BBC R4 ‘Today’ listeners sold short by Knell’s portrayal of Jerusalem

The BBC’s domestic coverage of the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled territories continued on June 26th with no fewer than three items aired on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

In addition to reports from the corporation’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond at 0:12:30 and during the news bulletin at 2:08:38, listeners also heard a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell at 1:20:40.

During that report Knell – like Jeremy Bowen in the previous day’s programme – brought up the topic of the objection of an Israeli minister to the wording of the itinerary put out by the Royal Household.

[emphasis in italics in the original]

1:22:26 Knell: “On his solo trip the prince will watch Jewish and Arab Israeli children playing football. But political differences here aren’t always so easy to overcome. Israeli politicians are criticising his schedule for presenting Jerusalem’s Old City as part of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Obviously if the BBC’s domestic audiences are to understand the reason for the objection to that description of the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied Palestinian territory’ they would need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They would also need to be informed of the belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

However in typical BBC style, Yolande Knell erased all the history prior to June 1967 from her simplistic account:

Knell: “Israel captured the east of the city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that’s not internationally recognised. It sees all the city as its capital but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.”

Knell then went on to provide listeners with an overtly partisan view of the issue from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi:

Knell: “Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says the Palace is using the right descriptions.”

Ashrawi: “The only country that has violated international law openly and admitted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the US…is Trump. And the UK has not changed its position. It still considers Jerusalem as occupied territory. You cannot expect the royal visit to come and become complicit in land theft and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.”

Not only did Knell not bother to challenge Ashrawi’s inaccurate and deliberately provocative claim of “land theft” or to clarify that her selected contributor’s claims concerning “international law” are a matter of opinion, she did not even make the effort to inform Radio 4 listeners that – as she doubtless knows, because their embassies are located in the same Jerusalem complex as the BBC’s own offices – in addition to the United States, Guatemala and Paraguay have also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Instead, Knell simply changed the subject and moved on with her report.

While it is standard BBC practice to avoid informing audiences of the history and status of Jerusalem before June 1967 – including the internationally unrecognised 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of the city – obviously that practice does not contribute to meeting the BBC’s public purpose obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

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BBC News website adopts selective history in royal visit article

An article titled “Prince William makes historic visit to Middle East” that appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘UK’ and ‘Middle East pages on June 24th includes an insert of analysis from the BBC’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond and a link to an article by the same journalist.

The title of that linked article – “Prince William set to ‘wander among bones of Empire’” – and the heading given to the insert – ‘The prince wanders among the bones of Empire’ – both steer readers towards a misleading view of the history of the places Prince William is visiting. The article opens:

“The Duke of Cambridge is embarking upon an historic tour of the Middle East – visiting both Israel and the Palestinian territories – in a trip in which ironies and sensitivities will abound.”

The caption to the photograph at the head of the article reads:

“The itinerary is scrupulously balanced between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories”

Neither what is today Israel, Jordan or the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority were part of the British Empire system of colonies, protectorates and dominions: rather they were territory administered by Britain on behalf of the League of Nations.

Bateman’s account of history, however, makes no mention of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine

“For just under three decades, after World War One, Britain controlled present-day Jordan, Israel and the occupied territories; three decades that would see the Middle East reshaped by European design, compromise, and failure.”

The Middle East was of course first and foremost reshaped because the Ottoman Empire chose to ally itself with the side that lost the First World War and the former German and Ottoman territories and colonies subsequently came under the supervision of the League of Nations.

Dymond’s portrayal of the fact that the British government chose to terminate its administration of the mandate originally granted by the League of Nations is similarly unhelpful to anyone hoping to understand the history behind the royal visit.

“When Palestine slipped from the hands of an exhausted and broken post-war Britain in 1948, the Prince’s great-grandfather George VI was on the throne.” [emphasis added]

Dymond found it appropriate to mention just one episode of political violence in his account:

“When Prince William lays his head this week at his Jerusalem hotel, the King David, he will be at the site of one of the worst attacks on British forces during the Jews’ battle for independence. It was an attack condemned at the time as Jewish terrorism.”

However, he failed to provide readers with any meaningful information on the Arab rioting and revolt – or the ensuing British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

“From the Balfour declaration to the White Paper, the promises and pledges that Britain has made to different parties at different times in Palestine are now part of the region’s collective memory.”

Significantly, Dymond refrained from clarifying to the domestic audiences reading his article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page that the British government failed to meet the primary remit with which it was entrusted under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine: the establishment of a Jewish national home:

“The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self­-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

Once again the BBC has passed up the opportunity to provide its funding public with an accurate and impartial account of the role played by their country in the history of the region currently being visited by a member of their royal family.  

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MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

A journalist known for his promotion of the notion of a secretive ‘pro-Israel lobby’ allegedly influencing British politics who regularly writes for one media outlet linked to Hamas and participated in a Balfour Declaration/Israel bashing ‘conference’ organised by another outfit with Hamas connections might not seem like the ideal presenter for an item discussing the Balfour Declaration centenary aired by a broadcaster supposedly committed to ‘impartiality’.

Nevertheless, Peter Oborne did present the October 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Week in Westminster’ and that programme included (from 22:03 here) “reflections on the letter which paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, 100 years ago”.

One of the other people ‘reflecting’ was MP Stephen Kinnock who last December accepted an award from the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ as thanks for his support during its campaign for UN accreditation. Mr Kinnock’s views on Israel have long been clear: shortly after the conflict of summer 2014, for example, he wrote the following:

“This devastating onslaught on Gaza has triggered yet another humanitarian crisis, and that’s what’s creating headlines in the here and now. But it is also possible that it has inflicted such damage on Gaza’s already crippled infrastructure that it will become an unliveable place well before 2020. You just can’t help wondering whether the Israeli government factored this into its calculations when it opted to launch such a wide-ranging attack on the Gaza Strip.” [emphasis added]

Kinnock is also on record as an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign but Radio 4 listeners were not informed of that fact before they heard him promote it in this item – introduced by Peter Oborne as follows:

Oborne: “Parliament did note one other momentous event last week: the centenary of the famous letter from foreign secretary AJ Balfour in 1917 which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. A hundred years on and this declaration is as contentious as ever. Tory MP Robert Halfon and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock took part in this week’s debate and afterwards they came into the studio. How does Robert Halfon view the centenary?”

Halfon: “Well I thought it was an incredibly important moment in British history as well as in terms of the creation of the State of Israel. I thought it was another example of why Britain is a truly great country. The Jewish people should have a homeland and had a right to return to their homeland and it was an incredible moment both – as I say – in the history of the Jewish people but also in the history of our country.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Unsurprisingly, Kinnock’s response reflected PLO messaging on the topic of the Balfour Declaration – although in contrast to much other BBC coverage of the centenary (see ‘related articles’ below), listeners did at least get to hear an accurate portrayal of the text’s reference to “civil and religious rights”. However, Kinnock’s promotion of context-free, spurious and misleading linkage between the text of the Balfour Declaration and what he described as ‘violations’ – including the unsupported notion of ‘illegal’ trade – predictably went completely unchallenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Well, I think it’s very important as well to remember the crucial phrase in the Balfour Declaration: ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ and..err…I think the conclusion we have to draw is that that sentiment has simply not held and has been repeatedly violated by Israeli governments down the ages. We now see vast expansion of illegal settlements, violations of human rights, businesses trading illegally out of the occupied territories of the West Bank and all that is undermining peace and undermining security. We know that we can’t have one without the other so my intervention in the debate was very much in the hope that we could see a change in attitude and behaviour from the Israeli side, which I think is the key to any kind of forward progress in this.” [emphasis added]

Halfon: “It’s worth remembering that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East: one man one vote. There are Arab MPs in the Israeli Knesset. It’s worth remembering that it is a place of refuge, a place of scientific advancement. It’s been a place of tolerance; it’s one of the few places in the Middle East where gay people live normal lives…”

Oborne [interrupts]: “If you could try answering Mr Kinnock’s question that you haven’t yet addressed, which is the Balfour Declaration certainly achieved the Jewish homeland but what about the point about looking after the non-Jewish people – in the phrase of the Balfour Declaration – who were already there?”

Halfon: “If you originally remember, when Palestine, which had the British mandate, was carved up the vast majority of it became Jordan: 77% of it. The rest – smaller, much more small part of that; smaller than the size of Wales – was given to the Jewish people. The Arabs refused to accept that in 1948. We had the war in 1948, we had the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War. Israel has faced the threat of terrorism almost every day since its existence and despite that, is a democracy, has been prepared to make significant moves towards peace. It should be a place that should be celebrated and supported by the United Kingdom and anyone who believes in freedom and democracy.”

Oborne: “Stephen Kinnock.”

Kinnock: “I think all the Palestinian people are asking for is to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

Oborne: “Would you like a change in British government policy – a different kind of pressure on Israel if you come to power?”

Listeners then got to hear what may be a preview of the policy of a government under Mr Kinnock’s party. They were not however provided with any background information concerning the goals of the BDS campaign promoted by Kinnock and his factually baseless references to Judea & Samaria as “illegally occupied” were not challenged by Oborne.

Kinnock: “Yeah. I think what certainly one of the things we must do is contribute to the campaign for any business that is located in the illegally occupied West Bank to be sanctioned; that British companies should not do any trade with those businesses and this also means indirectly; through – for example – financial institutions. There’s quite a lot of British money going into financing a lot of commercial activity going on in the illegally occupied West Bank. So I think that would be a very good start.”

Halfon: “The settlement issue; all those things will come under a negotiation of a proper peace process but there should be a Palestinian state – something I believe in – but the Israelis are right to say we want a Palestinian state but we also need to be sure that we will be free from terrorism and attacks from Islamist groups, from Hamas and so on.”

Oborne: “Anyway, let me wrap things up, gentlemen, by drawing attention to the fact that the 2nd of November will be the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. I’ll ask each of you in turn whether you agree with the prime minister that this is a matter for celebration. Robert Halfon.”

Halfon: “Absolutely. I think it’s a very special moment that should be celebrated.”

Kinnock: “No. I think it’s a matter of regret because the phrase in there which is absolutely critical that the interests of non-Jewish communities will be protected has been violated countless times.”

No-one familiar with the views of Peter Oborne and Stephen Kinnock would have expected to hear an accurate and impartial discussion of either the Balfour Declaration centenary or Israel in this item. The problem, however, is that Radio 4 listeners were not made aware of the “particular viewpoint” of the contributors as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

The second item (see the first here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ was described in the synopsis thus:

“The Balfour Declaration – signed 100 years ago – is reviled by those who campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people and celebrated by supporters of Israel. Nick Robinson reports on the events which led to the declaration and its consequences.”

The item was introduced by co-presenter Nick Robinson (from 01:17:28 here) as follows:

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

Robinson: “Tonight Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli prime minister will join Theresa may at a dinner in London to celebrate the centenary of a letter sent by Lloyd George’s foreign secretary in 1917. His name: Arthur Balfour. Now it may be just 67 words long but the Balfour Declaration as it’s known is not of mere historical interest. To this day it is reviled by many of those who campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people but celebrated by supporters of Israel.”

After listeners had heard a recording from an unidentified event celebrating the Balfour Declaration, Robinson went on to inaccurately paraphrase the document – airbrushing the words “civil and religious” from his portrayal as has been seen on multiple occasions in additional BBC coverage of this story.

Robinson: “One paragraph in one letter written a hundred years ago, here in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, continues to divide people now as much as it did then. That promise of a national home for the Jewish people alongside another – to protect the rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine: was it a masterpiece of ambiguity by Foreign Office mandarins schooled in the art? Or was it a calculated deceit by a colonial power from which the Middle East has yet to recover?”

Robinson’s first interviewee was the current Lord Rothschild whose great-uncle was, as pointed out, “the recipient of that letter”.

Rothschild: “It had been the yearning of the Jewish community for two thousand years to get back to Jerusalem and Palestine and therefore the moral authority of Great Britain at that time was so great that even though this letter is somewhat ambiguous, I think the Jewish community and my forebear believed that this would lead to a national home for the Jews and many Jews would therefore go there.”

Robinson: “You say the document was ambiguous. Some argue that it was deceptive.”

Rothschild: “I mean I don’t think it’s deceptive, no. I think you know that the Jews took over a land, as Mark Twain said, had been a dreary, desolate place in 1867 and through dint of hard work and labour, they made a huge success of it. But they did feel, the Arabs, that they were being dispossessed.”

Robinson then in effect told listeners – inaccurately – that the land on which Israel was later established was in fact Arab/Palestinian.

Robinson: “You say they did feel that they were dispossessed. The truth is they were dispossessed.”

He subsequently introduced the totally irrelevant and materially misleading theme of ‘colonialism’.

Robinson: “So what do you say to those who say that the British government should apologise for it; that this was an act in effect of colonialism?”

Robinson went on to showcase another event relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary organised by a group set up to specifically campaign on the topic.

Robinson: “…something Britain can be proud of. Not the views of those gathered this week in Westminster’s Central Hall to mark what they call Britain’s broken promise.”

Listeners then heard yet another BBC misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

Robinson: “His Royal Highness Prince el Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Like Lord Rothschild he’s the descendent of someone who received a letter from a British diplomat a century ago. He’s the great-grandson of the Sherif of Mecca who was told back in 1915 that Britain would support Arab independence in return for their support in the fight against the Ottoman Empire.”

Bin Talal: “While one set of promises was being made to the Arabs, another was obviously being made correspondingly to the international Jewish movement. The Emir Faisal recognised the importance of a pluralist Arab state provided – and here’s the caveat – the Arabs obtained their independence as demanded in earlier memorandum. Sadly, the influence from outside to try and create some semblance of a state and a Jewish home; the desire from those within the region, both Jews and Arabs, to live together was confounded by the pressures of demography from Russia on the one side and from Europe.”

At no point did Robinson explain to listeners that – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – “[t]he whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was […] excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge”.

Neither were audiences told anything of the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement or that bin Talal’s own country – and with it Arab self-determination – was established on 77% of the land originally assigned to the creation of a Jewish national home, after Britain activated Article 25 of the Mandate for Palestine.

Bin Talal went on to claim that the two World Wars “resulted in the importance of making space for others without consulting the main issue of how those others could live side-by-side with the indigenous inhabitants”.

Robinson then asked:

Robinson: “Is it right for the Balfour Declaration to be celebrated as many Jews want it to be, to be marked as the British government says, or is it something that Britain should be ashamed of?”

With apparently no sense of irony – considering that his own country (with considerable British help) attacked the nascent Israeli state the day after its creation and subsequently occupied areas assigned to the Jewish national home by the League of Nations – bin Talal replied:

Bin Talal: “I would rather suggest with all due respect that celebrating is – against the background of the bloodshed in this region on an almost daily basis – rather a strong word.”

Robinson’s next interviewee was the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran who was introduced as someone who “says it’s time the British government recognised Palestine”.

Moran: “I think rather than say apology I’d rather see recognition for the part that Britain played and I think the first step in reparation to that would be recognition of the second state in the two-state solution which is Palestine. The idea that we can achieve real peace without equal players sitting at that negotiation table are…are ridiculous.”

Once again no effort was made to inform listeners of the fact that the Palestinians have turned down repeated opportunities to have their own state alongside the Jewish state.

Listeners next heard from the former Guardian journalist Ian Black who promoted the notion of Jews as a “religious group” rather than an ethnicity or a people.

Black: “The Zionist movement used the language of modern nationalism to say we are one people and we need a land of our own. It had of course the religious and the biblical, the spiritual link to the Holy Land and the tragedy of the story is that that land was claimed and occupied by another people which did not accept that claim. It saw it as an incursion by foreigners who had no right to be there. And those fundamentals remain at the heart of the conflict today.”

Robinson returned briefly to his Jordanian interviewee before closing with messaging implying that the Balfour Declaration has not been implemented.

Robinson: “When Arthur Balfour the foreign secretary wrote his letter – the letter that became the Balfour Declaration – he knew it was controversial. After all, it had been through draft after draft. What he couldn’t know is that a hundred years later the diplomats and the ministers that work in these offices here at the Foreign Office would still be trying to make a reality of his promises.”

And so in this item listeners heard a majority of views from one side of the debate, with Robinson’s own opinions made amply clear. They also again heard inaccurate representation of the Balfour Declaration’s specific reference to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities, misleading references to Palestinian ‘dispossession’ and an inaccurate portrayal of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, while all mention of the Jordanian part of the story of the Mandate for Palestine was erased from view.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

The November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ included no fewer than four separate items concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary.

In her introduction to first of those items (from 51:49 here) co-presenter Mishal Husain repeated a practice seen time and time again in BBC coverage of this story (see ‘related articles’ below). Her inaccurate paraphrasing of the Balfour Declaration concealed from audiences the fact that the document specifically referred to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.

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

Husain: “A hundred years have passed since Britain pledged support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the then foreign secretary in the midst of the First World War has become a source of celebration for Israelis and anger for Palestinians over what they see as the failure to stick to its promise that the rights of non-Jewish communities should not be prejudiced. The British government says it will mark the centenary with pride but its description of the pledges made at the time as ‘unfinished business’ has done nothing to soften Palestinian calls for an apology. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Bateman began his report in Be’er Sheva where commemoration of a battle in 1917 recently took place. Failing to clarify that battle’s First World War context to listeners, he went on to promote a theme previously seen in his reporting of the Balfour Declaration centenary: the notion that Palestinian Arabs were ‘dispossessed‘ – thereby inaccurately implying that the territory on which Israel was established was ‘Palestinian’. 

Bateman: “The Balfour Declaration was issued two days later. Palestinian Arabs would come to view it as a historic source of their dispossession. For many Jews it amounted to a form of salvation; recognition of their claim to their ancestral homeland.”

A brief interview with former MK Shlomo Hillel included a reference to the British Mandate which once again raises the question of whether BBC reporters understand the difference between the Mandate for Palestine – drafted and confirmed by the League of Nations – and the British role as administer of that mandate.

Bateman: “Shlomo Hillel – now 94 – an Iraqi Jew, was among the waves of Jewish immigrants in the years after the declaration was written into Britain’s international mandate for Palestine.”

Listeners heard nothing on the subject of why Hillel and tens of thousands of other Jews left Iraq, even though – as told in an interview some years ago – it is relevant both in the context of the wider topic of the effects of British policies in the Middle East and in relation to the part of the Balfour Declaration that has been consistently and glaringly absent from BBC coverage of the topic: “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

“After World War I, the British took over the country and appointed a king, and in 1932 Iraq became independent. “Suddenly the situation changed,” explains Hillel.

“Already by 1933, my father understood this was the end.”

That was the year of a massacre of Assyrian Christians in the north of the country.

“We were watching the Iraqi army’s ‘victory’ parade from our house in Baghdad and we thought if that’s what they can do to the Christians, what can they do to us?” Hillel moved to Palestine in 1934 to be with his older brothers and was followed by his parents in 1935.

During World War II, a Nazi-inspired pogrom (farhud) erupted in Baghdad in 1941, finally bringing to an end any hopes of continued peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority. “This was a huge traumatic event for Iraqi Jews. Young Jews started to organize self-defense organizations and an underground,” Hillel relates.”

Following an archive recording in which listeners heard a reference to “the wandering Jew”, Bateman continued with an airbrushed portrayal of the scope of and reasons for British restrictions on Jewish immigration:

Bateman: “Britain ultimately curbed Jewish immigration. Mandate rule struggled to deal with Arab unrest and Jewish paramilitary groups seeking a state.”

Bateman’s next interviewee was Rima Tarazi.

Bateman: “Rima Tarazi’s father was a civil servant for the British in Jerusalem in those years. She says he helped other Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war after Britain had pulled out.”

Tarazi’s father was Musa Nasir – also a member of the Jordanian parliament and a minister in the Jordanian government. Listeners then heard another inaccurate paraphrasing of the Balfour Declaration.

Tarazi: “My father was a great advocate of our cause – of the Palestinian cause – and he was always trying to make the British understand. Ever since the Balfour Declaration there have been…hard feelings started to arise. And the travesty of the problem is that they said we promise a Jewish homeland provided it doesn’t prejudice the rights of the non-Jews, so we became the non-Jews. We were the majority. We were 90% of the people, the population. It has polarised religion in our region.”

Bateman’s next interviewee, historian and MK Michael Oren, did point out that “the national aspirations of Arabs were widely realised in places like Syria and Iraq” but Bateman did not expand on the topic. His final interviewee was introduced thus:

Bateman: “The political leadership in the West Bank sees Mr Netanyahu’s invitation to Downing Street as an insult. Dr Nabil Shaath is an advisor to the Palestinian president.”

Shaath: “It’s not enough that you…you’ve done this but you celebrate it with the man who runs Israel today and who is doing everything possible not to allow the Palestinians any bit of sovereignty or survival on their land.”

Failing to remind listeners of the numerous occasions on which the Palestinians have rejected the opportunity to have their own state over the past eighty years, Bateman closed his report.

Bateman: “A hundred years after it issued the Balfour Declaration the British government concedes all its pledges have yet to be fulfilled but it has made clear it will not be saying sorry.”

While Radio 4 listeners got to hear a balanced quota of Israeli Palestinian voices in this interview, they also heard two inaccurate portrayals of the Balfour Declaration’s specific reference to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities, one inaccurate reference to Palestinian ‘dispossession’, a curious portrayal of the Mandate for Palestine and the unchallenged accusation that Israel is exclusively to blame for the absence of a Palestinian state.  

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

As noted in part one of this post, the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.

Both those reports promoted debatable portrayals of history, including a lax representation of the Mandate for Palestine.

Audio: “…his [Balfour’s] declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine.”

Written: “By that time, the area was under British administration. The Balfour Declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine, which had been endorsed by the League of Nations.”

Knell’s portrayal failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Mandate for Palestine was drafted and confirmed – rather than “endorsed” – by the League of Nations whereas the British Mandate was the trustee appointed by that body to administer that mandate.

In the written report, readers found the following:

“The [Balfour] declaration by the then foreign secretary was included in a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading proponent of Zionism, a movement advocating self-determination for the Jewish people in their historical homeland – from the Mediterranean to the eastern flank of the River Jordan, an area which came to be known as Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not Knell intended to refer to the proposal submitted by the Zionist Organisation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 is unclear but the territory finally assigned to the Jewish Home in 1922 certainly did not include “the eastern flank of the River Jordan”.

“The following provisions of the Mandate for Palestine are not applicable to the territory known as Trans-Jordan, which comprises all territory lying to the east of a line drawn from a point two miles west of the town of Akaba on the Gulf of that name up the centre of the Wady Araba, Dead Sea and River Jordan to its junction with the River Yarmuk; thence up the centre of that river to the Syrian Frontier.”

Knell then went on to refer to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence – but without naming it.

“Palestinians see this as a great betrayal, particularly given a separate promise made to enlist the political and military support of the Arabs – then ruled by the Ottoman Turks – in World War One.

This suggested Britain would back their struggle for independence in most of the lands of the Ottoman Empire, which consisted of much of the Middle East. The Arabs understood this to include Palestine, though it had not been specifically mentioned.”

She did not, however, bother to inform readers that the territory concerned was – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – excluded from that pledge.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

In these two reports BBC audiences found some very rare references to the issue of British restrictions on Jewish immigration. However, while told that “Britain allowed” Jewish immigration, they were not informed that the terms of the Mandate it was charged with administering obliged it to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage […] close settlement by Jews on the land”.

Audio: “…Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration during the early mandate times. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, it later forced back many Jews facing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”

Written: “During the first half of the Mandate period, Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, Israelis remember how it later blocked many fleeing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”

The Mandate for Palestine – with Britain as the administering mandatory – came into effect in September 1923 following ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne. Even before that, the White Paper of 1922 had already expressed the intention to ‘regulate’ immigration and the 1930 Passfield White Paper led to further restrictions being placed on Jewish immigration. Knell’s claim that “Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration” before the establishment of the quota system severely limiting Jewish immigration by the 1939 MacDonald White Paper is therefore not an entirely accurate and objective portrayal.

In both her reports Knell concluded by suggesting linkage between the Balfour Declaration and the modern-day ‘peace process’.

Audio: “And right now the controversy over the past is only highlighting the continuing friction between Israel and the Palestinians. After many failed peace efforts, there’s deep mutual mistrust and few hopes that today’s leaders will be able to make the bold new declarations needed to end this long-running conflict.”

Written: “The British government has invited him [the Israeli prime minister] to London for events to mark the centenary on Thursday.

That decision, at a time of dimming hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace, has infuriated Palestinians, who plan a day of protests.

They want Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

“As the time passes, I think British people are forgetting about the lessons of history,” says Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam.

He points out that Palestinians still seek the creation of a state of their own – which alongside Israel would form the basis of the so-called two-state solution to the conflict, a formula supported by the international community.

“The time has come for Palestine to be independent and for that long-due promise to be fulfilled,” he says.”

Knell refrained from pointing out to readers that throughout the last eighty years the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down opportunities to have their own state “alongside” a Jewish state.

While the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has uniformly and generously amplified related Palestinian messaging and propaganda, it has equally consistently side-stepped the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the century-long Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty in the region.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

 

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Those familiar with the BBC’s record of promoting the recurrent anti-Israel propaganda produced by the anonymous English political activist known as Banksy would not have been in the least bit surprised to find two reports – one written and one filmed – concerning his latest ‘creation’ on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

On November 1st the website published a written report titled “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians” which opens by telling readers that a location that has been under full control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 is ‘occupied’ by Israel.

“The British artist Banksy has organised a “street party” in the occupied West Bank to apologise for the Balfour Declaration, ahead of its centenary.”

Readers were also told that the anti-terrorist fence – constructed in order to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers – is “controversial”.

“An actor dressed as Queen Elizabeth II hosted dozens of children at the event.

She also unveiled a new work by Banksy etched into Israel’s controversial West Bank barrier that said: “Er… Sorry.””

Unsurprisingly, readers were not informed why ‘refugee camps’ (in this case Aida and Dheisheh) still exist over two decades after the PA assumed control of the area.

“Banksy’s tea party in Bethlehem on Wednesday was attended by children from nearby Palestinian refugee camps.”

Readers found a statement from the event’s initiator that echoes a mythical quote used by anti-Israel activists which has previously been seen in BBC content.

“A statement by Banksy said: “This conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides. It didn’t feel appropriate to ‘celebrate’ the British role in it.”

“The British didn’t handle things well here – when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.””

The BBC’s portrayal of the Balfour Declaration erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

“The British government’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

It said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

Readers were inaccurately informed that the League of Nations mandate administered by the British “expired” rather than being terminated by the British government. The fact that the armed forces of five Arab countries invaded Israel the day after independence was declared was airbrushed from the BBC’s account, as was the fact that a considerable number of the Palestinian Arabs who left their homes did so on the advice of Arab leaders.

“The Mandate expired on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war which followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.”

In all, six of the article’s eighteen paragraphs promoted the PLO/PA’s chosen narrative on the subject of the Balfour Declaration.

“The Balfour Declaration expressed the British government’s support for a Jewish national home in Palestine, paving the way for Israel’s creation.

Israel and Jewish communities view the pledge as momentous, while Palestinians regard it as an historical injustice.” […]

“Palestinians, who see the Balfour Declaration as something that caused decades of suffering and deprived them of their own state on land that became Israel, have called for an apology from the UK ahead of the centenary.”

Readers were not informed that the Palestinians and their Arab patrons rejected the opportunity to have “their own state” on numerous occasions.  

A further three paragraphs were devoted to uncritical amplification – including a link – of a Guardian op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas and without any clarification on the part of the BBC that, in contrast to Abbas’ implication, the Balfour Declaration referred to “the civil and religious rights” – not political – of “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.  

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote in the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday that the act of signing the letter was not something that could be changed, but that it was something that could be “made right”.

“This will require humility and courage. It will require coming to terms with the past, recognising mistakes, and taking concrete steps to correct those mistakes.”

Mr Abbas said recognising a Palestinian state within the boundaries between Israel and East Jerusalem and the West Bank which existed before the 1967 Middle East war, and with East Jerusalem as its capital, could “go some way towards fulfilling the political rights of the Palestinian people”.”

The filmed report on the same story – titled “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work” – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd and once again BBC audiences were told that a location that has been under complete PA control for over two decades is ‘occupied’.

“A new Banksy work in Bethlehem has been unveiled by an actor dressed as the Queen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Banksy’s tongue-in-cheek British street party took aim at the British and Israeli governments. They’ve been marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration – the UK’s promise of a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine.”

The Balfour Declaration of course refers to “a national home for the Jewish people”.

The film went on to once again promote the organiser’s use of a theme derived from a mythical quote.

“The British didn’t handle things well here – when you organise a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.”

As viewers saw a man plant a Palestinian flag in a cake, they were told that:

“This was Palestinian activist Munther Amira’s contribution.”

Amira is in fact the director of the ‘Popular Struggle Coordination Committee’ and, according to some news reports, he was protesting the event rather than ‘contributing’ to it.

“People from the nearby Aida refugee camp said afterwards they objected to the way the event had used Palestinian children as the centrepiece of the performance. “We came because we didn’t like the use of the British flags or the way they were using Palestinian children,” said Munther Amira, a prominent activist from Aida who planted a large Palestinian flag in the middle of a cake.”

A clue to the nature of those objections can perhaps be found in the BBC’s written account of the event:

“Instead of paper party hats, they [the children] wore plastic helmets painted with the British flag and riddled with pretend bullet holes.” [emphasis added]

The filmed report closed:

“The British government calls the Balfour Declaration “unfinished business” saying it supports a two-state solution.”

Together with Tom Bateman’s filmed report, these two reports brought the number of items giving one-sided amplification to PA/PLO narrative promoting agitprop on the November 2nd edition of the BBC News website’s Middle East page to three.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’  (UK Media Watch) 

 

 

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

In part one of this post we saw how listeners to the October 8th edition of the BBC Radio Wales “religious affairs” programme ‘All Things Considered’ heard a politicised account of the Balfour Declaration that included numerous inaccuracies and omissions.

The second half of that programme (from 13:00 here) was devoted in part to ‘personal stories’ – which actually have no direct link to the stated subject matter – told by two of the three studio guests. Presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones gave the cue for Jasmine Donahaye’s story while once again portraying the Balfour Declaration as ‘controversial’.

Rowland-Jones: “…we’re discussing the Balfour Declaration in which, 100 years ago next month, the British government controversially expressed support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Jasmine; you researched a family link to the history of 1920s-30s Palestine. What did you discover?”

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

Donahaye: “Yeah I did. My mother was born in 1941 in what was then Palestine on a kibbutz. I grew up with a fairly standard sort of Zionist narrative; a very strong sense of identification with Israel as…as…as my family origin. I didn’t know anything really about the history and I still didn’t understand how it pertained directly to my family because my mother’s kibbutz had been established on land that – and this was repeatedly emphasised – land that had been legally bought; not land that had been emptied during 1948 as a result of the war. Of course when I started to examine that – and it was in relation to a passing remark by my mother – I found that in fact land sales in the 1930s were a lot more complicated and a lot more problematic in the 1920s and 1930s. Arab farmers were being put off their land, being emptied, villages were being emptied as a result of land sales and that’s precisely what happened in the case of the land upon which my mother’s kibbutz was established. It resulted in the depopulation of a village called Shatta; some 200 plus people were made landless and it was a great shock to me to discover that and all that flowed from it. So I do think that we need to look at the 1930s as well as the 1940s and I think Britain has a great deal to answer for.”

Donahaye did not tell listeners the name of her mother’s kibbutz – Beit HaShita in the Jezreel Valley – and while she claimed in this programme that “Arab farmers were being put off their land”, the account in her book “Losing Israel” makes it clear that she knows full well that the land was not owned by those tenant farmers but by an Arab landowner from Haifa. 

Donahaye does not however clarify that the case went to court and on April 15th 1931, the Beisan [Bet Shean] Civil Court (run under the auspices of the British mandate authority) found in favour of the landowner Raja Ra’is. The sale went through only after both tenant farmers and agricultural labourers had alternative lands to work.

In that book Donahaye’s complaints are not directed towards the Arab landowner who sold the land but at the Jews who legally bought it.

Little wonder then that in this programme BBC audiences heard an inaccurate, stylised and obviously politically motivated account of Arab farmers put off ‘their’ land and made ‘landless’ even though they were compensated and resettled elsewhere. Notably though, listeners did not hear anything on the topic of the British mandate authority’s subsequent placement of restrictions on land purchases by Jews and on Jewish immigration.

The second personal story heard by listeners to this programme came from Mones Farah, who earlier on had already described his family as being “made refugees”- according to him “as a direct result of” the Balfour Declaration .

Rowland-Jones: “And moving on to the 1940s, as we’ve referred to the State of Israel finally came into being in the aftermath of the Second World War. Mones; tell us what happened to your family.”

Farah: “I come from a village called Bir’am or Bar’am which is originally that’s my main family roots. It’s right on the borders with Lebanon. The main interesting thing about our village is during the 1917 British mandate [sic – the mandate began in 1920] there was…the whole village was almost surrounded by barbed wire either side of it because the land of the village was separated from the village itself by the British mandate [for Palestine] and the French mandate [for Lebanon].”

Bar’am Synagogue

After describing the ancient synagogue in Bar’am and noting that at the time of his story the population were Maronite Christians (as had been the case since the 19th century), Farah continued:

Farah: “There were 1,010 people in that village and then in 1948 after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel and after our people had been included in the census of the citizens of the State of Israel, they were asked to evacuate their village with the promise that they would return within two weeks. And those two weeks have actually stretched out to this very day. […] The village wasn’t a threat to the State of Israel…

Farah did not bother to explain to listeners that the War of Independence was still ongoing at the time and that the request that the villagers evacuate Bir’am was made immediately following Operation Hiram, which aimed to break the siege on Israeli communities by the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) led by Fawzi el Kaukji that had begun six days before the operation was launched.

Most of the residents of Bir’am resettled in Jish (Gush Halav) around 9 kilometers away and would not be classified as “refugees” as Farah earlier claimed. They continue their peaceful campaign to return to their former village and – as Farah correctly stated – have won a number of court cases on that issue. However, Farah then went on to inaccurately imply that there is one sole reason why Palestinians became refugees:

Farah: “And our village is one among so many. There were about 400 villages destroyed in that time which created a huge problem of Palestinian refugees.”

Nazareth-born Farah continued:

Farah: “So the situation is so complex because what do you do with the return of refugees to Israel? I mean there’s a huge minefield to deal with politically. But I think the impact stays so deep within you that you actually…I think it creates something in you that says you become a weak man and so you begin to actually behave with less than the true identity that you have because you’re coming against an occupying power. In whatever way you say it, there’s control of the population and that needs to change…”

The programme then took another turn as Dan Cohn-Sherbok stated that “the Arabs never accepted the creation of a Jewish homeland or a Jewish state” and was quickly rebuked at length by Donahaye. A subsequent discussion on the question “what role do you see faith playing in all of this?” included both Cohn-Sherbok and Farah claiming that Jewish scripture can “pave the way for a sympathetic appreciation of the plight of the Palestinians” and Farah giving context-free promotion to several political NGOs, including the one with which he is associated and B’tselem.

Farah: “…the concept of the image – the B’tselem – which is the organisation B’tselem which is very important now which is not liked much by the Israeli government and the political discourse in the Israeli government because they’re seen as aggressively against the state, where the reality is that trying to keep the state accountable for some actions that actually dehumanise the others and we need to humanise the people.”

BBC Radio Wales audiences obviously learned very little about the Balfour Declaration from this largely one-sided and highly politicised discussion. They certainly heard nothing at all on the question of whether Britain lived up to the pledge it made in the Balfour Declaration or how it subsequently failed to execute the task assigned to it as administrator of the Mandate for Palestine:

“The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country [Palestine] under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

Instead, the aim of this programme appears to have been to steer BBC audiences towards the partisan view that – as Sarah Rowland-Jones inaccurately claimed in her introduction – the Balfour Declaration “sits behind the lasting conflict in the region”, while the relevant issue of Arab violence against Jews and later Israelis was once again whitewashed from a BBC account of history.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC News amplifies Balfour agitprop yet again

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales has a Sunday morning programme called “All Things Considered” which is described as a “religious affairs programme tackling the thornier issues of the day in a thought-provoking manner”. The October 8th edition of that programme, however, was devoted to a political topic. Titled “The Balfour Declaration at 100“, the programme’s synopsis includes the following:

“One hundred years on, how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration.”

That strange question (do the Welsh people specifically need to hold a “view” of that century old historic event?) was repeated in the introduction by presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones.

Rowland-Jones: “A century ago, in November 1917, the British Government, under Welsh prime minister Lloyd George, gave its support to the establishment of Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was contained in a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour, to leaders of the British Jewish Community. The Balfour Declaration, as it came to be known, expressed the government’s intention to support a Jewish national home and to do so without undermining the rights of the people already living in Palestine. The declaration was controversial at the time and has remained so ever since. Celebrated and vilified in near equal measure, it sits behind the lasting conflict in the region. While it kindled international support for a Jewish homeland, even the British government has since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians. So – 100 years on – how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration?” [emphasis added]

As we see, that introduction promotes the facile notion that the Balfour Declaration is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that theme was repeated throughout the half-hour programme. The reference to the British government having “since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians” apparently refers to a statement issued by the FCO that included the following:

“We recognise that the Declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination.” 

Nowhere in this programme, however, did the listeners invited to form a “view” of the Balfour Declaration hear that precisely such self-determination was, from 1937 onward, repeatedly rejected by the Arab side.

The programme’s three studio guests were then introduced:

“Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, professor emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales and author of many books on the subject of Palestine and Israel, Dr Jasmine Donahaye of Swansea University, author of “Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine” and “Losing Israel” and the reverend Mones Farah; Church in Wales rector of Aberystwyth who is himself Palestinian.”

The first half of this programme related to the Balfour Declaration itself and the circumstances under which it was issued. After Sarah Rowland-Jones had read out the text of the declaration and asked “is this something to be celebrated or regretted?” listeners heard Mones Farah (who has lived in the UK since 1983) create false linkage between it and his family story. [emphasis added]

Farah: “For me, looking at this declaration it causes a lot of problems and difficulties for me personally because as a direct result of this we…my family and my community were made refugees. So for me it will have always that tinge of sadness and lack of celebration about it.”

Listeners then heard another negative opinion from Jasmine Donahaye, who erased the real “foundation” of Israel – the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – from the story.

Donahaye: “Well I think it’s difficult not to understand that for many Jews at the time and since it was a matter for great celebration and continues to be because it’s the foundation upon which Israel is based and that is a question of national self-determination. But it’s not one-sided. There are two elements to it and the second element unfortunately has been betrayed. And therefore it’s something to treat with a great deal of care and critical analysis I think. So celebration – maybe not. But investigation – certainly.”

Rowland-Jones: “When you say the second element you mean the promise that it should not prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities?”

Donahaye: “That’s exactly what I mean. Of course there is the subsequent element that it shouldn’t prejudice the status of Jews elsewhere as well and that’s a slightly different issue but that might be something we’ll discuss later.”

That discussion did not come about and so BBC Wales audiences heard nothing about issues such as the persecution and negation of rights of the Jews in Arab lands.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok presented a more realistic view of the significance of the Balfour Declaration, even while absolving the Palestinians of all agency or responsibility.

Cohn-Sherbok: “Well I do want to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, as I think Jews would around the world. It was 100 years ago, it was the beginning of the creation of the Jewish state, so for the Jewish people it was a fundamental step forward – which is not to ignore the problems that this has led for the Palestinians. With my colleagues I do take into account the difficulties that the Palestinians have faced and are facing now. Nonetheless, I think it is a time for celebration and with Jews throughout the world, I want to celebrate what happened in 1917.”

In the next section of the programme Cohn-Sherbok gave a brief overview of the history behind the story (that included the inaccurate claim that at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE the region was called Palestine) and the advent of political Zionism.

Cohn-Sherbok: “But at the end of the nineteenth century the Jews were suffering in eastern Europe […] and the Zionists – secular Zionists – believed it was time for the Jews to return. It was the only way that they could protect themselves from onslaught, from antisemitism. It was their only refuge, they believed, and they did everything that they could to persuade those in power to allow Jews to settle in what was then Palestine. And the Balfour Declaration was an essential first step.”

However, Cohn-Sherbok’s account included the inaccurate claim that the early Zionists were exclusively secular Jews.  Rowland-Jones then raised another topic.

Rowland-Jones: “So what was going on there in the holy land – Palestine – in 1917? Mones, can you tell us something about the people who were living there then?”

Farah: “The people of the land were mainly the Arab indigenous population – the Palestinian population – in the land. By 1914 there were only 7% of the population that were of the new Jewish immigrants or Jewish communities that existed for longer times.”

While Farah mentioned the Ottoman policy of “restricting […] the migration of Jews”, he debatably claimed that the reason for that was “because it created tension with the local population” and made no mention of the expulsion of thousands of Jews already living in the region during the First World War. Ignoring events that pre-dated even the First Aliyah such as the pogroms in Tsfat in 1834, he continued:

Farah: “…I think that the communities felt by the new immigration that was opened up by the turn of the 20th century to the land, they begin to feel the tension and the stress in the land even though they themselves mostly were arable farmers. They were small communities. They were not politicized. But a young intellectual small groups and heads of clans began to agitate and they began to actually resist the new migrations coming into the land until the Balfour Declaration. So there was an increasing tension developing. But there was a population living in the land.”

Farah then went on to promote a myth popular in anti-Israel circles:

Farah: “…I take on what Dan said about the Zionist secularist movement of the late 19th century and its declaration of a need for a Jewish state. One thing I will hold against some of those statements is that they wanted a state for a people without land for a land without people. And I think that is one of the things that actually had such an influence in the public opinion or of the people of power at the time which wasn’t true at all because there was a population living in the land…”

The phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land” – not “a land without people”, as Farah claimed – was in fact not widely employed by early Zionists but mainly by British religious and political figures.

Following discussion of the Welsh aspect of the story of the Balfour Declaration, listeners heard another myth that frequently crops up in BBC content.

Rowland-Jones: “So why did the Lloyd George government issue the declaration at this time? Was it just about seeking allies at a difficult juncture in the First World War?”

Cohn-Sherbok: “It was a very complicated situation. The Balfour Declaration though I wish to celebrate it, was in a sense not straightforward. The British government had previously made promises to the Arabs. The British government had said if you help us in the First World War – if you attack the Ottoman Empire – then we’re gonna give you an Arab independent homeland or Arab independence. That was a promise that was in fact betrayed. They never did. And there was also a meeting between the British and the French prior to the 1917 Balfour Declaration where they essentially divided up the entire world – that Arab world. So I think the Arabs quite rightly feel somewhat betrayed or very betrayed by the British government. The Jews welcomed the Balfour Declaration. It was something they desperately, deeply wanted. But the seeds were sown from the very beginning in the Balfour Declaration of the difficulties that we are currently feeling.”

Those “promises” are of course the McMahon correspondence which – despite the inaccurate claims from Cohn-Sherbok and Farah – did not promise the area of land concerned to the Arabs, as was clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

The second part of this programme included some personal stories which will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

 

 

BBC ME editor gives context-free, omission rich potted history of Israel’s creation

Episode six of Jeremy Bowen’s 25-part BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on May 22nd. Titled ‘Crossing the Divide’, the programme begins with a tale highlighting Bowen’s unfamiliarity with the subject of gas fittings before moving on to broader subject matter.

Bowen: “It felt like every part of life was touched by the conflict; it was exhausting. It might have been more fun to live in Tel Aviv, which feels like another country. It’s a hedonistic, mainly secular city on a Mediterranean beach. In the winter I’ve scraped the ice off the car in Jerusalem to find an hour later in Tel Aviv that people are strolling in shirt sleeves in the sun. Sometimes Israelis who live there say they’re in a bubble that lets them forget the conflict. Jerusalem was the opposite: everything was infected by the conflict. And, whenever I drove past Ben Gurion airport I fantasized about catching a plane home.” [emphasis added]

Tel Aviv is of course far from immune to terror attacks and that was also the case immediately before and during the period of time in which Bowen was stationed in Israel (1995–2000). He goes on:

Bowen: “The peace process was collapsing after the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. It was all bad news – but that’s what journalists like.”

Listeners then hear undated, context-free snippets from some of Bowen’s past reports, including the claim that in Hebron, “Jewish settlement still takes up one fifth of the town” without any clarification regarding the relevant Hebron Protocol. Bowen continues:

Bowen: “I read more, spoke to more people and started to understand why life could be so difficult. As for Jerusalem – my adopted home – the city had been desired and venerated for 3,000 years by a procession of dynasties and peoples. Struggle and conflict were normal. It took two or three years but to my surprise Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Jerusalem – especially Jerusalem – started pulling me in. […]

Even the food tasted of the ethnic tangle. Not just the old Israeli and Palestinian argument about who invented falafel and hummus. I learned about the heritage of Jews who’d emigrated to Israel from North Africa, Yemen and Iraq by eating their food, usually in the raucous streets around West Jerusalem’s main market; Mahane Yehuda. These days its edges have been blurred by gentrification and the fact that food has become fashionable.”

Mahane Yehuda market

As he did with Tel Aviv, Bowen erases the topic of the terror attacks on Mahane Yehuda market during that time period from his account. His rare mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands (which he fails to identify as such) continues:

Bowen: “[…] But in the 1990s Mahane Yehuda was a noisy, teeming symbol of the ethnic divide between Israeli Jews. Brown-skinned Mizrahis from the Middle East and North Africa who felt excluded by European Jews – the pale-faced Ashkenazis from Poland, Russia and Germany who created the Israeli state and often behaved as if they owned it.”

Bowen then gives a potted history rife with deliberate omission of relevant context. Failing to tell listeners of the pogroms that prompted the First Aliyah, erasing the arrival of Jews from Yemen in the same period and refraining from clarifying the significance of the particular area to the Jewish people, he says:

Bowen: “European Jews started emigrating from Russia in 1882. An Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl pioneered the idea of Zionism – creating a state for the Jews – and organized the first Zionist congress in 1897. The Zionists wanted Palestine but Arabs already lived there. In the end, Jewish immigrants from Europe outmanoeuvred and out-fought Palestinian Arabs and built a state in waiting.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Bowen recycles his long promoted theme of ‘European’ Jews taking over ‘Arab land’, erasing from audience view the existing Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tsfat and elsewhere. Failing to explain why the British were in Palestine and with no mention of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine he goes on:

Bowen: “At the end of the Second World War the bankrupt and exhausted British were reduced to holding the ring as Arabs and Jews fought a civil war.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s use of the phrase ‘holding the ring’ inaccurately implies to listeners that the British Mandate authorities were not involved in the conflict despite actions such as restrictions on Jewish immigration both before and after the war. As the BBC’s own profile of the Arab League states, the creation of that body was “mooted in 1942 by the British” and its agenda was primarily devoted to “preventing the Jewish community in Palestine from creating a Jewish state”.

After a BBC archive recording from March 1948, Bowen continues:

Bowen: “Britain turned the problem over to the United Nations. The UN voted to partition Palestine into two states with Jerusalem under international control. The Jews agreed, the Arabs did not. As the British left in the summer of 1948, David Ben Gurion read Israel’s declaration of independence.”

He fails to clarify that the Partition Plan limited the period of international control over Jerusalem to ten years, why the Arab nations rejected it or that the Arab refusal to accept the recommendations of UN GA resolution 181 meant that it became irrelevant. The latter omission enables him to go on to inaccurately tell BBC audiences that Israel acquired land to which it was not entitled.

Bowen: “Ben Gurion became Israel’s first prime minister. The neighbouring Arab states invaded to try to strangle the new Israel at birth. They failed. Israel, victorious, took much more territory than the UN had given it. Palestinians use the Arabic word ‘naqba’ which means catastrophe to describe what happened to them in 1948. Up to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled. Their descendants are still refugees.” [emphasis added]

Bowen of course does not tell listeners that Palestinians pass on refugee status to their descendants or that the Arab nations have for 69 years deliberately ensured that they are “still refugees”.

Failing to explain why the Six Day War happened or to mention subsequent Israeli withdrawals from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, he continues:

Bowen: “Another war came in 1967 which created the current shape of the conflict. In six days Israel added the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. From the beginning Israelis set about building a new country and made sure every part of government did its bit, including the town planners.”

Listeners then hear a recording of undated archive report by Bowen:

Bowen: “It’s very hard for Palestinians in Jerusalem to get permission to build. A lot of their houses have been demolished recently. Most building permits here are issued to Jews. Yasser Arafat believes that Israel is trying to squeeze Palestinians out of Jerusalem. At the Palestinian legislature today he said that he’d lost patience with Israel. Palestinians, he said, had to defend their rights in Jerusalem with all means. Building more homes for Jews in the desert to the east is part of Israel’s latest scheme to strengthen its grip on Jerusalem. This is land captured by Israel in 1967. Its future was supposed to be negotiated with the Palestinians.”

Bowen fails to clarify to listeners that the final status negotiations stipulated in the Oslo Accords never came about because Arafat chose instead to launch the Second Intifada terror war.

Bowen: “Meron Benvenisti was the Israeli deputy mayor and chief planning officer of Jerusalem during much of the 1970s. Twenty years later he stood with me on the Mount of Olives; the hill that overlooks the Old City.”

Benvenisti: “Each housing project fits into a strategic plan. It’s not the planners who are planning Jerusalem; it’s the politicians who are planning Jerusalem. The politicians are planning Jerusalem as generals who are planning a battlefield.”

Bowen: “Benvenisti explained how roads could be as much about nation building as traffic. That extended to the occupied territories, he said. Israel girded Jerusalem with roads as it sliced up the West Bank which Palestinians want for a state. Many are political highways, aimed at controlling Palestinians, safeguarding Jewish settlers and strengthening the occupation. ‘You know’, Benvenisti said, ‘we’ve spent millions and used all the energy of the state to try to make this city more Jewish. But despite all that, the ratio of Jews to Arabs in Jerusalem is the same as it was in 1967. They make more babies than we do’. Demography is politics here too.”

While that information concerning birth rates has been out of date for several years, Bowen of course does not question his politically motivated interviewee’s use of it to support his questionable claims.

Using the Arabic pronunciation of the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood Ein Kerem and with a context-free reference to Dir Yassin, Bowen continues:

Ein Kerem

Bowen: “Ayn Karem where we lived is a desirable Israeli suburb. But until 1948 it was a Palestinian village. The Palestinians in the village fled after Jewish forces carried out their most notorious massacre of the 1948 war in a neighbouring village called Dir Yassin. For the new Israeli state to be Jewish, the Palestinians could not be allowed back. Laws were passed that permitted the state to seize property that landlords had – in Israeli legal terms – abandoned. The reality was that they weren’t allowed back to reclaim it and that applied to Ayn Karem too. Most of the Palestinian villages that were captured by the new Israeli state in 1948 were blown up or bulldozed. Ayn Karem survived. Its traditional stone houses were given to new Jewish immigrants from North Africa.

Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews who no longer wanted or were permitted to live in Arab countries. A Moroccan synagogue still exists in Ayn Karem but most of the elegant Arab houses have been bought up and modernized by well-off secular Israelis.” [emphasis added]

Significantly, Bowen’s sketchy portrayal of Jewish refugees from Arab lands sanitises the widespread government-led persecution and violence against them and refrains from informing listeners of the property and lands they left behind. He closes the programme as follows:

Bowen: “I used to like running in Jerusalem forest, just up the hill from Ayn Karem. It’s a beautiful spot and I puffed my way round it. The forest tells part of the story of the conflict too. It was planted in the 1950s, covering terraced hillsides that were once worked by Palestinian farmers who lost their lands in 1948. On my jogging route a German wagon from the Second World War projected out of the trees on a fragment of railway line leading back to the past. It’s part of Yad Vashem; Israel’s centre for remembrance of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis.

We’re all made by our history. The Holocaust is one reason why Israel often feels vulnerable despite its armed forces, its nuclear weapons, hi-tech economy and its alliance with the United States. It also made absolute the moral case for the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine. I learnt a lot about the conflict running through the forest and looking down the valley at Ayn Karem. For Palestinians the forest and the village are symbols of dispossession – among many others. For Israelis they’re part of their hard-won independence and their remarkable success and a reminder of their survival. If the two sides can’t make peace with history, they’ll never make peace with each other.”

Bowen’s basic story is, as ever, a very simple one: according to him, white “pale-faced” Europeans took over a land inhabited by passive ‘indigenous’ Arabs. In order to promote that politically motivated version of events, he has to omit context and relevant background information which would enhance BBC audiences’ understanding of the story as it stands today. As we once again see, Jeremy Bowen has no problem at all doing that.

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