BBC presents one-sided report of incident involving European diplomats

On September 20th 2013 the Middle East page of the BBC News website carried an article titled “Diplomats protest over West Bank clash with Israel troops“.

Hirbat al Makhoul

The article, which has undergone some changes (though clearly not enough, as shown below) since its initial publication, relates to an incident which took place near Hemdat in the northern part of the Jordan Rift Valley (in area C, and hence – according to the Oslo agreements – under Israeli control) on Friday, September 20th

On Monday September 16th buildings which had been constructed without planning permission at the Bedouin encampment of Khirbat Makhoul were demolished according to a ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court. The next day the International Red Cross arrived in the area and tried to set up tents, but removed them at the request of the authorities. On Friday a group of political activists and foreign diplomats arrived in the same place with the intention – in defiance of the court’s decision – of setting up more temporary structures described as ‘aid’. Soldiers removed the activists and the equipment they had brought in trucks from the site. 

In the BBC’s account of the incident, the sole oblique reference to the fact that the activists were acting in defiance of a ruling by the Supreme Court comes in one short paragraph.

“The homes in Khirbet al-Makhul were knocked down on Monday after Israel’s High Court ruled that they had been built without the correct permits.”

That statement is followed by this paragraph:

“BBC Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly, in Jerusalem, says the Bedouin villagers of Khirbet al-Makhul have refused to leave the land where they say they have grazed sheep for generations.”

Steering audiences towards a romantic vision of desert shepherds, Connolly makes no attempt to inform readers whether or not the villagers have any legal title to the said land or of the fact that, as is the case in all Western countries, land ownership – even if proved – does not mean that planning permission for the construction of a building is not required. 

Much of the BBC report focuses on claims made by a French diplomat who was present at the incident – reportedly along with others from the EU, Britain, Spain, Ireland and Australia – despite the fact that internationally agreed diplomatic and consular conventions clearly state under the title of “Respect for the laws and regulations of the receiving state”:

“Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.” (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, this is far from the first incident in which diplomats – including some from the UK FCO, which of course still provides the BBC with some of its funding – have displayed a marked lack of respect for such conventions – see here and here.

The BBC article also does not make it clear that members of the various diplomatic corps who took part in this orchestrated event did so in collaboration with politically motivated NGOs including Machsom Watch, ACTED (the Paris-based Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) and EAPPI

The caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the BBC’s report on the incident states:

“French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing said she was dragged from her vehicle”.

In the body of the report, readers are told that:

“One French diplomat said she was forced to the ground from her vehicle.”

And, quoting a Reuters article:

“French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing told Reuters news agency: “They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity.

“This is how international law is being respected here.” “

Interestingly, despite the fact that further information has become available since the publication of the BBC’s article, it has not been updated to inform readers of the fact that Ms Fesneau-Castaing’s allegations appear to be distinctly questionable.

In the video below, Fesneau-Castaing can be seen, together with two other people, at 03:58 sitting in the driving seat of the truck (on its left side) where she remains for a while, apparently talking on her phone. At 04:49 she can be seen moving of her own accord towards the truck’s passenger door on its right hand side and at 05:07 she can be seen sitting in the passenger seat.  At 05:21 she can be seen opening the truck door on the passenger side and at 05:56 she is still sitting in the passenger seat, apparently speaking to soldiers outside the truck.

French diplomat in truck L

French diplomat 0449 moving to right

French diplomat 0507 passenger seat

French diplomat 0521 opens door

The crucial part of the sequence comes from 06:04 when the camera moves to the right hand side of the vehicle.  At 06:05, Fesneau-Castaing can be seen lunging with her upper body out from the truck and one of the soldiers tries to catch her. The soldiers cannot be seen inserting their hands into the truck to drag her out of it, as claimed. At 06:07 Fesneau-Castaing can be seen with her legs still inside the vehicle, which of course causes her to fall to the ground. The soldiers try to pull her up to a standing position, but she is clearly using her body as a dead weight and so remains on the ground where she can still be seen at 06:53 as an Israeli soldier offers her a hand to help her up. 

French diplomat 0605 exits truck

French diplomat on ground

Ms Fesneau-Castaing’s dramatics did not stop there, however. Once on her feet again she was filmed (here at 0:54) hitting a member of the Israeli security forces in a very undiplomatic manner.

Castaing striking police officer

The BBC News website clearly needs to revise this article considerably if it is to comply with BBC editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality because, as it currently stands, it is nothing more than one-sided propaganda for a very blatant political campaign.

Related articles:

Visual Lies: Exposing the Truth Behind Demonstrations in Judea and Samaria

Video contradicts French diplomat claim she was roughed up by Israeli soldiers

Video: French diplomat punching IDF soldier in the face

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BBC’s Wyre Davies plays wingman to anti-Israel NGOs

h/t Dennis    

Treading faithfully in the footsteps of their compatriots of yesteryear, few subjects have been done to death by British journalists in the Middle East as that of the Bedouin in Israel. 

It therefore came as no surprise to find the BBC’s Wyre Davies venturing a whole eleven miles out of Jerusalem last month to report on “Israeli threat to Bedouin villages”.  

Davies’ report appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, as well as on television news, on October 18th. It was also broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on October 25th and can be heard here from around 25:26′. 

Davies opens his radio report from the school constructed without planning permission in the Bedouin encampment of Khan al Ahmar with the uncorroborated statement:

“If they [the children] didn’t come to school here, they wouldn’t get an education anywhere.”

He goes on to say:

“But they’re [the Bedouin] surrounded by illegal Jewish settlements as far as the eye can see and they want the school evicted and demolished.”

Contrary to what Davies would apparently have his listeners believe, in Israel demolition orders on buildings constructed – in any sector – without planning permission are not given out by the neighbours, but by the relevant authorities.

One may think that of all places, it would be wise to ensure that a school was built according to health and safety regulations. Apparently that aspect of the story is of no concern to Davies, who next interviews a woman named as Angela Goldstein and described as “an advocate who campaigns on behalf of this Bedouin community”. 

Ms Goldstein claims that:

“The only schools that are near are settler schools and of course none of these children would be accepted into Jewish-only schools.”

The whiff of racist rhetoric arising from that comment should have wised-up Wyre Davies to his interviewee – did he not already know who she actually is. 

Angela Godfrey Goldstein is no mere ‘advocate’: she is the policy officer for ICAHD – the political NGO which promotes apartheid rhetoric and the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. She is also a member of the ‘Free Gaza Movement’ ,which was recently involved in a scandal due to its anti-Semitic Tweets and of course organizes flotillas. ICAHD’s director Jeff Halper sits on Free Gaza’s Board of Advisors as well as being a member of the ‘Russell Tribunal‘.

In addition, Ms Godfrey Goldstein is a member of Machsom Watch (the same organization which organized a delegation to comfort the families of the arrested murderers of the Fogel family) and her trip to Khan al Ahmar is far from a one-off: she runs a nice line in political trips to the encampment, in which Wyre Davies’ next interviewee, Eid Abu Hamis of the Jahalin tribe, is something of a regular feature. 

Davies sets the romantic scene by informing listeners that he is talking to Eid Abu Hamis Jahalin “under the shade of a fig tree” and then allows his host – unchallenged and unproven – to state that:

“The situation is now difficult due to the settlers who want us to leave”

“They [settlers] attack the woman [sic] and the children”

The Jahalin tribe has been the subject of many articles over on our sister blog CiF Watch, due to the fact that Khan al Ahmar is also a favourite and frequent watering hole for Guardian correspondents. Readers can view more background information here and here

The story which Wyre Davies tells is by no means a new one; in fact, it has been going on for about thirty years and Israeli courts have examined – and rejected – the Jahalin’s claims to the land. 

“The Jahalin have been making claims about the land of Ma’ale Adumim, and squatting on state land assigned to the community, since the 1980’s. They have been warned many times by successive Israeli governments that eventually they would have to move. Most of the Jahalin eventually agreed that they did not have rights to the land. For example, according to a January 29th, 1994 Los Angeles Times article, “no one, not even Hairsh (Mohammed Hairsh, a Jahalin leader) claims that his tribe has a legal right” to the land they have been occupying.

Nevertheless, out of sympathy for the plight of the Jahalin tribe, the Israeli government offered them title to a plot of land if they would agree to leave their encampment near Ma’ale Adumim. This new site is about one kilometer from and more than five times larger than the Jahalin’s previous encampment. In addition, under the proposed agreement with the Jahalin, the Israeli government agreed to provide, at no charge, electricity and water hookups, cement building platforms and building materials.

Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Jahalin tribe accepted Israel’s offer and most of the tribe moved to the new site. The electricity and water hookups were provided, and the platforms were built. However, when a lawyer representing some of the Jahalin returned from a trip abroad and heard of the agreement, she convinced several of the Jahalin families who had not yet moved to stay where they were.”

Bizarrely, Wyre Davies then interviews MK Ariyeh Eldad – presumably supposedly in the name of ‘balance’. Eldad, however, does not represent the Israeli government against which Davies’ other interviewees make charges (he also represents a mere fraction of Israeli opinion with his party – Ichud Leumi – holding a mere 4 seats in the Knesset) and therefore the interview with him can hardly be considered a ‘right of reply’.

During the interview with Eldad, however, Davies manages to squeeze in the following:

“This land…the international community regards as occupied Palestinian land and therefore it’s not Israel’s to claim as state land or otherwise”

Once again, a BBC reporter fails to reflect the fact that there are conflicting and diverse legal opinions about the status of the land in question, as well as neglecting to mention that it falls in Area C which, under the Oslo Accords, is still subject to negotiation.

Next, Davies travels to what he terms “inside Israel proper” and visits the Bedouin encampment at Umm al Hiran in the Negev, which he describes as being situated on “ancestral lands”. He claims that the Bedouin there are scheduled for eviction:

“..because Israel wants to build a new community here, but for religious Jews only.”

That final statement, by the way, is not true. The proposed community includes both religious and secular people, but to pretend otherwise undoubtedly embellishes the story with new dimensions.  

Again, CiF Watch has published much on the subject of land disputes with the Negev Bedouin because that too is a frequent subject for Guardian journalists. Background reading is available here, here and here. Details of Israeli government offers and incentives to the Negev Bedouin squatters can be read here

One organization involved in the politicization and promotion of Negev land disputes as a means of delegitimizing Israel is ‘Adalah‘. Adalah calls for the replacement of the Jewish state with a ‘democratic, bilingual and multicultural’ country in which Jewish immigration would be limited to strictly humanitarian cases but Palestinian refugees and their descendants would be entitled to the ‘right of return’. Ironically, Adalah is also involved in a campaign to remove Jewish residents from areas of the Negev. 

Wyre Davis’ interviewee in Umm al Hiran is Suhad Bishara, whom he describes as “a lawyer who represents the Bedouin in their fight to remain here”.

Ms Bishara is actually the head of the Land and Planning Unit at Adalah. She is allowed by Davies to state – again, unchallenged and unproven – that:

“It’s like the Wild West. Human rights are suspended. The rule of law is suspended. This is black and white. You are not entitled to be here because you are an Arab”. 

So, what do we have here? Well, obviously Wyre Davies is telling a very partisan version of a story without even trying to appear impartial or accurate. The rhetoric he and his interviewees use is clearly designed to leave the audience with shocking impressions of Israeli discrimination and racism towards the Bedouin. Davies does not make a proper attempt to recount the other side of the story apart from the inclusion of a very brief statement by COGAT in the internet version only.

But what is really shocking about this collection of articles and broadcasts by Wyre Davies is his willingness to play wingman for political NGOs dedicated to the abolition of the State of Israel. By failing to declare the affiliations of his interviewees, Davies allows the BBC to be used as a medium for the promotion of their message.

Did ICAHD and/or Adalah organize Davies’ visits to Khan al Ahmar and Umm al Hiran? He certainly would not be the first journalist to take advantage of such trips in exchange for a sympathetic write-up, if he did.

The BBC needs to provide transparency on the background circumstances to these articles immediately.