In which the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen repeats his ‘no human shields in Gaza’ claims

BBC Radio 4’s series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ continued on June 16th with episode 15 – titled “Missiles and the Ballot Box” – which was devoted to Jeremy Bowen’s view of the Gaza Strip.

“Jeremy Bowen explores Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. It’s not a place you would chose [sic] for a Mediterranean holiday, though the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry, he says. “Israel could recapture Gaza in days if it wanted to. But then it would be responsible for around a million children and about the same number of angry adults. Palestinians can’t destroy a state as strong as Israel. But Israel can’t bludgeon Palestinians into submission either.””

Refraining from informing audiences that hopes of economic development in the Gaza Strip were killed off by, among other things, the Islamist take-over of the territory, Bowen opens the programme with the theme promoted in that synopsis. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Gaza is not a place you’d choose for a Mediterranean holiday although the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry. The beaches are sandy and run for 25 miles along the Mediterranean from the top right-hand corner of Egypt. It’s no wider than 7 miles and, apart from the short Egyptian border, it’s entirely surrounded by Israel. Since 2006 [sic] the Palestinian group Hamas – the Islamic resistance movement has controlled it.”

Bowen then goes on to describe the Erez crossing – but without providing listeners with any explanation of why the stringent security measures he portrays in such detail are necessary. He continues:

“Palestinians often call Gaza the world’s biggest jail and it’s hard to argue. Many spend whole lives there without being able to leave. I’ve met thirty-something men who’ve never left.”

Bowen’s portrayal does not clarify to listeners that on average around a thousand people exit Gaza via the Erez crossing every day for medical treatment, commercial, academic or sporting activities or religious trips. He refrains from making any mention of the existence of the crossing into Egypt at Rafah, or why that crossing is so frequently closed by Egypt.

Bowen then gives some historical background but refrains from clarifying that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory allotted for the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people by the League of Nations.

“Gaza was one of the historic towns of Palestine; a small place surrounded by fields and sand dunes when it was captured by Egypt in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled there to escape the Israeli advance or because they were forced out of their homes at the point of a gun.”

The siege – and subsequent evacuation – of Kibbutz Kfar Darom in 1948 is of course not included in Bowen’s account. He goes on:

“Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in 1967 and finally pulled out its soldiers and settlers in 2005, though it still controls who goes in and out by land, sea and air.”

Bowen makes no mention of the fact that agreements on movement and access from and to Gaza were signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip in 2005.  Failing to clarify to listeners why residents of a territory that has been under PA and then Hamas rule for the last twelve years are still classified as refugees or why refugee status is inherited, Bowen goes on:

“These days almost two million people live in the Gaza Strip. About two-thirds of them are descendants of the original refugees. Refugee children are taught at schools run by the UN. Their future is bleak. The UN predicts that Gaza might become uninhabitable by 2020 if there’s no end to the conflict with Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that Egypt saw fit to adopt similar counter-terrorism measures to those introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in 2007 and failing to mention the rise in terrorism that was the cause of those measures, Bowen continues:

“Israel put Gaza under a severe blockade in 2007 after Hamas took over. To overcome it, Palestinians built a network of smuggling tunnels into Egypt. […] For years after Hamas took over Gaza and the Israeli blockade bit hard, almost everything except the most basic commodities was smuggled in from Egypt through the tunnels.”

In fact, smuggling tunnels existed in the Rafah area long before 2007. Bowen’s portrayal of that issue does not include any information concerning the taxes and tariffs levied by Hamas on smuggled goods. Ignoring Egyptian actions against the tunnels, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Israel used to bomb the tunnels to uphold their blockade and because weapons were also smuggled through them. The blockade, the bombing and Israeli fears about Hamas weaponry all ramped up the tension.”

Having told listeners that the Hamas-Fatah split is rooted in “the death of Yasser Arafat”, Bowen goes on to refer to the Hamas Charter in the past tense.

“Hamas had a charter calling for its [Israel’s] destruction and was designated by Israel and the West as a terrorist group. The crunch came after Hamas unexpectedly won the elections in 2006. The Americans, proselytising hard for democracy, had pushed for the vote. But it didn’t produce the result they wanted. A few months later I was in the office of one of the top diplomats at the State Department in Washington DC. He sat back in his chair. ‘Of course’ he said ‘ it’s the wrong result. We’re going to have to overturn it’. The Americans gave full backing to Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza to put pressure on Hamas.”

Once again, Hamas terrorism is absent from Bowen’s tale. After a long account of his personal recollections of pre-Hamas coup inter-factional fighting in Gaza and a conversation with Mohammad Dahlan, Bowen tells listeners:

“After I left Gaza that time the feud between Fatah and Hamas became a mini civil war. Hamas won and Fatah officials including Dahlan rushed to the Israeli checkpoints to escape with their lives.”

According to reports from the time, Dahlan was not in the Gaza Strip during those days in June 2007: he had been abroad for several weeks for medical treatment.

Listeners hear a brief reference to missile attacks against Israelis without the groups that execute the attacks being named and without mention of any of the victims of such attacks.

“Living either side of the border wire – in Gaza or Israel – can be difficult and dangerous. Going through even one rocket attack on the Israeli side, let alone dozens in a day, is terrifying – as I found out.”

However, Bowen soon returns to form:

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians.”

Bowen then revisits a report he produced in 2009 concerning Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.

“An Israeli tank had shelled his home and killed three of his daughters.”

Bowen fails to tell listeners of the background to that the tragic incident but goes on to promote one of his usual pseudo-legal misinterpretations of the Law of Armed Combat and the term ‘disproportionate‘.

“The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

Bowen then revisits another of his previously promoted claims concerning Hamas’ use of human shields, while steering listeners towards an incomplete understanding of that term.

“I’ve never seen any evidence of Hamas forcing civilians in Gaza to stay in the firing line. But Israelis repeat time and again that Hamas hides behind human shields.”

The programme closes with Bowen opining that the terror organisation whose activities and abuses he has downplayed throughout the whole report should be party to negotiations.

“Until matters change in Gaza there will be more wars between Hamas and Israel. Change means a new attempt at peace with the participation and consent of all sides. Right now, there is no chance of that happening.”

Perhaps one of the more disturbing points emerging from this series of programmes by the BBC’s Middle East editor is the fact that the passage of time has done nothing to alter his opinions and analysis.

Having publicly claimed that he did not come across human shields in the few days he was in Gaza in the summer of 2014, three years later he cannot accommodate the ample evidence that shows otherwise. Having promoted his own pseudo-legal interpretations of the Law of Armed Combat in his 2014 reporting from Gaza, he is incapable of subsequently adjusting that view in line with the facts.

That, of course, is what happens when the agenda takes precedence over the actual story.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

 

BBC’s Bowen resurrects the ‘Arafat was poisoned’ canard on Radio 4

Episode 14 of the ongoing BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was devoted entirely to Jeremy Bowen’s portrayal of Yasser Arafat.

“The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen looks back over the life of Yasser Arafat. Thousands of his supporters turned out when the Palestinian’s body was flown back into Ramallah on the West Bank. “Love him or hate him, he was Mr Palestine,” says Bowen. “In death as well as in life he was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence – much more than a politician.” The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s view was that Arafat was ‘ a murderer and a pathological liar’.”

Originally broadcast on June 15th under the title “Guns and Olive Branches“, the programme now opens with notification that “this programme has been edited since broadcast” – but BBC audiences are not informed what that editing entailed and the BBC’s ‘corrections and clarifications‘ page does not include any related information.

The programme begins with Bowen’s recollections from November 2004 and an interpretation of Arafat’s sartorial propaganda that unquestioningly endorses the notion that the State of Israel is actually “Palestine”. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

“Even his keffiyeh – his black and white headscarf – carried a message. Arafat always wore it pushed back behind his left shoulder and down the front of his chest on the right, broad at the top, tapering down to the south: the shape of Palestine.” [emphasis added]

Listeners repeatedly hear Bowen refer to a Palestinian “struggle for independence” with just one brief and inadequately explained reference to the fact that the said “struggle” was actually intended to wipe Israel off the map and with no mention made of the absence of any claim to “independence” during the nineteen years that Palestinians lived under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation.

“Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinians since the 1960s, was one of the world’s most famous or notorious people – depending on you view of Palestinian nationalism. Love him or hate him, Yasser Arafat was Mr Palestine.”

“In death as well as life, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence; much more than just a politician.”

“Yasser Arafat’s position as the human embodiment of Palestinian hopes for independence were [sic] sealed in 1974 when he was invited to address the United Nations.”

“Yasser Arafat was born in 1929 and spent most of his childhood in Cairo. He fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and went on to found Fatah – a group that wanted to destroy what it called the colonialist, Zionist occupation of Palestine.”

“His [Arafat’s] last three years, spent under siege by Israel in the wrecked Muqata in Ramallah, made him even more of a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom. Palestinians still don’t have a state.”

Listeners also hear repeated references to an ‘unequal’ conflict – with no explanation of the fact that the Palestinians were junior players in a wider conflict between the Arab states and Israel.

“Other, more cautious Palestinians called Arafat a madman at first because of his desire to take on the much stronger Israelis.”

“His critics said a wiser leader might have finished the job. But a wiser man might not have started such an unequal fight.”

Bowen erases the Arab League’s role in the creation of the PLO.

“Egypt’s president Nasser had founded the PLO to control Palestinian nationalists. Arafat used it to unite Palestinian factions, to campaign for international recognition and most of all, to fight Israel.”

Throughout the item Bowen refrains from describing Palestinian attacks against Israelis as terrorism in his own words and promotes the ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ myth.

“Many Israelis regarded Arafat as an unreformed terrorist. They blamed him for decades of attacks, including the suicide bombs that had killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last few years.”

“Arafat was a prime mover behind many attacks. Fatah and other Palestinian factions shot, bombed and hijacked their way into the headlines. In 1972 Fatah gunmen calling themselves Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the Munich Olympic games.”

“Some Palestinians believed they were winning the argument that their cause was just. Other Palestinians said the armed struggle – terrorism in Israeli eyes – meant they could no longer be ignored.”

Listeners hear context-free references to the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war and the first Lebanon war.

“His [Arafat’s] first attacks in the mid-1960s weren’t more than pin-pricks. But his moment came in 1967 in the months after Israel inflicted a crushing defeat in only six days on the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.”

“The Middle East was boiling. The Palestinian-Israel conflict was at a new pitch and there was a full-scale war in 1973. Israel narrowly came out ahead.”

“They [Israel] invaded Lebanon in 1982 where the Palestinians had established what amounted to a mini-state.”

Bowen misrepresents the first Intifada as ‘non-violent’, erasing from audience view the Israelis murdered during that period of PLO orchestrated violence as well as some 1,000 Palestinians executed by their fellow Palestinians – with Arafat’s approval.

“What changed everything was entirely unexpected. In December 1987 an Israeli truck collided with a car, killing 4 Palestinians. Protests exploded into a full-blown uprising: the Intifada. Images of Palestinian children taking on tanks with stones went around the world and became a symbol of the oppression inherent in the occupation.”

“Palestinian rage and frustration exploded again in 2000 but this time there were armed clashes and unlike the first Intifada, the Palestinians lost the propaganda battle when suicide bombers killed many Israeli civilians.”

Bowen’s portrayal of the Oslo Accords era erases the Palestinian terrorism that immediately followed the signing of the agreement and fails to inform listeners of Arafat’s role in the pre-planned second Intifada terror war.

“But Israel and the Palestinians signed an historic peace deal and Arafat was allowed to live in the occupied territories.”

“The peace process was flawed for both sides but for a few years there was a lot of hope. Then the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who wanted to kill the chance of peace as well.”

A recording of Saeb Erekat speaking in 2004 which further gives listeners an inaccurate impression of Arafat’s role in the campaign of terrorism that surged in the autumn of 2000 was selected by Bowen for inclusion in this programme..

Erekat: “I’m afraid if Mother Theresa were to be our president, Nelson Mandela were to be our prime minister, Martin Luther King to be our speaker and Mahatma Gandhi would be our chief negotiator, the Israelis would find a way to link them to terrorism and some voices in Washington would echo that. The question wasn’t Arafat.”

Throughout the item Bowen repeatedly promotes a romantic image of Arafat as a charismatic “revolutionary”.

“As Israelis settled into their occupation of the West Bank, Arafat took the fight to them, moving around in disguise and organising hundreds of attacks. Israel hit back in 1968 with a major military operation at the Karameh refugee camp in Jordan which had become a big Fatah base. […] The battle established Arafat’s legend. He was on the cover of Time magazine and the young revolutionary gave countless interviews.”

“For the first time posters of Arafat started appearing wherever there were Palestinians. They’d never had a leader with his charisma. By the summer of 1969 Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”

“Arafat swaggered into the General Assembly in New York wearing combat fatigues and sunglasses. He delivered his most famous lines: ‘I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand and a freedom-fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand’. Arafat repeated that last warning three times. He was offering Israel a choice: peace or war.”

“The General Assembly gave him a standing ovation though among Arab leaders Arafat had plenty of enemies. He’d wanted to carry a pistol into the hall to make his point and had to be persuaded that an empty holster would do just as well. I remember the outrage among Jewish friends at my school in Cardiff that he’d even been allowed to speak. For Israelis, Arafat was an arch-terrorist and his olive branch was a joke.”

“Arafat was caught between his obligations under the peace process – satisfying the Israelis and the Americans – and his self-image as a revolutionary focusing the frustration and anger of his people.”

“It was always strange being in the same room as one of the most famous faces in the world. His legend was always there with him to be deployed at all times for his dream of Palestine. If being the human form of so many people’s’ hopes was a burden – and it must have been – he didn’t show it.”

Bowen’s own view of Arafat is further clarified at the end of the item.

“Back in 2004 outside the hospital in Paris where Arafat was dying, I felt that for all his weaknesses, his unique position as the father of his nation gave him a strength that genuine peace-makers would miss.

Recording Bowen: Yasser Arafat may have been part of the problem over the years but he’s also been part of the solution as well. And when he finally goes, his enemies – the Israelis and the Americans who’ve tried to isolate him – may find that far from it being easier to reach some kind of stability in the Middle East, it may even be more difficult.”

Bowen completely whitewashes Arafat’s cultivation of the culture of personal and organisational corruption that hallmarked the Palestinian Authority under his rule, as well as his funding of terrorism.

“Arafat preferred yes-men to straight talkers, tolerated corruption and he wasn’t much interested in the nitty-gritty of building a state. But for most Palestinians he was a national icon.”

Similarly, Bowen whitewashes Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and glorification of terrorism.

“Abbas has never had Arafat’s charisma and even though he’s condemned Palestinian violence many times, the current Israeli government says he’s not a partner for peace.”

One of the more egregious parts of this programme comes towards its end when Bowen resuscitates an old canard:

“Some say Arafat was poisoned by Israel. His body was exhumed and tests found high levels of radioactive Polonium in his remains. The results were not conclusive but most Palestinians are convinced.”

As Bowen knows full well, those “high levels” of Polonium were pronounced by experts who tested them to be “of an environmental nature”. Both the French and Russian investigating teams ruled out foul play and the investigation closed two years ago, with the French prosecutor saying “there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. 

Nevertheless, the man whose job description is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” dishonestly promotes the notion that “the results were not conclusive”, thereby suggesting to BBC audiences that long-standing but entirely unproven Palestinian messaging on that topic may not, after all, be baseless propaganda.

Once again, Jeremy Bowen’s standards of adherence to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are on full view in this programme – together with some revealing insights into his own views of a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.

Related Articles:

BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

BBC News report whitewashes Arafat’s terrorism

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory