BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

Earlier this year BBC audiences saw quite a lot of reporting on the topic of US aid donations to the Palestinians in general and via UNRWA in particular – for example:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

That generous, if mostly imbalanced, coverage was hallmarked by the repeated failure to provide BBC audiences with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its record or its efficiency. Significantly, BBC audiences were not provided with an explanation of why – in contrast to the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees – UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – or “resettlement” in third countries.

Those crucial omissions were evident again in a report originally published on the BBC News website’s main homepage as well as its ‘World’, ‘US and Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on August 31st under the headline “US ends aid to Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa“.

The article opened with a three sentence description of the story:

“The United States is ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, the US State Department says.

It described the organisation, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), as “irredeemably flawed”.

The US administration has “carefully reviewed” the issue and “will not make additional contributions to Unrwa,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.”

Readers then found three paragraphs of Palestinian Authority condemnation of the decision followed by two paragraphs and a screenshot amplifying comment from UNRWA’s spokesperson.

“A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later said the move was an “assault” against his people.

“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told Reuters news agency.

He added that the decision was “a defiance of UN resolutions”.

A spokesman for Unrwa, Chris Gunness, defended the agency in a series of tweets.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that Unrwa’s schools, health centres, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed’,” he wrote.”

The report continued under the sub-heading “What is Unrwa?”.

“Unrwa was originally set up to take care of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The agency says it currently supports more than five million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, including providing health care, education and social services.”

The BBC’s article went on to supposedly explain the background to the US decision under the sub-heading “Why is the US critical of Unrwa?”.

“The US disagrees with Unrwa, and Palestinian officials, on a number of issues. […]

The US and Israel also disagree with Unrwa on which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 war.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said earlier this week that Unrwa exaggerated the number of Palestinian refugees, and needed to reform.

“You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America,” she said.

The state department says the US is contributing a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”.

It complains of a business model and fiscal practices, linked to an “exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”, which is “unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.”

Interestingly, the BBC chose not to report that the US State Department statement also included the following:

“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business. These children are part of the future of the Middle East. Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.

Accordingly, the United States will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners, that can provide today’s Palestinian children with a more durable and dependable path towards a brighter tomorrow.”

Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.””

Neither did readers get any information concerning the relevant topic of the Arab League’s politically motivated refusal to integrate Palestinian refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt or the UN’s abandonment of that target.

“In November 1951, UNRWA’s second director, John Blandford, Jr., proposed a three-year, $200 million program to reintegrate 150,000-200,000 refugees into their Arab host countries. Blandford’s plan was endorsed by U.N. General Assembly resolution 513 of January 26, 1952, which tasked UNRWA “to explore with the governments … their assuming administration of reintegration projects at the earliest possible date.”  Seven years later, the concept was reaffirmed by U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, who called for the “reintegration” of refugees “into the economic life of the area.”

For its part, Washington was a foremost advocate of the reintegration program as evidenced by various State Department plans and proposals, including those in May 1949, May 1953, July 1957, March 1959, and June 1960. To this must be added the 1954 Anglo-American Alpha Plan, a plan proposed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as well as a bold initiative by Secretary of State Christian Herter and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in June 1960.

But since 1960, successive administrations have ignored or forgotten the reintegration idea, and U.S. allocations of funds to UNRWA have been devoted to maintaining the few surviving refugees and their much more numerous descendents in unsettled conditions, turning them into a growing source of conflict. […]

And so UNRWA abandoned its original mission of relief extension and conflict resolution, evolving into an agency for the perpetuation of unsettled claims against Jerusalem for millions of persons born in the years after the founding of Israel in 1948.”

Likewise, the BBC did not attempt to explain to its audiences why some 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship are still defined as ‘refugees’ by UNRWA or why a similar number of people who live in areas under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas also continue to hold that status.

Readers of this report did however see a further six paragraphs of Palestinian messaging under the sub-heading “What does the Palestinian side say?” including uncritical amplification of statements from a person inaccurately described as “the Palestinian ambassador to Washington”.

“On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, accused the US of “endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees”.

The US “is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace”, he told AFP.”

With the BBC once again having failed to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for understanding of this story, readers would of course be unable to objectively assess Zomlot’s claims regarding the UN agency’s highly debatable role in contributing to “the prospects for future peace”.  

On September 1st that report was replaced by a subsequent one which will be discussed in part two of this post.

No follow-up to the BBC’s ‘peace process in peril’ stories

Last week the BBC produced two items in which audiences were told that the start of work on preparations for laying infrastructure for a new community in Judea & Samaria was deliberately timed to hamper talks concerning negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  

In an audio report broadcast on BBC Radio 4 listeners heard presenter Ritula Shah say:

“Well today’s announcement comes as President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner is due in Israel tomorrow to take part in talks on restarting the peace process. Nabil Abu Rudeinah is a spokesman for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He called today’s move a grave escalation and questioned the timing.”

They then heard from Abu Rudeinah:

“The resumption of these activities is a clear message to the American administration and to the efforts of President Trump. The American envoy is already in the area. Tomorrow President Abbas will be receiving him. This is an obstacle to the efforts of President Trump to resume the peace process.”

Later on in the same item listeners were told that “the biggest hurdle to peace is the settlement activity” and that the timing of the construction work was a “deliberate” attempt “to foil efforts by the American administration to revive negotiations”. 

In a written report published on the BBC News website on the same day, audiences found the following:

“A Palestinian official denounced the ground-breaking as a “grave escalation” and an attempt to thwart peace efforts. […]

Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters news agency that the ground-breaking was “a grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts” by the administration of US President Donald Trump to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

With the mission of the US envoy allegedly so gravely imperiled by Israeli actions, one might have expected the BBC to produce some follow-up reporting on his visit to Ramallah. However, that has not been the case and so BBC audiences remain unaware of a different “hurdle to peace”.

The Times of Israel (and others) reported that:

“A meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior White House official Jared Kushner reportedly left the Palestinian leader fuming and refusing to agree to watered-down demands that Ramallah cut off payments for some convicted terrorists and their families.

According to Palestinian sources quoted in Hebrew and Arabic media Friday, Abbas and his advisers accused the US of taking Israel’s side and refused a demand to stop paying salaries to several hundred prisoners serving time for the most serious crimes. […]

Kushner began his meeting with Abbas by stating all the Israeli concerns, including stopping the payments, according to Hebrew media reports, angering Abbas.

“The American delegation accepted Israel’s position with regard to paying salaries to prisoners,” a Palestinian source told Ynet, “and described it as a means of inciting terror, demanding it be stopped.” […]

On Thursday Abbas defended payments to Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, as a “social responsibility,” and said Israel was using the issue as a pretext to avoid peace talks.”

Ynet added:

“Another issue that was dominant in the conversation itself was incitement to violence. The Palestinians expressed great disappointment that these two issues were the main things the Americans talked at the expense of the two-state solution.”

While the topic of ‘settlements‘ and their alleged negative affect on the possibility of reaching a two-state solution is one that the BBC has covered ad infinitum, the corporation has yet to provide its funding public with any serious reporting on the issues of PA/PLO payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and incitement to violence and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian officials.  

If, as it seems, those issues are now on the agenda of US officials attempting to restart negotiations then obviously a media organisation truly committed to providing its audiences with the background information that would enable understanding of the topic would not persist in denying its funding public such crucial context. 

Related Articles:

BBC News silence on PA terror rewards continues

A new backgrounder on a topic disregarded by the BBC

PA’s salaries for terrorists in the news again – but not at the BBC

BBC Radio 4 amplification of PA messaging on Israeli construction

As readers may recall, the BBC’s standard narrative on the topic of Israeli construction in Area C and the parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967 was contradicted by its own reporting in March of this year when it had to tell audiences that “Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades”.

Another stage in that particular building plan was reached on June 20th when work began on preparations for the laying of infrastructure at the site. Curiously, the production team at the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ decided that event justified a report over eight minutes long and the resulting item is particularly notable on several counts.

1) Although the item concerns Israeli construction, it did not include any response from Israeli officials: the two Israeli politicians heard in the report were not speaking to the BBC.

2) The item did however present the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the story and ostensibly neutral back-up was brought in to reinforce the PA’s messaging.

3) Presenter Ritula Shah repeatedly referred to an ‘announcement’ concerning the building of a new ‘settlement’ without clarifying to listeners that it is the same project that they already heard about in February and March of this year.

4) Listeners heard an inaccurate and partial representation of ‘international law’ concerning Israeli communities in disputed areas.

The item (from 23:45 here) was introduced by Ritula Shah as follows:

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

Shah: “When Donald Trump met the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February he had this to say about settlements and the crucial question of whether any peace deal should work towards separate Israeli and Palestinian states or just a single state.”

Listeners then heard an edited recording dating from February 2017:

Recording Trump: “As far as settlements; I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. I would like to see a deal being made. I think a deal will be made. [edit] That’s a possibility. So let’s see what we do. [edit] So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two.” 

Shah continued:

Shah: “Well this morning Mr Netanyahu tweeted a picture of a bulldozer and a digger breaking ground on a rocky hill. His message read ‘after dozens [actually ‘tens’ – Ed.] of years I have the privilege to be the prime minister building a new settlement in Judea and Samaria’ – that’s the Hebrew term for the West Bank. Known as Amichai, this will be the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than twenty years.”

That statement is of course accurate but that fact was soon forgotten as the item progressed. Shah then gave the BBC’s usual partial mantra on ‘international law’ which fails to inform audiences of the existence of alternative legal opinions. She continued with an ‘explanation’ of that ‘international law’ which is patently inaccurate: those who do claim that ‘settlements are illegal’ do so citing Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention – not because of any Palestinian claims to the disputed land.  

Shah: “Settlements are illegal under international law – although Israel disputes this – as they’re built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state. Amichai will accommodate some 40 families whose homes were cleared from the unauthorised settler post of Amona and its creation has been welcomed by the settler movement. Motti Yogev is a member of the Knesset for the far-right Jewish home party.”

A translated voice-over of a recording of MK Yogev speaking was then heard.

Recording Yogev voice-over: “Here the settlement of Amichai will be built and established for those evicted from Amona and will strengthen our hold in the very heart of the land of Israel.”

For reasons best known to the programme’s production team, Shah then went on to mention a completely unrelated meeting held by the Israeli prime minister on June 20th:

Shah: “Well somewhat incongruously Mr Netanyahu met a delegation of former American football players today. And although he chose not to speak about the settlement decision, he did draw some parallels between their game and leading Israel.”

Recording Netanyahu: “If you’re not strong you’ll never get peace and if you’re not strong you’ll be in war, in turmoil and the worst thing is you lose. So I’m sure when you prepare for your games you don’t say ‘well, do I need to be strong, fast, nimble’. Is that a question? No; your game is not different from ours. The only difference is, if we lose the consequences are immutable. And we’ve had enough of that in our history so we won’t let that happen again.”

Listeners next heard Palestinian Authority messaging on the topic of Netanyahu’s Tweet, with Shah neglecting to inform listeners that the PA spokesman concerned had been appointed to the Fatah Central Committee the previous day.

Shah: “Well today’s announcement comes as President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner is due in Israel tomorrow to take part in talks on restarting the peace process. Nabil Abu Rudeinah is a spokesman for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He called today’s move a grave escalation and questioned the timing.”

Recording Abu Rudeinah: “The resumption of these activities is a clear message to the American administration and to the efforts of President Trump. The American envoy is already in the area. Tomorrow President Abbas will be receiving him. This is an obstacle to the efforts of President Trump to resume the peace process.”

Shah then brought in her ostensibly ‘neutral’ back up – clearly intended to reinforce that PA messaging. She did not, however, bother to inform the audience that her interviewee was previously Algeria’s foreign minister and an Arab League envoy.  As Shah told listeners, on the same day as this report was broadcast Lakhdar Brahimi was at the UNSC. At that meeting, Brahimi quoted a woman from Gaza whom he said told him that “Israel has put us in a concentration camp” but of course Radio 4 listeners were not told of the use of that inaccurate and offensive terminology before they heard from the ‘neutral’ commentator.

Shah: “Lakhdar Brahimi is a former senior diplomat. He’s now a member of the Elders – the independent group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela. He was speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian question at the UN Security Council in New York today. I asked him what today’s announcement of a new settlement might mean for securing peace.”

Brahimi promoted the old canard – frequently heard by BBC audiences – whereby ‘settlements’ are the main obstacle to peace.

Brahimi: “I don’t think it’s very good news for Palestine [sic], for Israel, for the people who want settlement of this problem. The biggest hurdle to peace is the settlement activity and the international community – the United Nations – have called again and again for it to stop. Successive American administrations have done the same; evidently without raising their voice really.”

Shah then supposedly ticked the impartiality box but failed to clarify to audiences that until the Obama administration demanded a construction freeze in 2009, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians took place regardless of the rate of Israeli building, that during the first nine months of a ten month freeze on construction in 2009/10, the Palestinians failed to come to the negotiating table or that when every last Israeli community was removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the ‘peace process’ did not progress.

Shah: “But Israel suggests that building settlements is not an impediment to peace and indeed the idea has an awful lot of support in some sections of the Israeli population.”

Brahimi: “Yeah it has a lot of support in the section of the Israeli population who think that all Palestine belong to them from the river to the sea and that the Palestinians had better go somewhere else. This is clearly not the view of the international community. I think there is near unanimity there. Even their best supporters who are the Americans think that yes, settlement activity is an impediment to peace.”

Shah did not at that juncture bother to remind her listeners – or her interviewee – that the League of Nations assigned what Brahimi described as “all Palestine” to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people. She continued:

Shah: “Are you confident that the Americans’ position hasn’t changed? After all, today Jason Greenblatt – a Trump advisor on Israel – met Mr Netanyahu and Jared Kushner arrives in Israel tomorrow – a very senior Trump advisor. That doesn’t necessarily suggest an Israeli government that is worried about US reaction.”

Brahimi: “They probably are not because even with previous administrations, they have always managed to let, you know…maybe there is a little bit of anger or a statement here or there but at the end of the day the Americans let them do what they want. Lately Mr Trump has said very mildly that perhaps, you know, you should slow down settlement building it will be good, but not much more than that.”

Shah next gave Brahimi the cue for reinforcement of the previously heard PA messaging and further promotion of the notion that construction of homes for 40 families in Area C is intended to sabotage American diplomatic efforts.

Shah: “Well do you then support the Palestinian president’s spokesman when he suggested that today’s news – he called it a grave escalation and an effort…an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration to revive negotiations. Does it seem like that to you? Is it deliberate?”

Brahimi: “I’m sure it is deliberate. I’m sure that…”

Shah [interrupts]: “Because of the timing.”

Brahimi: “Yeah. You know it’s not the first time that they do that. You remember when the vice-president with Mr Obama…on the day of his visit they announced the building of 3,000 – or I don’t know how many – settlement units. I think it must be a message to the Americans that you speak about peace but then the peace is what we think it is – not what you or anybody else say it is.”

Shah refrained from clarifying to listeners that the 2010 announcement to which Brahimi referred related to construction of 1,600 housing units in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo that had already been in the pipeline for three years when VP Biden arrived in Israel or that the construction freeze which was in effect at the time did not include Jerusalem. Neither did she bother to tell listeners that the same Nabi Abu Rudeinah said at the time that the project was “a dangerous decision that will torpedo the negotiations and sentence the American efforts to complete failure” even as the PA continued to refuse to come to the negotiating table despite the settlement freeze. Shah continued with more impartiality box ticking:

Shah: “But if there is to be international pressure on the Israelis, surely there also has to be international pressure brought to bear on the Palestinians, on Hamas to recognise the State of Israel, to renounce violence and so on.”

Brahimi: “Yes absolutely. There is a minority amongst the Palestinians, including within Hamas, who, you know, saying that, you know, all Palestine is ours and that we don’t want to recognise Israel. Or some others who say we don’t want to recognise Israel until they recognise us. On the Israeli side there is a minority just as extremist as that.”

Failing to challenge that equivalence between Israelis and a terrorist organisation and refraining from reminding her listeners that “minority” Hamas – with its platform of destruction of Israel – won Palestinian elections the last time they were held, Shah closed the item.

Shah: “So just finally then, judging by what you’ve been saying, do you have any hope that there could be progress in the peace talks in the near future?”

Brahimi: “I think it would not be realistic to say that today, tomorrow and after tomorrow we are going to move towards the kind of peace that, once again, the international community wants, that a lot of Israelis want and of course the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians. I don’t think it would be realistic to say that we’re going that way anytime soon.”

Shah: “The diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.”

While this entire item was ostensibly built around one Tweet from the Israeli prime minister it is of course blatantly obvious that was merely a hook upon which to hang yet another chapter in the BBC’s long-standing politically motivated portrayal of Israeli construction as the prime factor preventing resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Related Articles:

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part one

The BBC’s inaccurate and misleading representation of Israeli building – part two

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’