BBC News framing again erases internal Jordanian affairs

A BBC News website October 2018 report concerning the Jordanian king’s announcement that his country would not renew two annexes of its 1994 peace treaty with Israel told readers that:

“It follows recent strains in the relationship between Jordan and Israel over issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”

As was noted here at the time, that framing erased from audience view internal Jordanian affairs no less relevant to understanding of the background to the story. Nevertheless, the same partial framing was found in a report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on November 10th under the headline “Jordan ends border enclaves land lease for Israeli farmers”.

“The decision not to renew the lease is widely seen as a reflection of the strained relationship between Jordan and Israel in recent years, with issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians causing tensions.”

The background to the story is portrayed as follows:

“Under a 1994 peace treaty, Israeli farmers could cultivate land in the Jordanian areas of Naharayim and Tzofar – known as Baqura and Ghamr in Arabic.

The lease governing them was for 25 years, but could have been extended. […]

The agreement recognised that Jordan had sovereignty over the two areas – but Israel was permitted to lease the areas for 25 years.

Under the terms of the annex to the peace deal, the lease would be extended automatically unless one party gave notice a year before the lease ended, leading to talks on the matter.”

While the word “lease” appears twelve times in the BBC’s report, it does not appear in Annex 1b or Annex 1c of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. Rather, the wording of those annexes made it very clear that while the two areas of land would come under Jordanian sovereignty, the land is owned by Israelis. The BBC’s explanation of that situation is as follows:

“One farmer, Eli Arazi, told Reuters his community had been growing crops there for 70 years, and described the end of the lease as “a punch in the face”.

The two enclaves are on the Israeli-Jordanian border, and have been privately owned by Israeli groups for several decades.”

Those “Israeli groups” are actually kibbutzim and moshavim – farming communities – and as the Reuters article cited by the BBC states, Jews and Israelis have owned land in the Naharayim area for the past century.

“Naharayim, which means “two rivers” in Hebrew, straddles the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers. Israelis trace private ownership rights there to the 1920s, when the territory was part of British-mandated Palestine.

Arazi said his kibbutz, Ashdot Yaacov Meuhad, had been growing crops there for 70 years, including olives, bananas and avocados.

In the 1994 peace treaty, Jordanian sovereignty over the area was confirmed, while Israelis retained private land ownership and special provisions that allow free travel.”

The BBC report concludes with a reference (and a link) to a story which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Naharayim and Tzofar cases.

“In recent months, there have also been tensions over Israel’s detention of two Jordanians, without trial, for several months.

Jordan recalled its ambassador, and the two were eventually released on Wednesday.”

Remarkably though, the BBC elected not to inform readers that Naharayim was the site of an attack by a Jordanian soldier in 1997 in which seven Israeli schoolgirls were murdered and six badly wounded and that the memorial garden at the site will now be inaccessible to the victims’ families.

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Omissions in BBC account of background to Jordan land lease story

On October 21st the BBC News website ran a report titled “Jordan seeks to end Israel land lease” which relates to the Jordanian king’s announcement on the same day that he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel.

“Jordan says it plans to end a lease of two areas of land to Israel that was agreed in annexes to the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

The areas are Naharayim in the north and Tzofar in the south, known as Baqura and Ghamr in Arabic.

The lease governing them was for 25 years and had been due for renewal. […]

Under the terms of the annex to the peace deal, the lease would be extended automatically unless one party gave notice a year before the lease ended, leading to talks on the matter.”

While the first part of the article gives readers a reasonable account of the story, the later part – under the sub-heading “Why would Jordan want to end the lease?” – provides an incomplete account of the story’s background.

“King Abdullah has been under pressure from Jordanian MPs and the Jordanian public not to renew the lease for the two areas. Eighty-seven Jordanian MPs have signed a petition urging an end to the lease.

Last Friday protesters in the Jordanian capital Amman called for the lease to be ended and campaigns have also taken place on social media.

It follows recent strains in the relationship between Jordan and Israel over issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The BBC chose not to inform its audiences that – as the Jerusalem Post reports – there are elements in Jordan that would like to see an end to more than just the lease on the two specific areas of land.

“In very general terms, it’s fair to say that the 1994 peace agreement did not filter down to Jordanian masses. The Jordanians might already be drinking Israeli water, are scheduled to be heating their homes with Israeli natural gas in 2020, and benefit in numerous ways from security cooperation with Israel, but, for the most part, they don’t like Israel.
And this is something that King Abdullah II has to take into account.
Jordan’s announcement on Sunday regarding the Naharayim (Baqura) area near the Kinneret and part of Zofar (al Ghamar), in the Arava, did not knock anyone off their chair in Jerusalem. There has been talk for months inside Jordan of the need to regain those two areas. There have been debates in parliament, and even protests on the streets – much of it led by Islamic elements inside the Hashemite Kingdom.
Abdullah is in vice. While he needs the peace treaty with Israel for the security of his regime, he has domestic Islamic elements to deal with and at times placate.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“Additionally, an economic crisis that struck the kingdom over the past year may also have pushed Abdullah not to renew this portion of the treaty, in an effort to appease hardliners and prevent a potential coup, veteran regional analyst Ehud Yaari told Hadashot news on Sunday night.

Jordan has struggled with a sluggish economy, including rising unemployment, in the wake of regional conflicts, including in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Earlier this year, largely peaceful demonstrations, which led to a change of prime ministers, erupted over rising prices and proposed legislation to increase income tax, in line with IMF-driven austerity measures.”

Obviously internal Jordanian affairs – about which BBC audiences hear comparatively little – are no less relevant to the understanding of the background to this story than “the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians”. BBC audiences, however, were denied that information.

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Superficial BBC News report on Naharayim killer’s release

On March 12th an article headlined “Jordan releases soldier who shot Israeli schoolgirls” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

As is clear from the opening paragraph of the report, the BBC is aware of the fact that Ahmed Daqamseh did not only shoot at Israeli schoolgirls; he killed seven thirteen and fourteen year-olds on a school trip.

“A Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 has been released after serving 20 years in prison, Jordanian officials say.”

One must therefore wonder why the writer of that headline (which was also promoted on social media) chose the word ‘shot’ rather than ‘killed’ and why the BBC’s report makes no mention of the six additional victims who survived the attack or of the names and ages of those murdered.

The report tells readers:

“A military court deemed him mentally unstable at the time and sentenced him to life in prison.

In Jordan, this usually means 25 years. However, some lawmakers had lobbied for him to be freed early.”

It does not however clarify that “some lawmakers” actually means the vast majority of Jordan’s MPs.

Readers are also told that:

“Daqamseh is seen as a hero by some opposition activists in Jordan, who oppose the country’s peace treaty with Israel, signed in 1994.”

In fact, over the years Daqamseh has been championed by a range of supporters besides the euphemistically titled “opposition activists”, including Islamists, ‘human rights’ activists, trade unionists and lawyers – not least the former Justice Minister.  

Remarkably, the BBC’s report did not make any mention of the enthusiastic welcome given to Daqamseh upon arrival in his home village and the article was not updated to include the remarks he made in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“Hours after his release from 20 years in jail for gunning down seven Israeli schoolgirls, ex-Jordanian solider Ahmed Daqamseh declared on Sunday that Israelis are “human waste” that must be eradicated.

Daqamseh made his remarks to al-Jazeera TV station, shortly after returning from jail to his home village of Ibdir to cheering friends and family.

“The Israelis are the human waste of people, that the rest of the world has vomited up at our feet,” he told the TV station. “We must eliminate them by fire or by burial. If this is not done by our hands, the task will fall on the future generations to do.””

Apparently the BBC did not find the broadcast of that xenophobic incitement to the Doha-based channel’s millions of viewers around the Middle East newsworthy.