BBC’s Bowen tells his annual Lebanon story on Radio 4

Episode 10 of Jeremy Bowen’s BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on May 26th. Titled “The Nearness of Death“, the programme is described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jeremy Bowen describes the incident as the worse [sic] day of his working life – the day he and his colleagues came under fire from the Israeli Defence Force. Bowen’s driver Abed Takkhoush was hit when the crew of an Israeli tank fired a shell across the border wire into Lebanon. It hit the back of his Mercedes taxi while he was sitting in the driver’s seat phoning his son.”

Bowen has of course publicly revisited that incident on numerous occasions in the past (see ‘related articles’ below) but this programme once again provides insight into the approach taken by the man the BBC chose to be responsible for all its Middle East coverage twelve years ago.

In this report, Bowen’s scene-setting fails to provide listeners with any background information or context concerning the reason why the Israeli army was in Lebanon in the first place and he fails to clarify that Hizballah did not only act against – or because of – Israeli forces.

“We were looking forward to the day ahead down south on the border with Israel. It was a big story. The Israelis were ending an occupation of a broad swathe of South Lebanon that had lasted 18 years. They’d been driven out by an insurgency mounted by Hizballah – the Shia Muslim militia that head become a highly effective guerilla force with the help of Iran and Syria.”

Later on Bowen tells listeners that:

“By the mid-90s the main fight was in south Lebanon between the Israeli occupiers and Hizballah. Israel claimed self-defence and called Hizballah terrorists. Hizballah regarded themselves as a legitimate resistance to occupation and so did most Lebanese.”

Bowen refrains from explaining why there was no Hizballah ‘resistance’ to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon or to inform listeners of the 1989 Taif Agreement and the fact that under that agreement, all militias – including Hizballah – were supposed to have been disarmed and disbanded.

Although in previous accounts Bowen has said “I’d been talking to my literary agent on the phone” at the time of the incident in which his driver was killed, in this programme his version is slightly different.

“The big mistake I made was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera overlooking an Israeli village. I discovered later that journalists and Israeli civilians were watching from a picnic spot as I got out of the car with Malik. I thought we were safe where we were but I didn’t realise that an Israeli battle tank had us in its sights.” […]

“I said to Malik ‘let’s get up there to help him’. Malik’s face was contorted. ‘No’, he said, ‘don’t do it. Abed is dead; he can’t have survived that and if you go up there too, they’ll kill you’. When cautiously I moved towards Abed’s body I heard bullets fizzing over my head and ducked back into cover. A team from the Times later said they heard the tank crew saying on the radio that they’d get the other two with the heavy machine gun. I’ll feel guilty till my last day that we stopped to film there.”

Bowen adds further context-free anecdotes of Israeli actions, telling listeners that in 1996:

“We joined a UN convoy that was trying to reach besieged civilians. The Israelis turned it back with some heavy shelling.”

And:

“Once, the Israelis were shelling the coastal highway from a war ship to stop people getting to southern Lebanon.”

And – while failing to clarify that the two-week Israeli operation in Lebanon in 1996 came after Hizballah shelled Israeli communities, injuring dozens of civilians:

“106 civilians were killed in a single incident in 1996 by Israeli shelling. They’d been sheltering in a UN peace-keeping base in a village called Qana in south Lebanon. Hundreds more were wounded. The UN didn’t accept Israel’s explanation that Hizballah had fired Katyusha rockets at them from close to the base. I’d been in a briefing in the Israeli Defence Ministry that claimed they knew everything that went on in south Lebanon but that day they said they didn’t know they were killing civilians even when UN liaison officers begged them to stop.”

Bowen goes on to use language that does not adhere to BBC editorial standards of impartiality.

“Qana’s dead were buried together. At the funeral I met Hassan Balhas; a young man who’d been left paraplegic by a stray Israeli bullet. 35 members of his family were killed in the massacre.” [emphasis added]

Listeners are also told by Bowen that:

“I’ve been to the homes of Israelis killed by Lebanese and their families’ grief is tragic to see. But there’s been just so much more of it in Lebanon where civilians have suffered disproportionately at the hands of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Going back to the May 2000 incident, Bowen tells listeners that his driver:

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

“…did stop four years later on the day the Israeli army killed him. The Israeli military said the tank fired at us because they thought we were terrorists. That wasn’t the first assumption of Israeli civilians who were watching from their side of the border whose reaction was caught in video collected by a BBC investigation into Abed’s death.”

Listeners then hear an unidentified voice explaining that video.

“People are now saying in Hebrew this car was shot, it was shot from here. Some civilian is saying ‘they hit a civilian car – we’re going to have Katyushas now’. ‘This is very bad’, he’s saying.”

In fact, the Hebrew speaker is not heard using the term “civilian car” but the word “vehicle”. Bowen goes on:

“I went to see a general in the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. He asked for some understanding. ‘Look’, he said, ‘there were young boys in that tank and they’d been warned they might be attacked by terrorists. They were scared’. I wasn’t very sympathetic. They were in a tank and we were civilians.”

Bowen has of course told that part of the story before too and is on record as refusing to accept the results of the IDF investigation into – and apology for – the tragic incident. Hence, seventeen years on the BBC’s Middle East editor is still using his position to promote the notion that it was impossible for Israeli soldiers to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing. 

He then closes the item with an oblique, but clear, insinuation:

“Fighters in every war, on every side, dehumanise their enemies. They regard them as something less that living and breathing people who can feel love and fear and happiness. That way, it’s much easier to kill.”

Jeremy Bowen will no doubt continue his efforts to promote his version of this story for as long as the BBC and additional media outlets continue to provide him with the platform to do so. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that the man who repeatedly tells that story from that particular angle is also the person who for the last twelve years has been entrusted with ensuring that what BBC audiences are told about Israel meets editorial standards of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years 

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Weekend long read

1) At the Tablet, Matti Friedman discusses media cooperation with repressive regimes.

“Western news organizations that maintain a presence in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, make compromises in return for access and almost never tell readers what those compromises are. The result, in many cases, is something worse than no coverage—it’s something that looks like coverage, but is actually misinformation, giving people the illusion that they know what’s going on instead of telling them outright that they’re getting information shaped by regimes trying to mislead them. […]

The most relevant example from my own experience as an AP correspondent in Jerusalem between 2006 and 2011 is Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and where the AP has a sub-bureau. Running that sub-bureau requires both passive and active cooperation with Hamas. To give one example of many, during the Israel-Hamas war that erupted at the end of 2008, our local Palestinian reporter in Gaza informed the news desk in Jerusalem that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll—a crucial detail. A few hours later, he called again and asked me to strike the detail from the story, which I did personally; someone had clearly spoken to him, and the implication was that he was at risk. […]

From that moment on, more or less, AP’s coverage from Gaza became a quiet collaboration with Hamas. Certain rules were made clear to the local staffers in Gaza, and those of us outside Gaza were warned not to put our Gazan staff at risk. Our coverage shifted accordingly, though we never informed our readers. Hamas military actions were left vague or ignored, while the effects of Israeli actions were reported at length, giving the impression of wanton Israeli aggression, just as Hamas wanted.”

2) Yaakov Lappin has a useful backgrounder on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with a link to further information.

“In Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is a quarter of the size of Hamas, but that has not stopped it from running its own rocket production centers, digging tunnels, training and arming its operatives.

Iranian assistance enables PIJ to be Gaza’s second biggest terrorist army. Ideologically, it is significantly closer to Tehran than Hamas. And unlike Hamas, PIJ faces none of the dilemas of sovereignty and governance over Gaza’s two million people.”

3) With Hizballah flags set to fly once again on London’s streets this coming Sunday, the FDD’s Tony Badran has a timely analysis of that terror organisation’s standing on its home turf.

“Unfortunately, the goals of strengthening the Lebanese state and disarming Hezbollah are at odds with each other. Hezbollah has completed its takeover of the Lebanese state, including and especially its political institutions and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), along with other security agencies. Strengthening the Lebanese state today means strengthening Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon ensures that counting on the “Lebanese state” to disarm Hezbollah is a non-starter. The function of the Lebanese government is to defend Hezbollah, and to align its policies with the preferences of the group and of its patrons in Tehran.”

4) At the Tower, Seth Frantzman also takes a look at Hizballah and Lebanon – seventeen years after Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon.

“May 24 marked 17 years since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon. The border is quiet now, but every day brings news of ill winds blowing from the north. In early May a man infiltrated Israel from Lebanon and wandered into the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona before being apprehended—an incident that rocked the Israeli defense establishment. Reports indicate that new fencing costing 100 million NIS will be put up along the border, similar to the “smart fences” on the borders with Jordan, Egypt, and Gaza.

As Israel upgrades the fence, the terrorist group Hezbollah is ensconced in Beirut with more power and legitimacy than ever. On May 11 the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah played the pragmatic moderate as he sought to allay Christian Maronite concerns over new elections. The Lebanese parliament’s term expires on June 20 and Christians fear their power is being eroded. Nasrallah isn’t worried, because for all intents and purposes his dream of being the main political and military power in Lebanon has come true. […]

The problem in Lebanon is that both the Christian and Sunni opposition are neutered. They gave up their weapons after the civil war and allowed Hezbollah to keep theirs. The likelihood that Jihadist and Salafi networks will put down roots in Lebanon grows in response to the power of Hezbollah. Whatever fantasies Israel once had for an alliance with Lebanese Christians and the idea that Lebanon, a formerly peaceful country seen as the “Paris” or “Switzerland” of the Levant, could be a good neighbor, is gone forever. Hezbollah will only grow. It is a key Iranian asset, one that is indispensable in the Syrian civil war. Nasrallah has taken to commenting on crises in Yemen and elsewhere, looking beyond Lebanon in hopes of playing a regional role.”

 

 

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

Although it did take nearly four years, the BBC has finally given its Middle East editor a foodie slot as suggested on these pages in 2013.

Jeremy Bowen’s Middle Eastern food quiz” is however just the appetizer for a new series of programmes – 25 in number – on BBC Radio 4 titled “Our Man in the Middle East” which began on May 15th.

“Over these 25 programmes, Jeremy reflects on the present and the past of the Middle East, after reporting from the region for more than a quarter of a century. He combines first-hand accounts from the front line with an in-depth look into the region’s history. He has witnessed endless wars between individuals, religious groups and full-sized states, jostling for military, political and economic power. He has interviewed dictators, fanatics and fundamentalists as well as the ordinary people caught up in their dangerous games. In that time, the past has always been present, providing motivation and political ammunition. Bowen has made headlines himself and he has paid a personal price, coming under fire and losing a colleague in the course of reporting – on the worst day, he says, in his life.”

The incident to which that last sentence refers took place in 2000 and has been revisited by Bowen on numerous occasions since.

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

Of the six episodes advertised so far, three relate to Israel:

Thursday, May 18th – “Jerusalem“:

‘BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen reflects on the allure and intractable challenge of the Holy City. “The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem,” he observes. “When they move, we all feel it.”‘

Friday, May 19th – “Recipe for Disaster“:

‘How the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin changed the region’s history, as remembered by BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. “No political killing in the twentieth century was more successful,” he argues, observing the dramatic effects on the Oslo peace process. “Perhaps there was a moment for peace, and it came, and went.”‘

Monday, May 22nd – “Crossing the Divide“:

‘How a gas container explains the divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, was only trying to warm his home during the winter in Jerusalem. During the process, he discovered that the Palestinians are even at loggerheads over simple things like heating. “It’s a place where the conflict is always in your face. So is religion, ” he says.’

As the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War approaches, we can assume that Bowen will be revisiting that topic too in future episodes of this series.

Related Articles:

BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

An Inside Look at the BBC Ruling Against Jeremy Bowen (CAMERA)

 

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

h/t GB

The May 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 22:55 here) described in the synopsis thus:FOOC 28 5

“And the news media may love an anniversary, but some of its senior correspondents have dates they’d sooner forget …”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the piece as follows:

“Anniversaries are a regular feature of news coverage these days. Words like ‘it’s 12 months since’ or ‘100 years ago today’ preface many a tale. This can be useful for editors: it provides not only an opportunity to revisit and reassess a story but also, of course, a way to fill up space and airtime. But some anniversaries – as Jeremy Bowen knows – are marked more quietly, away from the public gaze.”

There is nothing “away from the public gaze” about the anniversary Jeremy Bowen chose to mark by broadcasting this particular item on national radio and – as can be seen in the examples in the related articles below – Bowen does not mark that anniversary “quietly”: he in fact makes a point of recounting the story annually.

But whilst the story and its yearly narration by the BBC’s Middle East editor are not novel, it does provide some insight into why the corporation’s coverage of Israel is as it is because it reveals what lies behind the long-standing approach to that country adopted by the gatekeeper of BBC Middle East content.

JB: “Sixteen years ago this week my friend and colleague Abed Takkoush was killed by the Israeli army. Abed was Lebanese from Beirut. He’d worked for the BBC since the [Lebanese] civil war started in the 1970s. Abed was in his early 50s with three boys and a wife. His business card said ‘driver producer’. He was a fixer: the kind of person without whom foreign correspondents could not function. We rely on people like Abed around the world, though he was exceptional because of his experience, his sense of humour and his bravery. He used to pick me up in his battered Mercedes taxi when I arrived at Beirut airport and accelerate away into the traffic, boasting that he was a better driver than Michael Schumacher. Istill miss him when I arrive at the airport and he isn’t there. I’ve never had the heart to delete his phone number from my contacts book.

On the day Abed was killed the Israelis were ending a long occupation of southern Lebanon. They were driven out by Hizballah – the Shia militia that also became a political and social movement. We kept a safe distance from the Israeli forces as they retreated. My big mistake was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera near the Lebanese border with Israel. I didn’t think they’d shoot from the other side of the wire. I asked Abed to pull over. He stayed in the car making a phone call while the cameraman Malek Kenaan and I got out. A couple of minutes later an Israeli tank about a kilometer away on their side of the border fired a shell into the back of the car. Somehow Abed forced his way out of the window and then dropped down onto the road. Malek told me not to go up to the remains of the car, which was on fire, because Abed was dead and the Israelis would kill me too. A colleague on the Israeli side heard the tank crew saying they’d got one of us and they’d kill the other two with a heavy machine gun. When I stuck my head out of the place where Malek and I had taken cover, they opened fire as they said they would. I’m as certain as I can be that the Israelis would have tried to kill me too if I’d gone up to find him. But I still feel guilty that I didn’t.

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

A few weeks later when I was back in Israel where I was based at the time, I went to see a General in Tel Aviv whom I’d been promised would explain their version of events. He said they’d thought we were terrorists about to attack them. Hizballah did not drive Israel out in 2000 by sauntering along a road in the midday sun of South Lebanon. They’re way cleverer than that. When I said that to the General he shrugged and said there were frightened boys in the tank who’d been warned they might be attacked.

 I believe the soldiers in the tank could see us clearly for what we were – harmless civilians. It was a bright, blue sky day and the optics in Israeli tanks are excellent. I think, for them, Lebanese lives were cheap and they assumed we were a Lebanese news team – not the BBC. […] Reporting wars is a dangerous business, obviously. I think it’s more dangerous now than it was when I went to my first war in 1989 or in that dreadful week in 2000. The reason is the 24/7 news cycle. Killing journalists is a good way of sending a message about power and ruthlessness.

I gave up going to wars for a while after the awful few days sixteen years ago. But it would be impossible to report the Middle East as it is now without accepting a degree of risk. I try to stay away from the front lines but sometimes they’re part of the job. Many of my working days in the Middle East involve men with guns. If I get an easier job I won’t regret saying goodbye to them. But for now they’re part of my working life and of increasing numbers of journalists in our troubled world.”

In short, the BBC has allowed Jeremy Bowen to use this item to once again promote the unsupported, unproven and unfounded allegation that Israel deliberately targets and kills journalists/civilians. And yet, for the last decade (since the creation of the position of Middle East editor in 2006) the man shooting that accusation from the hip at every opportunity has also been the person entrusted with ensuring that BBC coverage of Israel is accurate and impartial.

That, sadly for the BBC’s reputation, says it all.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

The following Tweets (among others) were sent by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen to his eighty-two and a half thousand followers on May 23rd.

May 23 tweets Bowen 1

May 23 tweets Bowen 2

May 23 tweets Bowen 3

This is not the first time that Bowen has proffered his particular version of the tragic incident which took place on May 23rd 2000 on Twitter – he did so last year too – and it is also not the first time that he has failed to provide his Twitter followers with a full account of what happened that day.

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

“Early in the morning of Tuesday May 23rd 2000 – the day before the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon – a tank crew stationed on the border fence near Kibbutz Menara received an intelligence alert concerning the likelihood of terrorists firing anti-tank missiles at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. Later in the day, the crew spotted a Lebanese vehicle transporting men in civilian clothing and suspected that these were Hizballah terrorists carrying equipment for firing an anti-tank missile. The tank crew was given permission to fire at the suspected terrorists. 

Later it emerged that the men were actually a BBC film crew headed by Jeremy Bowen and that driver Abed Takkoush had been killed. The IDF investigated the incident and issued an apology. Understandably, that tragic incident appears to be still very much at the forefront of Bowen’s mind, although he does not appear to accept that it was possible to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing.”

It is of course worth remembering that those Tweets were sent by the person who is ultimately the gatekeeper of all “accurate and impartial” BBC reporting from the Middle East.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Ask Jeremy: Twitter Q&A gives insight into ME Editor’s approach