat. The programme can be heard here.

Desert Island Discs

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the programme is its across the board erasure of Palestinian and Arab violence over the decades, but other parts of the context-free political narrative it promotes and amplifies are also notable.

After the introduction, in which she mentions Shehadeh’s role as co-founder of Al Haq but fails to inform listeners of that organisation’s political agenda, its use of ‘lawfare’ and its support for BDS, Kirsty Young says:

“You have chosen to stay living in Ramallah. You’ve written a lot – very successfully – about the changing landscape around you. What does it look like now?”

Raja Shehadeh: “The way it looks now is rather sad because many of the lovely hills have been destroyed by settlements and also expansion of Ramallah into the hills, but mainly the settlements which are literally on every hilltop.” [emphasis added]

A quick look at the map is sufficient to be able to appreciate the lack of accuracy in Shehadeh’s statement – or perhaps his misunderstanding of the word ‘literally’.

Map Ramallah

He goes on:

“And it has caused me a lot of pain to see this change, but I don’t want to sound heroic for living in Ramallah and under occupation….”

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords Ramallah – which is of course in Area A – was passed over to full Palestinian Authority control in 1995. In other words, Shehadeh has lived under Palestinian rule – rather than ‘occupation’ – for nineteen years already.

Explaining his first musical choice, Shehadeh tells his host:

“…we used to go to the Dead Sea […] this was before the occupation of course […] the Dead Sea was not a border as it is now between Israel and the West Bank and Jordan…”

Conveniently, Mr Shehadeh neglects to mention that at the time of his childhood trips to the Dead Sea it, along with the rest of the area, was under a Jordanian occupation unrecognized by the international community. His host of course refrains from clarifying that point to listeners too.

Later on, Shehadeh opts for the ‘Israel denial’ option.

KY: “So tell me Raja Shehadeh a little bit about the importance and meaning of land; and I’m talking here not just about negotiations over pieces of land and incursions and so on; I’m talking about the land around you – the land you walk in…”

RS: “Well first of all the land in Palestine in general is a very attractive land…..We have in essence one of everything. One real mountain – which is in Syria actually – one major river and one lake – Lake Tiberias. I’m talking of historic Palestine…” […]

“But more recently, because of the colonization essentially of these hills by the settlers who claim a greater love for the land and are in the process of destroying it by cutting through the hills with roads, putting settlements where the land should not be disturbed really…”

Shehadeh goes on to complain that Israeli counter-terrorism and security measures (made necessary of course by the terrorism neither he nor his host mention throughout) disturb his country walks.

RS: “More recently it’s become better to walk in larger groups because of the possible unfortunate encounters that you can have.”

KY: “These are military encounters?”

RS: “Military encounters – yeah. […] Well, it destroys the poetry of the thing.”

Later, Shehadeh gives his version of the story of his family’s decision to leave Jaffa for their second home in Ramallah.

RS; “Jaffa it’s very hot and humid in the summer and so they had a summer-house in Ramallah. When hostilities began they decided it’s safer in Ramallah because it was getting rather dangerous actually – physically dangerous – so they decided, towards the end of April, to take that short drive down to Ramallah – short drive from Jaffa – and my father always thought that if the worst happens – that is the partition – Jaffa was going to be on the Arab side so they will always be able to go back. And they took very few things with them and they were never able to go back.”

Beyond the fact that by late April 1948 a full five months had passed since the Arabs rejected the partition plan, Shehadeh’s euphemistic description of “hostilities” of course conceals from audiences the Arab violence which both preceded and followed the UN’s recommendation of partition in November 29th 1947. Kirsty Young further muddies the waters by then coming up with the following bizarre and inaccurate statement:

KY: “Because of course this was a displacement that led up to the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. They were never allowed to go back.” [emphasis added]

The declaration of the State of Israel a couple of weeks after the Shehadeh family decided to travel to their summer home in Ramallah of course had nothing whatsoever to do with the “displacement” of those who decided to leave their homes. 

Young’s subsequent cameo of the Six Day War is no more accurate.

RS: “…just before ’67 things started heating up because there was feeling that war was imminent…”

KY: “We should just remind people, of course; it was the Six Day War that took place in 1967. Jordan lost control of Ramallah, which was then occupied by Israel.”

No context is given regarding the attack on Israel by surrounding Arab states and particularly Jordan’s decision to enter that war despite the Israeli request not to do so.

Shehadeh then goes on to describe his father’s post-war plan for what he describes as a “two state solution”.

RS: “He became very active politically. He managed to get quite a good number of people from all around the West Bank and Gaza who, together with him, submitted and were ready to do this but the Israeli government was uninterested.”

No mention is made of the Arab League’s Khartoum Declaration in response to Israeli offers  of peace immediately after the war.

Shehadeh later whitewashes terrorism by implying incorrectly that it began after – and because of – the war in 1967 (the PLO was of course formed three years before any ‘occupation’ existed).

RS: “However, what was happening to most people was that they were dealing with the indignity of defeat by having thoughts of resistance and a lot of armed resistance….”

Two further instances of whitewashing of Palestinian violence come towards the end of the programme.

RS: “In 2002 there was another invasion of Ramallah by the Israeli army and we were stuck at home for months….”

The missing context is of course the PA-initiated second Intifada and specifically the Park Hotel massacre which led to Operation Defensive Shield.

KY: “You got married in 1988 in what you call an Intifada wedding.”

RS: “We enjoyed our wedding, which was a simple wedding. Everything was complicated; there were curfews.”

Again – the context of Palestinian violence and the first Intifada is erased from the picture.

Whether or not Kirsty Young and her producers actually intended this programme to be an exercise in the Sunday morning promotion and amplification of Raja Shehadeh’s well-worn context-free politically motivated narrative, it certainly turned out that way. So much for editorial standards on accuracy and impartiality. 

Related Articles:

‘Comment is Free’ contributor claims 1967 Six Day War was act of Israeli aggression

Guardian interviewee casually suggests Israel is attempting to ethnically cleanse Palestinians

The Guardian, PalFest and the ‘culture’ of anti-Israel activism



The BBC’s temple of Alice Walker

For those of us with years of familiarity with the BBC under our belts, it is perhaps difficult to envisage any other scenario than the one in which the persona which is Alice Walker is revered by members of that organisation as an almost divine font of unchallengeable sound bite wisdoms.

Indeed, one only has to look at the frequency of Walker’s various BBC appearances to appreciate how many ‘right on’ boxes she ticks for so-called ‘progressives’.

 Lyse Doucet’s March 2013 World Service radio interview with Walker was conducted in reverential tones under the banner of ‘truth’, even when her guest came out with stereotypical racist and sexist remarks about white European women which – had they been uttered by Betty Walker from Bolton in relation to a supposed unsuitability of  African or Asian women for leadership due to some centuries-old collective trauma – would rightly have resulted in wall-to-wall raised eyebrows at the BBC.

In the May 24th 2013 edition of Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ Alice Walker selected former BBC presenter and conspiracy theorist David Icke’s off-the-wall tome as her book of choice, with presenter Kirsty Young unable to bat an eyelid and Walker predictably unchallenged by anything which could be called journalism. 

On July 7th 2013 BBC Four aired a one hour film about Walker –  under the title of ‘Beauty in Truth’ – made by MercuryMedia and directed by Pratibha Parmar.

 The programme is available on iPlayer here and for those outside the UK, in the video below.

BBC 4 Alice Walker

Having spent fifty-three puffery-saturated minutes idealising and idolising Walker, her work and her activism,  the pseudo-documentary then turns to the subject of her anti-Israel campaigning – although of course it is not presented in that way.

At 53:23 in the video above, she is asked by a ‘Democracy Now’ presenter:  Walker film 3

“You go in the book from Rwanda to Eastern Congo, to Palestine, Israel. It was your first trip?”

Walker answers: “To Palestine? Yes.” After which the film cuts to images of Walker in the Gaza Strip, with her saying in the voice-over:

“It’s easy to make the connection between the Freedom Rides of fifty years ago to the South that helped to bring down apartheid USA and what is happening there in Palestine with the wall and with the abuse of the Palestinian people. It’s very similar. I mean it’s more intense in Palestine.”

The film then cuts to footage of Walker’s participation in the 2011 flotilla, with her saying:  Walker film 5

“My name is Alice Walker and I am with the US boat to Gaza.”


“This is a fine tradition of going to people who need us, wherever they exist on the planet. This is our responsibility.”

Despite the fact that the BBC’s editorial guidelines – including of course those on accuracy and impartiality – apply to commissioned programmes as well as to BBC-produced content, absolutely no attempt is made in this film to balance Walker’s vicious fictions concerning “Palestine” with facts or to make audiences aware of the significance of the practical consequences of the  ideologies to which she subscribes, such as the boycotting of a language or the Walker film 1collaboration with Hamas and its supporters in the flotilla stunt.

Instead, in this programme as in others, the untouchable Alice Walker is yet again permitted to spout her often offensive opinions as though they were fact, with editorial standards apparently an optional extra for patron deities of the BBC Parthenon.