BBC Travel yet again dishes up political narrative in a food item

August 3rd saw the appearance of yet another BBC Travel article belonging to the genre of ‘food as a hook for political messaging’ on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – like the previous example – this one too was written by a freelancerMiriam Berger – rather than by BBC staff.

Titled “The Palestinian dessert few can enjoy“, nearly half of the article’s 1,037 words are devoted to political topics rather than the Middle Eastern sweet (confusingly presented in this piece with three different names: knafa, kunafa and knafe) that is supposedly its subject matter.

That becomes rather less surprising when one is aware that the quoted ‘culinary expert’ Laila el Haddad is in fact a long-time anti-Israel activist who has used food for the promotion of her political narrative in the past – including at the BBC

“Today you need a hard-to-procure permit to enter or exit Gaza. […]

“[Knafa Arabiya] reflects Gaza itself,” said Laila El-Haddad, author of The Gaza Kitchen. “It’s a more rustic dessert that’s richly spiced.”

She added, “In modern times, as it’s [Gaza] become more closed off, these flavours have become relatively unknown, even to other Palestinians.”

In fact, today most people physically can’t access the dessert. After decades of rule by the Turks, Brits and Egyptians, Israel then occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005; two years later Hamas, a designated terror group, violently seized power from its rival, the more moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank. Israel and Egypt then imposed travel and trade blockades on Gaza. Over the last nine years, Israel and Hamas have fought three devastating wars; many in Gaza have still not recovered from the last one three years ago. 

Today, Israel restricts most border crossings. At the Erez crossing in southern Israel, the only point of entry and exit for people between Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, “Food is not permitted to be exported from Gaza for regulatory purposes,” according to Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. Informally, however, half a kilo or a kilo of sweets – or about two big plates of Knafa Arabiya – will get through.”

Of course many countries restrict the import of foodstuffs by travellers for reasons of pest and disease control but in other locations such rules do not usually prompt half-baked politicised articles.

The writer does not bother to inform readers of the Hamas terrorism that brought about not only counter-terrorism measures in the form of border restrictions but also the “three devastating wars” she mentions. The piece goes on to give an equally context-free portrayal of the Gaza electricity crisis caused by internal Palestinian feuding.

“When I visited Abu al Saoud’s shop in July, times were tough and getting tougher. Gaza was a month deep into a severe electricity crisis that left the strip’s two million people with just two to three hours of power a day – down from only eight hours in the months before. The lucky ones, like Abu al Saoud, can keep lights on longer with generators. Even at just five shekels per slice – the same price as in Nablus – the knafe is unaffordable for many in Gaza, which has some of the highest unemployment in the world.”

As we see, BBC Travel’s promotion of sub-text political messaging in ‘life-style’ articles that potentially reach audiences less familiar with the political ins and outs of the Middle East continues.

Related Articles:

BBC Travel politicises food to promote a narrative

LA Times, Gaza Kitchen Cooking Up Falsehoods  (CAMERA)  

A fishy tale of literary promotion by the BBC


A fishy tale of literary promotion by the BBC

There are days when one wonders if the Guardian and the BBC are actually joined at the hip. May 20th was one of them, when a report titled “Keeping alive Gaza’s culinary traditions” by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website, where it was subtitled “Preserving the spice of life when ingredients and power are scarce”. The same report was also featured in the website’s ‘Magazine’ section; there it was subtitled “Preserving the spice of life under blockade”. 

Magazine GAza food

So what has this to do with the Guardian? Well – by complete coincidence – that paper’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, produced an amazingly similar article on precisely the same subject and promoting the exact same themes just six days earlier.

Both Knell and Sherwood wax lyrical about Gazan salads and seafood dishes – with both stressing the subject of the fishing zone, but without mentioning that after it had been extended to 6 miles in November 2012, following the ceasefire which brought an end to Operation pillar of Cloud, it had to be reduced again in March 2013 due to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Incidentally, the zone was re-extended to six miles on May 21st 2103. 

Both Knell and Sherwood make much of supposed food shortages in the Gaza Strip and stress the subject of UNRWA food aid – without making any effort to tell readers of other sides to the storyBoth Knell and Sherwood emphasise the issue of power cuts and gas shortages. And of course both Sherwood and Knell blame any and every shortage on Israel, but at least the former does not make the same mistake as Knell by claiming (yet again) that the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip was “tightened” in 2007, when in fact it did not exist until 2009. 

But the most glaring similarity between the two articles is the fact that they both promote the same cookbook – just in time for its UK launch. Knell writes:

“However, a new cookbook – The Gaza Kitchen – that went on sale in the UK this month, tries to give an alternative perspective by focusing on the distinctive, and piquant, local cuisine.

“We had an intuition that this would be a really remarkable way of telling the story of Gaza – the connection between the people, the land and the history,” says co-author Laila el-Haddad, who is Gazan but lives in the US.”

As pointed out on our sister site CiF Watch, Kuwaiti-born, Saudi Arabia-raised Laila el Haddad is no ordinary food writer. She is in fact a professional anti-Israel activist and a proponent of the eradication of Israel through the ‘one-state solution’. It therefore will come as no surprise to readers to learn that the launch of her latest book in the UK has been promoted by the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre, the London BDS website and the Mosaic Rooms which belongs to the AM Qattan Foundation – a trustee of which, Nadia Hijab, is also director of the ‘one-state’ promoting ‘think tank’ Al Shabaka, for which Laila el Haddad is a policy advisor.  

One must of course at this point wonder whether the culinary trip or trips to Gaza made by Yolande Knell and Harriet Sherwood were in fact organized – and perhaps even sponsored – by Laila el Haddad and/or her publisher, because this almost simultaneous free advertising for a professional anti-Israel activist and her cause from both the Guardian and the BBC’s Jerusalem-based staff is certainly something of a bizarre coincidence.

Whilst we’re at it, we should probably also ask how the promotion of this book in the body of an article on the BBC News website squares up with the BBC’s restrictions on advertising to UK readers of that site.