BBC News sidesteps the topic of Hamas disarmament yet again

On October 2nd an article headlined “Palestinian PM in rare Gaza visit as rift with Hamas eases” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

“The Palestinian prime minister has appealed for unity at the start of a rare trip to Gaza, as part of efforts to end a rift between Fatah and Hamas.

Rami Hamdallah is heading a delegation from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is taking over from an administration disbanded by Hamas.”

This is the BBC News website’s first follow-up report on the latest tentative Hamas-Fatah ‘unity deal’ since the news of Hamas’ announcement of the dissolving of its ‘administrative committee’ in the Gaza Strip broke on September 17th. In its report at the time the BBC News website told readers that:

“It is not yet clear whether Hamas is ready to place its security forces under Mr Abbas’s control – a major sticking point in the past, Associated Press reports.”

Back in 2014 when a previous (failed) ‘unity deal’ was being negotiated, the BBC similarly told its audiences that:

“…a Hamas official told the Associated Press that there were still disagreements over who should be responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza, and whether the PA’s own security forces would be allowed a significant presence in the territory.” [emphasis added]

That three year-old formula appears again in this latest article:

“Despite the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah, a number of issues are yet to be resolved.

It is unclear to what extent Hamas will allow the PA’s forces to take over security roles, and what will happen to thousands of Hamas civil servants who have not been on the PA’s payroll for the past decade.”

Since the BBC last reported on this story in September, a senior Hamas official has made statements relating to the issue of Hamas disarmament.

“Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Thursday that the Gaza-based terror group is not prepared to discuss the dissolution of its military wing during talks with the Fatah party, as the two sides attempt to form a unity government. […]

“This issue [of Hamas disarming] is not up for discussion, not previously and neither will it be in the future,” Abu Marzouk said in an interview with the semi-official Turkish news agency Al-Andalous. “The weapons of the resistance are for the protection of the Palestinian people, and it is inconceivable that Hamas will lay down its weapons as long as its land is occupied and its people dispersed.” […]

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has a reported  27,000 armed men divided into six regional brigades, with 25 battalions and 106 companies.”

Despite its previous enthusiastic coverage of the prospect of a Hamas-Fatah unity government, the BBC has not since reported Abu Marzouk’s statements.

In a recent interview with Egyptian media, however, the PA president clarified that the issue of Hamas disarmament is a deal breaker.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he would not be prepared to accept Hamas keeping its armed forces in Gaza like Hezbollah does in Lebanon and demanded “full control” of the Strip, including over the border, security and all the ministries. […]

“I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon” in Gaza, Abbas said in an interview late Monday with the Egyptian news station CBC, pointing to an early point of conflict with Hamas, which has vowed not to turn in its arms. […]

Hamas, however, has said that it will not even broach the subject of dismantling its vast military wing during negotiations, leading some to believe the group was seeking to follow in the footsteps of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is part of the government but retains its own army.

Abbas addressed this point specifically, saying, “I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience of Lebanon” in Gaza. He added that just as his security forces arrest those in the West Bank with illegal arms, the same would occur in Gaza.”

Significantly, in the same interview:

“Abbas noted that Hamas is still an “Islamist group,” while Fatah is a secular party. However, he said, the terror group still constitutes a “part of the Palestinian people,” and would be included in a Palestinian government as long as it agrees to uphold the policies of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the largest Palestinian umbrella group. Abbas is the head of the PLO.

The PLO has recognized the State of Israel, while Hamas refuses to do so and continues to call for the Jewish state’s destruction.”

However, Hamas’ Abu Marzouk also recently stated that:

“…Hamas would not be willing to accede to the demands of the so-called Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations — that it renounce terrorism and agree to accept past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the largest Palestinian political umbrella group.”

In addition, the US Middle East envoy said that:

“…there would be no dealing with a Palestinian government including Hamas unless or until the terror group recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism. […]

…Greenblatt reiterated the so-called Quartet Principles that the terror group must meet in order for a government it sits in to receive diplomatic recognition.

“The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.”

One of those “previous agreements” between the Palestinians and Israel is the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That treaty states, inter alia, in Article XIV:

“Except for the Palestinian Police and the Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

And:

“Except for the arms, ammunition and equipment of the Palestinian Police described in Annex I, and those of the Israeli military forces, no organization, group or individual in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall manufacture, sell, acquire, possess, import or otherwise introduce into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip any firearms, ammunition, weapons, explosives, gunpowder or any related equipment, unless otherwise provided for in Annex I.”

In other words, the failure of a Palestinian Authority unity government to disarm all Hamas’ armed personnel (including its terrorist militia) would constitute a breach of one of those “previous agreements” – as both Mahmoud Abbas and Jason Greenblatt obviously appreciate.

The BBC’s report, however, once again failed to make any effort to enhance audience understanding of those points and – while refraining from reporting the relevant statements made by the Quartet, the PA president and the US administration – instead told readers that:

“Israel also resolutely opposes any involvement by Hamas in the PA. Along with several countries and organisations, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group and has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that contains Hamas members.”

Yet again the BBC’s superficial reporting on a potential Hamas-Fatah reconciliation falls far short of providing its funding public with comprehensive information needed to properly understand the story.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

BBC fails to clarify to audiences significance of PUG failure to disarm Hamas

Dumbed down BBC reporting on the Palestinian Unity Government continues

 

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The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part three

As documented here previously (see here and here) the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on September 17th devoted over a third of its airtime to coverage of a 106 word statement put out by Hamas earlier that day.

That subject was also the lead story in the evening edition of ‘Newshour‘ on the same day.

“In the Palestinian territories, Hamas – the faction that’s ruled the Gaza Strip for the past decade – says it is willing to dissolve the body that oversees the territory and to allow a unity government to sit ahead of new elections. We get reaction from an Israeli MP and a senior Hamas official.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy’s dramatically worded introduction to the first part of the twelve minute-long item (from 00:47 here) once again misled listeners by implying that the 2006 PLC election was confined to the Gaza Strip and that Hamas has ruled the territory since 2006 rather than 2007.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now we begin with a slim shaft of light piercing the darkened corners of the moribund Middle East peace process. It holds out the potential for reconciliation; not yet between the Israelis and Palestinians but within the Palestinian political family itself. Hamas – the faction that has ruled Gaza for the past decade – says it’s willing to dissolve the body that oversees the territory and allow a unity government to sit ahead of new elections. That government would be headed by the 82 year-old leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas whose Fatah faction lost the election in Gaza in 2006 and whose rule has since then been confined to the West Bank. Hamas – regarded as a terrorist organisation by the United States, the European Union and Israel among others – agreed to the change at talks in Cairo. Well Gaza has long been subject to a blockade by Egypt and Israel and in recent months there’s been added pressure from the Palestinian Authority which has significantly reduced the electricity supplies to the territory. So will this agreement stick or will it quickly peel away like previous expressions of unity? The long-suffering citizens of Gaza are divided.”

After listeners had heard two ‘random man in the street’ interviews, Coomarasamy went on to present an edited version of his previous conversation with Fatah’s Nabil Shaath, including the unchallenged description of the Israeli government as “colonialist”.

Shaath: “I do not see how we can face Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing settler colonialist government and we cannot really make use of any potential changes in the world if we are not united.”

Coomarasamy then spoke to MK Sharren Haskel, finding it necessary to make a clarification at the end of their conversation:

Coomarasamy: “Sharren Haskel, that Likud party MP there, referring during the interview to Mahmoud Abbas as Abu Mazen and Judea and Samaria…eh…also…eh…known as the West Bank.”

Listeners next heard analysis from BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell which was similar to her contribution in the earlier edition of the programme and repeated the claim that:

Knell: “…Israel always accuses Mr Abbas of not representing all the Palestinian people…”

Knell also told listeners that “positive comments” from the UN’s Middle East peace process coordinator should be interpreted as “acknowledgement that Hamas must be brought into the political scene”.

Later on in the programme (from 30:08 here) Coomarasamy again returned to the same topic.

Coomarasamy: “Let’s get more now on our main news today: the news that the Palestinian group Hamas has agreed to dissolve the body which controls the Gaza Strip and to allow a unity government to oversee that territory before the first election there since 2006 takes place. Well, earlier in the programme we heard reactions to this agreement – that was announced after talks in Cairo – from the rival Palestinian faction Fatah and from an MP with the ruling party in Israel. Well, for more insight into why the decision was taken, I’ve been speaking to Ghazi Hamad who’s a senior Hamas official in Gaza.”

Throughout that interview BBC regular Ghazi Hamad made repeated references to the ‘peace process’ which of course has been completely rejected by Hamas throughout all its decades of existence – although Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify that relevant point to his listeners.

Hamad: “The Egyptians succeeded to convince them [Hamas] that now it’s a good time now to start reconciliation with Fatah factions and because the miserable situation of the region and because of the problems in the peace process. So we need now to bring the policy and together and they succeed to convince Hamas that you have to show more flexibility.”

Coomarasamy: “What’s convinced Hamas then that this is the right time? What has convinced Hamas that these are the right conditions?”

Hamad: “You know, you know before that many people involved and there were many mediations between Hamas and Fatah but Hamas was doubtful about the intention of the president Abu Mazen to implement the agreement. So they found that Egypt is a big country and Egypt could be a good guarantee. They can give some assurances that they can keep and protect the agreement.”

Coomarasamy: “What about the pressure that’s been placed on Hamas, on Gaza, by – well, obviously by years of a blockade from both Israel and Egypt – but more recently by the electricity being cut off for many hours during the day? What role has that played in this decision?”

Listeners then heard that Hamas is “suffering” and – as was the case with one of his previous interviewees – Coomarasamy failed to challenge the inaccurate depiction of counter-terrorism measures as a “siege”.

Hamad: “I don’t…I don’t deny that [the] situation in Gaza’s very, very hard. People are suffering. Hamas is also suffering because not easy now to rule Gaza and the policy of the political isolation from the international community, from the blockade and siege on Gaza from the Israeli occupation and also from some action taken by the President Abbas against Gaza, ‘specially when he cuts part of the electricity and he stop paying salaries and paying some services in Gaza. I know that Hamas is working hard in order to offer services for people but I know it’s not easy for them to continue for [a] long time.”

Predictably, Coomarasamy refrained from asking Hamad why Hamas did supply electricity to the homes of its own officials even as the ordinary people in Gaza had to make do with three hours a day or why the terror group prioritises spending on weapons and tunnels over the welfare of the civilians in Gaza.

Coomarasamy: “Why is this going to be any more successful than previous attempts to form a government of national unity that have come to nothing?”

Hamad: “For many reasons. First of all I think that President Abbas he needs to show the world that he is the president for the whole Palestinian territories and now because he’s going now to give a speech in the United Nations and to meet the President Trump and he want to show that he’s real represent for the Palestinian people. And the same time because he is suffering that the peace process is failed and now there’s no horizon for the peace process and also big division affects the ability of the Abu Mazen to achieve any achievements or goals from the Israeli side. And the same time because Hamas also the big crisis in Gaza and they need to get out from this crisis and to reduce the burdens on their shoulders because they have 2 million people who need services and health, education, sewage, water and you know the situation in Gaza is not easy. So I think both of them they need each other. They need now to work together to find a new track for struggling against the occupation and the same time for improving the services, especially in Gaza.”

Coomarasamy: “The Israelis are very sceptical that this will come to anything and this will make any difference whatsoever to the peace process.”

Hamad: “I think Israel is not interested in peace. I think that Israel will try now – they will try – to uproot all the Palestinians at terms no to be united because it’s the interest – a big interest for Israel – to keep West Bank isolated completely from the Gaza Strip and to make a split between Hamas and Fatah. This is a golden opportunity for Israel to continue its colonial project especially in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I think that it’s time now for Hamas and Abu Mazen to understand there is no other choice. We have to work together and we have to struggle against the occupation.”

Failing to challenge that additional allegation of ‘colonialism’, Coomarasamy closed the softball interview there. As we see, although he did find it necessary to clarify to listeners that Judea & Samaria is “also known as the West Bank”, Coomarasamy did not ask Hamad to clarify his use of the term ‘occupation’ or challenge Hamad’s preposterous allegations that Israel is responsible for both the lack of progress in the peace process and the Hamas-Fatah split. Most importantly, Coomarasmay avoided the all-important question of whether this particular ‘unity deal’ will mean compliance with existing agreements between the PA and Israel – including the disarmament of terror groups.

Although ‘Newshour’ devoted nearly a third of the airtime in its two September 17th editions to this one story, listeners heard little information crucial to its proper understanding. They did however hear completely unchallenged politicised messaging on a ‘siege’ and ‘colonialism’ that do not exist.  

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The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

 

 

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 17th was centred around the 106 word long statement put out by Hamas earlier that day.

Following the earlier report on that story – which was over twelve and a half minutes long – the same programme also aired an additional item on the topic which brought the total time allotted to the subject to over twenty minutes.

Presenter James Coomarsamy introduced the second item (from 45:06 here) thus:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Let’s return now to our main story today: the announcement by the Palestinian group Hamas that it will dissolve the administration that runs Gaza and hold talks with its rival Fatah about forming a government of national unity and holding elections. I’ve been discussing this with the Palestinian academic Khaled Hroub – he’s a professor of Middle Eastern studies and the author of two books on Hamas – and Oliver McTernan, the director of the mediation group ‘Forward Thinking’ who’s been working on bringing the sides in the Middle East closer together. So why does he think Hamas has done this now?”

BBC audiences have heard from both Qatar-based Khaled Hroub and from the director of the UK charity ‘Forward Thinking’ on previous occasions but it would of course have been helpful to listeners trying to put the ‘analysis’ they heard into context had they been informed that McTernan is a proponent of the view that being a terror organisation committed to Israel’s destruction should not disqualify Hamas from governing the Palestinian Authority or being part of negotiations to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, Coomarasamy did not comply with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which require the “particular viewpoint” of contributors to be clarified in advance.

Given McTernan’s approach, his promotion of Hamas favoured terminology by inaccurately describing the restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege” was not unexpected. Coomarasamy however did not challenge that inaccurate portrayal or the false linkage McTernan tried to create between Israel’s counter-terrorism measures and the electricity crisis in Gaza.

McTernan: “Of course life for ordinary people in Gaza is under tremendous pressure at the moment because it’s almost ten years of siege and that means that the flow of goods, the flow of people and in particular the current situation on electricity – where you have roughly three hours a day for the average person – is putting a lot of strain on ordinary life in Gaza.”

Neither was it much of a surprise to hear McTernan later repeat his long-held view that the international community should have embraced the terror group’s victory in the 2006 PLC election.

McTernan: “…so I think what’s needed now is a wise action by both leaderships [Hamas and Fatah] to say we move into a situation where we can share power and then we go back to the electorate and stand for election and both sides should be committed this time round to fully respecting the outcome of the election. Because 2006 was recognised as one of the most open and fair elections in the Arab world and sadly the international community were responsible greatly for not respecting that outcome.”

The very relevant fact that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that rejects recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the question of how that can possibly align with the Palestinian Authority’s existing commitments to agreements signed with Israel was not raised by Coomarasamy in this item even when McTernan pontificated on what Israel should do.

McTernan: “I think if Israel had wisdom they would see Palestinian division is in fact not in their interest. It’s both in their immediate and long-term interest first of all to see stability both in Gaza and in the West Bank and secondly to allow the Palestinian political leadership to form itself in a way that can truly represent the Palestinian cause and therefore be an effective partner.”

McTernan’s later additional inaccurate references to a “siege” likewise did not produce any challenge from Coomarasamy.

McTernan: “…the reality of the situation in the region is that Abbas or Hamas don’t control the freedom of movement so I think Israel is a big player in this. They control what goes into Gaza, who can come out, who can go in. I think what needs to be looked at is the whole siege of Gaza and I think that will require much more international determination both from the West and from the Gulf countries and Egypt to sort of say to Israel ‘look, it’s not in your interest to keep the siege going’.”

In among McTernan’s barely concealed advocacy of Hamas talking points listeners did hear some relevant points raised by Khaled Hroub, including clarification of the significance of Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip, the relevance of Egypt’s concerns about the ISIS presence in Sinai and the fact that after ten years of unaccountable absolute power, Mahmoud Abbas might be less willing to embrace parliamentary limitations and accountability. Those topics were not however explored further.

While over twenty minutes of coverage of a 106 word statement from Hamas might seem generous or even excessive, the binge was not yet over: the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day also led with the same story and that will be discussed in a future post.

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

On September 17th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ devoted over a third of its one hour of airtime to its lead story – billed “Hope for Unity in Palestinian Territories”.

“Hamas, who govern the Gaza strip, have agreed to steps towards ending a long feud with their rivals Fatah who govern the West Bank.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item (from 00:11 here) with an odd portrayal of the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election as relating to the Gaza Strip only.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“And we’re going to start with a long-awaited and potentially significant political gesture in the Middle East. It’s not directly related to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but to the internal Palestinian struggle which has a bearing on the hopes for peace. It’s a gesture that comes from Hamas; the Palestinian faction that won control of the Gaza Strip from its rival Fatah in an election in 2006 and took full control of Gaza by force a year later. Well Hamas is still considered a banned terrorist organisation in many parts of the world and its presided over a decade of increasing desperation for its citizens. Gaza is subject to a blockade by Israel and Egypt and in recent months its citizens have faced an extra squeeze with the reduction of their electricity supply. But now, in talks presided over by Egypt, Hamas has agreed to dissolve the administration in Gaza with a view to holding a future election. We’ll discuss what lies behind that decision and what it might lead to in just a moment but first, a reminder of what daily life is like in Gaza. Najla is a mother of two young children. She was born in Gaza and has lived there all her life and she spoke to Newshour last month.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of the long monologue from the inadequately introduced Oxfam employee Najla Shawa that BBC World Service listeners had already heard on September 3rd. Repeating her claim that the Gaza Strip is “a big prison”, Shawa added to Coomarasamy’s misleading and inaccurate implied linkage between the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip and Israeli counter-terrorism measures in the form of border controls.

Next Coomarasamy introduced Yolande Knell who presented a factual picture of the Hamas announcement previously described by him as a “gesture” – although listeners may have been surprised to hear Knell describe “the administrative committee it [Hamas] set up in March” as “really controversial” given that the BBC has not previously reported on that topic.

Following an account of Egypt’s role in the appearance of Hamas’ announcement, Knell gave an accurate portrayal of some of the methods used by Mahmoud Abbas to pressure Hamas.

“Well some people are quite surprised that they [Hamas] have made these concessions, as they’re seen, particularly for example getting rid of this administrative committee. Previously it had said that it wouldn’t take these kinds of steps until the Palestinian Authority lifted some of the measures that it’s imposed upon Gaza in recent months because we’ve really seen this political divide between Hamas and Fatah deepening recently with President Abbas trying to pile on the political pressure and now you have only four hours on, sixteen hours off when it comes to mains electricity in Gaza. There’s been a longtime energy shortage but it’s got much worse because the PA put up a fuel tax for the sole power plant in Gaza. Then it instructed Israel to reduce mains electricity that it provides to Gaza. This is having effects on hospitals, on waste water management, with sewage being pumped into the sea and it’s also having a big economic effect. It also slashed the salaries for civil servants – PA civil servants – who were still receiving their salaries in Gaza.”

Although Knell has produced one reasonable report on the topic of the Gaza electricity crisis in the past, for the most part content on that topic produced by her and other BBC journalists has encouraged audiences to mistakenly believe that there is a connection between that crisis and Israel.

Coomarasamy then introduced “a view from Fatah” given by Abbas’ advisor Nabil Shaath. However, when Shaath stated that “many of us have some hesitation about the degree to which Hamas will be willing to go to the details”, he failed to question him further, passing up the opportunity to enhance listener understanding of the potential pitfalls that have dogged previous ‘unity’ agreements.

Shaath’s propagandist portrayal of Israel’s government as “colonialist” did not prompt comment or challenge from Coomarasamy.

Shaath: “I do not see how we can face Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing settler colonialist government and we cannot really make use of any potential changes in the world if we are not united.”

BBC audiences used to hearing from journalists and Palestinian commentators alike that Israel is responsible for the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip may well have been surprised by Shaath’s admission of Hamas responsibility for the situation of the people of Gaza.

Shaath: “…Hamas has done much worse. Hamas destroyed their opportunities. Hamas subjected them to risks that they couldn’t take. Hamas led them into a life of isolation…”

Following his conversation with Shaath, Coomarasamy returned to Yolande Knell and – in contrast to the BBC’s written report on the topic – listeners were told of some of the factors that will affect any ‘unity deal’.

Knell: “The devil now I think is in the detail with what happens. We’ve seen this when previous arrangements have broken down. Who are going to be the key players in a national unity government? What’s going to happen about managing the border crossings? Will PA security forces be allowed to function in Gaza once again? What will happen then to the Hamas security forces – which is what you see on the street at the moment doing everything from…eh….controlling traffic.”

Listeners also heard a very rare acknowledgement of the reason for the collapse of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 2014: an outcome portrayed at the time by the BBC’s Middle East editor as being entirely attributable to Israel.

“Israel of course views Hamas as a terrorist group, as does the US, the EU and others. And we’ve had some Israeli commentators pointing out how this actually makes things very difficult for Mr Abbas because when there was a national unity government agreed more than three years ago, this was a trigger for the failure of the last round of peace talks.”

Knell did however come up with some bizarre spin on the fact that the PA president – whose elected term expired in January 2009 – has no control over – or presence in – part of the territory he supposedly heads.

Knell: “…Israel always accuses Mr Abbas of not representing all the Palestinian people; of being weak in a way.”

Although listeners did hear some important information in this item that has long been absent from BBC coverage, one aspect of the story ignored throughout the discussions on the topic of the reasons behind Hamas’ announcement is that of the public unrest that apparently prompted Hamas to make a large purchase of fuel earlier this month. As the Times of Israel’s analyst noted

“[Hamas leader] Haniyeh understands that, with little hope on the horizon, the severe economic crisis in Gaza can end in one of two ways: war with Israel, which could decimate the movement’s leadership and turn the population against it, or a “Gaza Spring” that would have similar results.

The best he can do under the circumstances is compromise, even if others say he caved in.”

The second item in this programme relating to the same topic will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns 

 

 

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 17th found the headline “Hamas says it is ready to hold elections” under which they were told that:

“The Palestinian militant group signals it is ready to end its feud with Fatah and hold elections”.

The link leads to a similarly titled report – “Hamas says it is ready to hold first elections since 2006” – which in its original version included closing sentences wrongly implying that the policy document published by Hamas in May replaces its 1988 charter.

The current version of the report includes statements that – in light of the BBC’s chronic avoidance of coverage of internal Palestinian affairs – audiences may have had difficulty following.

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas says it is ready to dissolve the committee that rules Gaza and hold a general election for the first time since 2006.”

BBC audiences were not told of the creation of that ‘administrative committee’ earlier this year or of the significance of that move by Hamas in prompting Mahmoud Abbas’ subsequent financial sanctions against the Gaza Strip.

“Fatah’s deputy leader Mahmoud al-Aloul gave a tentative welcome to the news and called for other issues to be resolved, including control of border crossings.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the election of al-Aloul to the position of vice-chair of Fatah in February.

A series of Palestinian ‘unity governments’ – or proposals for them – have repeatedly come to a swift end in the past but the BBC’s report includes just one opaque sentence on a factor of prime importance to audience understanding of the significance of this latest announcement from Hamas.

“It is not yet clear whether Hamas is ready to place its security forces under Mr Abbas’s control – a major sticking point in the past, Associated Press reports.”

Exactly three years ago a BBC report on the ‘unity government’ of the time included a very similar statement:

“However, a Hamas official told the Associated Press that there were still disagreements over who should be responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza, and whether the PA’s own security forces would be allowed a significant presence in the territory. He described the deal as “partial”.” [emphasis added]

Now as then, the BBC makes no effort to clarify to its audiences that any ‘unity government’ which refrained from disarming Hamas’ terrorist militia in the Gaza Strip would fail to meet the Palestinian Authority’s commitments under existing agreements with Israel.

Neither does it inform readers that if Hamas and other terrorist groups are not disarmed by a PA ‘unity government’ and the territory not brought under the sole control of PA security forces, then the Gaza Strip – along with the rest of the PA-controlled areas – will find itself in a ‘Lebanon-style’ situation whereby the actions of a foreign-sponsored terrorist organisation can continue to spark conflict whenever that suits its own (or its sponsor’s) agenda.

Another important aspect of this story is pointed out at the Times of Israel:

“The main problem with the timing from Fatah’s point of view is that in three days, Abbas is due to meet with Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

One can only imagine how Abbas’s meeting with the United States president will be perceived if he will have just agreed to form a national unity government with a terror group, and especially if he speaks about reconciliation with Hamas in his UN address.

Abbas will want answers from Trump about his administration’s as-yet-unstated commitment to a two-state solution. It would be odd for Abbas to talk up a Palestinian state after agreeing to share power with a group that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

It was of course Abbas’ decision to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas in April 2014 which brought months of talks between Israel and the Palestinians to an end.

As was the case when the last ‘unity government’ failed to get off the ground three years ago, once again we see that the BBC’s superficial reporting on a potential Hamas-Fatah reconciliation falls far short of providing its funding public with comprehensive information needed to understand the story.

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BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first part of an item about the Gaza Strip aired in the September 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend‘ (from 26:30) which ended with presenter Paul Henley saying:

Henley: “Najla – a mother of two young children with impeccable English who lives in Gaza. And she paints a grim picture of a place to live, of a quality of life, Stewart.”

Studio guest Stewart Purvis for some reason responded by bringing up an unrelated BBC linked story and misleading listeners with regard to Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 during which all the communities in – rather than “around” – Gaza were of course evacuated. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Purvis: “Yes; very, very depressing to listen to and it’s actually about ten years since I was last in Gaza visiting the BBC bureau there and I came away pessimistic and I suppose my pessimism was partly confirmed when a few months later the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was taken hostage, if you remember, and happily was later released. But I just…I mean at that point the Israelis had withdrawn from settlements around Gaza and there was some sense of momentum. But that momentum seems to have completely disappeared and there is really so little signs of anything positive happening almost on any front.”

While one might have expected the discussion to turn at that point to relevant topics such as the 2007 violent Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip, the terror organisation’s subsequent escalation of attacks on Israeli civilians and its Israel erasing agenda or the decade-long rift between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, instead Henley turned (at 36:03) to his other guest, Jane Kinninmont, with a topic much less helpful to audience understanding of the topic of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

Henley: “The residents of Gaza have been off the news radar a bit, haven’t they Jane?”

In the eight months between January and August 2017, the BBC itself has produced at least 18 reports about the Gaza Strip on its English language services alone. In addition to its regular reporting, since the end of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the BBC has broadcast a documentary on that topic and produced special ‘anniversary’ coverage both six months and twelve months after the war. How Henley reached the conclusion that Gaza is “off the news radar” is therefore unclear but his guest played along with that notion.

Kinninmont: “Absolutely; partly because it’s a story that doesn’t change. There’s coverage when there is a conflict but I think the repetitive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to it really falling off the news agenda. People are much more interested in other parts of the Middle East. But there may be changes to come for Gaza.”

Henley: “Because of the new US administration or what?”

Kinninmont: “Partly and because of the row that’s been simmering in the Gulf between Qatar – which is the major donor to Gaza – and the UAE, Saudi and Egypt on the other side.”

Henley: “Go on, explain.”

Listeners then got to hear a version of a story which the BBC has been ignoring for months.

Kinninmont: “So it’s an interesting little-noticed thing that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt really want to try to rein in Qatari influence over Islamist groups throughout the region and they are trying to see if they can broker some kind of deal that would bring a Fatah strongman into power in Gaza – so someone from the same party as Mahmoud Abbas. Ah…it’s a man called Mohammed Dahlan who’s been a kind of strongman in Palestinian politics for many years – now believed to be resident in Abu Dhabi – and they are trying to cook up some kind of offer where Gaza would see more ability to trade in return for internal political changes. Now who knows; there have been many attempts to open up Gaza’s economy and solve politics through economics and none have worked so far. But there is at least some attempt going on just now.”

Clearly listeners would not understand from that portrayal that Dahlan is Abbas’ bitter rival and that some of the measures imposed by the Palestinian Authority in recent months that have contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip have been linked to the Hamas-Dahlan overtures.

Henley then promoted another questionable notion:

Henley: “Najla sounds like an outward-looking woman interested in world affairs but she’s not particularly interested in the politics. She hasn’t got time to worry about the greater picture when she’s struggling to stop food rotting in her cupboards when the fridge is off.”

A quick look at Oxfam employee Najla Shawa’s Twitter timeline would have relieved Henley of that mistaken impression. This, for example, is a Tweet relating to the July 14th terror attack in which two Israeli policemen were murdered in Jerusalem by three Arab-Israeli terrorists from Umm el Fahm.

Jane Kinninmont closed the item with another comment that did nothing to enhance audience understanding of the stated subject matter of this item.

Kinninmont: “Absolutely. Palestinians are preoccupied with daily fire-fighting. But it is interesting they have some of the highest rates of social media usage in the world. When people can actually get online – when they have enough electricity to do so – because of the isolation and immobility many Palestinians are trying to be politically active online, trying to change opinion here in the West.”

So as we see, in this very long item the BBC World Service promoted a carefully framed picture of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip which once again failed to adequately clarify its background. While excluding Hamas terrorism from audience view, the item did however steer listeners towards the erroneous belief that the crisis involving electricity, water, medical and sewage has some connection to the blockade imposed by Israel, while completely ignoring the topic of why that measure is necessary.  

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More PA incitement the BBC will not report

As has been noted here on many occasions, the BBC serially avoids any serious reporting on the issue of Palestinian Authority incitement – including that relating to the sensitive issue of al Aqsa mosque.

For some years now the PA has been exploiting the anniversary of an incident that took place in 1969 when a mentally ill Christian Australian tourist set fire to the mosque. As the Times of Israel reported, this year was no exception.

“The Palestinian Authority and Hamas both revived the lie that a Jew or Jews were behind the 1969 arson of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by a Christian fundamentalist, which took place 48 years ago.

Marking the August 23 anniversary, both parties again blamed Jews and tied the old incident to recent conflict at the Temple Mount, which saw weeks of protests and violence. […]

Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, Supreme Sharia Judge in the Palestinian Authority and a close adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday, in statements published by the official PA news site Wafa, that “the fires that erupted in the Al-Aqsa Mosque 48 years ago by a Jewish terrorist of Australian origin are still burning today, as long as the noble sanctuary and the holy city [of Jerusalem] are violated by the Israeli occupation.””

Palestinian Media Watch reports that in addition, official PA television aired a ‘documentary’ on the topic that was also shown in previous years.

“With Palestinian-Israeli tensions over Jerusalem’s Old City and the Temple Mount still simmering, the Palestinian Authority has chosen to intensify Palestinian anger and hate by repeating one of its most dangerous libels – that “senior Jews of high position” planned the arson of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969. In a documentary broadcast on PA TV, it was presented as fact that not only did Jews plan the arson of the Mosque but also that after the fire started Israel shut off the water supply, preventing fire fighters from efficiently putting out the fire. […]

“PA TV’s decision to broadcast this Al-Aqsa libel now, follows its ongoing attempts to keep Palestinian hatred of Israel simmering over the Temple Mount issue. Last month the Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs told Palestinian viewers on television that Israel was planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque…”

The BBC frequently tells its audiences that ‘tensions’ in Jerusalem are caused by the belief on the part of Palestinians that Israel intends to alter the status quo on Temple Mount or even that al Aqsa mosque itself is ‘in danger’. It does not however bother to inform audiences why such baseless beliefs are so enduring and widespread and how they are nourished by incitement in the PA media and from even the highest of PA officials.

Without that crucial information, BBC audiences clearly cannot properly understand the recurring story of ‘clashes’ in Jerusalem.

Weekend long read

1) Back in April the BBC News website told audiences that the Israeli prime minister had ‘snubbed’ the German foreign minister over the latter’s insistence on meeting what the BBC described as “human rights activists”. At the Fathom Journal, Gadi Taub takes a closer look at that story.

“Gabriel, on the occasion of an official visit for Holocaust Memorial Day, announced that he would meet the representatives of two radical left-wing civil society organisations – Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. When Netanyahu said that if those meetings went ahead he would boycott the visit and refuse to meet Gabriel, many thought he was overreacting. Few, however, expected Gabriel to choose those two organisations over Israel’s prime minster (and acting foreign minister). And when he did, things began to appear in a new light. It no longer seemed that the German foreign minister made an honest mistake, not knowing how controversial these organisations were among Israelis. It appeared, instead, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was us, the Israeli public, who had made a mistake in our assumptions about German-Israeli relations.”

2) At the JCPA, Ambassador Alan Baker examines the issue of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA.  

“Unlike its sister organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated since 1950 to coordinate the handling of all refugee communities worldwide, UNRWA was established in that same year to deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees, thereby excluding them from the protection of the UNHCR.

While the aims and operations of the UNHCR are based on international instruments – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – UNRWA was never provided with a specific statute or charter. It has operated since its inception under a general mandate, renewed every three years by the General Assembly.

The major distinction and main reason for the establishment of a separate agency to deal with Palestinian refugees, was to crystallize their sole aim – not rehabilitation and resettlement, as was the aim of UNHCR – but solely “return.” Inclusion of Palestinian refugees under the general UNHCR definition of “refugees” would have been interpreted as a waiver of their claim that “return” was the sole solution.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has a new report on a topic habitually absent from BBC coverage of the Middle East: Hamas’ indoctrination of children in summer camps.

“This year, as in previous years, summer camps were held throughout the Gaza Strip, attended by tens of thousands of Gazan children and adolescents. Most of the camps were organized by Hamas, some by other terrorist organizations and institutions. The camps provide a wide range of activities, from ordinary summer pastimes (sports, arts and crafts, computers, day trips, etc.) to military training and ideological indoctrination. Hamas attributes great importance to the summer camps, considering them an effective means for influencing the younger generation and training a cadre of operatives and supporters for its military wing and movement institutions.

An examination of some of the closing ceremonies of the 2017 summer camps shows they emphasized military topics coordinated to the age of the participants. The older the campers were, the more and varied military training they received. The adolescents, some of them who would join Hamas military wing in the near future, wore uniforms and learned how to dismantle and reassemble weapons. They also practiced simulating infiltrating Israel through tunnels, attacking IDF posts, taking control of tank positions, and capturing IDF soldiers and abducting them to the Gaza Strip. They trained with real weapons, mostly light arms and RPG launchers.”

4) At the FDD, Grant Rumley takes a look at Mahmoud Abbas’ handling of last month’s violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere following the murder of two Israeli policemen in a terror attack on July 14th.

“The closest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got to an actual third intifada, or uprising, happened late this past month when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas mobilized the shadowy militia elements of his party for widespread Friday protests. What the lone-wolf stabbing attacks that have plagued Israel for the past several years lacked—and what both the first and second intifadas had—was political leadership and support. In activating the Tanzim, a faction of his own party that Abbas has struggled to control, the Palestinian President was sanctioning his people’s unrest.”

BBC audiences still not getting news of Palestinian politics

The last few weeks have seen some interesting developments in the world of Palestinian politics, although those getting their news from the BBC will of course be unaware of that because – as often noted on these pages – the corporation largely avoids that subject.

BBC’s Knell omits back stories in portrayal of PA succession

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics

Abbas’ Fatah reelection ignored by the BBC – in English

BBC News ignores the story of the new Fatah vice-chair

Internal Palestinian politics again off the BBC’s agenda

In the second half of July listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard Yolande Knell make the following unexplained statement:

“On this trip I meet some Gazans clinging to rumours of political solutions involving the return of exiled figures or improved relations with Egypt.” 

The day after that programme was broadcast, one of those mysterious “exiled figures” – Mohammad Dahlan – gave an interview to AP in which he claimed that his talks with Hamas and Egypt will, among other things, bring about the opening of the Rafah crossing. On the same day, BBC Arabic produced a report concerning that topic, but without any mention of Dahlan.

Four days later, on July 27th, an unusual event took place in Gaza.

“Rival Palestinian lawmakers came together for the first time in a decade on Thursday in Gaza’s parliament, the latest sign that an emerging Gaza power-sharing deal between the territory’s Hamas rulers and a former Gaza strongman is moving forward.

Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief and Hamas rival, praised the new partnership, addressing the gathering by video conference from his exile in the United Arab Emirates.

“We have made mutual efforts with our brothers in Hamas to restore hope for Gaza’s heroic people,” Dahlan told the lawmakers.

The gathering included dozens of legislators from Hamas, several Dahlan backers from the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and independents.

Fatah legislators loyal to Abbas stayed away from the meeting, underscoring the deepening rift in the movement. Dahlan fell out with Abbas in 2010.

The legislature has been idled since Hamas routed pro-Abbas forces, then under Dahlan’s command, and took over Gaza in 2007.

Over the past decade, only Hamas lawmakers met in parliament to pass resolutions concerning Gaza.”

On August 1st local media reported that PA president Mahmoud Abbas was making his own overtures to Hamas which included a meeting with a Hamas delegation in Ramallah.

“Earlier this year, the PA cut its payments for Israeli-supplied electricity the Strip by 35%, and slashed salaries for government personnel in Gaza.

The feud between the two Palestinian factions — Fatah, which controls the PA in the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza — also brought about a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.

A deal to truck in fuel from Egypt to keep a power plant running was brokered by Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah strongman, seen as a top rival to Abbas. […]

The new framework reportedly being discussed between the two sides would enable the PA to restore electricity supplies and allow Gazan banks to trade in foreign currency again, according to the daily.

But in return, Hamas must publicly renege on its agreement with Dahlan, and dismantle its governing structures in Gaza, which, according to the PA, contravene previous agreements between the group and the PA.”

Days later, Abbas reportedly voiced his intention to keep up the financial pressure on Hamas.

“”While there is a severe electricity crisis in Gaza, Hamas provides light for its underground tunnels and the homes of its officials around the clock,” Abbas told a group of prominent visitors from East Jerusalem at his Ramallah headquarters.

Abbas’s government in the West Bank began earlier this year to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza. Such cuts have exacerbated blackouts. […]

Abbas told the gathering that the PA would “continue the cuts in Gaza, gradually, unless Hamas accepts the requirements of the reconciliation.””

Meanwhile, the negotiations concerning yet another attempt at Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ apparently continue.

How this saga will play out and whether either Abbas or Dahlan will end up doing a deal with Hamas is still unclear. Nevertheless, what is obvious is that whatever the outcome – and its possible consequences – BBC audiences are already very badly placed to understand its background and context due to the corporation’s serial avoidance of the topic of internal Palestinian affairs.

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Internal Palestinian politics again off the BBC’s agenda

Although the BBC was not among them, numerous media outlets reported last week that Hamas is building a new buffer zone along the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt.

“The Hamas interior ministry has begun to prepare a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and its border with Egypt. Websites associated with the Hamas posted on Wednesday photographs of bulldozers clearing ground dozens of meters in width along the border.

The ministry stated that the works were intended to bolster security and strengthen the organization’s control along the border. It also said a 12-kilometer patrol road with guard posts, lighting and cameras along it will be paved along the border.

Gaza security forces chief Tawfiq Abu Naim said the project was agreed upon during the last visit by a Hamas delegation to Egypt. The buffer zone will be 100 meters wide (approx. 320 feet), stretching into the Palestinian side of the border, he said. It will be a closed military zone and will help monitor the border and prevent infiltration and smuggling.

“The message to the Egyptian side is a calming one: Egyptian national security is part of Palestinian national security, and we will not let the peace along the southern border be disturbed,” Abu Naim said.

Sources in Gaza told Haaretz that the works will force a lot of families out of their homes. Hamas will have to either pay these families compensation or find them alternative housing.”

That recent visit by a Hamas delegation to Egypt also appears to have germinated collaboration between Egypt, Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, as Khaled Abu Toameh explains:

“Last month, Hamas leaders traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials and representatives of Dahlan, on ways of ending the “humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip. It was the first meeting of its kind between Dahlan’s men and Hamas leaders.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, disclosed that the two sides reached “understandings” over a number of issues, including the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and allowing entry of medicine and fuel for the power plants in the Gaza Strip. […]

The unexpected rapprochement between Dahlan and Hamas has already resulted in the return of some of Dahlan’s loyalists to the Gaza Strip. Now, everyone is waiting to see if and when Dahlan himself will be permitted to return to his home in the Gaza Strip.

Sources in the Gaza Strip believe that the countdown for Dahlan’s return has begun. The sources also believe that he may be entrusted with serving as “prime minister” of a new government, while Hamas remains in charge of overall security in the Gaza Strip.”

If that is indeed the case, then Mahmoud Abbas’ recent steps designed to pressure Hamas would appear to have backfired, as Ha’aretz points out:

“Dahlan’s associates have leaked information to the Arabic-language media regarding much bigger plans. Dahlan, it is said, is about to be appointed the new prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, with Hamas’ consent. […]

But Israeli defense officials were skeptical about the media report. It appears that things haven’t been finalized. Dahlan is due to meet with Hamas officials shortly. […]

The Gaza initiative of Dahlan, who has deep ties with Egyptian intelligence, indicates that he, like Hamas and Egypt, also sees that Abbas is in a position of weakness. Abbas’ recent meetings with envoys for Donald Trump ended in disappointment. The extent of the U.S. president’s determination to jump-start the peace process remains to be seen, and the PA has been suffering worsening economic problems of its own amid dwindling contributions from the Gulf states.”

As has been noted here on many occasions, the topic of internal Palestinian politics in general is one that has long been under-reported by the BBC and the simmering rivalry between Abbas and Dahlan has been serially ignored. As this story develops – and despite the fact that the BBC is one of the few media organisations to have a bureau in Gaza – audiences once again lack the background information that would enable its understanding.

Related Articles:

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza

BBC’s Knell omits back stories in portrayal of PA succession

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics